Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review of the OU 'Trends in Learning' Report 2018

Rachel Burnham writes: Whilst at the CIPD L&D Show 2018 on Wednesday, I picked up a copy of the Open University’s ‘Trends in Learning Report’ for this year.  This annual report was launched at the show that day and is based on research from the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology, which gives it credibility and a sound basis.   Today I have been reading through the report and reflecting on its contents and the topics it highlights – I think it is well worth a read - here is a link to download a copy.  You might also be interested in this 12 min podcast from Mike Shaw,part of the CIPD Blogsquad for the event, on the report.

The report is concise and well produced, making it very easy to read.  It focuses on five key topics:

·       Spaced learning
·       Post-truth learning
·       Immersive learning
·       Learner-led analytics
·       Humanistic knowledge building communities

Each section explores one of these topics, includes an example/perspective from an L&D practitioner, plus some links to some further resources related to the topic and some practical and well-focused tips for L&D.  This makes the report very accessible, relevant and useful.   All this and only 15 pages long!

Spaced Learning
The first topic explored is the well-researched finding that people learn better through a series of learning sessions with gaps in-between them, rather than a long intense one-off exposure to learning content.   This approach can be used both for gaining knowledge and developing skills.

This is often a factor in the effectiveness of blended learning programmes or in shorter-bite-sized learning programmes.  

I think this is a really valuable approach for developing knowledge, however, I would first caution that it is worth questioning whether we really need employees to learn such knowledge at all.  For some aspects of work it is essential for employees to have key pieces of knowledge embedded, but there are lots of aspects of work where a more effective approach is for employees to simply know where to easily access the information as and when they need it.  We need to be able to distinguish which knowledge is which and therefore which is the most effective approach to take to enable people to do their jobs well.  A great resource for thinking this through is Cathy Moore’s ‘Ask the flowchart’, which I am constantly recommending to people.

If knowledge or skills need to be built, then let’s invest in spaced learning.  If not, let’s use a resources-led approach.

If you would like to find out more about Spaced Learning and also how it can be used alongside other well-researched approaches such as 'retrieval practice’ – I recommend listening to ‘The Learning Scientists’ Podcast’.  This series of short podcasts provides an excellent introduction to these and other techniques, with examples of both use of these techniques and the research upon which they are based.  

Post-truth Learning
For me this was the most intriguing of the topics identified and is about the need that we all have to be able to distinguish credible, accurate and current information, theories, models, from those that are ‘fake’ or otherwise unreliable.  It also links to the move to an evidence-based practice approach. 

This need to distinguish helpful information is becoming increasing challenging with the sheer abundance of information available to us and the ease of access directly to it ourselves – now we need to act as our own ‘gate-keepers’ and ‘quality-assessors’.  This is something that is a key part of the work I do around curation, whether curation for myself, supporting others in developing their personal curation approaches and when curating for others, perhaps as part of the design of a programme.

One of the conference sessions by Martin Couzins focused on ‘How to curate learning for performance support’ – here is a Wakelet with the tweets from this session – and in the session participants were encouraged to have a go at selecting which resources they would use in a particular context.  This process of ‘filtering’ or the ‘sense’ part of Harold Jarche’s ‘Seek, Sense, Share’ model, includes the need to careful sift material to pick out what is valuable.

The need for us to develop our skills in doing this and to support the managers and other employees we work with in doing this was also something brought out in the Good Practice report ‘Google It’ from 2016, which identified that ‘managers will benefit from guidance about how to evaluate the content they find’ when using search engine’s such as Google.

I am particular impressed with one of the resources referred to in this section, which is a E-book guide to evaluating information on social media – do take a look at this.

Immersive Learning
The third topic identified is something that I have been learning about over the last 18 months, along with my collaborator Niall Gavin @niallgavinuk, by exploring the fast developing fields of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and how they can be used effectively to aid learning.  You can find out about our learning journey through these links to blogs and resources lists.

The practitioner comments here are clear about the need for us to build our awareness of the potential for this kind of approach before jumping in. I particularly rated the tips of L&D in this section and especially the final one ‘Start small, test it, learn, refine and build’.

Learner-led Analytics
We have been hearing a lot about how we need to be making more use of the data available through our use of technology to support learning and in particular of data analytics for a few years.  During the Show, I attended an excellent session on the exhibition floor presented by Ben Betts @bbetts of HT2 Labs about how data analytics can be used to assess the impact of learning programmes – he presented two very interesting case studies from HT2 Labs work with clients.   Here is my Sketchnote of this session:

And the Open University has itself shared in previous L&D Shows its experience of using data analytics in 2016 talking about ‘the virtuous circle of learning design and learning analytics’ - here is a link to my Sketchnote from this session.

However, the report focuses on the slightly different topic of how analytical information can aid learners be more effective learners and how learning can become more targeted and personalized.   Again, there is some great guidance in the tips about the need to be ‘cynically curious’ when finding out more about this topic.

Humanistic knowledge building communities
I think this is about building social and collaborative learning communities – this is the only place in the report, where I felt that there was a use of unnecessary jargon.    This section explores how technology can be used to support these communities and links to ideas of communities of practice and working out loud (WOL).  The practitioner input in this section is from Mike Collins @Community_Mike, well known for his interest and experience in developing and supporting online communities.  He includes some helpful tips about what is involved in doing this.  

I think this report is a great introduction to these topics and the addition of further resources and the tips gives this report additional practical value.   I encourage you to get hold of a copy and make use of it. 

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D works with individuals and organisations to help them learn and work more effectively.  As part of this I help L&D professionals to be even more effective through updating their skills and know-how.  I have a particular interest in curation and the use of digital technologies in learning.  I frequently Sketchnote at events and offer workshops in Sketchnoting.  

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