Wednesday, May 13, 2009

All training is about creating a virtual learning environment

I went to the British Institute of Learning & Development (TheBILD) Connect event today. The topic of our deliberations was Virtual Learning Environments – a subject that has held my interest for a long time although I have never had much experience of the sort of VLE that our hosts, Aviation Training International (ATIL), provide to Army pilots in training at their facility near Andover. The meeting was held in the delightful Army Air Museum and those of us of a certain age spent lunchtime admiring the wonderful exhibits, bringing back memories of childhood – Eagle Comics, Airfix models and, dare I say it, Biggles!

The presentations included an excellent demo of OLIVE with delegates being treated to a virtual role play in real time of a check point training exercise in a virtual Baghdad with players from all over the western world. Fascinating to see how it’s possible to create such a realistic scenario which in conventional terms would have cost thousands of dollars to create, not to mention the overhead time in travelling to a venue.

The high point of the day was a visit to ATIL’s training centre where they help Apache air and ground crews learn the skills necessary to become effective.  This is real state of the art boys toys! The simulator alone cost several million dollars and would make the eyes of the most serious video gamer water.

All this technology got me thinking about this question of virtual learning. And I started to ask myself whether, in fact, all training is about creating a “virtual” environment in which trainees can practice. The environment is inside the mind of the trainee and the skill of the trainer is to help them with making it as “real” as possible.  The technology is useful in creating a medium – especially in situations where the cognitive load is very high or where there are logistical challenges such as the role play in “Baghdad” or where a very high degree of realism is needed and using the real world is too expensive or inaccessible.

Maybe I am stating the blindingly obvious, but the main take home for me was that, whatever the content, context or medium, the actual psychological process of learning, both individually and collectively, remains critical and transcends the other aspects. The ATIL work seems to be very thoroughly engineered for learning whereas, to me, the Baghdad checkpoint may well have been part of a longer process in which learning was well engineered, but this was harder to see. Designing programmes without embedding the fundamental learning architecture is likely to lead to ineffective learning, however good the technology or material.

This is what learning professionals must equip themselves with above all else and we need to be getting help from the experts in cognitive science, psychology, neurology, etc so that we can turn their theory into practical world changing work.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why Blog?

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I have played around with blogging before and not sustained it. It’s a bit like my attempts at writing diaries and journals. Initial enthusiasm is eventually overwhelmed by apathy after a few initial posts. So I figure, it might be worth getting clear about my purpose for this effort since, if that is clear, it may be more sustainable.

Essentially, the reason I want to write this blog is give myself a reflection space for my ideas around the work that I am doing. My purpose in using this medium is that it gives the opportunity to share this with others who have similar interests.

I have spent a good deal of time thinking on my purpose for my work and after some considerable tearing up of bits of paper concluded that it is;

to help groups of people learn to dis-solve difficult problems

The key elements of this means that I can be quite specific about what I choose to work on - and what I choose not to;

To help – my interest has now become one of facilitating change rather than being an integral part of it. I believe that the facilitator plays a key role as one who can stand “outside the box”, acting as a catalyst enabling the reaction in the vessel to take place.

groups of people – although some of this work involves working with individuals, the real context is on how people work together.

learn to – this is focussed on action and experience – it is not to learn how to … but to actually learn to do it. Also it is all about improving learning – how we can learn to learn better, individually and together is one of my key interests.

dis-solve - the distinction between solving and dis-solving is a tad esoteric but consider a gall stone – a very painful (and difficult) problem. Solving could mean passing it – very, very painful (and difficult) for the body concerned – dis-solving it is altogether a much less painful approach but highly effective.

difficult problems – by this I mean situations that this group has found that they have not solved through past attempts and there is a high degree of likelihood that there is something about how they learn/work together (or don’t) that is getting in the way.

The problem areas that I want to work on can be broadly described as – Problems related to;

  • value and evaluation
  • influencing and communication
  • collective purpose and identity
  • sustainable and successful systems

I am also keen to pursue stuff around mindfulness and awareness and explore how this relates to our ability to dissolve these sorts of problems.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The story of Stuff

I watched the video on this website ( the other day. It really got to me how society has got itself into the state it is in. It is a bit US-centric in its story but none the worse for that since the central message is relevant to all consumer societies.

For anyone who wonders why most of us spend our working live chasing growth, it's a real eye opener.