"All you need is people who want to learn and a shady tree."

"All you need is people who want to learn and a shady tree." Unicorn Training Instructional Designer, Andy Houghton, on how his experiences volunteering at home and abroad has helped shaped his views on how learning should be needs driven.

"During a speech at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Conference in the USA on March 1, Bill Gates talked about technologies that can help increase the impact of teaching and learning. He envisioned better teaching methods and new education technologies that will revolutionise the classroom and encourage lifelong learning.

Although he was generally talking about school classroom learning, many of the principles he discussed are relevant to business online learning and development.

Bill outlined how exciting he thinks it is to see the growing number of entrepreneurs developing online learning systems in areas like mobile learning applications and e-books and the ways teachers are using a blended learning approach in their classrooms.

He identified four key trends in online learning.
1) creating more engaging and interactive ways of learning than the traditional textbook
2) using the Internet to post and find great teacher lectures and effective course materials
3) using social networks to increase collaboration among teachers and students and extend class discussions beyond the classroom
4) personalising learning—using gameplay and other tools – that give students and teachers important real-time feedback

However he said finding the right resources and figuring out how to use them is more difficult today than it should be. The foundation will be developing an online service that will help educators more easily discover and learn how to use these new tools.

I used to work in Honduras. The Registrar at the school once said that all you need for learning to take place were some people who wanted to learn, someone to help them and a shady tree.

Although I've been working in eLearning for about 10 years now, I still think there is a lot of truth in what he said - people who want to learn and someone to help them - though, as Bill Gates highlights, the way we deliver training now clearly has more options.

One thing that influences me is that the access to training has become far easier and more democratic over the past decade or so.

Outside of the day job, I volunteer for a small charity based in Devon which helps deaf and hearing impaired people through a system called Cued Speech. We have a website of resources (www.learntocue.co.uk), which is free to anyone and is in no way a commercial venture. Simply the resource is there and the only cost is the webspace, which is very little.

We also promote the work of the charity on You Tube and our most recent video explains how Cued Speech can help deaf people, usually children, access English as a means of communication. You can see the video here

I still think we have a long way to go and very often it is not the technology that is holding us back, it is tradition and conventions. In my view, these need to be held up to the light and looked at carefully to make sure we’re not just accepting conventional ‘wisdom’, nor are we throwing any babies out with the bathwater.

Our next venture is to promote training through Skype and video conferencing. The temptation is to see this as a poor relation to face-to-face training, but video conferencing does, in many ways, have some advantages over the classroom. Access to a tutor can be more frequent and when it’s needed, more personalised and so on. In addition, in an economically and environmentally changing world, technology can deliver training which is not only better focused but is also easy on the environment.

Key to our work is that what we produce is needs driven.

With the current cutbacks small charities like the Cued Speech Association are really feeling the pinch, but with necessity being the mother of invention, it is also providing an opportunity to think and work in different ways.

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