Tag Archives: e-learning

Show me the evidence…

I think this line is really interesting from a recent discussion on the ALT Members mailing list.

…in particular to share these with academics when they ask for the evidence to show technology can make a difference.

Often when demonstrating the potential of TEL and learning technologies to academics, the issue of evidence of impact often arises.

You will have a conversation which focuses on the technology and then the academic or teacher asks for evidence of the impact of that technology.

From my experience when an academic asks for the evidence, then the problem is not the lack of evidence, but actually something else.

Yes there are academics who will respond positively when shown the “evidence”, however experience has taught me that even when that happens then there is then another reason/problem/lack of evidence that means that the academic will still not start to use technology to “make a difference”.

When an academic asks “for the evidence to show technology can make a difference” the problem is not the lack of evidence, but one of resistance to change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation.

You really need to solve those issues, rather than find the “evidence”, as even if you find the evidence, you will then get further responses such as, wouldn’t work with my students, not appropriate for my subject, it wouldn’t work here, it’s not quite the same, not transferable…. etc…

Despite years of “evidence” published in a range of journals, can studies from Jisc and others, you will find that what ever evidence you “provide” it won’t be good enough, to justify that academic to start embedding that technology into their practice.

As stated before, when someone asks for the “evidence” more often then not this is a stalling tactic so that they don’t have the invest the time, energy and resources into using that technology.

Sometimes it can be “fear” as they really don’t have the capabilities to use technology and lack the basic ICT confidence to actually use various learning technologies, and as a result rather then fess up their lack of skills, they ask for the “evidence”, again to delay things.

Just turn it around, when you ask those academics who do use technology then, you find that the “evidence” generally plays little or no part in their decisions to make effective use of technology.

So what solutions are there to solve this issue? Well we need to think about the actual problems.

A lot of people do like things to remain as they are, they like their patterns of work, they like to do what they’ve always done. This is sometimes called resistance to change, but I think it’s less resistance to change, and more sticking to what I know. I know what works, it works for me, and anything else would require effort. This strikes me more about culture, a culture where improvement, efficiency and effectiveness are seen as not important and the status quo is rarely challenged.

Unless an organisation is focused strategically and operationally in improvement, widening participation, becoming more efficient, then it is hard to get people to think about changing their practice.

When it comes to embedding learning technologies we often talking about changing the culture of an organisation. This can be hard, but doesn’t necessarily have to be slow. I am reminded of a conversation with Lawrie Phipps though in which he said we have to remember that academics often like the current culture, it’s why they work in that place and in that job. So don’t be surprised when you are met with resistance!

Creating a culture which reflects experimentation, builds curiosity and rewards innovation, isn’t easy, but also isn’t impossible. There are various ways in which this can be done, but one lesson I have learnt in making this happen, is that the process needs to be holstic and the whole organisation needs to embrace that need to change the culture. What I have found that you need to identify the key stakeholders in the organisation, the ones who actually have the power to make change happen. I found in one college I worked in that the real “power” wasn’t with the Senior Leadership Team (who often had the same frustrations I had when it came to change) but the Heads of Faculty, the managers who led and managed the curriculum leaders. They had the power to make things happen, but they didn’t always realise they held that power.

Getting the rhetoric right, but also understood across the organisation is critical for success in embedding learning technologies. Often messages are “broadcast” across an organisation, but staff don’t really understand what is meant by them and many staff don’t think it applies to them. Getting a shared understanding what is required from a key strategic objective is challenging. I have done this exercise a few times and it works quite well, pick a phrase from your strategic objectives and ask a room of staff or managers what it means and to write it down individually. You find that everyone usually had a different understanding of what it means. A couple of examples to try include buzz phrases such as “the digital university” and “embrace technology”.

Finally looking at what motivates people to use technology to improve teaching, learning and assessment.

When I was teaching, I would often experiment with technology to see if it made a difference, if it did, I adopted it, if it didn’t I stopped using it. The impact on the learners was minimal, as I didn’t continue to use technology that didn’t make a difference or was even having a negative impact. What I also did was I applied the same process and logic to all my teaching. So when I created games to demonstrate various economic processes, if they made a difference I used them again, if they didn’t then I would ask the learners how they would change or improve them. When I gave out a reading list of books, I would ask the learners for their feedback and, those that didn’t make a difference or had no positive impact, then they would be removed from the list! I was personally motivated, but we know you can’t just make that happen.

When I was managing a team I ensured that any experimentation or innovation was part of their annual objectives and created SMART actions that would ensure they would be “motivated” to do this. Again you need to identify the key stakeholders in the organisation, the ones who actually have the power to make this happen.

So when someone asks you to show them the evidence what do you do?

Thinking Differently: The Persuasion


Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post called “I think differently”, back then I said then that

I use to think that the “message” of e-learning could be sold to practitioners.

I use to think that once the “message” was sold that these practitioners would then embrace e-learning and use it to enhance and enrich their teaching and their students’ learning.

I use to think, once sold, that these practitioners would continue to use e-learning as e-learning evolved and changed over the years.

I use to think, that these practitioners would sell the “message” to others in their curriculum area and the cycle would continue.

I no longer think this way.

I still agree with this.

I am still told though today by managers that the “case” for using learning technologies needs to be “sold” to the practitioners, and that persuasion should be enough to “convince” them of the value that using these technologies will add to the learner experience and learner engagement.

The problem I have with this, is if it worked then it would have worked years ago!

Don’t get me wrong I know that this way of engaging with practitioners will, and does work with many practitioners (or should that be some practitioners), it will also work for most learning technologies.

However let me ask you another question, is this the approach used when using administrative systems such as registers or assessment tracking? No you wouldn’t try and persuade practitioners to use the register, you would tell them that they have to use it as part of their job.

If managers want practitioners to be “sold” the benefits of technology and persuaded to use them, then they shouldn’t be surprised if practitioners “choose” not to use them, or not use them to their full functionality and benefit. That choice many not necessarily be an informed choice, or a rational choice.

However I also know that “forcing” or telling people that they “must” use learning technologies also doesn’t work, or isn’t very effective.

I should say that at this point my view is that learning technologies should not just be used for the sake of using learning technologies. They are best used when they help either to solve a problem, improves efficiency, makes things better or more effective, or allows for learning to happen in a totally different way that makes it more open, inclusive and accessible.

In order to get practitioners using technology extensively and creatively is to change the culture, from one where technology is the problem, to one where it is part of the solution. Now that is easier said than done.

Well I think differently!

I use to think that the “message” of e-learning could be sold to practitioners.

I use to think that once the “message” was sold that these practitioners would then embrace e-learning and use it to enhance and enrich their teaching and their students’ learning.

I use to think, once sold, that these practitioners would continue to use e-learning as e-learning evolved and changed over the years.

I use to think, that these practitioners would sell the “message” to others in their curriculum area and the cycle would continue.

I know others think this way.

I no longer think this way.


I no longer think this way because I have seen it tried and used in many different institutions, over many educational sectors, across varied curriculum areas and have never seen a holistic success made of this process, it does not work across a whole institution. For example, in FE we had ILT Champions who would “champion” the use of ILT in their curriculum areas.

So what do I think now?

Well I think differently.

We need to think differently if we are to make the best use of e-learning to meet the challenges (and opportunities) over the next few years.

We can’t continue to do what we have always done, just because we have always done it that way.

My methodology now, is more about changing the culture of an organisation so that when new technologies come along, we see it as an opportunity for enrichment, and not a threat to an existing practice. Learning technologies are there to provide solutions to practical, administrative and pedagogical problems, not to be a problem in their own right waiting to be solved.

Practitioners need to be wanting and able to take advantage of the opportunities and solutions that learning technologies can provide, and not see it as something that is annoying, unsuitable, inappropriate or dangerous.

We need to move away from excuses and obstacles, and move towards opportunities and solutions.

It’s not just about “not enough” staff development and training, it’s about practitioner taking responsibility for their own staff development, to seek out a community of practice, to build on their skills, share, collaborate and move forward. It isn’t enough now to rely on a single staff development day, week or event. Staff development is an activity that happens every day.

Community is important, local, regional, national and even international. Sharing practice, ideas and problems is a way of changing culture. Building communities of practice and personal learning networks should be the responsibility of every practitioner, and no they don’t all need to be based around Twitter!

We need to start thinking differently about how we do things, and not do things just because we have always done them that way. Sometimes we will continue to do it that way, but for the right reasons.

Well I think differently!

Do you?

Just remember teachers are like starship captains…

Providing any e-learning service to staff in an institution is a challenge.

Providing a service that meets the varied needs of staff in an institution is also a challenge.

Providing a service that exceeds the expectations of staff in an institution is sometimes an impossible challenge…

…unless you manage the (sometimes) unrealistic expectations of staff.

I remember many years ago in my previous role at the Western Colleges Consortium (WCC) explaining to key stakeholders about how long it would take to process a course creation request on the shared VLE. The process was in place to remove the burden of the task from staff in the partner colleges, ensure that it was only visible to the relevant staff and learners and had some content in it! Once created it was handed over to the staff to add activities and more content.

I recall announcing that we would ensure that all requests would be   fulfilled within seven days.

But the cry came out…

“This is the internet, it’s available 24/7, why can’t you just do it there and then!”

The issue was not about doing it there and then, but managing expectations. We needed to be realistic based on the staff available to complete the requests, holiday, conferences, and levels of requests.

Usually we would complete requests the same working day, however if we said we would do a request within one day and we fulfilled that request in two days, we would have been seen to have “failed”.

By setting a service agreement of seven days, say we completed the request within three days we would be seen as a miracle worker!

It was all about managing expectations.

If your users expect you to complete something in seven days and you take less than seven days then you have exceeded their expectations. Likewise if you say within 24 hours and it takes 25 hours, you have failed in their eyes and not met their expectations.

Realistic service level agreements need to be in place to ensure that you meet and exceed expectations from users. The agreements you have in place should be based on staffing and other resources.

You can of course review and evaluate the agreements over time to ensure that they continue to be realistic, fair and working.

So don’t say within 24 hours and seen to be continually failing, set a level of five days and be seen as a miracle worker!

Why is this The Scotty Model of e-Learning Services, well….

Have a look at this video…

It should start at the correct timeframe of 2 mins into it.

Just remember teachers are like starship captains…

Wherever you are…

Wherever you are…

Wherever you are you can participate in the Innovating e-Learning 2009 JISC Online Conference.

The JISC Online e-Learning Conference 2009 takes place between the 24 and 27th November.