Mar 20

The ShardI have traversed three continents these last few weeks, from Europe to the west coast of America, then back and across to the Middle East.

The trips all centred around assessment and skills events – culminating in apprentices week in the UK. “Everyone is worried about skills” said the BBC’s Steph McGovern at the CITB Building Futures conference. The challenges are different but the concerns are the same – whether you sit in the US or UK with their growing economies or the Middle East with their large numbers of young people, a shortage of the right skills to meet the needs of employers and their evolving industries will impact progress.

I believe technology doesn’t always help – young people make choices based on cultural changes and technological influences, and yet industries, jobs and the needs of employers are not the same. They must be aligned.

We do have a solution – young people learn from other young people, so let’s showcase our stars and use technology to promote them as case studies of success. In other words, a career in IT can mean working at Sky TV or motor racing, a career in construction might give somebody the opportunity to be in the team that builds the next Shard or Premier League football stadium. Let’s create success stories of young people who love their work and promote them as role models – then use technology to spread the word.

I close with real hope – I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and desire to succeed shown by the apprentices at the JustIT learner awards night where I shared my thoughts on the fusion of technology and education – I will continue to shout from the rooftops, that if you wake up with the attitude, desire and motivation to do a great job, invariably you will do well.

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Jul 08

Open signI am just back from a whirlwind trip to Barcelona for EduLearn 2014. Good conference and very engaged audience. It was too short, as always, but I picked up some great new contacts and nuggets of learning.

My topic was “Making MOOCs (In)Credible,” using examples from Harvard and others on how to give customers your ear and anticipate tomorrow’s needs. I think MOOCs will transform education in time and everybody will be learning in smaller bite-sized chunks from handheld devices, on the go and anytime – and the MOOCs fit that need.

With technology impacting learning so much I feel we have a duty to keep our institutions ahead of the curve and explore new ideas. We know how important it is to give customers our ear. We recognise that social is the new marketing and yet I sense not everyone is listening. 93% of small and medium sized-businesses are still not mobile compatible.

My biggest takeaway these past 2 days actually relates back to a poster I saw in one of our Pearson offices – “Minds Wide Open”. Embrace the opportunity new technology can bring and don’t be afraid to try things – you can easily change course along the way.

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Jun 24

We know that mobiles and smart devices are transforming how we shop and communicate today, and how we will learn in the future. Generation Y has mastered the art of mobility and will not want to be tied to one office, nor one company, as they seek varied and interesting employment in future.

What remains is that our role as educators is to transform these learners to earners – to give them the skills to embark on career pathways to suit their needs, to give them a platform to upskill or change direction as they see fit – but importantly to furnish them with the skills for the world of work.

It is important we understand how they operate, for they are both our workforce and our customer of tomorrow. How do we offer this to them? How do we engage them to shape how learning meets their needs in future? With things evolving faster than ever before, how can we stop for long enough to make impact?

Mar 15

future learning

I was delighted to be asked to present at the 2014 National Apprenticeships conference at the Film Museum last week. I talked about technology and education coming together and the inextricable link between learning and working.

I shared a story from 100+ years ago and the World Fair in St Louis. The man that was selling ice cream ran out of paper cups, and the exhibitor next to him who was selling waffles decided to roll them flat and curl them into the shape of a handheld cone. Thus the ice cream cone was born. Two distinct ‘ingredients’, no connection between the two, coming together to create something completely new.

Now I applied that connection to work and education (thanks Noel Tagoe, Executive Director at CIMA, for the inspiration). Companies have to be part of the education process and give young people a chance to get a taste of what the world of work is all about. We should all be giving apprenticeships an opportunity to sample the workplace and make working a part of the overall learning experience. Similarly, employers have to be involved in influencing education, so that what is taught in the classroom has relevance in the workplace. Then, when students start on their career path, they can make a contribution from day one. Let’s stop teaching irrelevancies, no wonder kids switch off and turn to their phones every 6 minutes.

Classroom in the workplace, workplace in the classroom – that is the future.

Jun 13

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I talk a lot about technology facilitating change in life and business. I found this picture in an airline magazine recently, of something called a ‘skycot.’ Can you imagine being allowed to suspend a baby from the overhead luggage compartment in a cot today?

I was in discussion with the director of a leading learning organisation this week and we discussed how embracing the new way of marketing, riding on the coat-tails of technology, is now a given. The brilliant Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, which through its digital vision is leading the way in innovative uses of technology, said recently, “Everyone is a media company.” If social networks and are where the next generation of learners, workers and shoppers choose learn about our products and services, that is where we have to be present to engage them.

There is one caveat to this that I experienced – yet again – recently. This doesn’t change for me. While I recognise that certain roles require very specific skills, as a generalisation I will continue to hire on ATTITUDE. In today’s world we have to keep learning and evolving just to stay in touch, so I will focus first on people with great attitude, because I can teach them everything they need to know about the company and its services

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Mar 25

At a recent event we talked about getting out of our comfort zone in order to be remarkable. If we stay doing the same things in the same way, why do we expect results that are any different?

We must break from the past and need look no further than a company I grew up with, Kodak, if we are to see how destructive this technology movement can be if we stand still and don’t embrace change. Regardless of the sector our business is in, we are being impacted – a new way of listening and engaging, a new way of reaching our customers and in many cases entirely new ways of transacting.

Kodak invented film, but they also created digital photography. What the company didn’t do was embrace a new way of working and let go of the past (I have talked about ‘Learnability’ in this column before). Often it takes bravery and imagination to leave behind a legacy, especially when the legacy has held the company in good stead for decades, but for Kodak it was catastrophic.

The digital age has changed more, faster, than anything that preceded it. The number and speed of smartphones sold compared to desktop and laptop computers is evidence of that. We need to remember the past and learn from it, but we must also leave it behind. Every company has to find where the magic happens, because that place is somewhere different.

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Jan 10

Technology continues to disrupt and next in line is education. There has been a lot written about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and many renowned institutions are involved – Harvard, MIT, Stanford and more recently the Open University here in the UK with their FutureLearn model. The Khan Academy, launched by Salman Khan, delivers 200m classes via YouTube, with zero hosting costs, now that is clever.

MOOCs are still trying to establish their model and this may take some time, but what is really important is that traditional learning institutions cannot just sit back and disregard this wave of change. I accept that tier-one universities such as Harvard or Cambridge will always have demand for places due to the prestige associated with studying there. But a student in Europe or Asia will refuse to pay large sums of money to sit in a mediocre lecture in their own country when they can learn online from world class tutors and be associated with a leading university.

Currently the MOOC interest is more about bridging the gap between current knowledge and acquiring new skills in order to do a better job, or find a new one. These modular, bite-sized chunks of learning are possibly the icing on the cake. If 5 candidates interview for one role and have a similar degree and one has an additional 20 certificates of mastery in a specific area of study, it is likely that their CV will stand out. In today’s world, it is all about differentiation. The modules offered by MOOCs not only allow an individual to keep up with changes in the business world but possibly in future even anticipate how market sectors will evolve.

This is just one example. Technology is breaking up the majority, the mainstream and the mundane. Which sector is next?

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Sep 26

Having spent time with some very inspirational people at a conference recently, I recalled something Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, shared more than 10 years ago. I have never forgotten it and it holds true today more than ever before.

Employers are concerned that if they invest in, train and certify their staff, those individuals may leave the company to grab an opportunity to earn more money elsewhere. Yet money is not the number one motivator, as we have seen over and over again from numerous people studies.

“What if I train and certify my staff, and they leave?” asked one employer.

“What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay?” was the quite brilliant reply?

The shortest messages are usually those with the greatest impact.

We must dispel the myth.

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Jul 24

I am just back from co-hosting the Pearson VUE Global Sales Summit, where the business development and client support teams from round the globe descended on Minneapolis to discuss learning and assessment technologies, share case studies and talk futures. It was an excellent event.

At breakfast in the hotel the waiter asked me if I would like some cranberry juice, my morning potion. How did he remember after so many months? That is some service. This led me to think where I would like to see technology heading in the learning space, using IT to remember our learning preferences.

I have been involved in many discussions around lifelong learning and how it will be the responsibility of the individual to keep their skills up to date, as companies reduced their core and people move around from project to project putting their skills and expertise to use. What we need is an App on our devices that tracks our learning, recognises completion of a module specific to our immediate task at hand and then recommends when we are ready for the next stage, each time suggesting local providers, special offers and development opportunities.

If the technology at our disposal can recommend discounted meals, city breaks and electronic goods, why can it not also recommend bite-sized chunks of learning and tailored education – the most important investment of all?

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Apr 28

A few years ago, my wife was attempting to take my son’s Nintendo DS away from him as a form of punishment for not listening to her. It was the toy he loved the most and like most kids that age, he was glued to the device. He was 8. He screamed “I am nothing without my Nintendo DS.” I was in my office shrieking with laughter at the dramatics. As I reflect today, there is a lesson there.

In Korea, families spend more of their disposable income (22%) than any other nation on their family’s education. Within 2 years, all elementary school education in Korea will be delivered via tablet or other device. In Kent in the South East of England, the Longfield Academy school has provided their students with an iPad (not entirely free, but that is besides the point). I think it goes without saying what has happened to the levels of immersion and concentration in the classroom in those institutions that have adopted the technology that kids were born with – they are digital natives after all.

I have talked before about technology, gadgetry and the internet being the ‘oxygen’ for our youngsters – for them a computer or smartphone is a gateway to a world of communications. So, let’s start building lessons and assignments on these devices, give them the gadgets so that the kids are learning via the tools they are so comfortable with. As Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, said earlier this year, a Victorian schoolteacher could quite easily pick up where she left off in delivering a class in today’s school.

The problem is more ours than theirs – give the kids the tools and technologies that they devour each day, and I think we will be pleasantly surprised by the levels of creativity and engagement.

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