Learning tools for life

Google CalendarIt’s no secret that learning institutions pay big money for educational tools that are meant to make the teacher’s job easier. But I reckon most learning institutions have a hard time getting employees to use these tools. Perhaps we’re missing a huge opportunity to equip facilitators to be passionate users of tools that are useful for learning in all spheres of life – their own and their students.

From a professional development point-of-view it could be a win-win situation. Employees come away with tools that are not only useful for work but can be used at home to save money or help organise the family holiday or just to have fun! But employers also benefit: because of the inherent worth of certain tools, there’s potentially a higher motivation to use them, employees may naturally spread the use of valuable tools to other employees and less money is needed for training. As an additional benefit, the company may see more innovation as employees are encouraged to experiment with new tools in their practise.

This all came up while planning some professional development last week with a bunch of fun people (for a Learnscope project). We were talking about the amazing educational potential of some of the available tools, but that this potential is zero unless people can see “What’s in it for me”, or “How is this going to make my life easier?”

Going on a long holiday soon? Got long distance family connections that you want to keep up with? Come along and learn how you can share your journey with friends and family far and wide with your own blog!

Imagine a professional development session advertised like this! If we start using a tool in a fun and worthwhile way, we’re much more likely to see its inherent value and then we’re in a position to consider the possibilities for learning.

Having trouble organising your next home renovation or just keeping track of allBasecamp the “ToDo’s” in your life? Come along and see how a free BaseCamp account might help you manage your projects at work, at home and in class!

Or even just:

Want to make free phonecalls and even conference-calls with friends and relatives? Come along to our workshop to try it out… We’ll be chatting with other educators in Adelaide and Perth!

Of course there are some tools that are specific to a task at work and yet are still very worthwhile to learn because they are used in many industries (like Sharepoint, for example). But nearly all of the Learning Management Systems that are used in education with huge price tags (in terms of licenses as well as training) are really an amalgamation of real-world tools (that could have been used for free) packaged together into the one not-so-realistic educational box.

Why are we investing so much time and money in specific learning tools for which many don’t see the inherent benefit in our everyday lives? Why not instead learn to use tools that might benefit both our work and home life?

13 comments to Learning tools for life

  • Alison Cutler

    I’m one of the ‘bunch of fun people’in the LearnScope team, Learning in the Field Effectively (LiFE)and felt quite proud to be described as fun as I was beginning to feel careworn and a tad tedious were better tags for me. I agree with Michael’s comments about motivating people to engage with technology by tapping into their whole of life experience and what will work for them everyday. This fits very well with the whole life-based learning movement/learning ecology metaphor.(ICVET had a project in this area in 2005 with Robbie Weatherley, Maret Staron and Marie Jasinski).

  • Beth Hobbs

    I too was one of the ‘bunch of fun people’ in the LearnScope team. What a great way to describe the gathering. One thing that has hit me just recently is the question

    “What motivates an individual to actively engage in learning using technology?” “Why does that individual continue to engage overtime, even increasing their activity?” OR “Why does an individual disengage?”

    I think that the fun word has a lot to do with it.

  • Thanks for the feedback! Alison, I really like the idea of life-based learning too – I guess the challenge for our institutions is to nurture contexts for learning that cross the work/home barrier and have a mutual benefit.

    Great questions Beth! I think you’re right, Fun must be a large part of engagement (it certainly works for the gaming industry! People spend hours, days even learning how to use new games!). It’s hard to make something boring fun though (I struggle with this all the time as our web design class knows well!). I wonder what other “attributes” keep people engaged?

    Kathy Sierra writes a lot about this type of thing on her Creating Passionate Users blog. In one post, a Crash Course in Learning Theory she talks about building interest and engagement through progressive ‘levels’ – where each level ends with the learner having the “I rule!” feeling:

    Game developers know the importance of “The Next Level”, and learning experiences must do the same. Each iteration through the spiral should start with a meaningful, motivating goal, followed by the interaction/activity/reading that moves you toward that goal, followed by a meaningful payoff. Ideally, the “meaningful payoff” leads right into the next motivating goal.

    Actually, come to think of it, it seems like something is fun because it engages you, but you only get engaged in something if it’s fun… aargh. I guess that’s why Kathy refers to it as “Using a spiral model to keep people engaged”.

  • I agree , there has to be an incentive to put the time into familiarising with the technology…


  • Life based learning…..watch it grow :-)

  • I certainly hope so. Although the other day when a new filtering system was tested at work, it seemed that we weren’t able to access any of the normal email hosts (gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc).

    Does this mean we soon won’t be able to help people learn to use a simple tool like gmail or yahoo mail that they can also use to communicate with their family and friends in their life?

    Instead I’m guessing we’ll be forced to teach students how to use a special TAFE email, and then they’ll be left on their own to figure out a normal email without even so much as a demonstration from us…

    I help out in a tutorial session once per week and soo many people come along just to get help sending that email with photo attachments to their daughter overseas etc… to practise, practise and practise again…

    …so much for life-based learning.

  • Hi Michael – love your website – love your approach to teaching. The whole TAFE email & firewall thing is a pain but nothing will stop good teaching & learning. If students can figure out how to use their DET stuff, Google et al will be child’s play! In the end, isn’t it all about the concepts, not the proprietary software/platforms etc?

  • Hi Carmen,

    Yeah, it certainly is about learning the concepts not the platforms, but that doesn’t happen straight away… Here’s a few issues that I can think of off the top of my head – be interested to hear your thoughts (sorry if they’re a bit scattered – trying to finish b4 the kids wake up!):

    1) Generalising a concept is a higher-order skill

    But not all courses “teach” these higher-order skills. Take Computers a First Course. People don’t always come away from the course “getting” the concept of email. They just know how to do a few basic things in their “yahoo page” (send an email with an attachment). But this is great, cause they can take this home and use it as their permanent email address. They start giving this email address to all their family members etc., practising all the time and continuing to develop their email skills even after the course ends.

    2) Motivation for checking an email account

    Scenario: On the other extreme, imagine a student with 3 or 4 email accounts, one that is checked daily as it’s my current favourite… friends, family and online contacts all use this address. Why will I be checking my school email?
    * Just in case a teacher has sent something? Hmmm.
    * Because it rocks… it’s way cooler than gmail or Microsoft’s new live.com mail? Hmmm.
    * Because a teacher has told me that they’ll send some activities to our school emails? Hmmm… if I remember.
    * Because my results will be mailed there? Yep… there’s one reason to check my email (after the end of semester)
    Yet if these emails went to my normal address, I’d see them automatically.

    I guess, no matter how I look at this from a learners point of view, I can’t see a reason for trying to force people to use a school email address. Great idea 5 years ago to provide an email address… not so great now.

    On the other hand, if I were the project manager responsible for rolling out an email per student and wanted to show that the project was actually worthwhile…

    Is there a page where we can read the changes that will be implemented? It would be helpful to read facts rather than me guessing! Thx for any thoughts :)

  • Hi Michael

    I do like an interesting discussion! I can see from a practical perspective that using DET email accounts may be tricky. I guess I’m looking for the pluses. On the one hand I don’t want to sound like an organisational mouth-piece or DET IT apologist. On the other hand I don’t agree with the either-or approach. I’m not particularly for or against Yahoo email or school email. In the grand scheme of things they may both be irrelevant to learners in five years time.

    From my English teacher’s perspective, email is just another text, not application dependant. Maybe we can show students that there are different kinds of email used for different purposes in different contexts. I create my own contexts for email messages when I choose to send them from different email accounts. I treat my home & yahoo email differently to my work email, just as I would my home, business & two mobile numbers.

    Some may disagree with me – I do notice the trend towards merging the personal and professional into one space, but that’s another discussion!

    The course outcomes for Computers, A First Course seem waffly enough to me to use whatever email app with students:
    Completion of this course will enable first time computer users to achieve a basic understanding of computer systems, computer software and current
    applications of computer technology. They will be able to access and use the
    Internet to meet communication and information needs. It will allow them to make
    informed decisions about computer software and hardware required for given
    tasks. [my italics]

    Or is that easier to say in theory than in practice? (I don’t actually teach it!)

  • Hey Carmen :)

    I don’t see a problem with providing student email accounts… it could have many pluses! I’m reacting to the idea of forcing people to use only their student email account by blocking access to all others – without a discussion about the implications first.

    I totally agree with the different purposes in different contexts… that would be a great way to help students generalise the different email platforms and hence the concept. But wouldn’t be possible if students can only access the one student email account.

    BTW: I don’t reckon we need IT Support apologists – my experience with IT Support has been great! (Very supportive!)

    And I agree that the school email could be used to help Computers a First Course students… as we’d certainly want them to feel confident accessing announcements about results or whatever related to school. But I’d also like to be able to help them print out that photo their daughter sent from overseas to their yahoo account (I’ve had quite a few such requests in tutorial time!)

    And CFC is just an example – if the testing of the new filter the other month is anything to go by, I’ll need to make some pretty radical changes to the Web Design course too.

    I’m sure these issues are being thought about in the right places, I just hope they’re being decided with learners in mind. I’d guess I’d like to be included in the discussion (along with other facilitators) rather than finding out during class when a new filter is being tested and my students can’t do their work.

    Maybe… hopefully… the new filter was tested with the wrong settings :-)

  • Hope so too, Michael. As I’m not F2F teaching at the moment, my learners & myself are not directly affected by the filter (yet) and so it’s good to hear about all its implications and get forewarning?!

    I tend to think that if the firewall becomes an inflexible tyrant, it will have the same fate as the Berlin wall.

  • [...] One of the pre-readings: Beyond the Horseless Carriage – harnessing the power of ICT in education and training, provides a really excellent summary of all that George talked about during his presentation segment of the workshop, but for me, the most interesting part of the workshop was the dialogue on issues like Intellectual Property, Security, online identity, LMS’s and using the right tools fol learning (the ones that our learners can use in life, work and learning – something that I’ve been thinking about lots lately – see Learning Tools for Life). [...]

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.