When You Ask The Question, “Are Learning Technologies Fit For Purpose?” #digifest15

“Asking the question is probably the most important thing.”

Lawrie Phipps made the point as he finished chairing a debate over, “Are learning technologies fit for purpose?”

It may sound dull, but his point was the best way to sum up the session between Dave White and Donna Lanclos at the Jisc Digifest 2015.

Earlier in the day, Anna Notaro told me that she doesn’t like either/or questions. While it does help me write short and punchy tweets, I do agree.

So, are learning technologies fit for purpose?

It’s an impossible question, as it involves individual decisions as much as it does group decisions. It involves education providers and administrators as much as it does learners.

Do learning technologies fit YOUR purpose? Can these tools give you what you want? And if you don’t know what you want, is this method working for you?

Dave White said that learning technologists and other professionals forget how experienced and confident they are. He suggested that if you could go back to when you were 18–just starting out at university–you would be far less likely to have the same drive to make your point. The nervewracking experience of speaking in a lecture or seminar consisted mainly of trying not to make a fool out of yourself. Newbies to the system don’t want to fall at the first hurdle. There’s so much at stake, or so it feels anyway.

One solution is to provide safe spaces so that students can build their confidence. This requires a somewhat locked-in approach using internal systems, rather than pointing toward online services that can publish work for all the world to see.


Use a VLE or use WordPress? Donna Lanclos explained that institutions have made a promise to educate their students. Learning and subsequent application of publicly used resources will provide the best opportunity for students to develop worthwhile skills. Using a VLE, she argued, doesn’t provide the same learning opportunity. Lanclos expressed difficulty in seeing why it’s so difficult to assist students in confident use of open web tools and to invest money saved from ditching VLEs on hiring more staff instead.

Questions from the audience were useful, as they looked at the flaws in the either/or questioning:

  • Something isn’t fit for purpose, but what is it? Is it the technology, is it the institution, is it something else? This needs assessing.
  • Why are we talking about a choice? You can have both a VLE and an open web.
  • We need to equip people to be competent in the open web. This requires a continuum model. Not just about knowledge in terms of content, but which technologies to use and when?
  • The reason we have VLEs is due to standards issues. Until you can bring diversity together in a reasonable format, a VLE is a practical necessity.
  • What IS the purpose of learning technologies? They are fit for purpose only if you identify what their purpose is.
  • You may want to use a social service for personal reasons, but that doesn’t mean you wish to use it as part of your course.

Lanclos said that it’s important to take responsibility for students’ learning when they do not have the understanding or experience of necessary tools. So, she continued, why is that different via the open web than through a VLE? Her closing argument stated that university is a much more holistic project than VLEs allow for. The fact they are locked in ends up sheltering students from the outside world and more practical learning.

White closed by explaining that learning technologies reflect the purpose our institutions have chosen to take. They provide a platform to frame learning around the course, rather than the individual. People can be helped through the process of education.

This takes us back to the remark Lawrie Phipps made to close the session:

“Asking the question is probably the most important thing.”

I saw neither Lanclos nor White as particularly wrong in their assertions. Such an ambiguous and open question is important because it shows how diverse the student population has become over the decades. And yet, as one audience member remarked, pedagogy over the last 20 years hasn’t been particularly transformed.

Asking the question, “Are learning technologies fit for purpose?” is a great way to continue exploring transformation that requires technology. But rather than focus on the technology at the centre, focus on the learner, on society, and on the future.

9 Tips to Prepare for Jobs and Careers Long Before You Graduate

It’s never too early to think about what you’re going to do when you graduate.

Everything is a preparation. You’re not meant to wait until you finish your degree before preparing for the future. Make your time count.

You may not even be at uni yet. No matter. The longer you give yourself, the more chance you have to jump in and get comfortable.

Cat Ready (photo by kissro)

It’s all about preparation. Get ready to pounce… (photo by kissro) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Here are 9 things you can do early on in anticipation of what’s ahead of you when you leave university. Why wait?

1. Get involved in relevant professional associations and groups

This is easier than ever. With an Internet connection and a bit of time to search, almost everything is at your fingertips. This is a recent development and worth pursuing.

For the most important associations, do consider paying for student or basic membership. It’s worth the cost if you get some kind of recognition and if membership gives you various other benefits that you can tap into. Do your research and see what’s on offer. You may be pleasantly surprised.

2. Join LinkedIn groups, subscribe to blogs, and follow Twitter users in your field

Another recent development and easy to implement. Spend just a few minutes each week following a few key accounts and you’ll build up a great source of content in no time at all. You can then reach out, comment, and even offer advice as you go along.

As a recent Jisc article mentions, “The recruiters are there. The employers are there. So why aren’t the students?” There’s a lot going on!

3. Write, record, and video stuff

Most of us consume content, but how often do you produce it? You can make an impression even if you make something about your search from nothing. You can still impress when you publish basic information for absolute beginners. You’re making the effort and making it public. That speaks volumes.

People will value your content. We all have to begin from somewhere, so don’t worry that you’re being too simple. Your information may be exactly what someone else is looking for.

4. Show up where you’d like to show up

The more you get involved, the more you will be seen. And as your exposure increases, you’ll be offered other opportunities to increase your exposure yet more. It’s like a snowball effect.

Seek out free events, find cheap student tickets (or free press tickets if you are writing prolifically enough now!), and find what your university and local area have on offer as far ahead as possible.

5. Tap into alumni

Speak to your alumni office to find out what they have to offer. Some universities provide a lot of help and contact after you graduate, including professional development and networking opportunities.

6. Your careers service is your friend

Many students are using careers services earlier on in their degree. Gone are the days where you don’t bother thinking about it until just before final exams. Whether or not you know what jobs and careers you’re interested in, you’ll find a wealth of information and advice on offer to you. Use it!

7. Speak with your tutors (if applicable)

This works best when you want to remain involved in a field directly related to your degree subject or if they can impart specialist information. If so, your lecturers and other uni staff are a great potential source of leads and contacts. They’re a great place source for quality leads that they themselves endorse and rely upon. For that reason, plan ahead with questions and requests that aren’t easily available elsewhere. Make the contact count.

8. Keep an ear to the ground

Read the latest news in your line of work and look out for where people get their trade information from. Over time, you’ll build up loads of valuable resources that require very little effort keeping on top of. Imagine having to start from scratch only after you’ve graduated. Save yourself time and give yourself the upper hand with everything at your fingertips as early as possible.

9. Find direct links to businesses you’re interested in

By building up connections not just with people, but with companies, there is a much greater chance that you’ll be known as a matter of course. Picture making a name for yourself while you’re still at university. Forget waiting, interact with companies and individuals you love right now.

Find ways to offer value and impart your knowledge to those who would appreciate it. A small gesture that takes five minutes of your time may prove more useful than desperately seeking an internship post. You can’t compare them like for like, but the small gesture is something you can do right now. Make contact and provide value when you see the opportunity.

A few minutes out of every day is all it takes to make a huge difference. Schedule it into your day. Commit to quarter of an hour to do one small thing, write a short piece, or make contact with someone. Whatever you do, don’t expect a miracle in isolation. Keep preparing so you don’t have to play catch-up later.

A few minutes. No big deal. Preparation is best when it’s spaced out, regular, calm. Make a start today.