Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tony Karrer and eLearning Technology

In my post Blogs of Interest - August 06 Part Two, I mentioned Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology blog. The post also included a short discussion on blogging.

Since I wrote that post Tony has put up a very helpful new post, First Time Visitor Guide.

In this post Tony starts with the point that visiting an active blog that has been in existence for some time can be a daunting experience. He goes on to outline the blog's objectives, emphasises the importance of and invites interaction, and then provides a topic list with some key past posts.

I do wish more people would follow this approach. Yes, you can use the search facility or topic listings (I don't have a topic list simply as because I have not worked out how to do it yet), but this can be a pretty much hit and miss affair.

I think that it is much better from a reader perspective if bloggers provide links to relevant past stories in new posts, together from time to time with the type of summary guide provided by Tony.

Why don't more of us do it?

I think that it's part that we forget new visitors, forget that current visitors will themselves forget past stories. We also fail to realise how our own memories slip. In the last four months I have posted 127 stories on four different blogs. Do I remember every story, where it was posted and when? No, I do not.

So Tony's new post is both a helpful guide to his site visitors and, I suspect, himself, as well as a useful lesson to all active bloggers.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Blogs of Interest - August 06 Part Two

Those who have read this blog as well as the Managing the Professional Services Firm blog will know that improved people management is one of my abiding interests. In this context I scan, among other things, a number of blogs concerned with training issues. Time is short, so I generally focus on a small number of blogs, widening my search when I need to follow up particular issues.

The US Learning Circuits blog remains my starting point on learning and development issues because it provides a steady stream of comments written from a US perspective, thus balancing my Australian view. I also read the blogs maintained by some of those linked to Learning Circuits.

I have referred to Dave Lee's e e learning blog - a more eclectic and general blog dealing with training and related issues with a special focus on the on-line world - on a number of occasions. I have used Dave's writing in a number of posts. Thus in my post on Informal Learning - the end of courseware? I used material supplied by Dave to look, among other things, at comparative internet involvement in Australia and America.

Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology is useful in looking at some of the technical and training issues associated with the application of e-learning in bigger organisations.

One thing that I find with many active blogs, and this holds with Tony's blog, is that their experience as bloggers informs the way they approach subjects. As with any other part of the on-line world, there is a learning experience involved in both reading and writing blog material. Obviously this depends upon purpose.

On the writing side, one of my colleagues Walter Adamson has used blogs very effectively as a targeted device to reach specific international niche audiences. Others write for personal purposes. Ninglun's New Lines from a Floating Life, one of my current favourites, is a personal blog expressing Neil's personal view of the world, while Geoff Robinson uses his southcoast blog, among other things, to discuss the nitty gritty of US politics form an Australian perspective.

On the reading side, people read blogs for both professional and personal purposes. Here blogs have two advantages over many conventional print publications.

First, they enable you to scan a much wider variety of material very quickly, a menu from which you can select the things that interest you.

Secondly, they allow for a degree of quick interaction.

I think that many new bloggers feel that when they first create their blog, the world will beat a path to their door, commenting on their every thought. The reality is very different. The robot machines may indeed find you and attempt to use your site to post automatic comments to attract traffic to their sites, these forced me to go to individual comment moderation, but other comments are likely to be limited. The world is just too big and too busy to care much.

However, targeted interaction is both possible and very valuable through selective comments and subsequent responses on other people's blogs. Des Walsh put a story up on his Thinking Home Business blog about RSS feeds. When I posted a comment about my own lack of knowledge in the area, Des posted a very helpful response containing a few useful links.

How does all this link back to Tony Karrer's blog? Tony has just run a helpful story with links on ways of managing RSS feeds.

This has become a long post. I will return to blogs when I do my September review of blogs of interest.

Blogs of Interest - August 06 Part One

Each day I spend a little time scanning blogs for both professional and personal reasons.It's an interesting and quick way of keeping in touch, of identifying specific things of interest that I might otherwise miss.

My old friend Noric Dilanchian is managing partner at Dilanchian Lawyers & Consultants in Sydney. Dilanchian are intellectual property and innovation professionals. As part of his web site upgrade, Noric has created a blog, Lightbulb, to provide a forum for discussion on intellectual property and commercialisation issues. This can be accessed via the site front page.

While a number of US law firms have blogs, they appear to be rare in Australia. I think that blogs can be a valuable device for encouraging discussion and extending firm reputation. The Dilanchian blog is still new, but already has some interesting material. I wish Noric and his team all the success with the initiiative.

Pajama market's small business blog of the day focuses on business blogging, selecting a new business blog site for review on an almost daily basis. The blog includes interviews. The site provides a valuable case study resource for those interested in using blogs to support their business activities.

Des Walsh's Thinking Home Business has a strong focus on practical business blogging, social networking and home based business. Like Pajama Markets, Des has a strong focus on blogging for business purposes, but he also addresses blogging iteself as a business.

Ways of improving the management of professional services firms continues to be one of my main professional interests, including my role in editing the Ndarala blog on Managing the Professional Services Firm.

Bruce MacEwen's Adam Smith Esq remains one of my key information resources on the legal sector. David Maister's blog provides a range of stimulating material across professional services.

Another apparently disconnected blog is Jim MacLennan's Cazh1. I say apparently disconnected because this blog provides comments and information on the interface between business and technology. It does this in a valuable way, but it also provides a lot of information and comment on the management of professional teams. So I get information for multiple use.

A fellow member of Linked-in bloggers, Dennis McDonald's All Kind Food focuses on living with technololgy, media and systems. Some of Dennis's material goes beyond the the limits of my understanding, some is too far outside my interests, but there remains a lot of valuable stuff for anybody interested in the use and management of technology even if not a technologist themselves. Jim MacLennan and Dennis also cross-comment from time to time, which can be interesting.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Alex Buzo's funeral, death of David Wright, meeting old friends

Monday afternoon (21 August) I went to Alex Buzo's funeral. Aarne Neeme delivered the eulogy, while Sandy Gore and Elaine Hudson (among others) also participated. Bob Ellis was there (I did not realise how close he was to Alex) along with a lot of others whose faces I recognised but whose names escape me for the moment.

It was a simple ceremony well managed by all four (Merelyn and daughters) Buzo girls. I could not go onto the after event because I had to take my youngest Clare to English tutoring, but did get to have a brief coffee with The Armidale School (TAS) contingent. An unexpected pleasure was the presence of Peter Brownie, one of the inspirational TAS teachers I mentioned in my post on the history summit. I hadn’t seen Peter for forty years.

Much reminiscencing.

Peter said that when he first came to TAS the salary was low, but the head (Gordon Fisher) told him that his sons would be able to attend the school for free. Several daughters later, Peter appeared in a review wearing a tap, explaining that despite all his efforts he still had no-one to put it on!

I did the Leaving Certificate twice because my father considered that 16 was too young to go to University. Having got a first class honours in geography the first time, Peter thinking that I would be bored persuaded me to pick up economics and do economics honours. I managed to get another first under his guidance. I did not know until now that when Peter first began teaching economics he knew nothing about the subject and in fact relied on Dad who was Professor of Economics at New England for subject knowledge to keep him just in front of his students.

Paul Barrett was another there that I had not seen for several years. Paul's dad along with Lew Border were two TAS boys in the first student intake to the newly established New England University College. Paul Snr later went on to become Professor of Psychology at the University. Paul was a year in front and, like me, was one of those rare fish, a day boy in what was then almost exclusively a boarding school. This was sometimes a strange experience, but that's another story.

Philip Kitley, now a professor at Wollongong, was also there. The Kitleys lived near the Brownies in another school house. Philip's dad was school chaplain who also taught, another of those who had the misfortune to try to teach me latin.

Philip and brother David were in the same class and good friends. Simon Templar, the Saint also known by his alias Sebastian Toombs, was then all the rage. Philp and David went down to the local branch of the Bank of NSW and managed to open an account each, one in the name of Simon Templar, the other Sebastian Toombs. They were recognised, and along with my father were summonsed to the bank manager's office for an official lecture on the evils of their ways. Philip recalls that Dad then took them to a local cafe and bought each a milkshake!

I left the group to take Clare to tuturing with considerable regret.

On a less positive note, David Wright has just died. I have posted a brief story about David on the New England, Australia blog.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

History Wars & the PM's Summit - I am confused

I was going to write a post reporting on the history summit organised by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. So in preparation I did a skim through all the blog entries already generated. Now I find myself completely confused. I mean really confused.

I love history. I am also worried that the current Australian school curriculum cuts children off from their past even in NSW which now appears to be a national model.

This problem is not new. Back in the second half of the eighties I was recruiting graduates for a consulting business that included a strong policy analysis and Government relations stream. I was astonished to find just how bad their knowledge was of even the most basic elements of the the Australian system of Government, let alone the broader historical context within which that system operated. Historical and constitutional literacy was so low that we had to run the most basic remedial training.

The position appears to have got worse since then, although listening to some of the radio discussion about recent changes around Australia in approaches to history and history teaching makes me a little cautious since I clearly do not have enough understanding of the on-ground position across the country too be too dogmatic.

Does all this matter? I believe that it does.

In a post Why wool? on the Regional Living Australia blog I reported a conversation with a friend who asked why we were featuring wool so prominently just at present. Too her and she thought most Australians, wool was of little interest.

That may well be true. But if you don't have some understanding of wool and the linkages between wool and national history, then key elements of our national past from waltzing matilda to the emergence of the Labor Movement are cut away from their roots. I think that's a problem.

But my difficulty, and the reason for my confusion, is that my reading of the various comments on the history summit shows such a stew of issues that it becomes very hard to identify key problems and potential responses. I find my own position shifting. Consider the following.

Australian history cannot be separated from that of Europe and especially England and the United Kingdom.

When I did school history at The Armidale School at the tail end of the old Leaving Certificate system I was fortunate enough to be able to do both ancient and modern history over multiple years. Our modern history teacher, R W L Crossle (George) was a man deeply steeped in European and especially UK history who could bring things alive. History cross-linked with English under Brian Mattingley (the teacher who inspired Alex Buzo) because of the mix of English and Australian texts. I also did Latin for three years, very unsuccessfully I might add, but it did introduce me to the Latin writers and historians. When I came to do Geography Honours under Peter Brownie, another inspirational teacher, I found it easy to fit things such as developments in India or China into context because I already knew key historical points.

The point in all this apart from nostalgia?

Our benchmarks, conscious and unconscious, are set by our own experiences. By the time I started history at University I had probably completed the equivalent in modern terms of 20 plus school semester units in history. By the time I finished my honours degree I had probably completed the equivalent of another 20 semester units. I have to accept that this experience is no longer relevant.

Today's school students live in a time poor world of information overload, crowded curricula, chunked knowledge, learning outcomes and a focus on process. They are taught by teachers themselves suffering from overload. Teachers, students, schools and parents live in a world of scaling, of league tables measuring relative performance across schools and subjects, of complex calculations as to the weighting attached or likely to be attached to particular subjects. When, as happened to one of my eldest daughter's classes for reasons that neither I nor the teachers still understand, a whole class performs less well than expected, then this may affect university choices.

If my experience is no longer relevant to this new world, then it follows (or so it seems to me) that the benchmarks I use drawn from that experience to judge the discipline and its teaching are also no longer relevant since they are simply unachievable. In the absence of change to the system itself, we are driven back to what can be done within the system. Herein lies the rub and the source of conflict and confusion.

In NSW, ancient history has been growing in popularity and is indeed one of my youngest's current subjects. But it is neither ancient history nor even history itself as I knew it. Gone is the broad sweep of the ancient world, replaced by a slice/topic focus allowing students to pursue particular topics that may in fact have little connection with the ancient world.

Teachers argue and with some justice that their aim in limited time is to inspire an interest in history and to teach analytical technques that students can use in further study. Maybe this process outcome is all that is in fact achievable, but it still leaves me uncomfortable.

I become still more uncomfortable with thought of making Australian history mandatory in all Australian schools. Experience in NSW appears to suggest that this destroys, not creates, interest in history. Further, if Australian history is taught in isolation from European history and this seems to me to be largely the case in the Melleuish paper, then we lose the context in which Australian history needs to be set. Notwithstanding this, some mandatory course may be the only way in the current education system to ensure that Australians have at least some understanding of their past.

I have not mentioned Aboriginal Australia - the long prehistory of the continent - in this discussion because I see this as a separate issue. My personal view is that this should be included in one way or another in the curriculum independent of any discussion on Australian history.

Perhaps in the end, the real gain from the current debate including the specific approach set out in the summit communique is the way it is forcing discussion on history in general, Australian history in particular.


Since editing this post, ninglun on his blog has drawn my attention to the transcript of the Lateline program on the summit.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Death of Alex Buzo

I learned yesterday of the death of the Australian playwright and writer Alex Buzo. I have known Alex all my life, and have therefore written a personal memoir on my New England, Australia blog.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

UNE Strategic Planning - impact of new technology

I see from the internal UNE schedule that Council is meeting tomorrow, Monday 14 August, with the final round of internal consultations to be finished by the end of next week. So the process that I am going though is running out of time.

It would be very easy simply to send in some comments on the planning paper. But solid, original, thought takes time. I see the search engines are now picking up the posts, but again this takes time. Regardless of short term issues, if I want my comments to have longer term impact then they must have substance. At one level it does not matter if my views are accepted or not, but I do want to force consideration of the issues.

Against this background, this post looks at the impact of new technology on future UNE operations, drawing from the discussions on training that I am presently involved in. The post is broken into two parts:

  • Part one provides an annotated list of relevant links. The links are obviously not exhaustive, but will at least provide an introduction to the discussion.
  • Part two provides a short summary pointing to issues for UNE.

Relevant Links

Selective links with comments follow. There is a focus on blogs because increasingly this the way in which experts, and many not so expert (there are over 51 million blogs world wide), make their views available. I use selected blogs as a way of keeping in touch as well as debating issues that happen to interest me.

Blogs dealing with e-learning and the on-line world include:

  • Learning Circuits Blog: sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development, this blog is a good way of keeping in touch with issues in the world both of e-learning and of training from a US perspective. The current debate on Learning Circuits on informal learning and courseware has some interesting if indirect implications for UNE.
  • eLearning Technology: written by Dr Tony Karrer, CEO of TechEmpower, I find this blog useful in looking at some of the technical and training issues associated with the application of e-learning in bigger organisations.
  • eelearning: written by Dave Lee, this blog is a more eclectic and general blog dealing with training and related issues with a special focus on the on-line world.
  • Corporate eLearning Development: Brent Schenkler is an enthusiastic technical expert whose blog sometimes makes me scratch my head because I have no idea what he is talking about. But his blog also includes a lot of material that even I can understand, that makes me think.

I was going to put in a reference to Jay Cross's blog as well, but for some reason it is off-line today making it difficult to get the right link.

Moving from training specific blogs, Academia online by Andrew Leigh is the simplest explanation I know as to the potential importance of the e-world to individual academics. Richard MacManus's Read/WriteWeb is an excellent blog on next generation web and media containing a range of useful material and comments.

Turning now to blogs as such, there was an interesting debate on Learning Circuits about the role of blogs as a knowledge management tool, in the development of communities of practice and as a training related communications device. During this debate I prepared a case study on the possible use of blogs in specialist medical colleges.

Mobile Blogs, Personal Reflections and Learning Environments by Paul Trafford is an interesting article looking at the role of blogs in higher education from a UK perspective.

Implications for UNE

Some statistical background before talking about UNE. I provided this in an earlier post but am repeating it now to set a context.

Some 31 per cent of Australians have added content to the internet.

Around 4 per cent of presently have a blog, perhaps 10 per cent have a web site. Sixteen per cent of Australians have added information to a group site or blog, 29 per cent have shared content such as photos. These figures are around two years old, so current percentages would certainly be higher.

You would expect UNE as a leading educational institution to display a pattern at the upper end of the on-line This does not appear to be the case.

I am not a current student of UNE so do not have access to UNE on-line. Instead, I used public sources to do my checking.

I started with blog searches on Google and Technorati looking for blogs or blog posts in some way linked to UNE. In doing so, I searched on UNE blog, University of New England blog and University of New England. In doing so, I found some of my own posts plus one from another former student in history, but otherwise not a single blog in the first four pages in any way connected with the institution.

I should note, though, that from monitoring blog searches over time, the University PR people are not bad at getting their press releases picked up! I also know that the blog searches are not perfect since I know of at least one UNE linked blog that was not picked up.

I then cross-checked this by going to the UNE site itself. Here I started by doing a search on blog and blogs. I found:

  1. The IT Directorate hopes to have the necessary infrastructure in place by end 06 to provide web blogging within UNE.
  2. Just two UNE blogs, one for St Alberts College and one a student blog. There is one apparent alumni blog, but is it not a proper blog and in any case has not been updated since March 05!
  3. An interesting paper by Eric Wainwright on the creation of an E-Learning commons.
  4. One reference to use of a blog as a communications device in the context of a particular computing course.
  5. No references at all to staff blogs.

I hesitate to draw firm conclusions on such flimsy data, but on the surface UNE and its staff appear to be below the Australian on-line average, not above as I would I have expected. To the degree that this conclusion is correct, then I suggest that this is a key strategic issue that needs to be addressed as part of the strategic review.

More specifically, I think that the review needs to take into account:

  1. The development of UNE on-line to better meet both internal and especially external needs, taking into account developments in the on-line learning environment. There is an important underlying strategic issue here, the extent to which UNE wants to go the mass plane jane delivery routes being pioneered by some of the private providers. My personal view is no. These approaches rely on the combination of volume with very low delivery costs. I think that they are in conflict with both the UNE experience and what appears to be growing student disillusion. The evolving discussion now appears to centre on ways to make the on-line experience richer.
  2. The increased use of on-line options and especially blogs as a device for communication with students, in teaching and in creating communities of practice. To illustrate what I mean by a simple example. In an earlier post I mentioned that when I was a postgraduate student UNE had a large number of post grad students in regional and local history and that I suggested at the time that this should be used as a base to create a national centre in the area. My focus was very much on interaction between interested people - what would now be called a community of practice. This failed at the time, but would now be remarkably easy to establish because of the availability of blogs.
  3. The need to encourage staff to establish their own blogs and associated web sites to encourage discussion and self-publication. As an example, John Quiggin's blog is one of the most widely visited academic blogs. He also appears to score remarkably well in the citation indexes.

I know that there is nothing especially profound in these comments. I also know that UNE is working on these issues. However, when I was in Armidale earlier this year for the Drummond dinner and canvassed some possibilities including blogs, I formed the impression that the whole thing was just too far outside individual experience for people to see the relevance. I also formed the view that these techniques were seen as the responsibility of the IT Directorate rather than matters that should be addressed as an integral part of teaching and research.

If these conclusions are in any way correct, then we have a clear training problem.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Learning Circuits Blog: Courses and Courseware Fading - What's Coming Next?

This page is by way of an experiment.

In my last post (Informal Learning - the end of courseware?) I reported on a debate getting under way on The Learning Circuits Blog: Courses and Courseware Fading - What's Coming Next?. Since then I have made two long posts to the debate, but I don't want to post too often to give others a chance to contribute. However, the debate is of great interest because of the way it spans my professional and personal interests. What to do?

The edit facility on blogger allows me to edit previous posts. So by way of experiment I thought that I would use this page to provide summaries and comments, plus links to blogs and sources. Of course, I have no idea how long the debate will go for. It's up to 11 entries now, the longest previous discussion that I am aware of got to 50, so may finish soon. But it's worth the experiment if only for my own interest.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Informal Learning - the end of courseware?

This post focuses on some interesting debates that I have been following on the role of informal learning and the impact on training of the application of new technology. While an apparent diversion from my current core focus on the UNE strategic planning process, there is a link because of the impact on the markets within which UNE operates.

On 23 July Dave Lee reported in his e e learning blog on the opportunity he had had to join some of top media and content names in San Francisco for a conference on the future of media that was held concurrently with a similar gathering in Sydney, Australia. Dave also posted a longer discussion to the Learning Circuits blog.

I won't discuss Dave's posts in detail, but instead use certain points to set a context for an introduction to another debate on the way in which the combination of informal learning and technology is affecting courseware.

Conference Conclusions

In his e e learning post, Dave included a chart comparing US and Australian involvement in content creation on the web. Around one third of people in both countries had added content in one or more ways to the web. This is simply another indicator of the web's importance, but an important one because it focuses on the more proactive content creation process.

While the overall proportions involved in each country were similar, there were some interesting inter-country differences.

The first two bars, posted a blog and added information to own web site, had the US in front. Thus 8 per cent of Americans had a blog as compared to 4 per cent of Australians, 14 per cent of Americans had added material to their own web site as compared to 10 per cent of Australians.

The second two bars, added information to a work or group web site or blog and shared on the internet created content such as photos, videos, words had Australia in front. Thus 16 per cent of Australians had added information to a group site or blog as compared to 13 per cent of Americans, 29 per cent of Australians had shared content as compared to 26 per cent of Americans.

This suggested to me that the US was in front on do your own thing, Australia appeared to be in front in contributing to someone else's thing. Dave agreed with this assessment.

The data also showed that while web activity in both countries was greatest in younger age groups, it was also spread across all ages. Thus while 42 per cent of people 18-29 had contributed content to the web, 18 per cent of people 65+ had also contributed content.

This age usage information raised another issue in my mind, one that came up last year when I attended a Sydney Slattery IT conference celebrating the internet's birthday. There speakers mainly from the internet boom period spoke of trends largely focused on the young age cohorts. There was no discussion of older age markets, nor of the market impact of demographic change.

This experience led me to conclude that there was something missing from the debate about age and computer usage, and that was the nature of the relationship between age and computers themselves. Here I concluded that there were in fact three age groups.

Group one grew up in the world before computers. They regard it all as something that must be mastered if the need is there. I belong to this group. Even though I have been working in areas connected with high technology for over twenty years and have loved some of the stuff - among other things I grew up on sci fi then had the chance to re-establish the Australian National Space program - I did not go computer literate at a personal level until I absolutely had too. I found it boring.

Group two grew up in the early days of the computer revolution. This is the group that is in love with the technology and which now controls the game.

Group three, my own daughters (16,18) included, grew up with the technology. While some still fall in love with it, to most it is just an accepted tool, a means to an end. They are actually closer to group one than two. Intensely tribal, they automatically use the stuff, adopting new things either for fashion (an important driver) or because it helps them to do things or stay in touch.

The majority of computer users in fact belong to groups one and three. Yet much of the discussion about computers is driven by group two, the enthusiasts, and is conditioned by their view of the world.

The final point I want to mention from Dave's report is the importance of trust and the building of trust in achieving success in the on-line world. This also links to related concepts including web 2.0 with its concept of the tail and James Surowiecki's work on The Wisdom of Crowds - also here.

Content creation is maximised where the tail - the long extension of people who might be interested - can be involved. This maximum involvement also helps build trust and brings into play self-correcting mechanisms, themselves a contributor to trust.

Informal Learning and the end of courseware?

On the Learning Circuits blog, Tony Karrer suggests that the general sentiment among many in the workplace learning and performance industry is that the course model is beginning to fade and one of our biggest challenges is figuring out what comes next. This post follows a continuing dialogue between - among others Tony, Jay Cross and Brent Schlenker - on informal learning, new delivery techniques and course based models.

Tony, Jay and Brent are all e-learning specialists. I am not, although I have had some involvement with e-learning for a very long time. I come at the question from the perspective of the policy analyst and manager who has then become a consultant and trainer. This conditions my thinking.

A key issue in the earlier "Is Training Snake Oil?" debate (discussion summary here) on the Learning Circuits blog was the way in which the internet in particular had undercut some traditional training activities by giving people access to information when they wanted it. Other key linked issues were the role of informal learning, together with evidence that showed that the great majority of job related learning took place outside formal training. What, then, was the role of formal training and of trainers in this new world?

The current discussion takes this one step further by suggesting that formal courses and courseware as we have known it may be coming to an end outside certain fields such as compliance or credentialling. In saying this, I am not suggesting that my colleagues are asserting this as a given, simply posing legitimate questions.

In moving forward, let my start with some simple definitions.

I define informal learning very simply as all learning taking place outside formal education and training structures and associated training mechanisms and courses including short courses. For simplicity's sake, I then divide informal learning into three broad categories:

  1. Personal learning, where individuals seek information, knowledge, for their own purposes. This is the traditional domain of, for example, the public library and is an area where the internet has had a major impact, expanding individual freedom at the expense of certain types of knowledge based training.
  2. On-the-job learning where the individual acquires knowledge and skills both from colleagues and from actually doing. In my view, this has always been the dominant source of learning in organisations, with organisational training usually supplied as a top-up or gap filler. This is also an area where both LANS and later the internet have had some impact on the training function by giving people access to information previously supplied by courses.
  3. Family and community learning, where again the individual learns by doing and interacting. When I was recruiting new graduates for the Australian Treasury for example, I used to look for graduates who had good academic results but who had also been active on campus because I knew that they would have learned some organisational and management skills.

Now against this background, when we come to look at the impact of the internet, we can see that it has shifted boundaries along three key training dimensions:

  1. It has shifted the boundaries between informal and formal training, increasing the importance of informal training.
  2. Then within the changing domain of formal training, it has affected delivery modes, creating new modes, reducing the importance of traditional modes, facilitating mixed modes.
  3. It has also affected content, with some traditional information based content dropping out, new internet and computer related content being added.

What does all this mean?

Well first, given the importance of informal - especially on-the-job - learning we need to find better ways of integrating formal and informal learning. This is partially a management question, partially a training question. In essence, it involves some degree of formalising, some degree of facilitating informal learning.

I have recently tried to address this issue in my training primer series on the Managing the Professional Services Firm blog. While my focus there is on people management in a professional services context, my argument is really a general one.

A core point is that if 90 per cent of knowledge and skills formation within the organisation is going to come from on-the-job experiences, then improvement here is critical to organisational performance. By implication, organisation training needs to focus on the 90 per cent, not the 10 per cent.

The second point is that the role of the trainer will change, will become more demanding. The emerging role of the trainer in facilitating access to information was discussed in the Snake Oil debate. However, effective integration of formal and informal learning, maximisation of the value of informal learning, will require new approaches. Here I personally believe that many traditional training skills such as instructional design can be applied in this new environment.

My third point, and this is something that has concerned me for a while and links to my earlier discussion on computers, the internet and age, is that we should not get too hung up on delivery modes. Every mode has its place on its own or in conjunction with others. This will be determined in part by the need to be met, but will also be constrained by organisational constraints.

To me, one of the exciting things is the way in which the technology options now available facilitate new approaches to learning in a variety of settings, including better integration of and improvement in informal learning.

Traditional courses and courseware however delivered retain a place, but only as one weapon in an evolving armoury.

Friday, August 04, 2006

UNE Strategic Planning - more on markets and marketing

Returning now to UNE strategic planning. The photograph shows a graduation procession of students in the early days of New England. Until the seventies, every UNE undergraduate student had to wear a green gown with gold bars pinned to the gown showing the year. Maybe we should have kept this.

After thinking it through, I have decided that I need to continue, risking mis-interpretation in my comments on UNE. It's just too important.

Since my last post I have also been asked to make comments on the financial challenges facing UNE. I will do so. In the meantime, in this post I want to extend my previous discussion on marketing and the markets open to UNE.

In my post UNE Strategic Planning - markets and marketing I posed a number of questions. Just to summarise some of these:

  1. How big UNE should aim to be? This is partly a question of the economics of service delivery, but is also a strategic question.
  2. Should the University consciously limit its size, increasing exclusivity? And would this work anyway given some of the issues raised in the discussion paper? Maybe not, but it's still a valid question.
  3. Where will the majority of UNE students come from? What does this mean for the university's role? Where will the specialist leading edges be? How do we integrate all this?

In the discussion I also used point and counterpoint between now and 1965 to draw out a simple point, that the University has in fact always been several different types of institution serving different markets with somewhat different cultures determined by the markets served.

I now want to extend this argument, again using the university of 1965 as my base. I do so simply because I understand that university better. The institution today is far larger and more complex, and I do not have the detailed on-ground information to be confident in my analysis. That said, I believe that I can use the analysis of the past to draw out issues of current relevance, to pose questions to those who do have the detailed knowledge of today.

We can break the New England of 1965 into the following overlapping components.

Core Undergraduate - general

The core focused on general undergraduate teaching in arts and science. While there were some overseas students, students generally came from the regional catchment area - Northern Tablelands, North West, North Coast as far south as Taree, some from the upper Hunter. Many students were training to be teachers.

As discussed, this student catchment pattern remains true today although there has in fact been some shrinkage in the regional coverage. I have suggested already that this has been due in part to a shift in the University's own focus, but it also reflects broadening regional tertiary competition. Details follow. I haven't fully checked the numbers.

In 1965 Newcastle had just gained full autonomy. Today Newcastle has, I think, around 24,000 students. There was a small Seventh Day adventist college at Avondale. This has now become a fully fledged if specialist institution with some 1000 places. Southern Cross has been established, with some 12,000 students.

In addition to these institutions, we also have the SAE Institute Byron Bay. I am not absolutely sure how this international private institute fits into the picture except that it clearly competes with the public institutions in certain areas.

Clearly, New England faces much greater competition in its regional marketplace. Further, the University's most immediate catchment area and also the focus of much of its current regional effort, the Northern Tablelands and North West, is both smaller in population and slower growing than either the Northern Rivers or Newcastle/lower Hunter.

We now need to factor demographic change in. The discussion paper refers to the general demographic picture, but we also need to understand change at a regional level. I have not had time to check numbers here. My impression based on the analysis my Group did in the lead up to the first Country Week is:

  1. Newcastle and the Hunter Valley have experienced above average population growth. Further, age structure is younger than the national average. So numbers in the traditional University entry level cohorts are growing.
  2. While the Mid North Coast has displayed rapid population growth, this has been driven by retirees. The age structure is older than the national average, while numbers in the traditional University entry level cohorts are projected to decline. However, the pattern is mixed with some places, Taree is an example, experiencing significant growth in working age population.
  3. The Northern Rivers have also displayed above average population growth with a better mix as compared to the Mid North Coast. My impression is that there is likely to be some growth in entry level cohorts.
  4. The Northern Tablelands and North West have displayed lower than average population growth, have older than average populations. This suggests at best slow growth in entry level age cohorts.

Demographic patterns do change as evidenced by the current pick-up in the national birth rate. However, the analysis to this point does allow me to pose a couple of basic questions:

  1. What is the current and projected population structure for the broader New England as I define it?
  2. What proportion of the potential regional student population would UNE need to get to meet its student targets?
  3. What are the core interests of that population?

Core Strategic Issue - cooperation and competition among New England's Universities

Flowing from this analysis, I now want to address what I believe to be a key strategic question, cooperation and competition among New England's universities.

Starting with a national context. If we look nationally, we find:

  1. Cooperation among certain of the big metro universities to try to establish dominant positions as compared to the rest.
  2. Regional students are far more willing to consider city options than metro students are to consider the regional alternative. The strategy paper pointed to this as an important issue given the large numbers of regional students coming to UNE.
  3. Metro universities giving preferential treatment to regional students as compared to metro students, thus accentuating the trend mentioned in 2.
  4. Metro universities establishing non-metro campuses, creating further fragmentation.

These four points raise some important general issues. For the moment, I want to focus on their implications for competition and cooperation among New England's universities.

All three public universities compete with each other for students. This will continue. But given the national trends described above, there are also strong grounds for enhanced cooperation to withstand the growing competitive reach of the metros.

Despite the trauma of the networked university period, a period that cost the traditional university dearly in financial terms and left heavy internal scarring, cooperation already exists. The establishment by Newcastle and UNE of a joint medical school at UNE is a recent good example.

I think that ways of extending that cooperation needs to be treated as a core strategic issue.

This has become a long post triggered by consideration of a single feature of the 1965 university. I will return to 1965 in my next post

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Pause for Reflection - interesting blogs

I said that while I was thinking through my approach to the UNE planning review I would do a post on some of the blogs I monitor on a regular basis.

Why blogs? I find that they provide a very useful and interesting way of keeping in touch in areas of interest.

There are now nearly 50 million blogs worldwide growing at something like 75,000 a week. For me to be interested in a blog it has to say something useful and interesting about an area of interest and to be updated regularly.

Italian's Insight to Travel Italy is a magnificient blog for anyone interested in Italy, Italian culture, food and wine. The pictures are mouthwatering.

Look and See, a pictorial journal of life in rural Australia, has a new daily photograph with a short commentary.

Adam Smith Esq is the best blog on I know on the economics and management of law firms. While law focused, it contains material relevant to the management of all professional servives firms.

Geoff Robertson's southcoast blog is an interesting and perceptive review from a left of centre perspective of American and Australian politics.

Gautum Ghosh's blog on organisation and management is written from an Indian perspective and often provides links to pages that I would not otherwise find.

Learning circuits is the e-learning blog sponsored by the American Society for Training & Development. It spans a range of education and training issues extending well beyond e-learning narrowly defined.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Pause for Reflection - in praise of UNE

I have been focusing on the current University of New England strategic planning exercise. Discussions with colleagues suggests that I need to pause for reflection.

Commenting in a public forum such as this blog gets a message across to a wider audience. I think that's important. But it also raises issues about the way messages can be perceived, given that people absorb negatives more easily than positives. Is there a risk that the broader external world may absorb the negatives, thus damaging the university rather than aiding the planning process?

The answer to this question is, of course, yes. This blog is quite new, with regular posts only starting mid April, so traffic is still small - around 20 page hits per day over July - if growing reasonably fast. If you do an all blogs search on e-blogger on Personal Reflections, the blog is separately identified at the top of the search page as the first of three top blogs matching Personal Reflections, and that's flattering.

But it's not so much the immediate traffic as the inclusion of material on search engines that creates the problem in that it remains for the longer term.

How do I manage this?

To begin with, I need to make my overall position clear given that I am expressing some, hopefully balanced, criticisms and that I am also using comparisons between past and present as a device for drawing out points.

UNE remains, quite simply, a wonderful institution. That is my point, that is why I care.

I now live in Sydney. I have one daughter attending a Sydney university, her friends attend three others. I listen to them talk. None of those universities can match the intensity of the UNE experience for the student body as a whole. Travel time is one factor, sheer university size another. But there is also another, more difficult thing to pin down that I can only describe as atmosphere and ethos. UNE still feels like a university, there is a degree of involvement between students and institution that I don't think can be matched by any of the Sydney institutions.

Somehow in commenting I have to strike a balance between analysis and discussion that recognises and discusses weaknesses without causing us to lose sight of the strengths.

I need to think about this. In the meantime, I will take the opportunity in my next post to talk about some of the blogs I currently like.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

UNE Strategic Planning - markets and marketing

One of the difficulties of writing as an insider/outsider is that it is easy to get things wrong, especially at a time of rapid change. So I always stand to be corrected.

In suggesting that the UNE was too inward looking, I was not suggesting that this applies to all nor in fact to the strategy planning document itself. However, I think that I would still maintain my position as a general statement.

Turning now to markets and marketing. Here the strategy paper suggests among other things that:
  • the 2002 strategic plan hoped to improve the number and balance of student enrollments, especially attracting students to the on-campus experience. Outcomes here had not been as good as hoped.
  • Demographic change, the aging population, posed a challenge for UNE and others in increasing or even maintaining student numbers.

Now mulling this over, the first question that occurred to me is just how big UNE should aim to be. This is partly a question of the economics of service delivery, but is also a strategic question.

Should the University consciously limit its size, increasing exclusivity? And would this work anyway given some of the issues raised in the discussion paper? Maybe not, but it's still a valid question.

I would, I think, have liked more information on changing student numbers, where they come from, the changes in market share. The paper does make some points here.

To begin with, of the 3,319 full time on-campus undergraduates, around 44 per cent are from the Northern Tablelands and North West, over half (the exact figure here is uncertain) are from this area plus the North Coast. It would be interesting to know where the others come from.

If we compare this with the mid sixties, the majority of full time undergraduates probably came from the same catchment, although the North Coast percentage was far higher. As may be the case now, there was a dichotomy between general courses - arts and science - where teacher training was a key driver and where the catchment was the surrounding region and the more specialist courses -especially agricultural economics, rural science and certain types of education- which drew from a far broader catchment area. As indicated before, there was a significant proportion of overseas students.

One significant difference between then and now was the presence of the Armidale Teachers College as a separate institution with several hundred enrolled training primary school teachers. These courses are now taught within the University.

This point and counterpoint between now and 1965 draws out a simple point, that the University has in fact always been several different types of institution serving different markets with somewhat different cultures determined by the markets served.

The discussion paper draws this out a little when it quotes one submission seeing three distinct enterprises at UNE, a liberal arts college, a dispersed open university and a small scale research intensive university. The discussion paper poses the question should UNE aim to bring such parts closer, or can UNE support separate product lines?

Now I am not sure that this is the right or at least the only question. I would pose some other ones. Where will the majority of UNE students come from? What does this mean for the universities role? Where will the specialist leading edges be? How do we integrate all this?

I will continue this argument in my next post.