Re-Connect with the WHY we help others get digital.

OK, so here’s the thing:

Digital Innovation, eLearning, using Apps, creating and sharing online, presenting to the world, connecting to employment, fully being part of how things are – whatever we call it, and for what – there is a PASSION and COMPELLING PURPOSE behind helping teachers teach and learners learn using all the tools available.

Gathered round to form the Digital Innovation rOundtable we share transformative experiences of how tutors delight and inspire learners, and learners delight and inspire themselves and their tutors.  Good news for college leaders, families, employers, communities, good for the skills economy and good for the courageous, unsung heroes who help nurture all this talent.

We’ve heard about this, first hand.   In the five years of the rOundtable sessions in London, 120 Further, Higher and Adult and Professional education organisations have returned, again and again, to share –

 “It is by far the most motivational and informative group I belong to.
Rod Kain, 
Newham Sixth Form College

So, what’s the beef?

We so often hear, however, of the  struggle with the way our organisations work.

In the supportive, maybe confessional, rOundtable gathering, talented people pour out stories of frustration, blockage and overwhelm.   The funding is squeezed, the kit doesn’t work like it promises, time is always too short.
And the really hard one.      Other people, other colleagues, don’t get it.  Worse, they block it.   At least that is how it seems.
And having said it, they <sigh> and recognise the scale of the task, in face of all the competing priorities their colleagues face.

What are we going to do about it?

Have you heard the idea “When you know why you will overcome any how?

What we need is a new kind of programme to re-connect eLearning professionals to their PASSION and COMPELLING PURPOSE – that will inspire and inject all the power and energy to enable them to pursue their task with unstoppable enthusiasm and love.

You’re kidding?

The Genius rOundtable is coming to do just that.
Starts on July 3rd. 
Why not get in touch.
Are you ready to reignite your purpose?


Coaching Apprenticeship 2018

blog image Apprenticeship

Learning to become an independent coach has been the journey that makes sense of my adult life.    Well, that’s how it feels.  I try harder than ever before, I’m challenged to step up everyday, I see the glimpse of genius in everyone I work with.

Ask me what has given me the greatest boost and without hesitation it has been my six month Coaching Apprenticeship with Simon Crowe.

Apprenticeship like to become a plumber?  Kind of.  Mastermind group, Action Learning Set, Salon are all names for it.   But I like Apprenticeship because I too aspire to become a master craftsman.  I want to be immersed in learning my craft.   And do it with my peers.

It’s not for everyone – there is a high cost, higher commitment and absolute focus on getting out ten times what you put in.    I’m signing up again for January 2018.   Join me?

See me talking to Simon Crowe live on Wed 4th October 2017 3pm on this Zoom link

The new apprenticeship starts January 2018 – is it for you?

See more of the progress for building a school in Liberia Leadership programme

disruptive technology in Adult & Community Learning


The disruptive change brought by technology is evidenced in the rise of the so called gig economy where making a living for many will be driven by how they can connect to opportunities experienced through apps on their phones.   In response the government recognises this with a new promise of digital skills for all.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Adult & Community Learning providers across London this week.     Passionate, committed, inspiring tutors that motivate adults to meet the common task of making a life in this wildly diverse, everchanging city.

How are these tutors supported with building the mobile and connected technology we all own into engaging adult learners who need to integrate essential learning into their daily lives, foster the habit and skills to learn, and develop the analytical capacity to critically  distinguish between valuable information and online noise and nuisance?

Challenge:  Tutor’s Phones; Learners Phones

That was the challenge for these learning managers (pictured above) who met at the City Lit this week.


Tutors Phones, Learners Phones & WhatsApp

  • the role of the tutor’s phone is caught between the longstanding need to preserve privacy and the urge to engage with instant, convenient, always on social media groups that learners naturally will be using with their families and contacts, and with fellow students.  WhatsApp in particular.   The safeguarding-conscious management position says no, though some allow the discretion of the tutor.     Edmodo, and you can find others, is suggested as a simple way to create a place accessibly by phones that allows tutors keep the control they want over their privacy.

move from e-Safety to managing risk

  • a wider point is that now is the time to re-assess the thinking behind eSafety, essentially as attempting to put safeguards around online activity, and see it more as managing risk – which has at its heart enabling opportunities for connecting to teaching, learning, collaboration and connecting to employment opportunity, differentiating where appropriate, and seeking to maximise engagement.
  •  Moving from a default ‘No’ (no phones, blocking social media)  to an enabling ‘Yes’ should be backed up by an urgent effort to increase everyone’s skills in professional approaches to online activity – neeed for learning, for taking part in our digital society and for reaching out to make a living.
  • Every time a tutor is blocked from creative, engaging teaching through the block application of a ‘No YouTube, No Twitter, No Facebook’ rule, then there is a group of learners not learning to live in their world.

Moodle <> Google Classroom <>  MS Classroom

  • Moodle, the Virtual Learning Environment for hosting learning resources and activities, works well in Further Education but only for a small number of Adult Learning providers, usually with good tech knowhow , especially if they can make it work on the small screen with Moodle Mobile.  Importantly, mature use supports learning activities as well as accessing the repository of course resources.
  • For many others, its become a battleground with tutors and a barrier to creativity. Pulling together  Google Apps has proved a more natural, easier to manage way forward for them – Sutton College led the way in London six years ago and makes mature use of Google Sites. The City Lit is taking it further with Google Classroom.   Tutors respond well to creating lessons using simple links, much as they would using any app.
  • However there is an informality about this approach, particularly with tracking and recording activity, that makes some managers cautious.    IT support departments may be prefer to be pro-Microsoft rather than Google, seeing a better fit better with the administrative systems already paid for and in place.
  • Hot off the press is Microsoft Classroom – Westminster Adult Education Service, highly competent in Moodle, are exploring how this new competitor to Google Classroom may offer a complementary way for users and tutors to post, create, share and collaborate.
  • The way ahead will depend on available support, the ability to manage delivery and the tutors who will vote with their feet – or tablets and phones.

Join with Borough Library Services in maximising access to online resources

  • Libraries, like Adult Learning Services, share the task of upskilling the public with the ability to go online and all the skills needed thereafter.    Siloed planning and funding however restricts the shared endeavour.   Where there is a good close relationship, as in the borough of Westminster, learners are guided towards the digital skills and resources that can support all learning move freely between library and adult learning provision.
  • Fortunately, after having this discussion, the group of managers above have committed to strengthening these ties.




Before any ‘point and click’ IT training, do this first

rich picture - aargh

This really happened – and that’s good.

It’s a simple principle, usually overlooked when it comes to any kind of staff development involving technology.     Ask people how they feel about it.   First of all.  Before Logging in.  Before you hand out the notes.

<- Say it with a picture

Sit in a group, face to face and let each person have their moment to say really, how they feel about how technology affects their role.   Let them draw what they feel – as this tutor did. Trust me, it works magic.

This week, a potentially abrasive two hours of point and click Moodle training for a Sixth Form College in a packed (let’s not say sheepdip) staff development day, turned in to a fabulous peer development session – starting with each tutor, of about twenty,  frankly sharing their relationship to Moodle, based on a drawing each had done : happy/unhappy faces, images of isolation, confusion, needing help, seeking direction – others had confidence, happy students and so on.

Listen, and Listen again

The senior tutor was the scribe and recorded a valuable checklist of takeaway actions to solve – many about simple things like logins and access.   Arms became unfolded, resistance lowered, interest grew.  Every participant felt acknowledged, felt heard and learnt something unique  that they would never find elsewhere: how everyone else is affected by the technology in trying to perform their role.

Context is everything

So much of IT training is delivered outside of people’s working experience and context. Peer learning is so much more vivid and engaging.  Four tutors in this group emerged as clear leaders – and they led the rest of the session, Showing and Telling about their context and how student assignments were set, uploaded, marked … and we just about got on to some pedagogy, which is really what Moodle is supposed to be for,  once the basic admin is all sorted.

Social Age Learning

Much is now told of how the Digital age is giving way to the Social age – where it is the connections between people that matter – see what this by looking at the wonderful Social Age Safari:


The greater risk is NOT taking a risk

It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone and take risks and even more so when we do it during a high stakes situation when staff development time is pressured and results expected.   Taking this peer-led, coaching approach to IT training has always worked for me.  Honestly.

I trust that these tutors personally and together will go on to develop their own experience in a way that will keep rewarding them – in a way that my ‘powerpoint and handouts, point and click session’ would have been long forgotten.

Instead I was free to go round the small groups asking about their experiences and aspirations – and didn’t do a single minute of Moodle training in the whole two hours   🙂

I hope the buzz of shared purpose is surviving the rest of the staff development week.

enough eLearning, time for Digital Capability instead

This map above, from the far-sighted Doug Belshaw, is an example of how the simple idea of Digital Literacy,  (its come a long way from ‘being able to use a computer’) unpacks into contexts and capabilities – it is hard to find an area of contemporary life for which it does not apply to a learner, a teacher, a worker, a manager, a citizen, a pensioner, a child, me and you.    It is about what you can do rather than what it is.

Every student should come to learning with a plan that includes a ‘line of sight’ to employment

Employers are vocal in wanting to employ students with the right match of personal-ability attributes and capabilities on top of the qualification, and students need to be able to demonstrate them.   Geoff Rebbeck and Pete Chatterton’s urgent 2015 study for Jisc makes a clear appeal for enabling students to Tweet employers, share Google Hangout sessions with live workplaces, build and curate their own ePortfolio as a beacon for who they are and what they can do and much more.

Less eLearning, more Vocational Technology and Structural Technology

So a student logs in to Moodle and finds their course handbook, that week’s assignment, notes from the last class, a video to watch, a discussion forum and a quiz.   OK, so that’s elearning done.   What about the rest?  They want to learn about the technology used in the field they want to work in – the drones used by horticulturalists, the micro cameras in a car’s engine and explore how they can use Faceswap app on their phone in Hair and Beauty.  Equally they need to communicate, do business, navigate processes, handle administration and behave just like they will in the future employment.
This shifting balance from technology for delivering learning to vocational and structural technology has to be reflected in school and college budgets.

Build and Manage a Digital Reputation

Just like it is important to learn joined-up writing and road-safety to ensure future success, for everyone their presence online – what comes up when they are Googled – is something they can curate, foster, manage, grow and celebrate – a competency which must be learned, and colleges must teach to all learners and staff. It is helpful to think of e-Safety more as a matter of education rather than exclusion  – effectively managing risk rather than institutional blocks and a long list of don’ts.

Digital Capability and Capacity

Capability of what students and staff can do, and the enabling role of managers that shapes their Capacity is the topic of a short survey of 13 assorted post16 learning providers, which offered a regional snapshot of where we are at, May 2016.

One provider has a principal 100% behind the idea that elearning is now defined as Digital Inclusion and is witnessing the flourishing of digital capabilities enabling learners and tutors to reach out, make connections, launch ideas, gather an audience, authentically engage and build relationships inside and outside their place of learning and on into their future direction.

Others however are behind.  The ability of learners to do all these things is subordinated too far under the main task of their learning goals, the restrictions of the infrastructure and classroom culture and the message that this is to do in their own time.

In the survey:

  • 2 out of 13 incorporated digital skills into quality processes and observation
  • 3 out of 13 had anything to say about using technology to build employability skills or as an opportunity to engage relevant employers.
  • 6 out of 13 encourage tutors to develop skills through putting routine processes online while offering 1 to 1 support and encouragement.
  • 12 out of 13 are disappointed that tutors do not engage – whether through time, seeing the purpose, confidence or management focus – and that learners are, as a result, missing out.


So what do we want to see?

  • change in curriculum to more enquiry based e-learning
  • capture and demonstration of new employability skills
  • managers as enablers
  • students as change agents
  • expectations amongst students in the purpose of technology in their relationship with FE and Skills

This list, based on an excellent ALT conference session by Geoff Rebbeck and Peter Kilcoyne, is picked up again in a free ETF/Jisc  Professional Development webinar for tutors, May 24th 2016



Help your Computer Manager not to say no

Don’t shoot the messenger – help your IT manager be the good guy instead

This week I had the great honour of chairing the 38th Academic Novell Admins forum.   Out of the window of the beautfully appointed Vernon Harcourt room, St Hilda’s College Oxford, an enraged Canada goose launched a seemingly unprovoked attack on two swans dreamily intent on swanning down the river Cherwell.  Similarly surprising, seemed the view from college IT managers round the table  – whether for the academic wanting to share research data via Dropbox or the finance manager hoping that the expensive data centre can be replaced with a cheaper online alternative –  the Cloud is not, and may never be, the answer for academic IT.

The point at issue is an old one, views can be entrenched, but they say, while Google or MS365 is ok, even a bonus, for low risk, low sensitivity data like student email, no Information Security officer, can sanction moving important or sensitive data into someone else’s computers, whether owned by Amazon, Google, MS Azure or anyone,  if they don’t know the postcode, and especially not outside Europe.   And the exponential and profligate use of storage means it is hard to isolate the data that needs protecting.  Controversial and provoking, there are supporters and commercial forces on both sides and its complicated.  Never mind that.

There is a more basic issue arising here.   What do organisations do after the Computer (manager) says no?   Think of deflating all that goodwill from students, teachers and admin staff, from those who feel IT exists to stop them doing what they need to.

Three ways in which we can all help:

  1. Please tell our masters in their language : The oldest and surely wisest view round the table came from Joe Doupnik (has his own entry in the history of computing ) – that we cannot be prophets in our own land.   We, the IT and elearning community, have rich experience to offer – but it is our hardpressed masters, grappling financial expediency and market-change, who need to decide the balance between cost saving and investment in the face of disruptive technology.   External input, without acronyms, at the strategic level reinforces the view presented from operational staff.
  2. Security decisions need to be corporately owned: IT managers often sound grumpy and dogmatic usually because they are organisationally isolated.  Specialist input needs to transform the collective view and enable curriculum colleagues to design their delivery feeling safer rather than thwarted by simple ultimata, and in return, underwrite the responsibility for the decision.  This ‘wants and offers’ approach ensures both sides can use their expertise to greatest value supported by the organisation.
  3. Coaching not telling: having sat in many such boardrooms, witnessing many such exchanges between competing expert voices, it is clear that organisations make the best use of their precious, shared face to face meeting time, by attending to the dynamics of meeting.   Recent excellent advice has been to plan meetings like teachers plan a lesson – to maximise the potential for all participants.    In this case, a simple appreciative technique, round the table, where every participant could offer a simple takeaway idea from the meeting that was important to them, promoted the clarity and value, rewarding everyone’s participation.

Can a Round Table session help your colleagues ?   Please do get in touch  julian.bream @

* goose attacking swan image owned by YouTube user asoke11


Blended Learning – a Shared Responsibility

Attending today’s Heart of Worcester College authoritative conference on the subject of roles, it is welcome to see the strong message that success in blending technology with learning only comes about when all staff are empowered, whatever their role – it is not to be left to the eLearning manager (if there is one), the IT manager or the good people in the library.

Particularly encouraging is the recognition that staff who look after IT and staff who look after other staff who teach with IT can be enabled to speak each others’ language, see each other’s priorities and work as a team, both equally valued.

Heart of Worcester College’s last five years of  focus on culture change, investment and innovation to deliver Scheduled Online Learning and Assessment – where learners are timetabled to go online and follow resources that stretch their research, collaboration and independent learning skills have produced results – cost savings (even after teaching hours cost reduction has been reinvested in resources and support), and a noticable improvement of passes into merits.

Two current Sports science and Public Service learners spoke convincingly that they value the opportunity for independent learning that helps prepare them for going on to learn at University level, and – if the resource exciting enough – will go home and keep researching online, really persuing a new interest.    Face to face learning still valued of course – especially on Monday mornings, they recognise the benefit of a live teacher getting them focused and working.

Peter Kilcoyne, eLearning director at the college, who’s patient championing of the independent, online learning capacity in the college and across the Further Education sector, sums up the required formula for any learning provider to succeed, summarised here as:
Success =cross-college; partnership; time-tabling and handholding; CPD and planning

Wishing them well for another 5 years.

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  • The college is at the heart of a growing consortium of colleges sharing and developing resources specifically for FE – the Blended Learning Consortium – contact