Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

When I was doing my PhD, I often got comments from fellow doctorate students and my supervisors that my scope was too broad. What I did was look at technological (ICT-based) innovation from a personal psychological perspective, as well as from an organisational perspective, thus effectively combining insights and research methods from organisational psychology, organisational theory and management information systems. After I was finished, the jury commented that I had actually written 3 PhD theses, but that's not the point here. The point is that reality is catching up on my research, and that all the pieces of my (personal scientific) puzzle are coming together.
Allow me to expand on this. During the past few weeks, I have been
  • spending quiet some time on laying the groundworks for a chapter on Learning Networks that my department is working on, 
  • rethinking some of the really good discussions at the Alt-C conference about my presentation on "Hybrid professional learning networks", 
  • having internal discussions about learning networks for professionals and with Marc Bijl about Enterprise2.0,
  • following the "Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge" (PLENK2010) course from the side line,
  • participating / contributing to the strategic discussions about the 5-year institutional strategy plan of the Open University in The Netherlands in my role as chairman of the works council,
  • and looking around for job opportunities, as my future prospects here at OUNL are somewhat shady, and I will need to consider where to go next.
All of this has contributed to the insight that the broad range of my scientific efforts so far, is now coming together in the research topic that I am currently dealing with, namely the role of social media in professional learning of individuals and organisations. What I'll need to do is revisit the models and ideas from my PhD and check in how far they can be applied to the topic of social media in professional learning.

    Posted by & filed under #twitter, ALT, conference, E-Learning.

    Instead of taking the nap that I should be taking (considering that I have only slept 4 hours for the past 2 nights), I thought I'd write a short blog entry with some impressions of my first ever attendance at an ALT-Conference.

    Lunch with @timbuckteeth @Emmadw and @kathrinder #altc2010 on Twitpic
    Lunch with @kathrinder @timbuckteeth and Emmadw on Day 1 of #ALTC2010
    1. Firstly, I've finally met - in the flesh - some of the tweeps that I feel I've known for ages.
    2. Secondly, I find the Twitter backchannel increasingly important at a conference. For instance, it allowed me to deduce that @daveowhite's talk - that I didn't attend - should have been the opening keynote. I also got to know new tweeps through the backchannel - and made a separate Twitter list for them. It's s become a crucial instrument in my networking at a conference.
    3. The Crowdvine social application that ALT uses for planning the conference and getting to know people is definitely an asset. I found out that some old friends (Sally) and colleagues (Judith) were also attending the conference, and was able to arrange a meet even before getting my hands on the list of attendants.
    4. Oh yes, remind me never to stay at a Hall of Residence again. Cheap, but bleak and depressing and the atmosphere of a prison.
    That's all for now (too tired). I'll report on the things I learned at a later stage.

    Posted by & filed under celstec, learning networks, networked learning, OUNL.

    A group of researchers from the CELSTEC research programme on Learning Networks for Professionals recently spent a week in Braunshausen (Germany) to write a practice-oriented book on Learning Networks for professional learning.

    Organising such 'writing weeks' at a remote location has become something of a habit at CELSTEC. It allows for a team to get immersed in their work, more than would be possible in our hectic workplace, which is often characterised by important tasks that get higher priority than the writing process.

    It was a very fruitful week with interesting discussions about the concepts that we take for granted when we are dealing with external 'clients' for whom we develop concepts and solutions for learning networks. On the final day, I felt it was a pity that we hadn't taken steps to (a) organise short active group reflection sessions - as we had during the Library School week in Umbria - or to (b) actively ask participants to capture some of those interesting discussions using Twitter, blogs. mindmaps or other tools. It seems that - if reflection is not actually built into the programme of my working activities - I hardly ever reflect on my own thinking processes, being caught up in the day-to-day and hour-to-hour thinking and working processes themselves.

    Something to remember!
    (But even this thought is a déjà-vu ;-)

    Posted by & filed under learning, networked learning, professionals.

    While writing on an article for the Alt-C conference, I stumbled across a problem that I keep having when I start writing, namely the problem of clearly defining and delimiting what it is that I'm dealing with on a day-to-day basis at CELSTEC.
    As member of the research programme on Learning Networks for Professionals, I am researching technologies to support learning networks and trying to apply some of the ideas and concepts - developed within the programme - within internal and external projects. For a recent publication coming out of our research programme, I 'd like to refer to this recent book (Available at Springer - and Google Books).

    Now why do I keep having this problem? It might be because (a) we're dealing with an area that is rapidly developing, and hard to pin down, (b) an area that is on the crossroads between a number of traditional definitions, or (c) my own thoughts are not yet clear enough to explain clearly to my wife or kids what it is that keeps me at the computer for days on end.

    Within the research programme I am not the only one facing this issue of defining and limiting our concepts, as witnessed by the discussions in this Cloudscape. In my search for clear definitions to start the paper with, I came across two interesting online thesauri concerning Learning for Professionals, which I would like to share.
    • The first one is the European Training Thesaurus, developed and maintained by CEDEFOP, the European centre for the development of vocational training. The number of items in this thesaurus is rather limited, and I was unable to find a good match for the work that we're doing.
    • The second one I found rather more useful, the VOCED - Thesaurus. It is part of VOCED, a free research database for technical and vocational education and training, produced in Australia by the NCVER, and supported by UNESCO-UNEVOC.
    Below, I want to just list some of the descriptors from the VOCED Thesaurus that are relevant for my work.
    • Learning: The process of acquiring knowledge attitudes or skills from study, instruction or experience.
    • Education: is mentioned as a related term, but not defined. Interestingly, one can find the following terms among the list of narrower terms. At CELSTEC, we prefer to use the terms Formal learning, Informal Learning, and Nonformal Learning, but VOCED uses the following terms.
      • Formal education: not further defined
      • Informal education: The unorganised process whereby everyone acquires knowledge skills or attitudes through experience and contact with others.
      • Nonformal education: Organised and systematic learning activity often directly associated with work provided outside the formal education system.

    • Lifelong learning: Process of acquiring knowledge or skills throughout life via education, training, work and general life experiences.
    • Continuing education: A comprehensive term referring to all forms and types of education pursued by those who have left formal education at any point and who entered employment and/or assumed adult responsibilities.
      • Continuing professional education: Education of adults in professional fields for occupational updating and improvement; usually consists of short-term intensive specialised learning experiences often categorised by general field of specialisation.
      • Continuing vocational education: not further defined, but is related to Vocational education: Vocational training given in primary or secondary schools or in higher educational institutions designed to develop occupational skills.
      • Continuing vocational training: Further vocational training undertaken by those who have already completed basic or initial training in order to supplement acquired knowledge or skills.

    • Workplace learning: Process of learning through experience at the workplace both formally and informally and through different forms of working arrangements - teams one-to-one. Also the creation of a learning environment in the workplace.
    • Work based learning: Learning that takes place within the work environment using tasks/jobs for instruction and practical purposes. It may be structured as a formal session (see On-the-job training: Training within the enterprise given at the work station and using jobs of commercial value for instruction and practice purposes.) or be an information learning situation. Instructional programs that deliberately use the workplace as a site for student learning. These are formal structured programs organised by instructional staff employers and sometimes other groups to link learning in the workplace to students' formal learning experiences. They have formal instructional plans that directly relate to their career goals.
    • In-service education: Course or program designed to provide employee/staff growth in job related competencies or skills, often sponsored by employers, usually at the professional level.

    • Distance learning: Refers to learning in an environment made possible by the convergence of information and communication network technology where the learner may choose from a greater number of convenient learning opportunities irrespective of geographical location to meet their learning needs at any given time.
    • Distance education: A mode of education in which students enrolled in a course do not attend the institution but study off campus and may submit assignments by mail or email.

    • Learning community: A (geographical) community where individuals work in partnership with education, business and community to address the learning needs of the whole community, using learning as a means towards social cohesion and development, recognising the value of learning for all and supporting lifelong learning.

    • Online learning: Interactive process in which a computer and connection to the Internet are used to present instructional material enable communication between student and coordinator monitor learning and allow individual learner needs to be supported.
    What we are trying to do in projects such as Biebkracht and the Library School, has aspects of all the terms listed above. Our goal is to design, develop and implement a collaborative professional learning network that is a blend of online and offline activities, artefacts (learning resources) and people, similar to the Rob Jacobs' Professional Networked Learning Collaborative.

    Posted by & filed under #twitter, innovation, knowledge management, Library School, LibrarySchool.

    I've blogged before about how I think it is very positive that the chairman of my university - Theo Bovens - uses Twitter to inform the world about his daily activities. Yesterday, I experienced just how relevant such small pieces of information can be. Allow me to expand a bit.

    Part 1 - Our chairman is a very active person, who not only chairs the board of the Open University of The Netherlands, but is member of the socio-economic council of The Netherlands, politically active in our region, and member of a number of other boards. In his quest for political backup for Lifelong Learning in The Netherlands, he participates in symposia and conferences, often presenting his arguments in keynotes and contributions. On his Twitter account, he often mentions his schedule for the coming day, and gives short impressions of the new things he has learned during a working day.

    Part 2 - One of the projects that I am currently working on is the foundation of a Dutch Library School, a project in which the Open University and the Association of Public Libraries are co-creating a school that intends to offer library professionals an intensive learning programme on the crossroads of Tradition, Innovation and Culture, with the aim of building the innovation capacity of the whole library sector. Last week, the first group of students and their coaches - including Rob Bruijnzeels, Marlies Bitter and myself - spent an intensive working/walking week in Italy, where we drafted the first design of the Library School. During this week, we discovered that the public library sector and the public educational sector are currently experiencing similar transformations in the knowledge society, and we acquired some new insights.

    Part 3 - Yesterday, Theo twittered about attending a symposium in Maastricht about the future of the public libraries in The Netherlands. This triggered my attention, so I checked out the website of the symposium and found out that Theo would contribute with a presentation about the role of education in the future of the public libraries. After checking with my colleagues, we felt that it was necessary to update Theo on the latest insights from our working week in Italy, so we got in touch with his secretary, wrote a short information update for Theo, and had a very short briefing meeting.

    Now, you may ask: Where is the knowledge management in this?
    • Firstly, although Theo was aware of our Library School project at a management level and had included the project in his presentation, he was not - and could not have been - aware of the new insights that we had picked up in our recent activities. With the multitude of projects that are ongoing within an organisation, the chairperson can not - and should not - be updated on all the current issues and insights. - By the way, I think it is therefore that Theo stopped following me on Twitter: just too much information. You must know the phenomenon.
    • Secondly, our organisation is not so large that it can afford a giant support staff that can do the knowledge work for the chairperson. The weekly board meetings are mainly about making decisions, and not so much about gathering updates on relevant projects.
    • Thirdly, our Intranet is used actively at the Open University, but usually only mentions important milestones, such as new projects starting up, or the intermediary or final results of a project, but never the ongoing issues - again, that would be just too much information. From the information that we distribute, Theo's support staff could not have guessed that there were fresh insights that could have an impact on the Open University's message at this symposium.
    The novelty about Twitter and knowledge management lies in the fact that the responsibility for knowledge management can now be reversed. It is not only the top manager or his support staff that is responsible for gathering information. Every employee needs to actively scan the internal and external environment for information that may have tactical or strategic impact on the organisation, and then take the responsibility to inform the organisation. Because Theo uses Twitter to announce his plans for the day, I was triggered to provide him with up-to-date information, and maybe contribute to the tactical or strategic goals of the university.

    Posted by & filed under Distance education, future, Library School, OUNL.

    (Image borrowed from Simon Buckingham Shum)

    By pure coincidence, I stumbled across the recording of Martin Bean's keynote speech at this year's Alt-C conference - which I definitely plan to attend next year. Martin is the new vice-chancellor of the UK Open University.
    Apart from his being a very enthousiastic speaker, his message touched on some of the issues that our own university is trying to deal with. For me, the main focus of his speech was on trying to remove the barrier between formal and informal education, but also that universities need to guard their role of providers of affordable education in the knowledge economy.
    I wish I had seen his speech before I did this afternoon's interview with the Flemish newspaper "De Morgen" about the use of new technologies in (higher) education, then I could have referred the journalist to his speech, where he says: First you have to get the people in place, then the processes and only at the last stage get the technology in. This is more or less the message I gave the journalist, but Martin Bean's way of putting it was so much more forceful.
    In a sense, Martin Bean's speech also struck me as being very parallel to the discussion we're having with the Dutch public libraries, in our efforts to design, develop and implement a Library School which offers both formal, informal and non-formal education, trying to balance between Innovation, Tradition and Context. Public libraries face a similar challenge as educational institutions, since their role in a fast-changing knowledge society is changing drastically, and they have to establish their position in that society on the crossroads between Society, Culture and Technology. Quite an interesting theme, I think.

    Posted by & filed under cck09, George Siemens, learning, learning theory, Stephen Downes.

    The online course on connectivism and connected knowledge (Edition 2009) started again this week. I participated last year, but mainly as a mega-lurker due to an overload of other projects. This year, I intend to participate more actively, hence this post.
    Last year's short introduction gave me a bit of a feel for connectivism as a learning theory, and it got me thinking. How do learning theories relate to each other? Are they mutually exclusive or rather complementary? Last year, I developed a first thought about this, that goes along these lines (and extends the summary that George Siemens wrote for the course).
    • Learning theories can be argued to be related to different stages in human life, and different learning theories are better suited for explaining learning at different stages / ages of learners. I prefer therefore to call them learning modes, rather than learning models or theories.
      • Behaviorism can be applied to the way very young children learn, when neural connections in the brain are just being formed. Learning takes place in situations like: "When I cry long enough, Mommy feeds me", "When I smile at this nice man, he cuddles me". Stimulus-response based learning can be argued to apply mainly to more basic levels of skills and knowledge that can be subdivided into small chunks in a logical and structured way. As such, the behaviourist approach can be argued to lay the groundworks of knowledge and skills in humans.
      • Cognitivism assumes that knowledge schemas already exist in a human mind, and then focuses on how new information and knowledge is added to the existing (neural) network of knowledge. Focus is on the individual learner, and his or her knowledge creation, storage and retrieval. It can be argued that this learning mode starts at primary school level, when children learn to connect 'loose items' of information into more complex schemas, and begin to see how things are connected. Cognitivism's focus on the individual coincides with the child's attention being focussed on itself and its immediate surroundings, its core family.
      • When children start to become aware of context and social surroundings - often sometime around puberty- it can be argued that constructivism 'kicks in'. The unshakeable thruths that they learned in primary school tend to be no longer unshakeable. Their general knowledge is being remixed and rewritten into a personal and social version of that knowledge. Information is now co-constructed, and no longer taken at face value. The social surroundings play a major role in this phase of life.
      • However, when students leave school / college / university, their existing social network gets distributed, and they need to enter a professional world, where they - more often than not - become (semi-) isolated experts in their field, who are required to put their acquired knowledge to good use, and monetise that knowledge. When they want to keep acquiring and growing their knowledge, they can enter their connectivist mode, and hook up with their extended online social network.
    • The previous is not to say that one learning mode pertains to only one stage in life, but it indicates the dominant learning mode at that stage. There is also a sort of chrono-logical order in the learning modes. Each new learning mode somehow presupposes and builds on the previous mode.
    • I think it's worth to further explore these learning modes and see if they apply to different types of information, skills, knowledge, or competencies. It might well be the case that learning simple and medium-complex skills is best tackled in behaviourist mode, whereas complex mathematical models are best learned in cognitivist mode.
    Well, those are my thoughts for now. Hope that we can further this line of thinking during the CCK09 course.

    Posted by & filed under #twitter, familiarity, microblogging, reflection, technology, usefulness, value.

    In his most recent (Dutch) blogpost, Theo Bovens - the chairman of the board of the Open University of The Netherlands - notes that he is getting more and more reactions on the fact that he is using Twitter actively. He wonders how he should interpret and use this new channel of communication: "Who needs this, and why?" He is also considering whether he should continue using it. Here's my two-cents worth contribution to his question:

    Theo started using Twitter during his heroic opening of the OUNL's 25th academic year, where he completed a marathon across The Netherlands and Flanders and opened the academic year for 25 people in just 36 hours, but has continued using it since then. During the same marathon, Theo acted as an exemplary mobile citizen by uploading photos and writing blogposts in the car on the road. This feat in itself deserves international attention in my view. This is "Teach as you preach" in its purest form.Now what makes Theo's tweets interesting from my perspective as an employee of the OUNL?
    • Firstly, it is interesting to see the different circles that he moves in, politically, economically and regionally. It provides a degree of insight into the workings of the contexts that surround a small - somewhat rebellious and nontraditional - university. It shows what it takes to keep the mission and goals of our university on the agendas of the decision makers at the different levels of gouvernment and funding in The Netherlands and Flanders. In other words, it augments my understanding of the university, its strategy and tactics and as such his tweets are an important professional asset for me, as I contribute to the digital environment of our organisation, and need to take a wide contextual perspective.
    • Secondly, Theo's tweets also cover his more private interests and activities. Now, you may wonder why this should be important for me as an employee. In my view, these tweets add a degree of 'familiarity', which make Theo into a real person, and not just a hierarchical entity. This insight into his personal life helps build a level of trust that surpasses the brief chance face-to-face encounters in the hallways of the University. This does not, however, deduce from the distance that -in my view- needs to remain between an employer and an employee.

    This brings me to what I see as the added value of microblogging in a professional knowledge-intensive environment, something I have labelled 'virtual familiarity'. Let me illustrate this with an example. I have been following a number of colleagues from the British Open University on Twitter, such as @mweller, @gconole, @sclater and others. I have briefly met Martin (Weller) and Niall (Sclater) on occasion, but I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Grainne (Conole) in person. Due to the fact that I follow her on Twitter, she has become more than just a colleague who writes good papers and does interesting research; she has become a person whom I have had online communications with (more similar to a real communication than through blogging and commenting), whom I have shared the occasional joke with, etc. When I now meet her at a future conference or workshop, it will be like meeting a close colleague whom I have worked with for years.

    This happened to me in June at the ICDE World Conference in Maastricht, when I met Maarten @maasbrenn, a Norwegian colleague that I had been following for some time. It felt like bumping into an old acquaintance, even though we had not formally met before, and we were able to start sharing insights and opinions about the conference immediately. We started our own little backchannel at the conference, and met for coffees in between sessions, just as I did with my OUNL colleagues, and with a similar degree of familiarity.

    Now, is it important to be 'virtually familiar' with the people in your professional knowledge network? From my personal perspective, it is extremely important, especially in a context characterised by increasing distance. A large group of students at the Open University have problems with the impersonal and distant aspect of distance learning (note that another group actually appreciates those aspects). In my view, microblogging can help make distance education and knowledge sharing/creation more personal and more social.