Friday, 22 June 2012

Centre for Learning Innovation

Yesterday I attended the inaugural event of the Centre for Learning Innovation, a new organisation funded by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, to bring together industry and research in the area of technologies for learning. The event was held at Croke Park, where the pitch was busy being prepared for the farewell Westlife concerts tonight and tomorrow. (That's not an omen - I hope.) The theme of the event was Learning for Growth, and the purpose was to launch the Centre for Learning Innovation, an organisation which has been in gestation for some years, and which only arrived at its name the previous evening. Yesterday it was announced that the government is to invest €6m in the Centre over the next 6 years.

The first keynote speaker, Donald Taylor (@DonaldHTaylor), chair of the Learning and Performance Institute, spoke about the many changes in Learning Technology in the last 13 years. He identified 3 major changes in that time, leading to new opportunities for the Centre:
  1. Learning occurs in a boarderless world, but it's not just the classroom walls that have been broken down. The ubiquity of the internet means that information is available anywhere. Mobile technologies mean that we can access the internet from wherever we happen to be. Moreover, the boarders between work and social life are also breaking down, leading to a blur between formal and informal learning.
  2. Information is free. There is no point writing/developing new courses that already exist and are freely available. Business models have got to change, because it will no longer be possible to sell content.
  3. The expectations of learners have changed. People want immediate, focussed, social learning. Donald particularly noted the increase of video in "how-to" learning. Learner-generated content brings the notion of authority into question.
From my own experience, and within the context of Higher Education, I don't agree with everything that Donald said: I think it applies more to the context of training in industry.

Donald then looked at how the world is responding to these changes. In Learning and Development, the training model is moving from design, develop and deliver, to one of find, facilitate and filter. He gave some examples of innovative use of technology for training in industry (including Ericsson, Eskom and TTi) and mentioned briefly the Open Courseware movement.

The second speaker of the morning was Jonny Parkes, who is chair of the board for the new Centre for Learning Innovation, representing industry.  Jonny started out by differentiating between "best practice", which is what may be going on today, and "next practice", which means trying to see into the future. He spoked about 3 principles upon which the new Centre will be based.
  1. Learn from the past. Jonny gave a very nice overview of learning technology since the 1980s, starting with CBT (interact), through multimedia in the 1990s (engage) and eLearning in the 2000s (connect). None of these were perfect solutions, but we can learn from each of them. What then is the next practice?
  2. Be brave, but be open to change. The themes of the Centre will be social learning (search, interoperability, personalised); mobile learning (intelligent content delivery, location based, hands-on learning); immersive learning (agents, games & virtual worlds, augmented reality); metrics and assessments (is it working? are we improving learning?).
  3. The need for smart people, including academic partnerships and industry-led collaboration. (Apparently the smart people are all in the heart of Dublin, but I'll let that go)
After the coffee break, Vinny Wade (TCD) gave more detail about the mission of the Centre for Learning Innovation, which will be based at Trinity College Dublin: it is to support breakthrough research for learning innovation, through collaboration with industry. It will not be another learning technology centre, but aims to be a hub for industry and research, with a focus on application and transfer to achieve real results. Vinny identified 5 factors crucial for success
  1. Research excellence, achieved through partnerships with research groups in TCD, UCD, NUIG and WIT.
  2. A deep understanding of learning and the learning sector.
  3. Proven transfer success
  4. Industry direction and partnerships
  5. Need to lower the risk in technology adoption
Vinny spoke about ensuring that key challenges are defined by industry, while there is a need for use cases and authentic evaluations. The Centre will welcome further industry partners to participate with membership, collaboration and trials.

To date, the percolate project, a precursor of the Centre, has been working in the area of social discovery for learning. The final speakers of the day, Paul Mac Cartney and Lynda Donovan gave a good overview of the work so far in three areas: corporate, schools and higher education.

Focus on Technology
I'm still trying to get together my thoughts on yesterday's event. I can see a role for the Centre for Learning Innovation as a hub to bring together industry and research in technologies for learning. But I do think that the expertise in Teaching and Learning is missing. The "academic" partners of this initiative are research centres and, just because they are based within a higher education institution, doesn't mean that they have expertise in pedagogy or pedagogic research.

The canvas for online learning is certainly changing and moving fast. I found it strange that none of the presenters mentioned any of the recent developments in MOOCs; see this quick snapshot of advances in online education by Catherine Cronin.

Much of the talk yesterday focussed on technology, and there seemed to be a basic view that learning is a matter of finding the best content. But learning is much more than content, and teaching is more than delivery.

There was very little talk yesterday of the learner and no consideration of how people (children, students, employees) learn. This was particularly evident in the final presentation on the homework help system for children. From the evaluation of the system, it appears that it was of more use to "fast" learners than to "struggling" learners. It was suggested that this might be because children of high ability are more proficient at searching. For me, this immediately raises issues of digital literacies, of which there was no mention during the presentation.

So, I think it's worthwhile keeping a watch on this Centre for Learning Innovation. It will be interesting to see how it develops. But I am concerned to see such a focus on the technology and so little on the pedagogy.

All of yesterday's sessions were recorded and will be available on the Centre's website. For the moment, that website is


Donald H Taylor said...

Hi Sharon

Great to meet yesterday at the event. You're right that I was only really speaking about learning in the workplace, because that's where my experience is. I should probably have made that explicit at the start.

I quite agree that learning will always trump technology, and that all of work needs to be informed by good researched into learning and examples of good practice in the field.


Sharon said...

Hi Donald,

it was great to meet you yesterday. I very much enjoyed your talk and understand your pitch. It was particularly suited to the audience that was in attendance.

Thank you for reading my post, which is written very much from my own experience and context, and for commenting. The Centre for Learning Innovation is an exciting development in Ireland. I believe that the camps of "teaching and learning in HE" and "learning in the workplace" can gain a lot from working with each other.


Michelle Dalton said...

Hi Sharon - many thanks for the summary of the event for those of us who couldn't make it. As a medical librarian working, I'm very interested in teaching and learning both from a HE perspective (students on placement) and from a workplace perspective (clinical staff). In my own view, I always feel learning technologies should be informed by the instructional needs and also 'fit' within the context of constructive alignment first and foremost, rather than the other way around which can sometimes happen.

Sharon said...

Hi Michelle,

thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I agree, the pedagogy should inform the technology. Technology should not drive teaching and learning.

However, I also think that we sometimes let technology reinforce our poor teaching habits - for example, simply placing lecture notes on a VLE is not good use of technology for teaching. I've also seen some really great examples of people using technology in innovative and creative ways to support teaching and learning. But, as you say, the focus has to be on the teaching and learning, and not on the technology.

ankur gupta said...

I think the points made by Mr. Donald are quite true about the changes in learning that have come with the time.E-Learning is a growing industry.