Posted by: Gillian | April 13, 2020

Scared of online learning in Covid times?

My heart goes out to teachers, parents and professors suddenly facing the unknown world of home-learning and online learning while also trying to hold down a standardly constructed job. I yearn to say, ‘Relax, it’s easy.’ It isn’t – but it need not be difficult, either. People have been doing successful online and distance edu for even longer than me and I’ve got well over 30 years experience matching qualifications and figuring out how to make the courses work wherever they may be delivered.

  1. If a teacher, think through wider than the details of the curriculum. Now is the time to make them think and be social in their thinking.
  2. If a parent, get hold of the curriculum and see what ‘must’ be done but why not make it an online catch-up and challenge for the kids in your chosen online meeting place? Yes, there is the danger of pushing it too far and it all getting a bit yummy-mummy one-up-manship but that’s the school gate, isn’t it? Keep it sensible and the kids keep a learning social contact which goes beyond the forced ‘Hello Cousin’ of families keeping in touch. The challenge of school returns.
Posted by: Gillian | July 11, 2015

Academic language – or being taken seriously

There’s a huge divide between casual spoken and academic language when written and a slightly smaller gap when spoken.  The problem for international speakers who arrive at Masters or higher levels is to know what is acceptable and what is not.  Most have great spoken skills when in the pub/café.  Many do not understand some words just do not get used in formal and semi-formal environments – or even in domestic ones.  We are not all Prince Philip! (–video-10381185.html)

Those of us with less regal connections have to manage with a much broader, more detailed vocabulary.  That’s not a bad deal if you really want to be rude. A wider choice of vocabulary can be really offensive as it is thought-through rather than a casual use of ‘rude’ words that have become nothing more than casual adjectives used by the literally inept.  If you are a non-native-speaker, however, the safest route is to avoid the words you were taught in the pub, and even in emails and conversations, and stick to words you will find in a large, old-fashioned, school-level dictionary.  Swearing in an academic thesis is just wrong – unless that is the subject of the thesis. At a social level, international academics have a really hard time of it working out what is acceptable and what is not.  If in doubt, I’d stick to the school-level dictionary. Getting swearing wrong is easy.  Talking in a way that does not embarrass people soley because of the vocabulary is easy – just pick a large school dictionary and add in any necessary subject vocabulary.

Posted by: Gillian | April 1, 2014

eBooks for e-D learning

Are eBooks just textbooks on your phone or tablet or pc?  Well, many really are pdfs that have just been resized to suit your device but there’s a growing ‘library’ of ebooks that are starting to harness the potential of digital technology.  Although I agree with Gaby Wood’s view of the current quality of ebooks, I’m not so sure I agree that publishers are lazy. Let’s just say they were slow to turn around traditional financial models and perhaps prudently so as the technologies were rapidly evolving.     There is now something approaching stability in the market with ePub3 which is generating a lot of support as shown at a recent London conference hosted by Jouve.  Learning designers now have e-D rather than 3D.  Material can be presented in the medium (text, video, audio, Q+A, online, classroom…) that makes most sense for the topic and target audience.  Students and learners in general do not read whole textbooks, they cherry pick the relevant bits and perhaps read more of the areas they have highlighted when/if they re-read.  As for bibliographies: does anyone ever read all of those? Well, I guess proofreaders and PhD super-stars ‘may’ – but even then I’m not really convinced. And on a Smartphone, would anyone ever???  Making the material sing and leading learners to do, analyze and create through interaction is the new e-D learning.

In short, textbooks are useful and, I think, will stay but eBooks are different.  Learners and authors need to demand more.

Posted by: Gillian | April 16, 2013

Facts, exams and success

Just been alerted to this Suli Breeze YouTube clip: I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate||Spoken Word:  .  I love the bit about remembering something five minutes after time is called: haven’t we all done that?

Exams do not define us.  However, just as attitude, intelligence and ability to adapt to new and emerging knowledge/techniques are essential for success so, too, is the ability to fit our own knowledge and behaviours into the existing culture.  Our knowledge and behaviours might take the existing culture to welcome new realities (think Apple founders) or they might be misunderstood, seen as irrelevant, ignored.  Many lifelong learners and, certainly, many returners to the world of formal education, take exams or seek formal accreditation of learning as a useful shortcut that explains to employers or other interested parties  (e.g. professional bodies, insurers) that they have certain skills.  Learning facts such as lists of kings and queens may have little obvious value when a Google search can find the information in milliseconds but training memory, developing reference points for one’s personal knowledge map and creating a base for further exploration are not easily dismissed as totally unimportant.  When learning Latin, I was unimpressed by the lessons in chucking boiling oil over ramparts which hardly seemed necessary skills for a girl in rural England; but half-remembered vocabulary and complex grammatical constructions have been of use more times in modern-day Europe than I can count whether ordering lunch in an Italian piazza or trying to work out which documents are important and which I can safely ignore for a while when working on projects.

There is much in education that is wrong and, yes, Richard Branson is a prime example of someone who decided formal education could not keep pace with his ambitions and he had the drive and intelligence to find effective ways to succeed wonderfully without (much of) it.  However, attitude and determination alone are rarely enough and in this connected world, interest groups and comment boards from Instagram to Slideshare and Pinterest are there to help us get started in building knowledge maps.  As we become more aware of what we know, sooner or later many decide that seeking a ‘badge’ or exam/qualification is a method of showing others the scope of one’s expertise.  Exam systems probably need to undergo massive change to fit the new world order but until then, refuse to be defined by grades but be comfortable in daring to join or rejoin the world where exams do open doors.

Posted by: Gillian | April 8, 2013

MOOCs – no change in HE?

Steve Downes has written a really useful set of notes from the ELI conference.  They are worth reading in detail but a few things really struck me:

  1. To make the most of MOOCs a university’s sense of self needs to become larger.  The protectionist view that finds the ‘best’ lecturer and creates the glossiest video to safeguard the brand of the institution is an old way of doing business.  It is what happened when distance learning first stepped from correspondence courses to multiple-media.  Eventually, institutional budgets and student demands to see their ‘own’ lecturers meant that less contrived, more immediate materials were made available for students and staff to discuss.
  2. The QA question of ‘residency’ (aka ‘hours of required study’) is an emotional one for traditional institutions but one that should perhaps be past its sell-by date in a connected world where learners bring a wide range of experiences to the table.  While completion rates are a necessary accounting measure and also a source of value-for-money reassurance to bill-payers, in and of themselves they have nothing to do with proving learning.  Outcomes assessment has been with the formal education community for many years.  Outcomes often include behaviours.  There is perhaps no need to link outcomes assessment and academic residency beyond that of enabling more predictable accounting.
  3. xMOOCs (lecture hall, got bigger) are a modern manifestation of a very old tradition indeed, that of letting auditors into lectures provided there was space and, perhaps, allowing them to ask questions but not assessing any ‘homework’ they saw fit to attempt.  They are not the same as cMOOCs which bring together experts, beginners and amateurs from all around the globe, all on different points in their learning paths, adapting the offering and the ‘course’ to suit their own needs as they progress.  The differentiation made at the ELI conference between students and learners is fundamental to the difference in the two approaches.  In the modern world, lifelong learning is seen as an economic necessity. xMoocs may be a very valuable means of higher education outreach but the ‘inreach’ cMOOCs has perhaps the greater potential for enriching the education and economic environment.
  4. Academic writings have been in digital form for many years and traditional university students in most countries are more used to gaining access to library resources online than they are to getting up at dawn to beat the queue for the only book on the shelf so, why are academic libraries still reserved for students and academics on traditional courses?  With the availability of PayPal and similar systems, it should be possible to make very modestly priced subscriptions to all the big libraries available to everyone – or perhaps a two-tiered system with a very modestly priced ‘access’ subscription and another fee for seeking the help of the librarian.
Posted by: Gillian | March 19, 2013

Personal Learning apps

The ROLE project has today had its final official review but this is far from the end of ROLE.  Personal learning environments and self-regulated learning for people at work, in education or at home are here to stay and the tools to let the user control their learning environment in a mobile, uncertain world are becoming not only more essential but ever more sophisticated.  By adding free apps to one’s Google+ space or many other social websites, or to traditional learning management systems (Moodle, BlackBoard), people can share resources, comment on them, reflect on or track their own learning, save a group of widgets as one single widget to be installed on another machine … in short make, learning easier to organise, more social and more relevant.  If interested, see the ROLE widget store.

Posted by: Gillian | March 5, 2013

In-person Communication for Business course

Yesterday I was at a workshop that was both useful and fun.  The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has some world-famous alumni but what may be less well-known is that they offer voice coaching and presentation workshops for business people.  We acted out the quieter “What am I doing up here?” person and the irrepressible Tigger who bounces into every space, played with breathing techniques and voicing, did our best to stand in a ‘centred’ fashion.  It was material often taught in MBAs but, frankly, I’ve never seen it taught by anyone who is a real master of the subject rather than someone adding it in to their course on OB or Business Comms and the difference was immense.  See if you want to try this yourself.

Posted by: Gillian | January 2, 2013

Don’t let the jargon stop you returning to learning

Today I met a friend who wanted to sign up for a course but she was told she was expected to be a self-regulated learner. “Makes me sound like an oven,” she growled, “and I hate cooking.”

Frazzled cook

Frazzled cook

She continued, “Anyway, what is one?”  Also today, I was reviewing a paper in which primary school children in a poverty stricken community were called self-regulated learners.  If the kids can do it, the adults in a well-equipped city must be able to do so, surely?  There are many, many articles on the subject but Barry Zimmerman’s model is frequently cited (see here for one version). In basic terms, all that is needed is the ability to stop and think:

  1. What am I meant to be doing
  2. What resources are there to help me
  3. How am I going to use the resources
  4. When I’ve used the selected resources, what were the results
  5. Did the results meet my expectations/requirements and why/why not.

If you add into the equation that ‘resources’ includes fellow, often similarly lost, students, tutors, family and friends, then self-regulated learning becomes less like frazzled cooking and more like sociable exploration.  I hope the friend has fun.


(Thanks to debspoons at for the image)


Posted by: Gillian | December 19, 2012

Degrees, learning and MOOCs

This is only a quick post but really: has the hype around MOOCs or the re-invention of UUK actually changed the ground rules?  Players in the MBA market like EBS have long understood that providing solid knowledge is useful to very many. (Any other institutions up for same claim?) Some may want a qualification. Many may just want not just knowledge but interaction with other similarly-minded people. What is ‘education’?

When Masters programmes are launched, they tend to talk much about study hours with more meaning better but occasionally a programme does ‘better’ without requiring a whole year of attendance during which time the subject matter of the programme in question develops separately and faster. It’s rare for me to actually name a programme but if you want a programme that is intensive, under a year, market relevant and includes:

  • 10-day Working Conference in the USA
  • Advisory Board and Teaching Staff from 15 countries
  • Involvement of over 10 universities and 20 companies

contact or see the programme website

Based in Barcelona, the teaching is in English. Classes are arranged in blocks to allow cheap flights home to continue with home life or perhaps an existing job.

Starts: January 16th, 2013  Ends: July 12th, 2013

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