Category Archives: Coaching and IT

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.





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