HATE e-LEARNING. Why?

I’ve seen some really good examples of self-study e-learning in the past few weeks. First when I sat in for a day judging for The E-Learning Awards and second during the Demo Fest at DevLearn 2011 here in Las Vegas. These were programmes that delivered on the promise. They tackled a topic that for which e-learning was an appropriate solution and they didn’t compromise in making sure that there was a successful learning outcome for the learner.


On the other hand I’ve seen some terrible stuff over the past twelve months, and I’ve met plenty of people outside the ed-tech community who have admitted to me that they can’t stand e-learning. This should not be the case, at least not on such a widespread scale. After all, we’ve been doing this for at least 30 years now under various guises. We should know what we’re doing.
There seem to be two problems. We over-engineer for information transfer and we under-engineer for learning.
Let’s take the first. Cammy Bean did a great job in her session yesterday, called Clicky, clicky, bling, bling, of drawing attention to the absurd lengths to which we sometimes now go supposedly to engage the learner. It’s gloss. It’s razzmatazz. Sorry, but for me it’s a turn off. Extravagant, glitzy graphics don’t entice me to pay attention; they signal that I’m about to be presented with a commercial. It’s time to put the kettle on.
Mostly, the developers of these programmes are going to these lengths because they know that they’re really just passing over information. They feel embarrassed about this, so they want to compensate with all sorts of extra goodies. But surely all that matters is that the information is relevant and useful. If it’s not, why are you delivering it at all? If it is, aren’t there simpler ways of putting it across? What’s wrong with a nicely written and well illustrated web page or PDF? When I’m looking for information on the web, I don’t complain if I get presented with simple web pages or YouTube videos. In fact I’m really happy with these. Equally I don’t complain when the books I read are full of words. Surely that model’s worked well now for hundreds of years.
The second problem is that so many e-learning programs simply don’t take people far enough on their learning journeys. Yes, they present the underlying facts, concepts and processes. Yes, they may include some modest case study or scenario, perhaps just some sort of quiz. But it takes a lot more than one superficial practice activity to build a skill. Usually our first attempt at any new skill serves only to alert us to its difficulty. It’s a case of conscious incompetence. It takes repeated practice with realistic challenges and personalised feedback to build the confidence required to go to the next step. Designing this stuff is difficult, but then no-one said instructional design was easy.
Perhaps what I’m saying is this. Do less formal e-learning. Use other, much more straightforward media instead for information transfer. And the e-learning projects that we do undertake we should do more thoroughly, making sure that our learners really do achieve the required competence. Don’t over-engineer, don’t under-engineer. Get the balance right.

Blended Learning?



Blending is a continuum: Sometimes it seems that the more you think about blended solutions, the harder it is to define what is and what is not blended. This decision is complicated by the fact that there are so many aspects of an solution that you can choose to blend:

Learning methods:
You can blend the educational and training strategies that you use (exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration).
You can blend the social contexts in which the learning takes place (the learner alone, the learner with a teacher/trainer/coach, the learner with a group of peers).
Learning media:
You can blend the primary medium used to deliver your methods (face-to-face, offline media, online media, telephone).
You can blend between asynchronous media and synchronous media.
I’m coming to the conclusion that blending is a continuum, from not blending at all at one extreme, through to very significant shifts in methods and media within a single solution. Let’s look at some points upon this continuum, starting with the least blended:
  1. You use a single method and medium throughout, e.g. (1) reading from a book, (2) coaching face-to-face.
  2. You use a variety of methods, albeit within a single social context, and a single medium, e.g. (1) a classroom course with case studies, presentations, discussion, role-play; (2) an e-learning course including demos, simulations, quizzes.
  3. You use a variety of methods, employing different social contexts, but still only a single medium, e.g. (1) within a face-to-face classroom course, there is a mix of self-study, one-to-one coaching and group work; (2) within an online distance learning course, there is a mix of self-study, one-to-one support, asynchronous collaboration and live online group sessions.
  4. You use a variety of methods, employing different social contexts, but this time you use a variety of media as well, e.g. a mix of face-to-face workshops, self-study with printed materials and CDs, online forum discussions, telephone tutor support.

Clearly number 1 above is not blended and number 4 is, from any perspective, but what about 2 and 3? They are blended in some respects but not others. And does it really matter whether a solution can be defined as blended or not? Surely the only important issue is whether it works.
It would be easy to argue that, with so little agreement on definitions, the concept of a blended solution is not actually that useful, but I can’t accept that. So many solutions, particularly in workplace learning, employ a single approach throughout when this doesn’t really deliver the results. The approach may work for some aspects of the solution but not for all. A good example would be a stand-alone classroom workshop that attempts to deliver a body of knowledge, as well as provide opportunities for practice and discussion. The classroom may do a good job of the latter but not the former. And it ignores the fact that learning continues beyond the classroom into the workplace, and may need to be supported by coaching and reference materials. The whole idea of blending is to use the right methods and media at each and every step in a solution, and not only the obvious formal elements, but the non-formal, the on-demand and the experiential as well.

Beware who’s selling informal learning.


There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that historically we have underplayed the importance of informal learning, whether that’s experiential, on-demand or social. I’m equally convinced that, with the proliferation of great social networking tools and the ever-increasing confidence that learners are displaying when it comes to managing their own learning, informal learning should rightfully play a central role in our future learning architectures.
But I’m also as sure as I can be that we will still have plenty of need for formal learning in the workplaces and colleges of the future; that means a curriculum, professional tuition, formal materials and some form of assessment. Why? To some extent because employers need assurance that critical skills and knowledge are in place. But mainly because employees themselves want to equip themselves with the core competences of their new trades or professions and it is really important to them that there is tangible evidence of their achievements through some form of certification. Perhaps even more importantly, lacking the elaborate mental schemas of expert practitioners, they desperately need structure and support; they don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t know how best to address this.
Therein lies my concern. Experts suffer from the curse of knowledge. Their responses to the demands of their everyday jobs are mostly automatic. They find it really hard to empathise with the difficulties encountered by novices. They find formal, structured learning interventions tiresome and patronising, largely because they no longer need the formality and structure. They cannot remember that once upon a time they too were beginners. They can no longer see the relevance of qualifications, forgetting that qualifications are only important if you don’t have them.
Given that it takes at least ten years to become expert in anything and often longer, most experts are older, and informal learning tends to be most strongly advocated by older, very experienced, expert and independent learners, i.e. those for whom informal learning is the preferred option and all that is needed. And before you say anything, I will happily put myself in this category. I haven’t been on any sort of formal course related to my work for more than twenty years and definitely prefer to manage my own learning. When I was in my 20s and 30s it was a different story. I set out to take advantage of every formal learning opportunity I could. I collected qualifications and professional memberships, because at that age it’s what you do if you’re reasonably ambitious.
Models like 70:20:10 only serve to confuse. As Ben Betts explains in The Ubiquity of Informal Learning, the model implies that we should be putting 70% of our effort into experiential learning and 20% into social. Yet, if the model has any use, it is not as a prescription for future projects but as a way of reflecting, as we look back on our careers, how much we have learned in different ways. Our learning architectures do need to encourage and support the experiential, the on-demand and the non-formal, but we shouldn’t forget that the 10% can be an important catalyst for all other forms of learning, and a lifesaver for novices.
So be cautious of oldies like me if, in their enthusiasm, they over-sell the idea of informal learning. We have forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner.
P.S. I may be about to break my 20-year fast when it comes to formal learning. I am seriously considering joining one of the new series of free, online courses being offered by Stanford (see post from Stephen Downes). I rather fancy the one on human-computer interaction.

MBA admissions Tips: Plan of Attack:



With November wrapping up this week, Round Two deadlines for a number of programs are just around the corner. As most applicants are targeting multiple schools and still working to narrow down their school selection, we wanted to take some time today to stress the importance of taking a deep breath and a step back and formulating a timeline for the coming weeks. Establishing a set of incremental goals with regard to essay composition and recommender management at this point in the season will help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed and ensure that your aims are realistic.


One of our most important pointers pertains to the process of writing essays. The urge to make progress on multiple fronts leads many applicants to work on essays for several schools in parallel, an approach that can be problematic. One reason for this is that when one spends time immersed in three sets of essays at once, it’s easy to lose sight of the full picture he or she is presenting to any one school. While it’s important to be oneself in the application process, it’s also crucial that an applicant tailor his or her materials to each school, a process that is made harder when constantly going back and forth among responses for various programs. Another issue is that it’s easy to waste time implementing the same edits across documents for multiple schools, or to lose track of what one has changed in which essay. For these reasons, we generally recommend focusing one’s full essay-writing attention on one program at a time.

Of course, your writing and story will improve with practice, and the last application you finish will likely be your strongest: a tricky situation, given that most applicants take care of their top choice school first to ensure that they’re able to submit in the earliest possible round. With this in mind, we recommend that you build space into your timeline to allow yourself to revisit and revise each set of essays before submission.

The order in which you tackle tasks will naturally depend on the deadlines for each school. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a selection of this winter’s deadline calendar:

November 30: Cornell R2

December 1: Haas R2

December 7: INSEAD R2

January 4: Chicago R2, Wharton R2, Tuck R2, Ross R2

January 5: Georgetown R2, LBS R2, Yale SOM R2

January 10: HBS R2, Kellogg R2, MIT R2

January 11: Stanford R2, UCLA R2

January 12: Darden R2

January 15: NYU R2, USC R2

Best of luck to all of our readers who are presently working their way through the lengthy application process! Stay tuned to this blog for additional tips, news and notes as the admissions season unfolds. For more information about how we can help you prepare for these deadlines with our application editing services, simply contact Clear Admit at clearadmit.com/contact and sign up for a free initial assessment by e-mailing us at info@clearadmit.com or call our offices at 215-568-2590.

Admission Advice from Derrick Bolton:

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, talked to Melissa Korn and shared some great–and perhaps surprising–admission advice.

When asked how an applicant can stand out, he answered, “Don’t try to stand out.”

When asked about applicants using admissions consultants, he replied, “How can someone who doesn’t know you help you be a more authentic version of yourself?”

>Read the full interview …

–Allison Davis

What are “international dual” & “joint degrees”?



Higher education institutions around the world are feeling increased pressure to deepen inter-institutional connections and accelerate human mobility.
For example, the emergence of ‘global challenges’ such as climate change, disease pandemics, and immigration are leading to mission and organizational repositioning; a dynamic explored in our nine-part (to date) ‘Question’ series.

It is in this context that we need to situate the development and governance of international dual and joint degrees. The opportunities and constraints, as well as risks and rewards, of establishing such collaborative degrees are significant: they have the capacity to alter the educational mission of universities, recast the educational experiences of students, transform the learning outcomes of courses and programs, deepen network relations between universities, and provide a tool for differentiating programs and institutions.

These impacts aside, international collaborative degrees are very resource consuming to establish and sustain, complicated to govern, and difficult to assess regarding impact over time. This partly explains the ongoing efforts of the Freie Universität Berlin and the IIE to conduct the second in a series of important survey about such degrees (further information about the Survey on International Joint and Dual/Double Degree Programs is pasted in at the bottom of this entry). It also explains why the US Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) facilitated some substantial discussion and debate that led to the release of a 2010 report Joint Degrees, Dual Degrees, and International Research Collaborations: A Report on the CGS Graduate International Collaborations Project, and why the European Commission helped fund the informative JOIMAN initiative.

Remarkably, one of the major challenges faced by universities seeking to establish international collaborative degrees is to simply define what they are. And trust me – there are dozens of definitions out there, many of which are vague and indeed contradictory.

What follows are some definitions that were developed in the context of a University of Wisconsin-Madison Dual/Joint Degree Working Group that I participated on in 2010, and which was convened by the dean (Gilles Bousquet) of our Division of International Studies.

Over the course of conducting research on international collaborative degrees to devise our own definitions, and some ‘governance pathways’ for such degrees, it became apparent that there was value in situating dual and joint degrees in a broader internationalization/inter-institutional context. In the end, we developed the following typology which outlines modes of international collaboration that include international dual and joint degrees:

  • Study abroad
  • UW‐Madison as a study abroad site for other universities
  • Student exchange agreements
  • Course‐to‐course transfer of credit, Transfer agreements
  • Articulation agreements
  • Third party contracts for educational delivery
  • Off‐campus program or course location
  • Distance education, distance delivery of educational programs
  • Collaborative course or program sharing
  • Sequential degrees
  • Dual degrees
  • Joint degrees

Not all of these modes of international collaboration, as we deem them, are practiced at UW-Madison.

The DRAFT Working Group reports that were written in 2010 are currently being reviewed within our administrative machinery, but are publicly accessible via the University Academic Planning Council website should you be interested in them. Jocelyn Milner, Associate Vice Provost and Director, Academic Planning and Analysis, was the lead author of the two reports that we all provided input on.

Given that many other institutions are also struggling with the issue of how to handle international dual/joint degrees, I’ll take the above typology, and edit out the Madisonian elements of the definitions, thereby providing you (from University X) with some definitions worth reflecting on and debating.

Needless to say, I would appreciate being sent your university’s reports about international collaborative degrees, assuming some exist and can be made public. You can email them to me at <kolds@wisc.edu> or list them in the comments section to this entry. I’ll compile the responses, knit them in with the resources we’ve collected over the last year (some of which are available here), and create a subsequent entry in GlobalHigherEd that outlines all available resources (books, reports, websites) for universities considering the establishment of international collaborative degrees. In short, today’s entry is a defacto call for more collaboration and information sharing about an emerging global higher ed phenomenon; one that is being driven forward for a range of reasons, yet is not so simple to bring to life and govern.

Summary of Modes of International Collaboration

  • Study Abroad: Students participate in a program operated through University of X in which University of X students enroll at a foreign university for a period of up to one (1) year. Students are awarded credit when the course credit they earned while in the program is transferred back to University of X.
  • University of X as Study Abroad Site For Other Universities: Students enrolled at a foreign university attend University of X as participants in a Study Abroad program established by their home university with University of X as the study abroad site for a period of up to one (1) year. Students earn credit when the course credit is transferred back to their home university.
  • Student Exchange Agreements: Reciprocal arrangement in which University of X students study at a partner institution and partner institution students study at University of X for a period of up to one year. University of X students transfer credit earned away back to University of X.
  • CoursetoCourse Credit Transfer, Transfer “Contracts”: Pre‐arranged recognition of the equivalency of specific courses at one institution to the corresponding course at University of X. For degree‐seeking undergraduates.
  • Articulation Agreement or Program: Allows undergraduate students who have completed a specified curriculum at partner institution to apply to University of X and enroll with advanced standing into a specific program even though the curricula at the partner institution would not transfer directly to meet preparatory requirements at University of X. Usually for undergraduate programs.
  • Third-Party Contract for Course Delivery Arrangements: University of X contracts with a third-party for delivery of courses. In this case the third party would be an organization that is either not an institution of higher learning, or is one that is outside the home country.
  • Off-Campus Program or Course Location (in-state, out-of-state, international): University of X courses are delivered by University of X faculty and staff who are physically present at a remote site.
  • Distance Education, Distance Delivery of Academic Programs: University of X courses are delivered by University of X faculty and staff via distance technology.
  • Collaborative Course or Program Resource Sharing: University of X has a wide variety of arrangement with other universities in which curricular and educational resources are shared to leverage strengths of partner institutions and create synergy. Because of the variety of formats, these are challenging to classify.
  • Sequential Degrees: Formalized arrangement in which students earn a specified degree at a partner institution and then applies to, enrolls in, and completes a second, related program at University of X. Courses from the first program may be used to waive requirements in the University of X program. Students will still be required to meet all University of X program and degree requirements.
  • Dual Degrees: Students complete the requirements for two degrees from two institutions, with efficiencies in course taking. Each institution is primarily responsible for its own degree.
  • Joint Degrees: A single degree authorized and conferred by two or more partner institutions; faculty, governance groups, governance boards share authority.

Kris Olds

>>>>>>>>

Survey on International Joint and Dual/Double Degree Programs

Submission Deadline: February 15, 2011 [EXTENDED TO 15 MARCH]

The Institute of International Education (IIE) and the Freie Universität Berlin are conducting the first global survey on international joint and dual/double degree programs.

The survey addresses higher education institutions in all world regions, and seeks to assess the current landscape of joint and dual/double degree programs. By collecting this information, we hope to provide valuable information for higher education professionals and policymakers on current trends, including an analysis of the challenges and barriers to developing them and recommendations and guidelines for universities to implement successful programs. This is a unique opportunity to significantly expand knowledge about current trends in joint and dual/double degree programs.

To complete the survey, please go to: http://iie.vovici.net/wsb.dll/s/6cg32d

A summary of the results will be made available on the IIE website. Please complete the survey before February 15, 2011.

Thank you very much for participating in this survey, which should take no more than 20 minutes to complete, once you have gathered the relevant data. If you have any questions, please contact Matthias Kuder at matthias.kuder@fu-berlin.de

This is a follow-on survey to an EU-US Atlantis Program-funded study conducted in 2008 that focused specifically on collaborative degree programs in the transatlantic context. The results of this previous transatlantic survey are available on www.iienetwork.org/page/TDP/