On Monday 27th March 2017 I was honoured to be the keynote speaker for the Colleges Wales annual training and learning conference. This year the title is Step Up To the Future and the themes are “digital” and “more able and talented”.

Colleges Wales conference where Jo Cook is keynote speaker

The session I’m keynoting is focusing on the use of technology as part of the overall teaching blend. It’s important to start our focus on the reason most of us get into the careers that we are in, which is to set the context for those Lightbulb Moments of helping other’s learn and perform.

The full deck of slides in my presentation are available on SlideShare.net.

Title slide from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales keynote presentation

If you want to see the tweets from the conference, this is the hashtag for the ones in English: #tlcym17

Joy in teaching

One of the things I wanted to concentrate on was the joy we have in our roles as teachers, trainers, facilitators, coaches and any learning or supporting role.

Often when paperwork, process, procedure and changes get on top of us, we forget how much we love what we do.

Ahead of the Colleges Wales conference I asked through Social Media “what do you love about your job in learning?”. As of 24th March 2017, these are the answers:

What do you love about your job in learning? Social Media responses

It’s so lovely to see these answers, about helping other people with change, helping them to “get it”, watching them grow and problem solve. The elements of working together and collaboration are important as humans are very social beings and it’s an essential element to how we learn.

Something I especially love is that people like seeing others enjoy their learning, and that there is also laughter. Anyone that knows me knows that I like a good laugh and I think that a light-hearted approach in many things can making it more enjoyable and make the learning a great experience.

On a digital note for a moment, for gathering the above thoughts I used the Anwer Garden website. It’s free and easy to gather short answers or suggestions from people. They don’t need a login or an app, just the link and they can contribute. Here’s the full question and suggestions you can look at and add your thoughts if you wish to.

Learning for life

Part of my research for the conference led me to look at the Welsh Education Reform Journey documentation. Something that especially caught my attention was this:

“Building on the 2014 OECD review and several other research reports, Wales developed an education vision and a strategic plan to move towards realising that vision, Qualified for Life: An Education Improvement Plan, published in 2014. Ongoing curriculum reform has allowed this vision of the Welsh learner to be further refined.”

The Qualified for Life element intrigued me – this is what we need to be doing in our roles, helping people for a future that isn’t yet written, for jobs that may not yet even be invented.

This could be worrying for many types of jobs, including teaching. Don Clark wrote this back in 2012 in a piece about Artificial Intelligence:

Future without teachers?

This may see hopelessly utopian. But could we have a future without teachers? Why not? Teaching is essentially being a conduit. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Wouldn’t academics really prefer to do pure research and not teach? Wouldn’t most teachers prefer not to have to mark anything and avoid the stress of the classroom? Couldn’t we dispense with teaching and just have learning?

Maybe teachers would prefer to get rid of the stressful elements in the classroom, and probably the hours or marking homework and assignments – I know they weren’t my favourite parts of teaching when I worked in a further and higher education college.

This theme lead me to thinking about the work of Canadian thought leader Harold Jarche and the concepts he has put together about the future of human work. Harold wrote this in a blog post about work:

We are on the cusp of being a digitally networked and computer-driven society and it seems we are throwing away the only thing that will enable people to have a valued role in it. Common core education standards are useless for this world of work. So are standard academic disciplines, as well as standard job competencies. These are all for machines, not humans. The future of human work is complex, creative, and unique.

Writer Sveta McShane summarised that there are three main things human are still better at than robots:

“Solving unstructured problems… working with new information… and non-routine manual tasks.”

She also highlighted that the World Economic Forum identified 21st century skills in categories of “Foundational Literacies, Competencies, and Character Qualities.”

They key point from Harold that resonates for this topic is that humans need to be ready for a complex world, where we are creative and make judgements in ways that machines, Artificial Intelligence and automated processes can’t.

Diagram on the future work for humans – click for original article and diagram by Harold Jarche

As Harold shows in the above diagram, it’s the empathy we have with other people that let’s us connect with them and build a relationship to support their learning – which is where the curiosity comes in. If we can foster this idea of curiosity and wonder in people, then they will want to learn, to improve themselves and the world around them.

Part of this future and curiosity will be encouraging people to seek information from whom or whatever their network is around them. Through a community of practice and perhaps the team that they work in, then make sense of this information.

Then it’s about sharing that information in a way that has created something new, something useful, back to the network.

This is the one way that we can manage professional development and it’s focus on continuous learning, and this is what we need to be taking into consideration when designing our learning materials.

Harold speaks of something he calls Personal Knowledge Mastery:

“PKM is a process of filtering, creating, and discerning, and it also helps manage individual professional development through continuous learning.”

In order to be able to do this, we need technology skills. “Technology is not what we seek, but how we seek”, quotes Futurist Gerd Leonhard in this video about humanity vs technology.

Challenge into opportunity

I see these changes as challenges to what we currently do, what we want to do, including staying in our comfort zone. I’ve seen it especially challenging for people with many years experience of working in a similar way.

We need to encourage people’s curiosity in order to get to the point of seeing that challenge as an opportunity for self and those that we support in building their own future.

Below are two questions posed to the audience of lecturers, teachers and senior practitioners at the Colleges Wales conference:

A question for the Colleges Wales conference audience

These were group discussions, with responses via Twitter and TodaysMeet too.

These questions are designed to draw out the challenges and thinking of those who are less comfortable with the amount of digital work that they are doing in their role. It’s also an opportunity for those who are more comfortable, and perhaps could be frustrated by colleagues, to understand a different point of view.

Time for change?

This quote is from a study about comparing different types of training in the US and highlights how this is the way forwards in schools:

Quote from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales presentation

From this study, An Exploratory Study Comparing Two Modes of Preparation for Online Teaching, we can extrapolate the issue from schools to further and higher education, as well as different industry sectors.

Another research quote I found useful in looking at technology use in learning professionals is from a University of Westminster paper (2013) about faculties implementing technology.

“Two key variables influence intention to make use of a technology: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use.”

My experience with educators, learning professionals, support staff and decision makers in more senior positions, is that they need to experience good practice and well modelled different ways of learning in order to understand their possibilities.

Without best-in-class experience, people don’t always understand how new approaches can be worth the time and learning investment and the potential culture change.

Why bother?

It’s a fair question – we might think that our current styles and approaches work excellently, or are good enough. A lot of the time, for many people, they certainly will be. It doesn’t mean that methods and approaches can’t be improved or further research won’t show up shortcomings we didn’t previously know about (see my post on learning styles as an example).

One piece of research from Towards Maturity shows how important it is for us to look at working in an online manner, focusing on what people do at work and how they learn naturally.

This report highlighted that the main reason people wanted to learn online, using a blended approach, was that they just want to do their job faster – 76% of people want to do that! Couple that with 60% of respondents wanting to increase their productivity and we can see that the workforce we have now want to do better for their organisations.

75% want to learn from their own personal development, not necessarily a formal learning course, with nearly half (47%) actively wanting to keep up with technology itself. Even if formal learning isn’t for everyone, 42% are motivated to getting a professional certification – all through blended online learning.

Also, it’s about the skills that our newer generations of workers need to develop. It’s easy to think that young people are all technology savvy experts, as they play on their tablet, message on their phone and watch the television at the same time. However the Usabilla blog reported on research that “only 5% of the population have high computer-related abilities.” So we need to help them build the skills.

Just because not every student has the right skills, doesn’t meant that they don’t know they need them. Jisc news highlighted a report that showed:

“75% of higher education students surveyed believe that, having staff with the appropriate digital skills is an important factor when choosing a university.
99% of students think that technology is becoming increasingly important in education.”

Isn’t it about time..?

I love sharing this quote:

“Both students and tutors were positive about using… online tutoring, and…interactions were perceived as successful.”

I love sharing it for two main reasons:

  1. It’s brilliant research about using online software for “synchronous e-learning system for online tutoring” and highlighting the success that can be achieved.
  2. It’s from 2007. That’s right, it’s 10 years old. For some people there is still debate about whether online, blended teaching and training can work or if we should be doing it.

A lot of the reasons for people’s reticence is fear of technology.

 One of the reasons for not using live online learning was the fear of technology. From http://oneperfectshotdb.com/news/watch-superman-iii-from-horrible-to-horror/

Fear that the robots are going to take over, as mentioned above.

However when people get to experience how good online delivery can be, it can inform them of different experiences, such as this teacher describing her reaction to using computers for teaching in the US:

I always believed I would be much better in person than through the computer, but I have found that I can still have relationships with students in this manner.
I am not very competent with the computer but I am very strong in my subject matter.”

In the Jisc news item mentioned above, Jisc CEO Paul Feldman said:

“In today’s digital age, it’s crucial institutional leaders stay up to date with digital trends and grasp how to leverage new technologies if they wish to deliver an enhanced learning experience to their students. Possessing technology and understanding the digital world is no longer the sole domain of IT managers, all student facing staff need to be digitally savvy.”

We know that blended learning and online approaches can be many things, including, but not limited to:

Blended learning can be so many things
Blended learning is… from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales presentation

This is, and should be, all be based on good pedagogy too.

This link is a great learning theory map with scientific disciplines, learning theorists, their paradigms and key concepts. I pick out from it paradigms such as social constructivism and experiential education, which are about learners having active roles with direct experience in education. Bruner’s discovery learning and scaffolding for tailored support to learners are essential concepts to be taken and used in the 21st century.

In his book, Learning with ‘e’s: Educational theory and practice in the digital age, Steve Wheeler states:

“True pedagogy is the antithesis of instructing from the front of the classroom.
True pedagogy is leading people to a place where they can learn for themselves.”

For more on classic and more modern pedagogy in teaching and the digital age, Steve’s book is an excellent read.


The invitation I give to people at the end of the keynote is to team up with someone, to learn together as professionals. Learning transfer, including our own, is about accountability, and working with other’s will help that.

Steve Wheeler, in his book, says that “every successful teacher must also be a professional learner. The essence of good teaching is to get students to fall in love with learning”. After all, if we aren’t excited by and curious about the what is to come, about developing new skills and using them in a future that is unwritten, how can we expect our learners to be?

Technology plus people equals success
The future is technology but also people, from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales keynote presentation


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