Last week I spoke at the opening night of RELEARN2020, a learning innovation festival from the team at Learnlife Barcelona. It was a tremendous event with many of those that I admire in our sector speaking, stimulating, and sparking global conversations.

Whilst there’s something to be said for speaking on opening night, the video of my presentation was shared across the globe hundreds of times, something I had not anticipated and so because of this I have decided it was worthy of a follow-up article. 

The session was titled “Has Pedagogy had its day?”. A title to provoke, as was the order of the day, a title to spark conversation and discussion.

First a little of my background: my introduction to pedagogy was way back in the nineties whilst enrolled in a teaching degree. Four career changes later I wound up back in education where I’ve now been for a total of seventeen years. My real experience however is not with pedagogy but with heutagogy. I am a qualified vocational & training educator and I spent six years teaching in the Higher Education sector. What I saw there and the work we achieved moving a suite of postgraduate courses online (this was 15 years ago now) has had a significant impact on the work I later led in the K-12 sector. Working alongside the curriculum experts (our educators) and instructional designers we moved the whole of senior years curriculum online (for a blended mode of delivery) that launched in 2017.

Now I’m never one to follow the crowd, and in education, there are so many frameworks, methodologies, and pedagogies that I’ve purposefully never aligned myself to just one. I prefer to pick and choose, incorporating and melding them into the best of breed for my client, the school, the students, and the educators I work with and support.

I don’t think anyone can deny however that the model most dominant in K-12 settings is pedagogy (over heutagogy & andragogy). In my presentation, I explained why I think heutagogy is worthy of consideration in K-12, particularly in the middle to senior years. If we are serious about dismantling the constructs of the current paradigm, we need to consider all options and heutagogy has much to offer. 

In the recently released World Economic Forum Future Jobs 2020 Report they note that the skills gap we face in the lead up to 2025 (scarily not that far off) includes critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving and self-management. This places Heutagogy in the lead as the delivery model that can support the acquisition and development of these very skills. Heutagogy (also known as self-determined learning) is a student-centered instructional strategy that emphasises the development of autonomy, capacity, and capability. The goal of heutagogy is to teach lifelong learning and to produce learners who are well equipped to manage the complexities of today’s workplace, and as best we can tomorrow’s workplace too.

One comment I’ve heard over and over from educators this year was that senior students would in fact be far better prepared this year for tertiary studies than ever before due to their experience of remote learning through this period of school closures. What’s frustrating about this is why wasn’t this considered before now, wasn’t it obvious that there was a huge disconnect between secondary and tertiary education models? Perhaps like the current situation we find ourselves in, everyone agrees that there must be change but few have the courage to act.

In 2014 I returned from the ISTE conference in the US and informed my fellow executives that in the US, across the majority of states back then, it had become mandatory for students to complete a minimum of one online unit in preparation for further studies. We knew when preparing to launch our blended model in 2017, that our students would be far better prepared than most for tertiary studies, the world of work and indeed lifelong learning. It was a move that made many educators feel uneasy however it was an ‘opt in’ model so that those who were looking for a challenge would have that opportunity and be provided support and upskilling in instructional design and Heutagogical practices. As it turned out the educators and students found themselves in a fortunate position this year as they were far better prepared for the challenges they faced this year as schools here in Melbourne closed, many for 140+ days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The students who were in that first cohort to move online in 2017 were only weeks into their final year (Year 12/VCE) when schools closed but with three years of preparation, the feedback was that they felt they had all the skills and tools they needed to feel confident, be effective and finish strong. 

Prior to COVID, many schools were pursuing initiatives that would help them improve the student learning experience and drive better outcomes, as they had begun to realise that by helping teachers build expertise with online spaces and digital tools, they can better achieve their goals. 

The aim of my presentation was to highlight that as schools moved to remote learning, and particularly those who managed to deliver online learning true to its definition of providing both asynchronous and synchronous learning, we had naturally seen a drift towards heutagogy occurring, right down to the primary years. 

Academic Exchange Quarterly ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 23, Issue 1 Spring 2019

It is the courageous leaders that will take the lead now, ensuring they don’t let this rare opportunity to rethink schooling go to waste, playing the long term, strategic game to carve a unique niche in the marketplace that will secure their enrolments long into the future.  

I remain passionate about the technological tools and the underpinning architecture to support student learning and I’m driven by my own poor experience of schooling. My focus is always on the students, their needs, and how we can empower them to take responsibility for their learning. I want to ensure that every child leaves school prepared to solve the problems they will face in the future head-on which is what makes heutagogy so appealing.

I concluded my presentation with a quote attributed to Winston Churchill:

 “Never let a good crisis go to waste”

By using this quote, I meant that TODAY, we as school leaders and educators, have an amazing opportunity to do things differently. Educators across the globe have shown outstanding resilience and flexibility, pushing their practice even further towards Heutagogy during what was a highly stressful year for many. Now as we stop to draw breath and turn our attention to 2021, we must remember to take full advantage of the current environment. We need to reflect and focus on what worked for, and empowered, students and incorporate those successes into regular daily practice. 

The video has now been uploaded to my own website and you can view it below:

Has pedagogy had its day? screenshot

Link to the follow up Interview in January 2021 with the folks from Cohort 21:

“Although we’re hearing a lot about online learning because of arguments about how to reopen schools, colleges and universities, it’s been an educational tool for decades.” This article in today’s Age is worth a read, “Online learning good in the mix” (note it was the title in the digital version that hooked me in, “Face-to-face learning is not always best”

Online learning good in the mix
https://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/face-to-face-learning-is-not-always-best-20200827-p55pwa.html

Whilst I love online learning for myself, I believe that a blended model is best used in K-12 settings. Schools will implement it for different reasons but in 2020 it’s mostly a reactionary response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many for whom it forms the basis of their business model e.g. School of the Air, The Royal Children’s Hospital Institute etc It should never be implemented as a cost-saving measure or you’ll be bitterly disappointed (the cost of IT infrastructure alone can make it prohibitive to many) but for those invested in moving from a pedagogical approach to heutagogy it’s a no brainer.

Heutagogy (self-determined learning) until very recently was only ever spoken about in the HEd context. In heutagogy, the learner is at the centre of their own learning. The heutagogical approach recognises the need to be flexible in the learning where the educator is the content expert and provides resources but the learner designs the curriculum by negotiating the learning.

With advances in technology directly impacting learning, digital learning methodologies promote autonomy and a learner-centred approach that are completely aligned with heutagogy. A heutagocial approach is perfectly suited to a School with an LMS delivering online learning but how many will make this leap do you think?

“Heutagogy is the study of self-determined learning … It is also an attempt to challenge some ideas about teaching and learning that still prevail in teacher centred learning and the need for, as Bill Ford (1997) eloquently puts it ‘knowledge sharing’ rather than ‘knowledge hoarding’. In this respect heutagogy looks to the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces.”

lHase, S. and Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ultibase, RMIT. http://ultibase.rmit.edu.au/Articles/dec00/hase2.htmllll

If you are interested in discovering more about Heutagogy I suggest you visit the Heutagogy Community of Practice.

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FSA Member schools were invited to join Mary-Lou O’Brien and Peter Hutton in conversation on Tuesday the 12th of May.

“Mary-Lou is a digital transformation leader, a change maker, an innovator, a self-confessed geek, a global explorer, a trend watcher, an Aussie retail pioneer, an intrapreneur & forever a student! In 1997 she became one of Australia’s internet pioneers when she launched Australia’s first online retail business, Australia Presents. With a varied background with an extensive cross sectoral history across education, travel and tourism, recruitment and retail, this conversation on how digital technology will redefine school-time in a post COVID world, is one not to be missed. Mary-Lou was a key change agent behind Melbourne Girls Grammar transformation to be positioned as one of the most innovative schools in Australia. A zoom link will be sent to FSA schools.”

Live Interview recorded May 2020

My last article focussed on Learning in COVID times and writing it reminded me of just how important some of my early decisions were in setting up an LMS in a school setting. A good LMS will not only support online learning first and foremost but will also provide a communication solution for the school community. 

My teen years were spent working in retail and travel sales. Straight from college, I entered the travel industry where I stayed for ten years honing my customer service and sales skills. I learnt some valuable lessons for my latter roles when I was expected to write up processes, instructions and prepare curriculum for online delivery.  

Again, this article may be too early for schools that have rushed into “emergency remote teaching” however when school administrators have time to reflect and refocus the questions of whether their customers (students, parents & staff) are having their needs met.

One of the major mistakes made in rolling out platforms and services is a high reliance on the technical experts (the IT team). These people are generally highly skilled technicians, network engineers and IT geeks, competent to install the software/server etc but few of them have design, teaching and marketing experience to deliver on what the platform should look like, what features are/aren’t needed in the classroom and what communication channels to utilise. In addition, most IT Managers do not have representation on the school executive team, so this means they aren’t exposed to the “big picture” and are not involved in strategic planning. 

A crucial role in Schools these days is the administrator of the LMS (Learning Management System. In seeking to feel this position my priorities were on finding:

  1. Someone with strong Customer service skills and experience – Sales (persuasive speaking), Empathy, Communication skills, Adaptability and Patience.
  2. Preferably someone with training experience but for the right person providing this training could be an excellent investment.
  3. A good eye for design (as mentioned in my previous article colour, fonts and imagery are all extremely important aspects of designing pages for the www)

I never insisted on technical skills, apart from being curious, as the technology skills required for most platforms these days are low level and can easily be taught.

The benefit of someone with a strong customer service background is that they are more likely to have natural empathy. This means that when they are tasked with preparing content on a webpage/class page they have the ability to view content from the user’s perspective. 

Earlier this week I came across this infuriating tweet from a Dad reflecting on his experience of “remote teaching”:  

Earlier this week I came across this infuriating tweet from a Dad reflecting on his experience of “remote teaching”:  

This is clearly a teacher whose School has turned on Google Classroom just expecting that alone will deliver “remote learning”. This is a teacher I suspect that has received no training in this transition and who has no understanding of the platform he is using, or its capabilities. It’s situations exactly like this one that gives online learning a bad name. Judging by the number of likes and retweets these tweets received I’d say this parent is not alone. 

If we look at this from a customer service perspective, the school is providing a service to the community, so they need to think about what it will do for them, why it does it, how it does it and then communicate this to them. 

My personal mantra when it comes to providing Good Service is to offer transparency and always ‘under-promise and over-deliver. As an example, last week I went to have my car serviced and was offered a coffee and told at worst it could take two hours. I had just set up my laptop and started writing this article when they came to me and I hadn’t even finished my coffee. I was thrilled to be out of there so quickly but what if they’d told me it would probably take 45mins and then it had taken 45mins- Meh! My mood may not have been quite so joyous.

For schools, teachers, and principals if you entered lockdown telling parents that you will deliver an LMS platform, online learning and teachers delivering content Mon-Fri 8.30am-3.30pm each day, your parents are now writing to the newspapers, lodging complaints and asking for refunds on their fees. If you instead had been more transparent and explained the situation of where you were with technology, infrastructure, staff training and the steps you were planning to take over the oncoming weeks and how it would impact each stakeholder, you would get a far greater level of understanding and support for the transition. Public Relations 101- Transparency and honesty builds trust!

People naturally will have expectations based on previous experience and for schools, the LMS, the Parent Portal and the level of teacher content is always compared between schools. These days most parents would assume that they could enrol their child into a school online, pay school fees in bitcoin and receive all school reports electronically, but this simply isn’t the case in many schools. Our aim as service providers is to listen to our customers, know what they need before they need it and provide the answer via the fewest steps possible. 

In my office for years I had the following poster on the board:

Should I use a QR code

It came as a result of a teacher attending professional development and discovering QR codes for the first time. She came to me for help uploading all the files she wanted to share with parents behind QR codes because it would be more fun and show them how innovative and tech-savvy she was. 

It was left to me to explain that 

  1. perhaps only 40% of her audience would know what to do with it and have a ‘reader’ on their phone ready to go
  2. By 2017 that technology was already very “old” and not well adopted technology and 
  3. Parents would not appreciate that a step that used to take them 1 simple click would now mean ensuring they had software installed, ensuring that they had their phone in their hand each time they accessed the page and they’d have to scan the code to get to the same point as a simple link with just one click. 

Good service requires as few steps as possible to complete…but wait there’s more: 

  • Treat your LMS, or website, homepage as your reception area. Remember it’s the first place you enter, it’s the first place you have an interaction and the first place you look for signage of where to go next. It is where impressions are made.
  • Don’t use internal acronyms, or tech or education speak. Remember when your community members (parents/students/staff) first interact with you they may not have any idea what SAC’s, MCEETYA, UDL, PBL, ACARA, ESL, NDIS, LOTE, PL/PD or BYOD/BYOT all stand for, let alone the difference between remote, flipped, blended and online learning. 
  • Use natural language or ensure you provide definitions. Whilst the accounts team might call it the “expenses reimbursement” form, a teacher will be far more likely to search for “how do I get a refund”, “how do I get my money back”. Metatag all your files with appropriate, meaningful, natural and logical language. Create your search terms as verbs i.e. what action do I need to do?
  • Be consistent in your delivery. The language and the visual style needs to be consistent which is why I recommend you have one or two people setting up your portal/LMS and their templates to begin with. Every page in your school LMS/Portal should use the same font, size, colour, the same branding, the exact same place for course outlines, assessment tasks, content, teacher greeting/update/contact details etc. We all quickly grow accustomed to usage patterns online and every break in consistency is a break in trust.
  • There’s the old adage of “What gets measured, gets done”. I’ve just worked with a school IT team who had a gamified helpdesk platform. This meant there was a competition within the department and a race to be the first to assist and respond to logged calls – just brilliant!
  • Inclusion is also a necessity when designing your services and a lack of diversity within your team will mean you have a lack of inclusion in your service. 
  • Finally, I’m sure each and everyone one of us has spent frustrating minutes on a website trying to locate a buried phone number, email or ‘contact us’ form. A good service will always provide an easy path to communicate with a human. On your internal platforms (LMS & Parent Portal) always have a “Help” link on every page offering your end users a range of help solutions including ways of contacting you directly.

In discussions with clients, I talk about the “barriers” users have to hurdle to get the desired outcome. The more barriers we remove, the more likely people will complete a task. A good example is a form…after three fields, for every additional field someone needs to fill in, you will dissuade a percentage of your users from completing the form (assuming the same motivation for all). When someone comes in contact with your school, or organisation, and they discover that they can achieve all that they want to achieve and with the fewest steps possible then that is good customer service.

If you’d like to do further reading on this topic the reference that has inspired my post comes from a recent read:  “Good Services-how to design services that work” by Lou Downe. 

This post is also in memory of the incredible visionary and digital transformation specialist, Paul Shetler, from whom I learnt so much the few times our paths crossed and who sadly passed away in February, aged 59.

There is that old saying that says “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” 

As schools around us begin to close one by one the reality has hit and within weeks, if not days, ALL schools could be forced to close. I know many school leadership teams have been entrenched in crisis planning this past month and it’s a hard slog when you’re behind the eight ball, understaffed and underprepared. 

For those who have implemented online or blended delivery modes already using robust Learning Management Systems (LMS’s) and portals, they are quietly confident. They have been retraining their staff in new delivery modes for years and now they get to reap the reward of their investment in online learning.

For the rest it’s time to start making lemonade, as this is your opportunity:

  1. To leapfrog (surpass or overtake another to move into a leading or dominant position). You have the choice of some incredibly versatile and mature LMS platforms out there so don’t wait any longer.
  2. To change mindsets. You don’t have the luxury of a slow change management process, preparing the educators and students, however this means the educators have no choice but to embrace it alongside the students and join them on what might be the learning adventure of a lifetime. It’s an exciting time of momentous growth, an evolution in teaching practice and a flipped mindset for many. It will mean many educators are learning alongside their students for the first time, they will be nervous as they will not have the control they crave and they will have to finally move on from being “the sage on the stage’. 
  3. To test your IT teams. Is their focus on the end game of teaching and learning or just on technology? Are they able to support the community in setting up, and providing training and support, in online conferencing tools? Is the infrastructure and the policies in place to allow and support students learning from home? If school devices don’t have webcams, do you at least have a mobile app or responsive interface that will allow teachers and students to interact via any mobile device?
  4. To lift digital skill levels. All the tools teachers will be forced to embrace new tools to boost learner engagement, some of which they may have never used before e.g. blogging, chats, web conferencing, online whiteboarding, videos, audio feedback, widgets, surveys, quizzes etc Many will need to be told that an LMS is not the place for uploading daily PDFs and PowerPoint packs and many will need someone to help them build their LMS classroom/content pages so that they are appealing, well designed and engaging. Remember there’s no need to reinvent the wheel either, as there’s plenty of content out there and perhaps it’s time for you to consider microcredentials or linking to external content via MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses).
  5. To test your business continuity plan.
  6. To get feedback. When it’s all over be open to feedback and be open to reflecting on what went right and what went horribly wrong.
  7. To apply to school leadership and boards to get more $$$ to invest so that you can remain future focussed and future ready and never find yourselves in this position again. 

My tip is that the biggest area for growth in K-12 education right now is for teachers with instructional design skills. At my previous school, we first employed an Instructional Designer in 2013, we then moved to training our educators (as opt-in professional development) and before I left in January we had trained around thirty of them. It’s definitely time that our teacher training courses take on this burden from schools, as from this point onwards these skills will no longer be “nice to haves” but absolutely required.  

 It is disruptive times like these that force change and innovation. All parts of the community will be more open to change during a crisis. Embrace this opportunity, change is often hard and the community is often resistive, but just like we keep telling students, the future is all about being adaptable and agile. 

Last week’s confusion around school closures in the face of continuing Coronavirus outbreaks had people baffled as the Independent Schools and Education Department Schools were taking very different stances.

To me it seemed obvious that many Independent Schools responded far faster in enforcing students returning from China remain in isolation. Last week the Education Department was hesitant to isolate students and when one of their Schools did it became news headlines: “Melbourne primary school defies state coronavirus advice and isolates students”. This week they have flipped and as the virus spreads globally and is at risk of becoming a pandemic, the Department is now enforcing the isolation recommendation below, but at what cost?

Today the Australian Government Department of Health has stated:

  • If you have travelled from Hubei Province within the past 14 days, you must isolate yourself until 14 days have elapsed after leaving Hubei Province.
  • If you have left, or transited through, mainland China on or after 1 February 2020 you must isolate yourself until 14 days after leaving China.
  • If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case.

There are many underlying issues at play here, political volley-balling, political correctness and even racism, or perhaps the fear of being seen to be racist. However, what most people don’t understand is that many schools, and almost ALL independent schools and Higher Education Institutions have Learning Management Systems (LMS) that allow students to access their classes when they can’t attend a campus. Many are still as not as advanced as they should be but in the case of emergency situations like this, they could be the lifeline these students (and their schools) need.

I was employed as a Director of eLearning in 2019 with the task of selecting and deploying an LMS to support online & blended learning to ensure that every student could continue their education whether they were at Ski School at Mt Buller for three months of the year, on an exchange trip to France, in the Children’s Hospital unwell or in the case that the School had had to be shut down due to a power outage…or even a health pandemic. Coincidentally just as I began my role Australia was hit by the Swine Flu outbreak and several schools were closed across the State of Victoria at that time. I remember reading about a great moment of leapfrogging by a rural school who immediately responded by executing, seemingly overnight, a Learning Management System. This enabled schooling to continue with students accessing their classes and their teachers online via web conferencing. It is a moment etched in my mind, a classic example of making a firm decision, taking a calculated risk, embracing the solution and bringing the community along for the ride.

That was 2009 and have we not learnt anything? Did schools not complete risk assessments back then? If they did, what were the outcomes and recommendations and why were they not acted upon?

I would suggest that the investment in an LMS would not only provide an alternative virtual location for your School, but it could also mitigate risk. The risk could be huge and there have already been headlines focused on the impact on our economy if all our International students are delayed entry or self-isolating by the time Uni’s reopen in March. On a smaller scale think of your local schools, particularly those with international borders and the impact the loss of students would have at that level. Of course, it’s not as simple as everyone turning on an LMS tomorrow, like everything it takes time. We took five years to reach the point where EVERY educator had the training, knowledge and confidence to present their content online and I’m not talking about just whacking up hundreds of PowerPoints and .pdf’s either but thoughtfully curated content based on mastery learning and with UX principals top of mind. By 2017 the whole senior year’s curriculum was ready to be delivered in a blended model and given that every school’s senior cohorts are high-risk cohorts due to the focus on their results, future pathways, parent pressures and by the fact that they are the highest fee payers etc it makes sense to start there. In the US many states mandate that senior students must complete a minimum of one subject online to graduate, as a way of ensuring they are ready for higher education and the future of work.

With so many reasons for implementing an LMS, the time is now, what school board wouldn’t approve the expense when weighed against the risk right now?