Monday 24 June 2019

Can people be pushed into #mandatory #learning? Old myths in new mantra's #learning #pedagogy #instruction

Let's be clear: teachers still are not transforming into guides-on-the-side, contemporary-online-learning is not a fabulous learning utopia (we can build it, but we lack whom we want to reach) and pedagogy is now debilitated through new innovations in learning. At least that is my frustration of the day. Let me explain (picture credit: PhD

As I am getting more into the 'AI helps people to be trained in a personalized way'-project (officially called the skills3.0 project, slides here), I am starting to feel uncomfortable with some of the ideas that emerge and resonate with false assumptions found 20 years ago:

  • the old elearning assumption: if you build it, people will come (they did not, at best you need to market it ferociously in order to attract some worldwide learners - confer MOOCs). But when looking at the numbers and the degrees, it is still rather weak in terms of successful tailored learning resulting in professional learning enhancement. In most cases, MOOCs cover the basics, not the advanced side of professional topics.  
  • another one: having to transform instructors (defined as sage-on-the-stage) to guides-on-the-side (something which is repeated by Norris Krueger in his blog article 'from instructor to educator' with a focus on entrepreneurial education). This idea of guide on the side stems from 1981, which means in the last 38 years we haven't managed to get there... this does show it is hard to expand people to embrace a different approach to learning. For in my opinion the best teachers have always been guides-on-the-side, they inspire their students and lift them to their own next level.  
  • The debilitation of pedagogy: I cannot get around this tendency to oversimplify learning, and almost dismiss the proven, evidence-based pedagogy we - the learning researchers - established over the last 30 years. For years fellow researchers in online learning were testing, investigating, reiterating learning options, to see what worked best. And as soon as the market took over, all is reduced to .... classic courses, with one speaker who delivers knowledge but barely listens, clearly a sage-on-the-stage model (MOOCs) and all of us learners discussing and sharing knowledge with each other in the discussion areas in order to tailor what was said to our own situations (social learning, which actually happens in face-to-face courses as well). The only thing that is added to the sage-on-the-stage in most of the MOOC cases is 'fancy video' and a 'new type of Learning Management System' (cfr. Coursera, FutureLearn, EdX... they are basically LMS's with some extra's). Yes, some people learn from the hole in the wall, some do, but most of us don't. So why do learning data scientist and innovators in their new learning tools think that all of humanity will start to learn simply because they say: here it is, this will get you in a better career position. And even if this would be the case, please tell me who would have these actual magic courses, for who can build courses at the speed of the emerging, changing industry? And if we build them, who will be waiting, filled with anticipation and willingness to follow these courses?
I feel frustrated that learning is again be seen as simply a thing that all of us do, and for industry-related reasons. Honestly, I think most of us learn informally (proven!) and if we learn for professional reasons we need to be able to spend time on it (HR enabling time), and if we were to be allocated time to learn, it should be allocated in terms of our own capacity for learning, based on our own background in learning (using a holistic approach to pedagogies). 

In order to move forward with the Skills3.0 project, there are several elements that need to come together and make sense in order to scale the project as well. These elements are:

  1. Using AI to filter out industry needs (which means you look at all the reports from industry, and analyse which new concepts arise from these reports to predict where the industry is going)
  2. Using AI to analyse which true experiences (and related competencies and skills) a person has: based on LinkedIn profiles, current CV's...
  3. Finding the skills gap between both previous steps: getting to know what people might be missing in order for them to answer to upcoming industry needs,
  4. And finally pointing them to training/courses/workshops that might push them to be better for the future jobs. 

The project is taking off (see movie at the end, to see where we are at, I look a bit tired in it, or maybe simply older).
The last step is underestimated by most of the non-educational people. At present learning cannot be put into simple formula's, it is the complexity of life itself, it is why everything evolves in the long and in the short term, including us humans. 

All of the above steps of the Skills3.0 project are laudable. If this works, it has a broader societal meaning, you can even say it provides a way to direct people to a more fulfilling professional life. But... that feels like a Utopian emotion following new innovations. We can see how providing guidance to courses that will help each one of us to perform better, to enhance our careers, to find new professional challenges, ... is a good thing. The only problem is, that humans are also bound to their own learning characteristics (e.g. Big five personality traits, or more academically the learner characteristics guiding their own self-directed learning).

Simply providing courses might not be enough, we need coaching, workshops, orientational sessions which depict which types of learning will benefit you most (e.g. if we look for data science courses online, which ones are useful to each of us individually? that will depend on what we know, where we want to use them for, and how we learn (for me, numbers are a challenge)).

Whether we say learners must self-direct, or self-regulate or self-determine their learning, inevitably this means we are talking about learners that are willing to learn, and are capable of learning. Indeed, in the near future we will ask learners to learn at a speed that is ever increasing, meaning you need to be a really good learner to keep up with your own changing field. Can we do this? And if we can, how does it work?

Short video on the Skills3.0 project recorded during the WindEurope conference in Bilbao. Which will lead to 'building the workforce':

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Part 2 on #Blockchain in #learning: some points of discussion

This is a second post on Blockchain in learning (specifically for certification, it is referred to as Blockcerts). In the first blogpost on the subject, I took a look at some examples that are currently out there (industry/academia), but in this post, I will have a closer look at the discussions surrounding Blockchain for learning. First I will zoom in on how I see Blockchain certification being the new big brother in an already very structured dominant education system. After that I share a prankster who conned himself into a professorship, then an example from Russia, and to finish the blogpost, a quick overview of one of the major critiques on blockchain. First off: fight the power!

Blockchain the move from freedom to the rigid, dominant system in learning
In history and innovation, there is always the first momentum which feels like liberation and promises a minor or major new Utopia (the emergence of television: education for all right in your living room; Internet: education at our fingertips; MOOCs: free education for all by highly acclaimed institutions, ... and now blockchain: certification for our lifelong learning, right in our mobiles). Blockchain certification is cutting out the middle person and making sure that all transactions move from user-to-user (where the user might be any person or company that is at one end of a transaction). At first, the promise of secure data transition is felt like new freedom to some, but once the technology gets more embedded and used by more people, a more rigorous system kicks in, the dominant system.

To me, it feels like dominant learning is reeling all of us, informal learners, back in, and blockchain certification might just be a strong example. Why would blockchain be a ball-and-chain from the dominant system? Easy, it now stacks formal certification, which means it becomes even more difficult to live and develop outside of the pre-set pathways of life (if you want a professional career that is). Why would this be necessary? Well, not all of us want to pull pranks, not all of us want to live outside of the set boundaries (study, go to uni, work and climb the ladder within a specific branch), but some of us do like a bit of job freedom. I for instance like switching jobs, and retaining some freedom while performing to the best of my abilities.

Our human right to pull pranks within the educational establishment
For me, we - as humans - need the freedom to pull off a prank from time to time. Nothing as big as full-blown fraud, but just something small to satisfy our inner fool.

I remember a prank that Gogol pulled off which actually went against the rigid educational system of his time. Gogol was a famous Russian author using quite a bit of surrealism in his books, eg. The Nose. At a certain point in his life, he could earn enough money, so he was looking for a means to earn money, and he managed to earn a chair as Professor of Medieval History at the University of St. Petersburg, a job for which he had no qualifications. He pulled this off for a year (not giving lectures, keeping all the information very general, and taking exams with a towel wrapped around his so-called toothache, so that he did not have to talk and another professor took the exams of the students. Great! I mean, let's be serious, this is something that makes all of us pranksters laugh. It takes a serious position and turns it into a very human momentum. Let's be honest, no robot or cyborg would do this, only humans can come up with such a beautifully orchestrated prank.
However stupid a fool's words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man. Gogol, Dead Souls.     
Blockchain certification is for idiots who cannot pinpoint real knowledge or expertise
Sometimes Blockchain certification is promoted with: "it takes away the risk of hiring someone who has not gotten the degrees that the person says they have". So what? If you cannot tell if someone had or didn't have an education based on what they deliver in terms of work, it sure means they were intelligent enough to really grasp those skills and experiences in their own way. If they cannot pull it off, it does not matter whether they had the qualifications in a formal way or not either, because if they cannot do the job, no matter which qualifications they have, you will fire them. So in a way certification is only a fools tool within a dominant system that agrees it is too difficult to distinguish real earned certification versus fraudulently earned certification. Or is it?

Universities are no longer on top of the educational ladder: the Russian implementation
In my previous post, I mentioned a couple of Blockchain certification options, but since then I came across a more advanced blockchain in learning example, and it is a Russian implementation called Disciplina. This platform combines education (including vocational training), recruiting (comparable with what LinkedIn is doing with its economic graph) and careers for professionals. All of this is combined into a blockchain solution that keeps track of all the learners' journey. The platform includes not only online courses as we know it but also coaching. After each training, you get a certificate.
TeachMePlease, which is a partner of Disciplina, enables teachers and students to find each other for specific professional training as well as curriculum-related children's schooling. Admittedly, these initiatives are still being rolled out in terms of courses, but it clearly shows where the next learning will be located: in an umbrella above all the universities and professional academies. At present, the university courses are being embedded into course offerings by corporations that roll out a layer post-university, or post-vocational schooling.

Europe embraces blockchain, as can be seen with their EU Blockchain observatory and forum. And in a more national action, Malta is storing their certifications in a blockchain nationwide as well. We cannot deny that blockchain is getting picked up by both companies and governments. Universities have been piloting several blockchain certification options, and they also harbor some of the leading voices in the debate on blockchain certification.

Major critique on Public Blockchains for learning
First of all, and prominently present, is Serge Ravet. He is co-author of the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration, founding partner of the Open Recognition Alliance, which already offers a good deal of interesting blockchain for learning related reading. On his learning futures blog, Serge wrote a couple of articles on why he thinks that blockchain for learning is not the way to go and is, in fact, solving a false problem. . While going head-on, he pinpoints the real actor behind the EU blockchain observatory and forum, he then goes on to state that blockchain promotion is based on the promotion of the idea of distrust. When I read this, I concurred to the notion, as indeed there is another way to certify education and learning, that is by using the Web of Trust.
The blockchain is sometimes presented as the new panacea needed to heal the wrongs of the world. It is not just superficial, it is plain wrong: some applications of blockchain technologies can make things worse than they were, like the Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that are not just boosting traditional criminal activities but enabling new ones, not to mention global warming. (It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (0/3) by Serge Ravet)
In his follow-up post Serge zooms in on the economic-dimension of using blockchains, notably the actual risk of erasing regulatory bodies, and one of the most irregulated markets, the cryptocurrency market. He states:
The rationale for the initial development of blockchain technologies like Bitcoins, was to solve the problem of double spending while simultaneously:
  • Getting rid of regulatory bodies — the dream of the proponents of anarcho-capitalism also called libertarian anarchy, one of the ideologies widely shared between the alt-right, Trump and Silicon Valley (c.f. their track-record in tax dodging).
  • Getting rid of the need for trusted authorities to secure transactions — which resulted in creating an ecosystem that works best when everybody is at war with everybody. Trust is a mortal sin as trust between the [blockchain] miners could lead to collusion and cheating. 
 This puts a large part of society in a precarious position, as blockchains are pushed as being secure, while actually not only cutting away the middle man, but also the regulators, and the only ones really benefitting from having no regulators are those in power.

Another well-known downside of blockchains is their impact on global warming (definitely regulators needed there).
Public blockchains based on Proof of Work (PoW) are actively contributing to global warming—Bitcoin operations consume the annual energy of New Zealand, and growing! (It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (1/3) by Serge Ravet.
He also dispels the blockchain myth in pointing to how easy it is to get funding if you use 'blockchain' in any type of way.
What I really like, and often think, is that there is not always a need for blockchain. There are other options that do the job you want and have less impact on the climate, as well as less impact on society (so keeping it a low risk).

When addressing blockchain for certification, he hits on similar ideas as I did in the beginning of this post (though Serge uses a much more literary and blockchain-tech angle). And he uses some bitter wit as well:
The blockcert-authors want to use blockchains to reinvent the teaching machine that B. F. Skinner imagined for humans out of his extensive study of pigeons. But with an interesting twist this time: the positive reinforcement is not for the students, but the teachers; and it is financial! ... If the goal is to “enable a wave of innovation” what kind of innovation could emerge from making credentials “cryptographically signed, tamper-proof, and shareable”? The only innovation here is in using a new technology to improve paper-based credentials. We had a piece of paper, a static piece of information that is now a digital record, just as well a static piece of information, but easier to share and more difficult to tamper with.
When reading this last paragraph, it dawned on me that blockchain certification might well be a contemporary version of the Emperors New Clothes. Ah, so that means blockcerts might be a prank after all?! That idea feels satisfying, I no longer need to search a viable product for my project... or do I ?