BlendIT aims to help L&D professionals ‘experience new technologies’

BlendIT, a programme for L&D professionals keen to try out learning technologies and resources, was launched yesterday at Learning Live 2012 .

The programme aims to give “L&D professionals the opportunity to experience a wide range of learning technologies and resources”, says creator Julie Wedgwood, who talked to LearnPatch about the course and what stops L&D professionals trying out new tools.

What types of tools and technologies are used in the course?
The learners have access to webinar/virtual classroom tools, a full learning community which provides them with a user profile, full WordPress blog (hidden from the outside world and over which they have full privacy control, with a proviso that they have to share it with the learning leader as a minimum but most don’t want the privacy unless the content of a blog post is company specific and confidential), an e-portfolio based within their personal blog site, a microblogging channel, Chat, wikis, group forums, video hosting site (based on Amazon S3) on which I have an array of industry experts who have recorded their views and guidance on topics such as instructional design, video production, performance support etcs well as the recordings of the webinars and footage shot during the workshops, podcasts, photo library, programme calendar, and lots of other resources that are part of the course.

There is a library per module of related technologies that they can link to, download and experiment with. During the live face to face workshops and the webinars they see and experience the tools in action and on the workshops they get to use them too. It is a very rich media site and I am constantly adding to it and curating new technologies that are emerging and of course that the learners themselves find. Jane Hart built it for me to my design. It’s also available on mobile devices. With the University of Derby the learners also have access to the University Library and a lot of other resources and sources of information through a dedicated team from the university library that look after them.

Why are L&D professionals in need of updating current skills?
Not all do. However from my experience when presenting at conferences etc people often come up afterwards and say, thank you and that I’ve given them a place to start exploring. I think that many L&D professionals know they need to move their skills forward but are a bit unsure where to start as there is so much out there and they are looking for guidance from someone who understands their job and can point them in the right direction.

What BlendIt allows them to do is do this with purpose as all the assignments on the programme require them to not only get going with the Learning Technology but encourages them to use it in their daily practice by finding ways to start to blend it in to their current practice. For some this is a big ask – see barriers below, but from the experience of doing this now for 220 people, the results are that they get excited about their profession again, they can see that actually teaching with technology is a good thing and this only really comes when they have experienced it for themselves.

It is all too easy to read the theories and case studies and say that you understand it all, it is a different thing all together to have experienced learning yourself with technology and find that it works (not necessarily all of it for everyone, granted). When you understand the impact of different ways of learning because you have experienced them yourself you are in a better position to promote them to others with honesty and empathy.

What stops L&D professionals from trying out new tools and approaches?
The IT Department are often the villain in this story as in many organisations even simple online tools are blocked. I have spent hours/days with learners trying to overcome barriers put up by IT departments. There is the ‘conspiracy of experience’ as defined by Nigel Harrison which is real and alive and well in many organisations too. Also there are people in the profession that can’t see the need for change and are happy to perpetuate the Socrates version of being a teacher/trainer.

I think that the image/stereotype of a teacher/trainer has been around without change for so long that many find it very scary to consider that the definition of being a teaching/trainer is in the process of being radically changed. It’s as if we are messing with their own identity and it is uncomfortable for some. Even on the programme some learners will protest that they do not have the time/technology/suitable subject to engage with the programme content initially.

So I take them through small easy steps first and once they find that those work it begins to open the door to taking bigger steps and so by the end of the programme they have a much more rounded understanding of what teaching/training can be like when technology is used in a positive way. Technology enhances the skills of the trainer/teacher and does not “replace” them which seems to be a recurring fear. There is a strong need to rethink how you teach and to teach differently, but the underpinning skills set is the same. Once people get that, they seem to open themselves up to embracing the changes they can make.

I’ve also created a new definition of Blended Learning – Enlightened Blended Learning – which takes the idea of blending on from just blending technology with classroom delivery into blending technology throughout the entire learning journey. It’s going in a book to be published later this year.

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