Tech Tools for Learning

I’m a big fan of e-learning and technology in general. I recently ran into a fantastic article from the Institute of Performance and Learning outlining some great tech tools:

A lot of these tools are free or low cost, which is nice.

Anyways, it’s a great resource, so check it out!


PIDP…and me.

Successful businessman Free VectorOver the next week I will be finishing my final two PIDP courses. Boy what a journey it has been! I started this program last July, but it feels like much longer. This is not to say it was not fun. Quite the opposite! The personal and professional growth you experience makes the time fly and seem much longer at the same time.

Reflecting on this time, the most important insight is how diverse the roles in education actually are. At the beginning of the program, I had a lot of difficulties defining my role. I felt uncomfortable with most common labels, such as trainer, professor, teacher, facilitator, as these did not my job. I don’t teach in an institution and I spend very little time in the classroom facilitating lessons. The act of instruction is a very small portion of my job. As a learning and development professional, my role is part instructional designer, part facilitator, part program manager, and part organizational development consultant. While there are times that I do directly facilitate training sessions, much of the time I am consulting with client departments to develop learning programs, which they will facilitate to their teams.

In the beginning, I felt like what Brookfield terms an “impostor”. I was pretending to be a teacher in a teaching program, but did not really belong there. What’s worse, being in the corporate role, sometimes it’s more feasible to use training vendors for particular needs, which I often facilitate. What REAL teacher does that? right?

The fact is just as learning takes on different forms, so does teaching. One of my most insightful moments of the program came after discovering the term “teachers as curators” (Bowen, 2012). Technology, with it’s plethora of content, is driving education to become less a means of content delivery. Why focus on delivering content, when superior content already exists ‘out there’. Class time can then be spent focusing on critical thinking, problem solving, and application of skills. This is what I do as a teacher. I supply learning content–be it what I develop or external content–and create learning experiences where learners develop deeper critical thinking skills. I am a teacher after all! What’s even deeper is that I am a new age teacher. If technology continues to drive education in this direction, I am prepared as I am already practising technically conscious techniques.

So I am a tech savy teacher teaching in a new way that technology is driving forward. I also work in the technology sector. This is my advantage and opportunity. As I develop in my practise I will continue to focus on integrating technology in aspects of my design and facilitation. Academically, this is also the area where my passion lies and I plan to start a graduate degree in this area.

While I am keenly interested in Educational Technologies, I am also aware that this can create a distance between you and the student. E-learning alone can be isolating and you have to work extra hard to stay engaged. Some learning technologies too may make content look pretty, but what guarantees students will actually engage with the material rather than fast forward or click through? This is a core challenge of e-learning. One must stay humble to the basics of engagement strategies and not expect that technology automatically guarantees engagement.

Just as the PIDP was a journey, I expect that my career too will be another filled with just as much growth.













Practise What You Teach: Lifelong Learning.

Learning concept Free Vector

Lifelong Learning is a topic that has been emphasized throughout the PID program and great books like Brookfield’s “The Skillful Teacher.” In order to be a skillful and reflective practitioner, as teachers, we too must continue to learn. This can mean self-study and at times formal study to stay up to date on developments in our fields.

To me, the lifelong learning needed for a skillful teacher can be broken down into at least 2 areas. First, there is our practise as teachers. To continue to improve our teaching we provide our students, we must learn. This includes not only exposing ourselves to new ideas or methods, but also reflecting on our practise and soliciting feedback from students, peers, and administrators familiar with our work.

The second area of life long learning relates to our area of expertise. There are very few fields that are not subject to new developments. What we learned in university most likely only touches the surface of the knowledge we will need to learn in our careers to stay up to date in our fields. This is a particularly potent area for me, as I work in technology. If I do not stay in the loop on technology, my knowledge could be obsolete in a matter of months.

So what do I plan on doing to continue this lifelong learning pursuit in practise? There are tons of options! The first important way is by following a selection of institutions relating to workplace learning and technology. For an example, I plan on becoming a member with the Institute of Performance and Learning. They offer networking opportunities locally, mentorship programs, and a yearly conference.

As I am particularly interested in digital learning technologies and e-learning design, I am an active member of e-learning heros, which is an online community facilitated by the course authoring program Articulate. This platform allows me to connect with other professionals for advice, problem solving, and technical tips and tricks. They also have a weekly project challenge, which are designed to challenge your technical skills with their product.

Finally, I am an avid reader with a very long morning commute. I use this hobby and time to read books and articles relating to my field and practise.

Just as we guide our students that learning does not stop once you leave the classroom, it is important that this advice is also something we follow by adopting lifelong learning practises.















Inclusion in Learning

In Brookfield’s book “The Skillful Teacher”, he emphasizes the connection between inclusion and learning. As teachers we need to be aware that there are some practises that may inadvertently exclude certain groups of students and this will impact their learning. This is not the same as selecting strategies that are effective for our learnings. Rather, our actions and strategies may position some students as ‘others’, creating a negative or hostile learning environment. While we cannot expect that all learning activities we select are effective, I think it is our duty to minimize exclusionary practices, as this does not foster fairness and justice in our classroom.

Yesterday a perfect example of this popped up on my Facebook newsfeed:

B.C. school’s decision to not celebrate Mother’s, Father’s day in class sparks debate

This article caught my attention for several reasons. First, I grew up in this community, so it’s interesting to watch their educational systems evolve. Second, I was “that kid” who was forced to make father’s day cards and did not have a father. While I survived these card making sessions and my primary years, it was not without much pain.

What’s incredibly interesting about this issue is the debate. I was shocked that most people seem outraged that this school decided to oust the making of mother’s and father’s day cards. Reading through the comments can be heart-wrenching, as some comment “have the kid make a card to take to their parent’s grave” or “why do we need to accommodate a few ‘sissies’?”

Through these outrageous comments, I realize that few understand the objectives and mechanisms of learning. The focus of the debate appears to be anti political correctness, which not at the core of this decision. It’s about Exclusion in education.

Exclusionary practises like this set up students for failure. If a student feels alienated, their learning will be inhibited. A child that is forced to make mother or fathers day cards and comes from a non traditional family will be temporarily derail the student and make it much harder for them to reconnect with subsequent learning activities. This can also disrupt the trust a student has in us as teacher, making them feel unsafe and less likely to take some of the risks learning entails.

In a very similar debate regarding the use of terms like “you guys”, most people immediately jump to debates about Political Correctness. But again, this is exclusion. A term like this invites “guys” which for young learners or ESL this could be taken literally.

It is our duty as teachers to create supportive and positive learning environments. This can only be done with Inclusion, so we need to be aware of any practise we use that may exclude any student.






Accreditation….and me.

Hand pressing security button on touch screen Free Photo

It is likely that the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “accreditation’ are educational or public institutions. The corporate world does not have to worry about accreditation, right?

If your business has customers, chances are you have or will need to participate in some form of PCI or PA -DSS accreditation. Any business that stores or processes sensitive data and payments needs to comply with PCI security standards.

For some businesses, this means participating in yearly audits that verify that your technology and organizational processes comply with security standards. For others, this also includes yearly employee training to stay up to date on security threat awareness.

Non-compliance with PCI is a big deal and potentially costly problem. If a business is not compliant, they can be held liable for any losses as a result of hacks or other unauthorized access to data. Over the last few years, there have been several high profile cases that have hit the media where large business have been “hacked” for access to credit card data.  Many of these businesses already follow PCI standards, but in these cases they will still need to fight to prove process was followed.

In my industry–Point of Sale software–we are particularly scrutinized. One of the core functions of a POS is to process payment, so for us to remain competitive in the market we must maintain our PA-DSS accreditation. For us to maintain accreditation, we participate in very extensive yearly audits. All employees must also attend yearly security awareness training and any employee that works extensively with the design, development, or configuration of our product needs to attend a more intense advanced security workshop yearly.

In years to come, it is likely that the rules for accreditation will become more extensive. The industry which our POS serves is one of the most vulnerable industries: hospitality. Hospitality is highly vulnerable because outside of big chain businesses, many merchants have older technology which is not compliant with some of the new security standards. However, the technology is only one element–there are a lot of organizational processes that can impede security. Many of these businesses have not had to create or think of these processes in terms of their security risks before. The following is a very interesting article regarding the impact of new PCI legislation on the hospitality industry.

As we grow into a more digital world, it is likely that accreditation will become a word we associate with the business world. As we integrate our lives more with technology, we share our personal data with many sources. To protect us, we will want to ensure the businesses we use have security accreditation appropriate to their organization type. We are not quite there yet, but this is likely the direction we are going.













Another Video

My time in the PID program is quickly coming to a close. Boy it’s been a journey! And I know I’m going to miss it.

I just finished my final video assignment, which I will be sharing shortly.

Once again, I attempted to create my own animations (as opposed to online tools such as Powtoon). The audio was recorded with Camtasia using a Blue Yeti Pro microphone. The video was created and animated in Camtasia, as well. I tried my hand with Adobe Illustrator too to customize some of the images.

The content is satirical–so expect a good laugh or two. Everyone at work is always (jokingly) that I should do training on how to make coffee, so I surprised them with this. Enjoy!

Lecturing Creatively

Polygonal light bulb Free Vector

When I think about the phrase “lecturing creatively”, immediately my thoughts run to graphical or artistic techniques you can add to lectures. Brookfield’s interpretation is much different. To him, lecturing creatively is a strategy to cater to a variety of different learning styles, experiment with different communication processes, model learning behaviours, and are clearly organized to show the lecturers rationale.

Of the techniques that Brookfield outlines there are two that I find particularly engaging.

First is deliberate use of silence. Silence can be powerful in presentations and lectures. It not only gives people a chance to think a bit, but it has a strange engaging appeal. A good example of this is some of the speeches Barack Obama gives. His use of pauses and occasional silence is masterful and feels like it draws you in closer.

Silence and pauses are a hard thing to master. I know I certainly have troubles with it. Whenever I have a platform to speak–be it lecture or even answering a question–I feel like I need to occupy this space with noise. Learning to master silence is a challenge because it feels so awkward. I suppose one needs to find a way to get comfortable in this awkwardness to succeed—something I need to work on!

The other technique is using “Buzz groups”. Last week I had a great experience with this as a student. I recently launched a leadership development program. As part of this program, we are inviting in expert facilitators occasionally. The session we had last week was 100% online administered. It was a synchronous environment—and yes we had buzz groups (we called them breakaway rooms). This was an incredibly engaging technique, not to mention a BIG surprise for an online class!

Whenever creativity is mentioned, people automatically associate this with the arts. I’ve always held the belief that once you reach a certain level of expertise in an area you will demonstrate creativity in how you approach problems. Lecturing creatively is a good example of this.


Ethics in Practise

previewFor anyone who does not already know, Ethics is one of my favourite topics. I studied Philosophy in university and this remains one of my favourite subjects to this day.

However, does my background uniquely prepare me for the ethical challenges in teaching and business? In a word, no. If anything, I think it’s a disadvantage as I over analyze problems, so there is no such thing as a quick decision.

When it comes to ethics in my practise, there is one issue that makes me lose sleep at night. Power!

As instructors, we make decisions about learning goals and these influence and shape our learners goals. We are also authority figures. No matter how much we try to personalize and show vulnerability, we will always be viewed by our students as having power. We have the power to evaluate. We have the power to limit autonomy, rights, freedoms ( at least within the confines of our classroom). This is something we should take seriously! We know the bad results and uses of power–we fight the bad memories of our learners everyday!

Ok so power–what exactly does this have to do with ethics? As adult educators, we understand that our learners are self-determining and autonomous. Almost all of Knowle’s assumptions of the adult learner is based on this. So we have an obligation to exercise our power legitimately. What does it mean to exercise legitimate power? To put it simply, we must ensure we have a very good reason for interfering with our learners rights, freedoms, and autonomy.

How can we accomplish this? Much of the guidance in Brookfield’s book applies here. Being an aware and reflective practitioner is a good start. We need to put ourselves in our learner’s shoes and think how we would feel or respond to our classroom activity decisions.

But there is an even better idea! This one is right up my alley as it applies Political Philosophy to the classroom (and can even be used to teach a particular theory). Social Contract theories vary by theories, but the aim is that power originates when individuals implicitly agree to the conditions of society. Depending on the theory implicitly could mean voting or even just existing in society. (we could justify that students implicitly agree to our power by enrolling in the class but I’m not going to go there!).

We can apply the social contract to the classroom by working with the class to create a classroom contract. Here’s a short and sweet article on this:

Brookfield suggests very similar strategies as well. I really like this idea as we are working together with our learners to develop rules (and legitimate uses of our power) of the classroom. Definitely something I will be looking to implement.






Resistance to Learning

Sad woman with an apple in one hand and cake in the other Free Photo

When most of us think about resistance to learning, I think an image of that rebellious kid in highschool comes to mind. Teens are still developing and often do not see the long term value in education, so it can seem common place. But adults are different, right? They know where they are going, see the value in life-long learning, and would never waste an educational opportunity…right?

I wish! While adults may not be as explicit with their resistance to learning, it’s there. Sometimes I even think we’re more stubborn than our adolescent counterparts.

Brookfield identifies several ways we can address resistance to learning in our practise. My favourite is one that is quite low tech. I am a strong believer in learning communities and mentorship, so it is also a technique that is right up my alley.

Brookfield suggests that inviting past students (particularly the resistant ones) to class near the start of the session for a Q&A session can give current students someone to identify with in their struggle. By sharing their stories of their past experiences, current students may change their opinion and withhold their negative judgement until they give the course a shot.

One caution is that this activity should not appear staged or forced. To address this, Brookfield suggests introducing the guests to the class, but then leaving the class so that the discussion is kept anonymous. This will allow resistant students to open up more if they think the professor will not find out.

I often use a similar technique. If I find a resistant learner, I often try to team them up or work with a previous learner who was also resistant. As my context is mostly on-the-job training, I can facilitate these types of mentorship relationships. Often these type of team ups become the best mentorship experiences, as the mentor can be more candid regarding any negativity or resistance that pops up.









Teacher Talking Technology

Hello Everyone!

I just finished another video–this time about course authoring programs. This video was made with two different course authoring program–Articulate Storyline and Camtasia. It even features videos of me making interactive content out of the video as I was making it!

Check it out and let me know what you think!