May 23rd, 2014 by matthias

Last week I had the privilege to spend a whole day learning about MOOCs. Proversity had invited a number of heavyweights in the field – and little old moi – to discuss their proposition of using MOOC style delivery to support corporate onboarding (and recruitment) processes. They had secured the lively and quirky Google Campus, and set up a day of presentations and breakout sessions. Here’s the stuff I picked up (broken up in bite-sized chunks):

Laura Overton (@towardsmaturity) started with a great overview on her research of MOOC usage in the corporate learning world. The general usage of technology by learning & development providers is often failing many learners – and what sets the successful organisations apart is not the technology itself, but their attitude towards learning in their businesses.  Corporate learners react well to that by changing behaviours more quickly and more consistently. Overton postulated that a new learning agenda is needed, that allows corporates to react faster – driven by learners and their learning styles rather than an organisational agenda.

MOOCs in the meantime are transforming higher education [take note, HE sector!] – not necessarily a sector known for reacting quickly to student learning styles … or anything for that matter, really. Low completion rates (c.10%) are the norm for MOOCs – I would personally think that this is just a matter of time until someone finds a way to increase that enough for the model to become more stable; at which point universities will their industry-wide interruptive moment on their hands. Again – what do learners say (the question for HE in my view)? 88% want to learn at their own pace – not something that finds its way into academic calendars. However Overton thinks that the  academic world can really support the corporate world through MOOCs. Let’s hope we collectively wake up in time.

Her final point was that there is an overlap of good MOOC design with corporate learning. Most MOOC learners are engaging from the workplace, and thus the curriculum needs to reflect the demands of the workplace. Overton’s key lessons included:

  1. Create a framework: 75% learners are happy to engage online, but 1/3 don’t find what they need –  good design needs a good flow with clear instructions [take note, VLE designers]
  2. Design great learning: 45% of learners complain about uninspiring content – so the recommendation is to use multiple media, not just the lecturer. Also, the length of the programme is often a problem; shorter programmes have higher completion rates [do you see where this is going?].
  3. Support peer cooperation: staff willing to use technology like sharing what they are learning online – good MOOC design requires sharing tools, albeit this is often not encouraged enough in corporate learning and development.
  4. Assess effectively: staff want recognition for their online learning – only one in five L&D departments consider this.
  5. Scale up: MOOCs remove barriers, using cloud learning management systems.

Overton closed with the comment that the MOOC is not a new hype – its concepts and names may change, but good learning practice will prevail. Read up on her work at

End of part one

Posted in Education & Employability, Work life Tagged with: , , , , ,

October 22nd, 2013 by matthias

Just recently, I wrote about my personal ‘learning as I go while broadcasting about it’ strategy. I used the CASE event on public affairs in education as an example. So I talked about how I learn and cover these events, but I didn’t talk about what I learnt. So many of this will boring for the consummate PR professional – however, there were some take home points which I have … taken home:

  1. Be vigilant about sticking to a well-crafted message
    I think this is really applicable in the workplace – and is something that I’m careful about applying. Once a message has been agreed to, you’ve got to stick to it. In my current workplace, it’s ‘we need a career management system’, and we’ve stuck to that message (rightly) for four years. And, yes, it’s working – but it’s all about sticking to the consensus, and hammering home the this message. Of course it’s important to review your position regularly, and to change your policy if needed (with a message just as clear) – but inconsistencies must be avoided, as they will make things worse and may not be repaired.

  2. Disclose bad news first – on your terms
    I strongly believe that. If something’s bad, it will not get better by waiting. The earlier you are seen to deal with something, the more competent your handling of the situation will be seen – and you may get the chance to frame the terms of the debate. And then, apply the principle above. Read: ‘There’s a big issue with our company database, but rest assured, our new career management system will take care of it once and for all.’

  3. Fill the void and ‘feed the beast’
    That one was a new thought to me, but I’m down with it nonetheless: Don’t let people find holes in your coverage – because they will fill it with something negative. It’s all about finding creative ways to offer new information in the context of your message. Read in my example: ‘Just a quick update – our career management system is well on its way.’

  4. When you’re organising a high profile event, it’s about three and a half months before the event that the really high-profile people’s diaries are getting more accessible again. So people you couldn’t invite around six months in advance might suddenly become available.
    Personally, I don’t know where this one sits – but I just found it an interesting statement.

  5. Never underestimate the value of a good crisis – if there is none, find one
    Now while that one’s funny, I think there may be a lot of truth in it – and I’m sure it informs a lot of practice. Your decider – the higher the level – will not want to be confronted with a problem, or badgered with your personal hobby horse topic (see ‘career management system’ above). However, if it’s the solution to a problem you have identified, it may help you achieve your strategic goals.
    Disclaimer: I’m of course not devious enough for this one – just reporting what I’ve heard…

  6. Politicians want stories – experts want data
    Now that I found interesting – and I think it also works for non-politician deciders, but anyone whose role focuses on convincing audiences to achieve their aims. I personally think I’m a bit of a hybrid on this one, as my role often requires convincing (like a politician), but  my thorough academic grounding in my earlier life (thanks, Dad, and my mentor, the late Prof Laube): if you haven’t got evidence, you have no leg to stand with me. A story will to me only ever be anecdotal ‘evidence’, however, if the story is backed by credible data, then I’m in. I think this one comes back to knowing your audience – in retrospect a valuable lesson for me when I look back at some of my past talks.

So this is what I’ve learnt, and what I’m intending to apply.

Posted in Work life Tagged with: , , , , , ,

May 20th, 2013 by matthias

Have you ever been frustrated with your manager for being slow with implementing what you had identified as mission critical and needed to be done right now? Was he sitting there, listening, apparently attentive, maybe even looking caring – but then nothing happened, at least not … well, right now? Well, this manager is me now. This is a realisation I had when participating in an excellent session by Gill Frigerio (@gillfrigerio) at the #PlaceNet13 conference (quick note: I chaired it – but can’t claim ownership of any epiphanies): Gill was doing an exercise with the assembled placement professionals, showing us a simple self-coaching exercise – and by golly, I learnt quite the lesson. I’ve been feeling stressed recently, and it wasn’t the volume of work, but a clear inability to let decisions and actions flow as I used to. Over the last years, moving up in organisations, I’ve gained a lot of responsibilities – but hilariously not necessarily more power to take them on in a swift and uncomplicated way. No wonder managers have a reputation for being ineffective. I always worked on the magic assumption that both would somehow go together, once I’m successfully climbing the chain of command. It was always my line manager, or people higher up the chain, with whom decisions would be stuck, I felt. All they needed to do was use their powers and unstick them – they said they agreed, but why did everything take so long? Once I’d be in their role, I’d just do stuff.  It turns out that gaining responsibility and power don’t go along with each other at all, or at least at the same speed – and that exerting power isn’t the answer to getting stuff done sustainably either. The higher you move and the more you know about the organisation, the more you see complexities and consequences – and that almost always a strategic approach is required to solve issues rather than merely a tactical one. There are no quick wins (I was never a fan) – most of them end being rather pyrrhic. And using power to push something through tends to work against your agenda in the longer term.
The great philosopher Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) has termed the iconic words ‘With great power comes great responsibility . I jokingly often changed that into ‘with no power comes great responsibility’ for my workplaces – not knowing how right I was all along: ‘Moving up’, does not go with more power, or the ability to move things along – it’s mostly responsibility and perspective that you gain. It merely gives you access to others who may help you move things along – but they are mostly busy with their own strategic objectives (and often you can only hope that they align). Of course this depends on the type of organisation, but the reach of a manager in academia is astonishingly narrow: not that you can’t make decisions (I’ve pretty much always had that in most my jobs), but you simply can’t push them through – as you’re surrounded by people with similar reach, but no power either.
So far so frustrating, but why does this make me feel better? Any lesson like this would be worthless if it didn’t come with a call to change the agenda, to make it happen (whatever it is). Now what’s not going to happen is that I miraculously turn into some managerial super hero (even though I just got the shiny crystal trophy of my employer’s directorate leadership & management award) – as still I have gained no additional powers. Not even the strategy (often a word for just writing down your agenda, as if it makes it suddenly more real) will change that much – what I can however change are the tactics which I apply to achieve them. And for that, I have a couple of ideas (but mostly attitude), thanks to what I’ve learnt recently. Thanks, Gill.


Posted in Work life Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

May 14th, 2013 by matthias

We are doing a mental health awareness week at work this week. It has a special focus on physical activity and its positive effects on your mental health. As readers of my earlier posts will know, I am very much a proponent of non-competitive physical activity, and I am very aware of its impact on my well being. So, I did a stress test to assess my current stress level – and I was surprised to see that I’m only a 15 out of 40 – couldn’t find a proper explanation unpacking the score (so much for online tests), but basically I was pleased to know that my head wasn’t at danger of exploding just yet. But what a difference a day makes – I had a complicated day at work (in addition to running up to the annual conference, which I will chair – check #placenet13 on Twitter), and left feeling deflated. I timed out for letting steam off in jiu jitsu practice, but used another tried and tested coping mechanism – weeding my garden. So on the train this morning, I’ve retested – and let me put it this way: I’m not a 15 anymore. I consider myself fairly resilient – powered by my extensive patience (I’m not exaggerating – I’m just completing a four year lobbying effort), which is I think is the one key attribute I need working in academia. But I’m human after all, and in the spirit of mental health week, I’m sharing that I had to do some recovering, and still do. I’m glad to have a great team at work – and my focus is often to look out for how they feel, as it will strongly affect the way they work. Performance comes from having the capacity to perform – and if you don’t feel well, it won’t happen. You can only soldier on for that long, and I see it as a key management responsibility to enable people to perform, rather than trying to make them. What’s my lesson, besides recognising yet again that I don’t have super powers? It’s admitting it in public, and reminding ourselves that we’e all only human, and that we sometimes struggle – and that that’s alright. So there.

Posted in Education & Employability, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,