4 Things I Can Do to Become Antifragile in Education


nassim-taleb-any-attack-makes-me-stronger

Nassem Taleb is an expert on risk and probability and he recommends in his latest book that we become less fragile, more robust, and actually antifragile.

This is more than just Sissy Resilience… and this means that when the stuff hits the fan you actually bounce back stronger than before, and actually made stronger by the disorder around you.

Education is fragile. And working in education opens you, your career, your mortgage up to all kinds of fragility by implication. This is bad.

Education, of course, is good. But if we want to survive as educators in this increasingly fragile landscape we need to embrace the fact that it’s fraught with risks and randomness of all kinds.

And we need to do things to mitigate the risks to ourselves and our businesses where we can.

One of the lessons from Taleb’s Antifragile for me seems to be that rather than avoiding things like risk, uncertainty and variability we should be embracing them. And in fact, seeking them out.

With that in mind, here’s my take on 4 things I can do in education and in my work that hopefully increase my ability to be really resilient by intentionally playing around with risk, randomness, uncertainty, and variability.

I’m not saying that they’ll work for you… but if they work for me I’ll let you know.

1. Disrupt my education business model

BMG-Book-Cover

The idea here is that either I can wait for someone to disrupt my work or I can disrupt it myself and maintain some slight control (even if it’s illusory) over the disruptive factors.

Our education business models are pretty much a last century paradigm. Mostly the old-school business model goes something like this:

  • Someone pays a fee + I deliver training. I might possibly award some kind of credential if the stakes are a bit higher.

Leaving aside the problems with our current models of education, let’s focus on messing with the business model.

My real business model is the unique package of things that allows me to sell education and training and generate revenue. This would still hold true even if I worked for a non-profit or charitable organisation.

But consider the new business models though… They’re online. They require people to transact online. That either means a shopping cart or a subscription-based approach.

Bothered by that…? Me too. But disturbing thoughts like these have been nagging at me for awhile. It’s time to do something about it.

If you’re curious about business models Alex Osterwalder’s book really helped clear things up for me in term of what a business model is and gives some great examples. There’s also an iPad app you can play around with.

2. Open source my expertise and knowledge

PA5

Am I the only one who has noticed that the world I live in is radically different to the one I grew up in, even the world I started working in…?

Everything is being disrupted and education isn’t any exception. Aside from firing middle management and cutting dead wood, I think we’re going to see changes everywhere in education resulting in education products for learners that are cheaper, faster, smarter, and more convenient.

What’s more, as we move forward, education will most likely become open sourced, and possibly crowd sourced. This will come at a cost, of course. Some of us won’t survive.

But one of the things that has changed for certain in my mind is that there is no longer a competitive advantage in sitting on any kind of “secret sauce”. The new secret sauce is open source.

And that has implications for my job. And my expertise. What I know and can do is not just information, but a big chunk of it probably is. And that information really wants to make itself freely available to others. This is just the nature of the web.

And the thing is, if I don’t open source what I know, then someone else will do it for me. Either they know they same stuff and they’ll open source that, or they’ll just upload what they’ve learned off me.

So I need to do it first. That’s why I’ve open sourced what I know about our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy via Pathways Awarua and through making our course content freely available to everyone.

Doing nothing is not an option. In fact, doing nothing while everyone and everything around you moves forward is pretty much the same as going backwards.

3. Design the way I want to work

dropbox_basecamp_google_docs

I think that another part of the solution is to design the way that I want to work. For me this means:

  • treating everything as a project
  • working on these projects with a small agile team
  • being mobile and “always on” (except when I switch everything off)
  • working from home (or anywhere)
  • having a team that is geographically dispersed,
  • and mostly ignoring conventional establishment wisdom relating to what I do.

To expand on these, everything in education can be a project. This includes training, resource development, writing and publishing, and running conferences. If I make everything a project then I can project manage. I use Basecamp for this.

“Always on” means that I can work on my projects anywhere. Most of my work is written on laptops and devices in various cities and towns in New Zealand. I now use cloud-based applications almost exclusively for this including Google Docs, WordPress and Evernote. I also use Dropbox and Google Drive to manage it all.

4. Look for new ways to do the same stuff

keep-calm-and-learn-new-things

Another part of the solution for me is to do education and training in new ways that meet the needs and demands of 21st century work and life. This is where expertise needs to collide with new opportunities and disruptive technologies.

And this is hard because it means I have to learn new stuff. And sometimes things don’t work out.

I’m not quite sure where to go with this in all honesty, but something that I’ve done intentionally is to mess around with different online platforms used for authoring education and training materials. I’ve tried a bunch of them, but the one that stuck was the Bracken platform that we used to write up our course and assessment modules.

Authoring software is kind of tricky… and it’s time consuming to learn how to use… but something that is a whole lot simpler and still incredibly disruptive is video and audio. The incredible success of Kahn Academy continues to testify to the disruptive power of video.

I’m hoping to make this year the year I really get serious about capturing much more of our training, resources, knowledge, and expertise via niche audio and video content.

What have I missed? What do you have planned for 2015 that is going to make you stronger, more resilient, resistant to risk, and ultimately more antifragile?

 

The scariest thing I’ve read all year about literacy and numeracy provision and funding…


gavel-slam

There’s not much that catches me off guard these days. However, this did. I’ve posted in a section of it below. You need to go to here to get the rest.

McDonell: I’m going to be asking you questions pertaining to two different but related areas.  The first is to gain clarifications regarding your organisations’ definition of embedded literacy and numeracy and the process you took to verify that this aligned with your funders’ definition.  Second, what actions you took regarding your quality control measures for your organisations’ embedding of literacy and numeracy into your level one and two programmes.

CEO: Understood.

McDonell: Please explain what your Organisations’ understanding of embedded literacy and numeracy is?

CEO:  We have experts who are well grounded in the details.  My role does not require in-depth knowledge of ELN, only that systems are in place to ensure it is.  My understanding of ELN is that literacy and numeracy delivery is integrated into programme delivery.

McDonell: Are you aware that the TEC had released (some time ago) a document that defines its’ high level expectations for embedded literacy and numeracy?

CEO:  I was not.

McDonell: What efforts did your organisation take to ensure it’s understanding of ELN was correct to ensure compliance with funding criteria that you were receiving?

CEO: We have specialist staff members who’s role it is to stay updated.

McDonell: And it was these, or this, staff members role to ensure the entire organisations’ level one and two programmes were aware of the definition and were compliant with it?

CEO:  Yes.

McDonell:  And you assume your staff are aware of the definition, and subsequent expectation for their provision of ELN?

CEO:  Yes.

McDonell:  Well, we are compiling their responses to a questionnaire, and interviews,  as we speak.  We can review the findings tomorrow.  For now, let’s continue.

McDonell:  Can you please explain your organisations’ process for determining the quality of your embedded literacy and numeracy provision, or even if it was occurring?

CEO: We acquisitioned a staff member to implement ELN across the organisation and ensure tutors were embedding literacy and numeracy.

McDonell:  Can you explain to the house the criteria for selection of the staff member for the position?

CEO: The individual had experience with ELN and was an experienced staff member

McDonell: In what way?

CEO: Sorry?

Go here for the rest of The Inquiry

 

 

MOOC 2.0 – Why the future of online learning is about embedding foundational literacy, numeracy, and learning-to-learn skills


MOOC2dotOh

If you work in education or you’re just interested in education you’ve probably been following the developments of MOOCs – Massively Open Online Courses.

Debate around the MOOCs tends to be polarised. I’m always interested in anything in education that creates such strong emotional responses regardless of which side of the fence you tend to sit on (bilingual education is another good example).

I follow Wired magazine online as they often report on interesting things that are happening regarding the intersection of technology, education, and design – which is really where I see myself working as well.

The other day, they posted an interesting article about Anant Agarwal, one of the founding fathers of online university education. Agarwal is an MIT computer science professor and the CEO of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based non-profit, edX.

The MIT edX is it’s own thing, but they also supply their platform as open source code which is being used by a lot of other universities and organisations around the globe.

Agarwal is aware of the criticisms around MOOCs. Some of these criticisms include, for example:

  1. How effective is computer mediated versus classroom teaching?
  2. Why do MOOCs suffer from low completion rates?
  3. How do you develop a sustainable business model around “free” content?

In any case, Agarwal is convinced that we are on the cusp of what he’s calling MOOC 2.0.

In simple terms, what we’ve been working with in terms of online learning is essentially a first generation product. What we’re moving into will be the next iteration of open online learning. Imagine if Steve Jobs had given up on version 1 of the iPhone because it had a clunky operating system or a limited set of features that didn’t work as well as he’d envisaged.

In the closing words of the article: “To judge a breakthrough technology by only its earliest flaws is to ignore all the good it might do when given the time and the trust to do it.”

So welcome to MOOC 2.0…!

This got me thinking about our own mini MOOC – which is more of a “mostly open online course” – and where I think the future of MOOCs and online learning needs to go.

Which is the following:

  • Embed foundational literacy, numeracy, and learning-to-learn skills into all MOOCs and other forms of online learning.

Since 2007 in New Zealand, we’ve been developing and working with a specific set of skills and practises around how vocational and trades tutors can embed literacy and numeracy into their training.

I think that this same model can be applied to online learning of all kinds. My hypothesis is something like this:

  • We will see an increase in learner uptake of content knowledge as well as course retention and completion if we embed foundational literacy, numeracy, and learning-to-learn skills into online content-based courses at the level of the learners.

My comments here apply to academic courses as well as more practically-based trades and vocational training.

The embedded approach works great with carpenters and hairdressers, but let’s try it with academics as well.

  • Why should learners in an academic pathway struggle with their work just because the professors assume they come to the learning with a pre-existing set of foundational skills?

We know these learners usually don’t have these skills, but often we get bogged down in not wanting to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. It’s time to get over that and teach people what they need to know in order to learn what they need to know.

And we have a good model in place that suggests we can do both at the same time. This means it’s efficient and a value for money investment.

I think that the embedding model, which involves an explicit focus on the underpinning literacy and numeracy skills and content that learners need in the contexts that they are learning, could be the key to unlocking huge growth in online education.

I’m not just talking about learners taking courses on learning how to learn. What I’m talking about here is key principles and practices from the world of embedded literacy and numeracy directly applied to the design of all kinds of content-based learning, and in particular via online media of every kind.

By building and developing foundation level skills in a multitude of contexts and for the wides range of content we would be fostering life long learning both online and offline.

What would this look like in practice? I’m glad you asked… that’s what I want to explore moving forward. And that’s what I think we could export to a global market.

Any thoughts…? Hit that comment button…

Churn: Dealing with the chronic turnover of tutors and trainers in the education sector


churn

The tutors are revolting…!

Well.. they’re not actually revolting, but they do keep leaving. This is a major problem for the tertiary education sector including private and public.

Maths and education blogger Damon Whitten has absolutely nailed this issue in his most recent post. Here’s the skinny:

  1. There are some great things happening in the entry levels of the post high school tertiary training environment.
  2. However, we have some massive systemic issues that continue to limit anyone’s success here, whether education providers or their learners.
  3. One issue is the high turnover of tutors and trainers.
  4. This is compounded by poor organisational management in organisations which means that accumulated knowledge and professional development walks out of the door when these tutors leave.

Here’s what I found really interesting: Damon cites research that says that it takes around four years for new tutors to learn each of these:

  • classroom management;
  • the actual content they are supposed to teach;
  • and how to teach…

In that order. This should leave us gobsmacked… That means that a tutor will really start to hit her stride in about the 12th year of teaching

I’d really encourage you to read the entire article as Damon also tackles the following questions.

  1. Why do tutors leave?
  2. What are some possible solutions to dealing with tutor churn?
  3. What lies ahead in the future?

These are critical questions moving forward. They are also key questions if you are involved in managing a tertiary organisation, (or worse, like me) own one, or are one of the hard working, under appreciated tutors thinking about leaving.

Comments to Damon’s blog if you want to argue about this!

 

 

I shall call him… Mini-MOOC – ALEC, Pathways Awarua and the great unbundling of education


Don’t be spooked by the MOOC – Podcast