The Department of Entrepreneurial Education: Business Model Innovation for Literacy and Numeracy Professionals

not-del-1209The guy in the photo – Hugh MacLeod – is one of my inspirations. You can buy the print or shirt here. If you can’t read the text, it says: “I’m not delusional I’m an entrepreneur”. Anyways…

Abstracts are due this week for the LN Symposium run by the National Centre for Literacy and Numeracy for Adults (NCALNA). Here’s my draft. Let me know what you think.

A drive for increased efficiencies and outcomes in education combined with technological change means that the need for enquiry, experimentation, and creativity applies not just to our classrooms and teaching practice, but to how we think about the business of education.

In this workshop, Graeme Smith from ALEC invites you to become an educational entrepreneur and unpack three things that are about to disrupt your work: new business models, the impact of software, and the long tail of niche education.

You will be asked to consider how you might rethink, repackage, and remix your own work in adult literacy and numeracy education (ALNE) in the light of these trends.

Just for kicks… here’s my brain dump prior to writing the abstract:


Unit Standard 21204 is up for review… Draft changes here

As you know, Unit Standard 21204 is the core unit in the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace). It’s now time for the NZQA to review this and make any changes based on submissions.

You can see the draft here. I’ll post my thoughts here at some stage soon.

NCALNE (Voc) Remixed: Part 2

So what’s the solution then…? Well, in the last week I’ve written, rewritten, and am in the middle of trialling a totally new delivery approach for our NCALNE (Voc) training.


It’s a hybrid… a remix of aspects of the various other delivery models that I mentioned last time.

It combines the following:

  • Workshop delivery: Two days compressed from our standard 5 or 6 days with several components removed.
  • Candidate self assessment: This is essentially a needs analysis to determine what people know and do already, and where any gaps are in terms of the assessment criteria. This allows us to potentially customise the two days of training to meet the needs of the group.
  • Facilitator/Assessor verification: This is from our assessment of current competency assessment in part, but re-written from the ground up. The goal is to find out what people already know and do with regards to some aspects of the assessment criteria. Plus there are some things that we can teach, deliver, and assess in a very short space of time if we change the elective units and alter the nature of the assessment tasks. This relates in particular to the “describe knowledge of” part of the qualification and works best for people with some prior knowledge. This verifier checklist is something that we can check off during the two day workshop.
  • Evidence portfolio: Again this comes from our assessment of current competency, but is also informed by what we do with people in the project work for our standard delivery. This portfolio is designed to be quite prescriptive, but it does relate to the actual delivery side of things that should be part of tutors’ regular work. Here I’m referring the processes like literacy and numeracy diagnostic testing, embedding and contextualising literacy and numeracy into regular training, and measuring learner progress with regards to specific literacy and numeracy skills. The assumption here is that the host organisation is already well down the path of embedding literacy and numeracy, even if the tutors are new to the organisation or the concepts.
  • Supervisor attestation: Participants’ supervisors and managers need to buy into this process and support their tutors in gaining credentials. They should also know what their tutors are doing when it comes to delivery of embedded literacy and numeracy. Supervisor attestation is another kind of evidence we’re looking to use in conjunction with the teaching portfolio and our own verifier checklists. This also needs some controls around it, but this work has been underway long enough to suggest that there should be at least someone in the organisation already with some kind of credentials in this area that could attest to and verify some aspects of the assessment criteria.

I think we could make this approach work for smaller numbers of participants if we had strong buy in from management and tutors had support internally to put together the required portfolios (or put structures in place to deal with any gaps).

To the above, I probably need to add two more things:

  • Pre-workshop reading and tasks designed to address key content areas.
  • Online access to training, materials and resources that participants can use to address gaps identified in the self assessment as they work towards submitting their evidence portfolios.

This approach assumes that we’ll be working with tutors and trainers who are already doing some of the things that we’re looking for. It’s not all the way to a current competency model, but it’s not totally pitched at newbies either. It also assumes a high degree of support from the organisation including management.

It’s a shift towards a “credentialing” process as well, and away from training (although there is still a limited training component).

What I would love to have to complement this is a large collection of short video-based training sessions that capture the best of the live training that we do. Something along the lines of Salman Khan’s flipped classroom model would work. This might go some way to bridging the gap between the “nice to have” training, the “must have” training, and the assessment criteria that we have to work with.

What do you think…?

NCALNE (Voc) Remixed: Part 1


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to package and repackage the training that we do. Currently, we have a model for face-to-face delivery that works really well. Our current model goes something like this:

  • 5 days of training spread over about 4 months as two x two-day intensive workshops and a final wrap up session.

This allows us to cover all relevant content and set up assessment tasks and project work. From experience, this is the shortest amount of time that participants can get through the assessments in the way that they are currently structured. It also keeps the participant fee at a reasonable level.

We have a variation on this model that we also use with some clients:

  • 6 days of training (3 days, 2 days, 1 day) spread out over the same time period. This covers the same content and goes into much more depth with regards to specific literacy and numeracy training – things that are actually outside of the scope of the qualification, but really great to do to increase participant knowledge and skills.

This variation is more expensive, but it also works really well and we’ve delivered good value for our client organisations over the past few years. However, one of the issues we face is that for this delivery to be cost effective we need a minimum number of participants. 12 to 14 participants works well.

We’re getting a lot of interest at the moment from organisations who have groups of 7 or 8 who really want to do the training, but for whatever reason, can’t make the numbers that we need for it to be economically viable.

Usually, we suggest that they collaborate with another organisation with similar numbers to make up a group. Sometimes this works out and we can run the training. However, sometimes it doesn’t.

When it doesn’t we can sometimes offer a second delivery model:

  • That the participants do the work by distance.

This isn’t ideal. Our target group of trainers and tutors are, typically, non academic, “hands on” learners who need time to talk through the concepts and content, and usually prefer working in groups and with their peers. Distance learning just doesn’t work for some people.

We don’t have the technology infrastructure or funding to really provide an amazing online experience at the moment either. We’re working towards it, but we’re not there just yet.

Historically, we haven’t had the same robust structures around our distance learners. It’s also something we’re working on. But it’s hard to manage without a good infrastructure for online learning. We’ve had some success, but not as much as with our regular 5 or 6 days of training.

So what we’ve needed for some time is an alternative delivery model. Something that would work for smaller groups, that would be cost effective for us to deliver, and something that would still deliver the results.

There is a third model that we’ve experimented with.

  • Assessment of current competency which can include recognition of prior learning.

This is a little complicated because it takes us away from our standard assessment model. Our face-to-face delivery for 5 or 6 days, and our distance model both employ the same systems for assessment.

Assessment of current competency assumes that we’re working with practitioners who have some level of experience embedding literacy and numeracy. Our other delivery models are set up largely for us to work with tutors who are new to embedding literacy and numeracy.

Working with practitioners who already embed literacy means that we’re opening up our assessment approach to a much wider variety of interpretations of what this practice looks like. This means we often have to go back to the actual standards and elements and look hard at what is required.

It also means that, in addition to the compulsory unit standard that forms the core of the course, we use different electives… ones that suit the needs of practitioners more than tutors who are still learning the ropes.

No problem with that… it’s just a different process. But it can get a little messy as the kind of evidence that we get can vary greatly from person to person and we still obviously need to quality assure the process.

So… back to my question: What’s the best way to re-mix our current NCALNE (Voc) delivery to try and pick some of the best out of these various approaches and come up with fourth delivery model that would allow us to meet the changing needs of our target market?

ALEC guiding principles

Let’s have a look at two particular principles that underpin ALEC’s approach to professional development and training. Hopefully, they are principles that you can adopt as your own. We think they really set the scene for the work that we’re about to do.

Maori LN images 014.004Here’s the first one. It’s a Māori proverb or whakatauki. One of our graduates, an experienced Māori educator, suggested this to me awhile ago when we were preparing to present a workshop at a conference.

  • Mā te huruhuru te manu ka rere

We were supposed to be discussing ways in which tutors could use approaches and methods from traditional Māori approaches to teaching and learning. The proverb stuck in my head and helped me rethink what I actually did as a trainer.

There are several ways of translating it, but here are two that we’ve used in English to help with our own understanding of what we do and what this training is about.

  • With feathers, a bird can fly.
  • With the right support and resources, the right skills and strategies, you will succeed.

The first is a kind of literal translation. The second is a more dynamic translation. Both speak about trainers and training, and together they work on a couple of different levels.

On one level, you’re the bird. In fact, we’re all the bird. In seeking out professional or personal development we are acknowledging that we need feathers… We need the skills and strategies in order to succeed at our jobs.

On another level, if you are involved in training others yourself, or you have staff that do training, then your learners are also the bird. Often those we teach and train have been battered by the winds and storms of life, and are in need of a place of calm and rest. Your training might be that place of restoration and growth. Or at least it should be. Have a think about it.

Here’s the second one. This has been another guiding principle for us for many years:


We love training that’s SMART, just about as much as we love word games and puns. But each of these letters stands for something… Perhaps you’ve seen this before somewhere else? If you have, you’ll know that good teaching and learning is always SMART. In other words:

  • Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic, and Timebound.

This idea of SMART training is really important for embedding literacy and numeracy. The SMART acronym often pops up in connection with goal setting. And goal setting is something that you’ll need to do at various points in your training with us.

This could be in relation to the learning goals that you negotiate with your learners once you have determined their starting point. Or, it could be in relation to the specific learning outcomes that you will formulate to ensure that your teaching is highly focused on addressing the learning gaps of your learners.

Designing purposeful learning that solves problems for people and organizations is among some of the most fulfilling work you can do. Not only is it fulfilling for you as the trainer or teacher, but we know from our experiences that it can be transformative, both for you and for those you work with.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments…

Foreword and Backward… What’s next for ALEC?

In 2007 I set out to build a business with a very specific purpose. This was to deliver professional development and training in an emerging niche education market. In fact, you could say that it was a niche market inside a niche market.


Two things had happened to make this possible. The first was that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) had just developed the first version of a new qualification that would professionalise trades and vocational trainers beginning to embed literacy and numeacy into their education programmes.

The second thing was that the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) that funds post-high school education in New Zealand had allocated funding to subside this training. This combination of a new compliance requirement plus the funding to subsidise training was the initial business model.

Previously, I had been working as a consultant helping education providers sort out their compliance issues with the NZQA and occasionally writing proposals to help them gain additional funding from the TEC. Before this I had spent time teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in both Japan and New Zealand. As it turned out this background was a pretty good apprenticeship for what was to come.

Adult Literacy Education & Consulting Limited, otherwise known as ALEC, had a farily rough start. We managed to get through the process of registering and accrediting our fledgling organisation with the NZQA only to find that we had been sabotaged. External influences had ensured that our accreditation didn’t extend far enough for us to qualify for the TEC funding we need to make things work.

So we did it any way. We started writing and delivering and rewriting the core content that we did have accreditation for. Without any funding. A year later we managed to get our accreditation extended enough to qualify for the funding we needed. The TEC approved our application. We said goodbye to our old clients from the compliance business, moved home to Taupo and began national delivery of the National Certificate in Adult Literacy Education (Vocational), known to many as the NCALE (Voc) for short.

Flash forward a few years and ALEC now has full domain accreditation for Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (ALNE) up to level 6, and we now have an entire government-mandated, national infrastructure in place for literacy and numeracy.

A few years ago the NZQA usefullly revised the qualification to include and empahsis on numeracy.

Version two of the qualification is a bit more of a mouthful – it’s now the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace) which we abbreviate to the NCALNE (Voc).

Competitors have come and gone and we feel that we’ve managed to carve out a space for ourselves in the sector. We’ve worked with some of the smartest people in our industry to deliver training to an incredibly diverse range of people and groups from government sector organisations to Wananga to Institutes of Technology and Polytechs (ITPs), Industry Training Organizations (ITOs), Private Training Establishments (PTEs), as well as companies and businesses.

The content that we work with has changed immensely since we started this work. And we’ve always taken the approach that our delivery needs to be dynamic. As a result our course work has been dynamic – often rewritten several times across a year.

This dynamic and iterative approach is not likely to change. However, we finally feel that we’re at a point now where we can take the best of what we’ve done and make it available for others. What we’ve got is a reallly great system that anyone can use to embed literacy and numeracy into other training and content.

So what’s next then…?

Would you rent your professional development and training?

Just thinking out loud here…

  • Would tutors, trainers, and organisations purchase low-priced, but ongoing subscriptions to gain access to professional development and training.
On my wall: What's my business model again...?

On my wall: What’s my business model again…?

This is as opposed to paying out a big lump sum payment upfront like standard course fees. And I’m thinking mainly of digitally delivered online education.

This is a bit of a mind shift… Like moving from purchasing your music from iTunes to renting it via Spotify.

Advantages might include some of these:

  1. Lower upfront costs for the organisations or individuals paying. This is kind of like the training equivalent of leasing equipment instead of purchasing.
  2. More regular cashflow for providers. Fees would come in monthly rather than at a single point in the sales and training pipeline.
  3. Ability for users to save money by completing the professional development or training quickly and then cancelling the subscription. The provider wins here because they get the training outcome quickly. This would work for me with our domestic training delivering the NCALNE, but wouldn’t probably be helpful if we were delivering internationally where we there is no upper or lower limit on our output.

Another possibility is that users simply purchase modular packages via a shopping cart. The packages could include video content as well as downloadable resources.

The question is whether a series of one-off purchases over time to complete a course of training is better than just paying a subscription for as long or as short as you want and having unrestricted access to everything as long as you’re subscribed.

  • Anyone have any thoughts on this? I need some good ideas…

I’m looking at changing our business model to address how we can deliver our training online and grow beyond our TEC-funded limitations.