Archive for November, 2012

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the newly appointed Chief Inspector of Ofsted, has been no stranger to controversy since taking over this role. Now he has waded into the furore surrounding GCSE grades by suggesting that this is an ideal opportunity to overhaul the whole exam system

Whether or not you agree with him (and that may be the subject of a future post), he did quote one irrefutable fact. Over the last decade, the UK has fallen from 7th to 24th in global literacy tables and from 7th to 28th in Maths. This should be a matter of great concern to us all. We live and operate within a global marketplace and today’s young people will be competing for jobs with the people in the very countries who are now rising above us in the skills charts. Yet this somewhat depressing fall from the top tier has taken place during a period when GCSE results have improved annually. When  GCSEs were first introduced in 1988, 42.8% of pupils achieved an A-C Grade. By 2011, the figure had increased to 69.8%.

So how on earth do you square that apparently impressive rise in standards with our declining position against countries such as Poland, Ukraine and China? Some people are seeking a return to GCE’s and more “rigorous” testing, but I am far from convinced that this will be of any benefit. The problem with exams is that by their very nature, they assess “knowledge transfer”. But the acquisition of knowledge on its own is of limited value, it’s the way that this knowledge is applied that is of fundamental importance in skill development.

If you don’t believe me, then ask the increasing number of employers who are not only having to run remedial courses for school leavers but also for graduates so that they can apply their knowledge in the workplace. It’s all very well knowing how to punctuate a sentence, but if you cannot phrase an email in the appropriate language, being mindful of the impact of what you are saying and how your words may be interpreted, then you are soon going to run into a lot of trouble with your colleagues.

I am not arguing that knowledge isn’t important. On the contrary, it’s an important first step – but no more than that.  What is vital to any organisation is how that knowledge is used and the impact of that application. And therein lies the problem – our current exam system assesses knowledge transfer. No doubt that assessment can be improved, but if we really want to produce school leavers and graduates who can add immediate value to the workplace and who can compete effectively in the global marketplace, we will need to find new ways of helping them to apply their skills and new ways of assessing their ability to do so.

Before writing this post, I looked back at two recent Ofsted Reports on clients with whom we work in partnership. Both reports were graded as “good” and were full of positive comments about “high success rates”, “good training” and “learners enjoying their work”. That’s all great stuff and gave me a nice warm fuzzy glow, but I failed to find a single word in either report as to whether the application of the learning in these programmes had had any impact on the organisations.

Until that situation changes and we value “application” and “impact” as highly as “knowledge transfer”, I fear we may continue to slide down the global league tables and that does not bode well for the future prospects of our new generations of young people.


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Welcome to the new home for my blogs. I do hope that my loyal followers will join me at my new site and that I’ll pick up some new friends along the way as I continue to explore the world of learning. Moreover, as MindLeaders is sadly no more, I will no longer be constrained in my outpourings, so who knows what will appear here.

My apologies if the next paragraph at first sight seems largely nonsensical, but I want to skip ahead just a couple of years and imagine what a learning journey might look like.

Learners will have started their journey in a “flipped” classroom. Having completed their EBacc, of course, they would not even have considered the boring old bricks and mortar university (now only available to the super rich). Instead they will have gone straight into work and chosen either to study for one of the new Degree Apprenticeships or opted for a MOOC. At work, their learning will take place through a variety of ESNs or PLNs.

So let me start to decipher some of this “learning-speak”. The concept of a “flipped” classroom is rapidly gaining momentum thanks to the remarkable rise of the Khan Academy and other video-based learning platforms. If you are not yet acquainted with the Khan Academy, then do Google it and take a look and before you write it off, remember it now has huge financial backing from the likes of Bill Gates and others.

The flipped classroom is based on the premise that our current education methodology ( teacher imparts some knowledge during a lesson; students develop understanding through homework) is incredibly inefficient. The Khan approach is that knowledge is transferred at home via video thereby freeing up lessons for developing understanding. The “teacher” can then provide support on an individual basis when and where it is needed. “Homework” gets done because support is immediately available rather than being dumped in frustration when mum or dad don’t know the answer either. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept and whilst of course there are all sorts of practical problems, the internet is now full of articles and blogs about the value this approach is bringing to the classroom.

I have blogged before about MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and hardly a day seems to pass without yet another prestigious university signing up to a MOOC problem. Whilst I’m a massive fan of the concept, I’m still not convinced that every university course can be “mooced” and I’m not sure whether they will remain totally free for ever, but there is no longer any question that they are here to stay and that they will soon represent genuine alternative to bricks and mortar universities. Equally, the whole Apprenticeship programme is clearly moving in the direction of Higher and Advanced Level Qualifications thereby representing another genuine alternative to traditional university education.

Finally, I have no doubt that the move towards informal or social learning as the main method of ongoing workplace training, will continue to gather pace. Of course by its very nature, this form of learning is collaborative and will need to be captured and shared. The concept of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) is therefore rapidly gaining ground.  Groups of people with similar interests or learning objectives will gather together  via a standard social networking platform much as Twitter or Google +, Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) such as Yammer or new platforms such as Ning, designed specifically to manage PLN (Radiohead use Ning so it must be good!)

So where do all of these developments leave traditional eLearning providers? It took eLearning nearly 30 years to establish itself as a genuine alternative to traditional classroom training, but the rate of change is now so great, that I would be surprised if it takes 30 months for the new social learning movement to become the preferred approach to learning. The idea of an individual sitting in front of a screen scrolling through a learning programme is dead in the water and any eLearning provider who continues along that path is, in David Byrne’s words, on The Road to Nowhere.

However, for those eLearning providers who are prepared to embrace rapid change, the new learning methodologies open up huge opportunities. Incorporating social learning concepts into eLearning programmes and Learning Management Systems is technologically not difficult. More tricky will be the change in mind-set necessary to make the initial leap.

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