Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Do it right and do it first, this decade

The title of this post is referring to a quote from JF Kennedy in 1962, during his speech to continue achievements to put a man on the moon. The quote was heard again during a presentation by Fabrizio Cardinali (chairman of the ELIG) at Online Educa Berlin 2011. It was meant as a wake up call for the e-learning industry. We are moving too slow and should DO things, rather than debate about it and compete with each other. This is why emerging organisations are doing a good job now. Plan – Act – Share are the key drivers to move ahead. Open co-opetition (a blend of competition and cooperation) as the main filosophy to take us to the next step.

Creativity and genius should be nurtured in this process, it is the way to move ahead and survive global competition. According to Cardinali the creative genius can be described in 7 typical habits:
1. Managing ambiguity and change
2. Systems thinking
3. Curiosity
4. Learning from experience
5. Sharpening the senses
6. Whole brain thinking
7. Body-mind fitness

When it comes to creative minds it was good to attend Frank Kresin’s presentation about Fablabs: the user as today's designer of what we can use tomorrow.

Innovation and knowledge are the key drivers to get us out of the crisis (Kroes) and on an individual level an escape from poverty (Weber). The United Nations expect a substantial reduction of poverty in the next four years, which is a remarkable statement when we look at the current situation in the Euro countries. As a consequence of the reduction of poverty it is expected that the need for education will grow dramatically (Nowak) on the one hand. However, on the other hand it is expected that we will be 8 million short of teachers in 2015. Entrepreneurial learning – where people teach themselves – is going to become a reality for many individuals, both in the developed and developing worlds. It is beyond doubt that technology can give us the tools to speed things up and prevent us from lagging behind. Fast growing economies like some of the Arab countries spend up to 20% of their national budgets on education, which means investing billions of Euros. Learning improves business performance (Moehrle), business performance means economic revenues.

Due to the crisis, most European countries are forced to downsize their budgets, including budgets for education which is a serious threat from a long term perspective. Monika Weber from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) stated that the so called developed countries may still be ahead, but African, Arabic and Asian countries are catching up quickly. We have to ask ourselves how to survive the global competition. Things are changing rapidly. It’s not only about manoeuvring in a maze, but on top of this, the maze is constantly changing. It's the one most adaptable to change who will survive (Darwin).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Blended learning in martial arts

This week I passed for my 2nd degree (dan) exam in taekwon-do (ITF), which is the result of several months of training labour. Without the required learning and training of both mental and physical skills it's extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve a black belt degree. In a reflection on the learning process I went through, I also would like to give the reader a little insight in martial arts training, and more specifically the thorough and blended learning approach (including ICT!) that we followed to prepare for the exam. As you may know, martial arts is not only a physical thing, i.e. kicking and punching each other or performing a spectacular power break. As a matter of fact, a lot of techniques are performed in a non contact or semi contact way. The success and failure of your training labour depends largely on the five so called tenets (values): self control, integrity, courtesy, perseverance and the indomitable spirit.

So how to prepare for a degree exam? First of all there is the list of ITF criteria which in detail describes what you need to know and perform in order to pass the exam. The exam includes the following categories: patterns (hyongs), partner exercises, self defense, breaks and some sparring. In the near future the exam will also include a theoretical part about (historical) facts and background of taekwon-do. As an example of how a blended learning approach is applied I'd like to elaborate on the way how the performance of a pattern can be trained.

For the 2nd degree you need to train the first 12 (of a series of 24) different patterns. For the exam you know for sure that you have to perform the highest pattern (no 12, Ge Baek), four others are selected randomly by the exam committee, i.e. they mention the Korean name of the pattern and you need to start performing it immediately after the start command. To give an impression what it means to perform a pattern, take a look at the following movie of the Ge Baek pattern:

The question is how to learn such a pattern. Not only in the sense that you perform every movement in the same, mandatory sequence, but also to achieve that your movements have the right speed, balance and power.

The following list shows what we do and use to learn performing a pattern:

  • video examples of each pattern (like the one above)

  • a text book in which every pattern is described and illustrated with a series of pictures

  • instructor led training

  • practicing each pattern by yourself

The video examples work very well in different phases of the learning process. First it helps you to orientate on what the pattern looks like, secondly it is helpful when you want to practice the pattern at home and the instructor obviously is not around to ask questions or to demonstrate the pattern.

The text book basically has the same function as the video examples, although the emphasis is different. The pictures are of excellent help to show the specific positions between the subsequent movements. The movies can show how the movement itself needs to be performed. We used a text book written by van Beersum and Jansen (2009), two certified Dutch taekwon-do instructors (4th dan). In addition to the book we also used some reading materials about self defense and some advanced partner exercises.

A major part is probably the instructor-led training given by Sabum Ad Dekker. This part was done in the local dojo in Boxtel. This training is necessary to (1) demonstrate (first step-by-step, then as a whole) how the pattern should be performed and (2) to give immediate feedback once you need to perform the pattern yourself. The only way to perform a pattern really well is to do it over and over again, but also to receive feedback on how to improve your performance.

Obviously, it is not possible to use every training to perform patterns, so there is a need to practice patterns by yourself, outside the dojo, at home, together with fellow students.

This example demonstrates that a blended learning approach can work really well in sports education. In addition to the four points mentioned in the bullet list, the blend was even further extended in the sense that we could participate in several national training events of ITF Royal Dutch in Nieuwegein, hosted by master Steve Zondag and Sabum Hennie Thijssen. Here we had the opportunity to train with other certified instructors and masters in taekwon-do. Moreover, we were invited at the dojo of Sabum Willem Jansen and Sabum Paul van Beersum (the authors of the book), to train a couple of times with them in Bemmel.

I think it's fair to say that all of these training sessions did contribute to the final result: pass! The blend of tools, resources and trainers (who all had their specific insights and feedback to share; many thanks to all of you) provided a really rich learning environment.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

ITIL Foundation exam

Yesterday I participated in an official ITIL Foundation V3 exam. For those who are not familiar with ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), it offers a systematic approach to the delivery of quality IT services. However, although I work in the field of e-Learning, I am not really an 'IT guy'. So sometimes I felt like a complete stranger in a world that obviously has a relationship with e-Learning, but the focus is on delivering IT services and creating value for the customer. Different semantics and a lot of acronyms (AMIS, SPOC, SPOF) do not make things easier.

The training sessions (3 mornings) were offered in a F2F setting in combination with a Study Guide and a map containing handouts of the powerpoint slides (230), a glossary and two sample exams. The map also contains some brief overview document, which I cannot recall reading. For each training session we had to prepare some reading in the Study Guide and a part of the ppt slides. As I happen to work in the field of e-Learning the first question that raised my mind was, why not do the preparation with e-Learning? There is already a lot out there about ITIL V3. The second point that made me feel like a stranger is that in a normal training / learning situation the learner tries to find relations with knowledge structures that are already present (activating prior knowledge). I can assure you that this becomes rather difficult in a setting where a lot of the terminology is new and at first gives no clue. When I read something about 'follow the sun' you might think of some romantic place in a sunny location, but not about a service desk that is located in different continents in order to offer a 24/7 service. The third point I was not really fond of, is the fact that ITIL Foundation is a lot about knowledge and facts. Although the trainer did give us some small assignments, it is not about gaining insight or skills. This is also reflected in the MC exam with 40 MC questions. It was a deja vu experience (not in the good sense of the word) to my first year at the university. If you learn the full book by heart, you have a good chance of finding the right answer. Questions in which you have to read four statements and answer which one(s) is/are right are not really fun to do. In some sample questions the only difference between statement 1 and 2 could be the word 'AND', which was replaced by 'OR'. So you read the statements, you feel relieved to recognize the concepts that are mentioned, but then you still feel unsure whether the right answer was 'AND' or 'OR'. Luckily there were also some easier questions such as 'what does PDCA mean?'. At the university the MC exams were not really my friend. I often needed two or more attempts to pass. On the other hand exams with open questions in which you had to proof your insight, connect concepts with each other, reflect on it, led by far to better results.

So, after more than 20 years this was the first time I was confronted with a MC exam again. First of all I did not really have the time to do a thorough preparation, lots of stress at work are not good circumstances to study. So I postponed the preparation to the last day before the exam and did that in a marathon session from 08.30 until 23.30. Of course a couple of small breaks for coffee or eating. Via Twitter I had some contact with colleagues who were preparing the same exam. Most of the time I spent in reading the book, not at a very deep level I believe and looking through the ppt slides. Furthermore, I made two sample exams. On the one hand to see whether I would be able to achieve the pass score of 26, on the other hand to do a sort of question analysis. In one sample exam I discovered that if you have to answer which statement(s) is/are correct and you really don't know the answer choose 'all of the above'. When I made the sample exam as you make it normally I achieved a score of 21. When I applied the rule I just described to the questions I answered wrong, my score went up to 26! The difference between fail and pass.

So back to the beginning of my post. The exam was yesterday morning. Did I pass? I don't know yet, since we had to fill in a form, which was taken by the official examinator. The forms need to be scanned before we get the results. It could be next week, but may also take up to 14 days... I'm slightly optimistic that I did achieve the pass score of 26 or more. I'm just a little worried that when the result comes in that a lot of the theoretical facts already have left my brain. New knowledge is lining up to fill the ITIL knowledge gaps. It's much more important to know where I can find the necassary information, interpret it and see whether I can apply it to a specific situation instead of simply learning it by heart. Moreover, a point I did not even address here, it is obviously a prerequisite that ITIL procedures need to be implemented on the organisational level too, in order to be able to create added value for the customer.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Online Educa 2009

Quite a while ago since my last post. In busy times it is my experience that blogging is one of the first things that gets lower on the priority list. This week I'm at Online Educa in Berlin. For me it's the third time. Last year I had a presentation together with Koos Winnips, who now works at the University of Groningen. This year my role is more focused on the partnership with Giunti Labs. It means that I will be spending quite some time in the Giunti Labs booth at the information market, so if you want to meet me, there is a big chance that you can find me there. Stoas will have a small corner inside the Giunti booth. My colleagues Egbert van de Winckel and Randy Vermaas will be primarily focused on the combined booth for the European Moodle partners. Yesterday evening it was nice to meet my former colleague Hans de Zwart again, who will be doing a presentation on the Moodle impplementation at Shell, during today's Moodle pre-conference. I hope to find some time to write a summary of highlights during the next couple of days at #OEB2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why content is not king

I still see them around: e-Learning projects in which the main deliverable is one or more packages of content, deployed using a web based platform. It’s obvious that providing attractive, interactive content will engage the learner more than only text based page-turners. But even when you are able to provide attractive content, this is just the beginning. As Martin Dougiamas stated during his presentation at MoodleMoot in April 2009, providing content is the first (of ten) pedagogical levels of e-Learning. Content varying from sophisticated, flashy WBT’s to powerpoints and PDF readers that are published by an instructor to his students. Content has a role in organizing, providing structure, orientation and activating links with existing cognitive schemata. Content can also address prior knowledge. Moreover, content can provide new knowledge elements. Deep level learning, however, is about what you do with the content: how to (re)organize it, paraphrase it, reproduce it, apply it in different contexts and finally incorporate it. Learners need to be actively engaged in discussions, in (group) assignments, in settings where user generated content is a goal. This way they are forced to do something more than passively reading or do some pre-defined exercises. At higher levels of e-Learning peer review, active research, reflection and networked learning provide additional opportunities for a form of information processing in which the learner needs to be actively engaged, including interaction with fellow learners.

There is a lot of writing and discussion on how to use Web 2.0 functionality in different learning situations. For example, Moodle is designed as a social constructivist learning environment, and it does include some of the Web 2.0 functions. It is not just an advanced content player. Then let’s use it that way! The learner is not a sole individual, but has a network of peers, mentors, colleagues, or even experts who can help him reflect on the issues he is working on. It’s ok to start with content first, but only if it is part of a long term roadmap in which further steps are also acknowledged and planned. A full, comprehensive SCORM package may be just one simple hyperlink in Moodle (or any other learning environment), but just think about all the other resources and activities that can be organized around it. The opportunity to do so is just around the corner. In the market of commercial training institutes there is a growing awareness that the competition cannot be beated, only by providing high-end content. Especially in this time of crisis there is a battle going on in which prices for e-Learning modules are dropping. You need to do more to create additional value, a unique selling point in the business of e-Learning. Providing a rich, interactive learning environment is one of the possibilities.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The last 48 hours I have been working on a so-called RFC proposal for an extensive e-Learning solution. Together with a colleague, almost completely separated from the real world, we have struggled trough over 300 questions, not only yes/no but also quite some open text questions. I get the idea that the number of requests has increased, maybe because nowadays it is quite easy to create a web environment that supports the complete workflow to submit a proposal. The problem I have with this approach is that the request process has become completely anonymous: no possibility to have an intake interview or a kick-off session where you can ask questions and find out what the really important issues are. That may help to address some issues more or stress some of the strong points of the solution you may provide. The anonymous 300-list gives no clue about the weight of each question or even category of questions. It feels like a shot in the dark, because you don't know where your target is. It also feels that there is no solution that can cover all the requirements asked. Moreover, you really don't know what instructional design principles the customer wants to apply, so you might be able to argue which requirements are more important than others. Most questions are strictly limited to availability of functionality: can your solution provide it or not, yes or no. An alternative reaction could be: why bother, why submit at all, do I stand a chance at all? On the other hand, if you don't reply you're out of the process for sure. Of course it's not feasible to submit to any RFx that passes by. Based on experience a quickscan can help to get a rough estimate whether or not it's worthwile to go through all the trouble of filling in the question details. In most cases RFI's and RFP's have a very strict time schedule, so as a potential vendor you have an idea when the process will be finished. The case which urged me to write this blogpost did not have a time schedule at all, only a deadline for submission, but no time schedule whatsoever for any (if any) follow up steps taken by them. Anyway, we were quite pleased with the result: proposal finished and submitted before the deadline. Now the waiting starts.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bb World Europe 2009 – Day 3

The third and final day of the conference included some more interesting topics than the day before. I selected a couple of sessions in which collaboration, communication and use of (recorded) video were the main subjects. The first session I attended was about the Wimba collaboration suite, which claims to provide the answers for the social dimension in 21st century education. An engaging environment in which students can interact and collaborate. The presentation was strongly product oriented and unfortunately suffered from some performance issues because of the slow WiFi network at the conference site. It was not really rocket science that was presented to us. A lot of functionality, such as content- and application sharing, videoconferencing, voicechat and instant messaging is also available in other tools as well (e.g., MSN, Skype, Adobe Connect). The interesting part is the full integration of some components with Blackboard. Wimba Pronto provides an instant messaging tool (looks a bit like MSN Messenger) that can be fully integrated with Blackboard. This means that your organization structure can be mapped onto Pronto: see who’s online for all classes you follow, see if someone is available at the student’s servicedesk, etc. An instructor can organize virtual tutoring sessions in which the students who are enrolled can participate.
After this I went to a Blackboard Product Management session, which was not very good by the way. The focus was on how to get to Bb9. It was more or less a listing of upgrade scenario’s and the resources you can use as a client:
o (preview account, webinars)
o (license keys, documentation)
A somewhat disturbing part of the presentation was the repeated ‘advice’ (at least 5 times during the presentation) to move to Bb managed hosting services. No word whatsoever on the technical issues that were found at some client sites and the need to release a service pack before the summer.
After a great Mediterranean lunch I was curious about the session of AndrĂ© Rosendaal on the virtual cutter of existing video material. I have used previous version of the virtual cutter so I wanted to know about it’s current status. The virtual cutter adds a begin- and endpoint to existing media. Only the part within the defined timeframe will be played. It’s online av-editing without creating a new media file. The nice thing is that it is available as a webbased software service, free to use (in English, Dutch and Spanish) and open source:
The virtual cutter can provide three types of output: copy link, URL or embedded object code to paste into your HTML editor. At first glance this provides interesting opportunities to use video clips in your Bb courses. However, this is not always possible. The WYSIWYG editor in Blackboard is not suitable to include full HTML-markup. The HTML is changed upon saving. In Bb9 it’s even worse: the code is rewritten when saving it: ‘embed’ tags are removed, which makes that the video clip does not play, or plays with limitations (depending on the browser you are using). Rosendaal argued that Bb should provide a real ‘add streaming content’ function to the WYSIWYG editor.
Another (research) presentation was on the use of Echo360 at the University of Birmingham (recording of video lectures), a product comparable to Mediasite or Presentations2Go. The interesting part of the presentation was not on the product itself, but on some findings that confirm my own experiences when I just to work for the University of Twente. The presenters also found that the attendance % was not systematically influenced upon the introduction of video lectures. The student see is as a supplement, not as a substitution. Students believe it to be a course enhancement and a means to improve their results. The results also show that students are highly selective when downloading a video lecture. The majority only selected 1 or 2 video lectures from a list of 10 available lectures. A remarkable conclusion is that members of the university staff are less positive. Staff members think that video lectures:
o will be a threat to student’s attendance,
o are not a engaging as face to face;
o cannot provide the right pedagogical quality;
o may threaten their job position.
The final session by the colleagues from the University of Avans was inspiring and highly interactive. They introduced a 4-quadrant model based on two axes: transaction versus interaction and virtual versus analog. The participants were invited to join 1 of 4 subgroups (representing 1 quadrant) and discuss the challenges that have to be faced in that quadrant. The results have been collected and will be published (and further discussed) at:

On a scale of 1-10 I give the conference an overall rating between 6 and 7. The presentations had very different quality levels. Remarkable: we did not receive any evaluation forms! There were plenty of networking opportunities, that was good. From an organizational perspective I missed a sort of closure or closing reception. As a matter of fact the information market was closed directly after the lunchbreak. People were tearing the information boots down, while the 3 afternoon sessions were held. That’s probably why quite some people left early because it gave an atmosphere that the conference was over. At the Avans session there were probably only 15 participants. On the other hand the session proved that you don’t need a very large audience to have an inspiring debate with each other.
When the session ended at 5PM I directly went off to Barcelona El Prat airport to catch an evening flight back to Amsterdam.