Learning technologies in the spotlight

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SpotlightThe Association for Learning Technology's annual conference, ALT-C 2008, brought together over 700 delegates and more than 100 speakers from all over the world. Catherine Dhanjal reports on some highlights from the conference.

Here are some highlights from the ALT conference: a report on two presentations from the business sector, and a fascinating seminar on the divide between businesses who use internet and communications technology (ICT), and those who don't.

Learning content

Elearning consultant Clive Shepherd gave a fascinating tour of the development of learning content in the corporate world over the last 40 years. He introduced the 1970s as the era of 'instructional design' when the designer was king and content was very influenced by cognitive behavioural theory and by the US military. The 1980s saw the era of video and, in Clive's opinion, some of the best work in terms of content development was carried out at this time.

Photo of PERSON’SNAME"Already the line between teacher and learner, and between author and reader, is becoming more blurred as content is more often learner-generated."

Clive Shepherd

From 1985 the era of programming and artificial intelligence started to come into its own, said Clive, with one of the key elements being a high degree of personalisation as the software built up a profile of the individual. The 1990s introduced the era of graphic design and multimedia, when content was dominated by graphics and text. In 2000 teachers and learners became more IT literate and more involved in content design.

2010 is foreseen as the era of the user - but already the line between teacher and learner, and between author and reader, is becoming more blurred as content is more often learner-generated.

Clive also prompted an interesting thread about the nature of elearning content and interactivity. He suggested that interactivity - which is necessary to turn content provision into a true learning opportunity - can occur in various ways: from the learner writing notes, to reflections and discussions about the content. So the content itself does not necessarily have to be interactive. Making the interactivity separate from the content makes it easier for non-designers to create content.

Free tools

The technology needs of IT-literate learning professionals was the theme chosen by Jane Hart of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, who called her talk '25 tools every learning professional should have in their toolbox, and all for free'.

The speech provided delegates with some food for thought about free applications and how these could help increase productivity, facilitate collaboration and the sharing of files such as podcasts and videos. She came up with the list of 25 based on feedback from over 200 learning professionals. The full list is online and selected highlights are:

* Webmail: Googlemail or Gmail. Not only can you access your emails anywhere, using a web browser, but it has lots of free storage space for emails and files.

* Online office suite: Google Docs. This is ideal for documents which you may need to review collaboratively as a team, since you can work simultaneously on one master copy. It also allows you to run a live presentation with your contacts.

* Presentation sharing tool: Slideshare. This has risen fast up the ranks as it allows users to add and share PDFs or Powerpoints, either publicly or privately. 'Producers' of content can allow viewers to download presentations and users can embed the URLs into wikis and social networks.

* Video hosting and sharing tool: YouTube. You can create your own channel and can embed links to the video in blogs or websites.

* Audio/podcasting tool: Audacity. This makes it easy to create audio files. You can convert the audio files into MP3 podcasts.

* Web meeting tool: Yugma. For smaller meetings of up to 10 people, Yugma is ideal and free. It allows you to use a whiteboard, to annotate and share files.

* Private social networking tool: Ning. With this tool, you can set up a private network for like-minded people. Easy to set up and manage, it allows you to share profiles and hold discussions with reasonable security.

* Course management tool: Moodle. Jane's research shows that this is still the front runner for course management in education - and increasingly in training. It also has a variety of other uses. Some users set up their own personal Moodle site on their PC to manage their documents etc. Jane has set up mini tutorials using Moodle and found it easy to configure the site to her requirements.

The digital divide

The technology needs of SMEs were discussed in the seminar Two Nations – the Small Business and the Digital Divide, sponsored by Digital 2010 and the Yorkshire & Humber ICT Business Group. The workshop examined Yorkshire Forward's regional ICT business survey, now in its third year (ICT Regional Benchmarking Study 2008 Summary Report. Yorkshire Forward). The report showed that there was a major rise in business use of computers and the internet in 2006-07, followed by a plateau.

Photo of Jane Hart"Moodle is still the front runner for course management in education - and increasingly in training."

Jane Hart, Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies

Surprisingly, there is a misconception amongst non-users that computers are not relevant to their business, do not offer them many benefits or that internet-use is too expensive. Other barriers to use include the perception that ICT cannot contribute to business growth and efficiency and that customers do not want ebusinesses.

There is a clear gap between recognition of the benefits of ICT and its use. For example 80% of those surveyed said ICT could help with finance and accounts but only 70% used ICT for this purpose. Interestingly, many companies that have not adopted ICT are those which are experiencing static growth (33%), those which have not introduced a new product in the last three years or are long-established (33% of non-adopters have been established for more than 20 years).

Delegates discussed ways in which SMEs could overcome the digital divide. Ideas included setting up communities of practice to exchange ideas and experiences; using enterprise in education to link between business and youth knowledge of ICT; and raising the status of technology amongst senior management. Increased use of mobile technology was also posited, since this crosses age divides.

Further information

Jane and Clive's speeches can be viewed via Elluminate at www.alt.ac.uk

For more information on The Two Nations workshop, email: [email protected]

For information on ALT-C 2008, visit www.alt.ac.uk. The theme of the 2009 conference is 'In dreams begins responsibility'. It will take place from 8-10 September 2009, Manchester, UK. www.alt.ac.uk/altc2009/

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