Designing learning programmes to digitise workers

Recent political events as well as advances in autonomous driving have made me ponder, “how do we reskill all of these people whose jobs have gone or soon will go away?” It’s a concern for me because in Sweden we have recently experienced a huge influx of refugee migrants, which has been politically unpopular with a significant proportion of the electorate. Traditionally, lower-skilled work such as taxi driving has been a way to absorb new migrants as they get established in their new home. Additionally I read about thousands of lower-skilled manufacturing jobs being offshored whilst manufacturers desperately seek engineers and other workers able to operate sophisticated technology. There are a shortage of these people, and a surplus of people who didn’t finish high school. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates “employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.” (2017) Where will the workers to fill these jobs come from? Is it even possible to retool say, a coal miner to be a web developer? This is one subject I am doing independent research on in the next few months.

It turns out it is more than possible to transform a coal miner to be a web developer! I read a case study on a company called BitSource in Tennessee, which hires former coal industry workers. (Thompson, 2017) The founder, Rusty Justice, mentions that miners “are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech.” Deloitte’s outlook expects all workers, including blue-collar ones, need to master soft skills such as “problem solving, creativity, project management, listening, judgment, and decision-making skills.” (2017) Dr. Siemens (2005) also mentions that the impact of technology on our life and work have made deciding what to learn, mentally connecting what we learn to what we already know, finding the best ways to get new information quickly, and cultivating personal knowledge networks the key skills we need to develop. Coding and technical skills are just the beginning!

As a personal project I would like to come up with a framework for remodeling an existing manufacturing employee to translate their existing expertise into a new, digitised role. Additionally guess what, it’s not just technology skills this person will need. They will need to be more autonomous than before, managing their own work and potentially projects. I expect that this type of intervention would include ALL of the learning theories in some capacity in a fully realised Complex Learning Experience. This experience would go in several stages and take years as the learner grows and develops. Here are a few brainstorms:

Behaviourism: an excellent technique for someone who is just getting started with a new skill, say coding, and needs continuous confidence-boosts. This could include gamification e.g. how Khan Academy works.

Constructivism: a mentor or cohort leader who has more experience can guide the learner. These learners usually already use smartphones in their personal lives, how can we build that existing knowledge to generate enthusiasm for building and using technology at work?

Cognitivism: short practica in industry in the type of role the learner could expect to have in the future would be aimed to stimulate self-efficacy and further confidence. Technology naturally organises itself logically into building cognitive “schema.”

Connectivism: leverage the experience the learner already has with social networking platforms as a source of encouragement and help during the learning process, with targeted moderated learning communities.

Andragogy: continuously incorporate reflection on personal experiences and skills the learner already brings to bear. Again, short practica or real-world smaller projects provide the opportunity to immediately use what is learned and make mistakes. Seeing how real-life project work happens gives the learner significant perspective as they return to the classroom.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. (2017, October 24). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Technology Occupations. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Thompson, C. (2017, February 8). The Next New Big Blue Collar Job is Coding. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Deloitte. (2017, May). The Connected Worker: Clocking in to the Digital Age. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from p. 27

Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from

Source for image:

Davinci Coders. (n.d.). Coding Bootcamps. Retrieved December 14, 2017, from

Microlearning: Recording Degreed Using Jing

For this week’s assignment I taught myself how to use the Jing application (see to demonstrate Degreed provides a free platform for learners to record their lifelong learning from everywhere, which will be very useful for me. It was mentioned in the source article assigned by the instructor (Gallagher, 2017) , and the description “Learning Experience Platform” piqued my curiosity. Jing allows you to capture screengrabs or videos of what you are doing on your screen. This is right in line with the Microlearning philosophy of keeping content to a manageable length.

Jing imposes a limit of five minutes for your recordings and it’s meant to be a very quick, informal way to create content. The five minutes does impose a bit of discipline! I realised it goes by quickly, so you have to think about your demo in advance and what you are going to say.

To learn the application I watched one help video from Jing and read one help page, then I was ready to get started. After two false starts I finally came up with a good-enough recording. I’ve uploaded this to Screencast and here is my handiwork (NOTE: I found out you need to have Flash player to view the recordings as I’m using the free version. That may be an issue which one could avoid by buying the paid version or perhaps by buying SnagIt. In that case you can create an MP4 video, which is more easily shareable.) Demo Using Jing

I would say I used Connectivism and Andragogy as the primary learning theories to teach myself these two applications, for these reasons:
1. I evaluated options and decided myself what would be worth learning, consistent with both theories.

2. The items I chose were immediately useful to me in my work and life (Andragogy).

3. The items I chose to learn were conceptual “nodes” or an offshoots of materials provided by the instructor (Connectivism).

4. I looked at the online help materials to teach myself the basics. I had to experiment a bit and search forums to troubleshoot a couple of technical issues (Connectivism).

5. I was free to experiment and make mistakes. It took me three attempts to get a video I was reasonably pleased with (Andragogy).

6. I’m publishing my experience for my peers to review and provide feedback (Connectivism).


Gallagher, S. (2017, November 6). As Corporate World Moves Toward Curated ‘Microlearning,’ Higher Ed Must Adapt. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from

Connectivist Learning Experience

My latest professional role was as a Client Success Manager for a software company. At least half of the job involved being a deep subject matter expert on the product, and being fully aware of all implications of quarterly version upgrades for our clients. This monkey was probably smarter than I was after a quarterly release.

Our initial certification work on the product was well-designed but rather lockstep and focused on passing a certification exam as quickly as possible. This provided us just enough information to be dangerous. The real learning started once we started working with clients.

Our clients typically are trying to shoehorn existing complex business processes into a product which will only support about 85% of what they want to do. Part of our job was first, to understand what the business need was for the remaining 15% of requirements. If there was a compelling enough case or the client wasn’t willing to change, we had to figure out how to work something out in the system.

As we have several hundred practitioners globally, we leveraged several Connectivist ways to help each other and share knowledge:

  • Our EMEA team had a Skype chat, which enabled us to ask each other questions and provide answers in real-time. Unfortunately it was difficult to archive the great stuff coming out of this tool for later use.
  • Our client success team maintained a secure blog with discussion threads. Practitioners were expected to search carefully to check whether the answer already existed. If not, the question would go to a designated expert and we would normally have an answer on the blog within 24 hours. We could also answer questions if we had a better answer. Several times my colleagues reached out to thank me for taking the time to do this as it helped them out of a jam.
  • We were encouraged to provide corrections and additions to the product’s Online Help function. This benefited clients as well.
  • Finally for product upgrades, the product managers recorded short videos explaining the new features and impacts for clients. These were assigned to us through our learning management system. We could post questions, which showed up during the video. We normally got an answer within 24 hours and the answers were available to everyone.
  • During release testing, clients could post questions on a discussion topic and the product managers normally answered them within 24 hours. The answers then benefited all clients as well as us practitioners.

Dr. George Siemens (2005) mentions these Principles of Connectivism, and here is how this scenario compares:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

Sometimes colleagues had an even more clever workaround than the designated expert. Additionally getting perspective from colleagues about what their clients did helped us tell clients when they were better off changing their business process.

  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

We used several highly-specific sources to find solutions to our questions.

  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

We maintained rich digital sources of information for maintaining and growing knowledge.

  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

Agreed, it was not possible to know absolutely everything about the product “off the top of one’s head,” but it was critical to know where to find the answer quickly.

  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

Contributing to the community made one more visible to colleagues and thus, someone who could more easily get help when needed. Although I was in Sweden and far away from the headquarters in California, a lot of people knew who I was.

  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

Sometimes we could use a part of the system to support a business process, even if it was designed for something completely different! An example: After understanding the business requirements for a training nominations process, I could help the client use the Succession/Talent Planning module to support it.

  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

Absolutely, which is why these very searchable, digital artifacts were so important to maintain. The product was upgraded quarterly and patched every two weeks.

  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

This is the nature of software today. Everyone working in the technology industry is trying to run a marathon whilst simultaneously undergoing open heart surgery. However  I think we had less scope for “deciding what is important to learn” in the specific context I mention here, and this principle may be less relevant to the scenario.


Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from


No photographer attributed. Retrieved December 8, 2017 from


Cognitivist-Connectivist Learning Scenario

I am not an artist but for some reason I could see these two learning scenarios as compatible with an art history subject at art school. For example the students are studying Chinese Art of a certain period, say the Song dynasty. The learning objectives are to understand what influenced the typical subject matter and techniques of that period. The students are asked to demonstrate their understanding through group work and practical artistic submissions. (See below for feedback from my brother, who is indeed an artist!)

One amazing thing I have learned in this course is that for group work to be enjoyable and educational, it’s absolutely critical to “form and norm” first. Please see this amazing paper from Dr. Donald R. Woods on this subject. So any Cognitivist or Connectivist group work needs to include as many of these techniques as possible before the group starts producing anything.

In a Cognitivist scenario, the instructor could assign some initial readings on the history and selected literature of that period, as well as an overview of the most famous artists and their work.

The students would come prepared to class to work in groups. They should summarise key themes from culture, politics and literature which are obvious in the artwork they had to review. The groups should present their findings to the entire class. Then the entire class agrees on the three or four themes they find most relevant.

Then the instructor can review some standard subject matter, symbolism, leading artists and relevant artistic techniques of the period, perhaps confirming what the groups have found, perhaps adding more. Then there is an individual assignment to create two original works– one a more traditional example of the period, and one including more modern subject matter and symbolism but still using the artistic techniques from the period.

The individuals bring their work to their group for discussion and feedback. Each individual has the chance to refine their product based on several rounds of feedback. In addition, there is a group project, which is refined over some time based on peer feedback from the rest of the class.

In a Connectivist scenario, this subject matter still probably works best for a group of people who are meeting in person regularly. However the instructor can be more free with the prework assignment, providing some background but encouraging students to seek out additional background based on their own research.

As part of prework before a class session, the instructor could ask each student to analyse a typical work of the period that they find online themselves. The student should summarise subject matter, symbolism and even some background on the artist, if possible. Students will be asked to review each others’ prework before class, give feedback and vote for the submissions they find most enriching to their learning.

In the classroom, the instructor can ask some individuals to present their prework and get feedback. The group activity would be much the same as in the Constructivist scenario, however there is a class blog available for each individual and group to maintain their portfolio. The work is digitised and available for the entire class to work with during the term.

In both scenarios, as is mentioned in Dr. Woods’ paper, it’s important for the students to do self-assessment and peer assessments, as well as a group after-action review.

Postscript: Feedback from an actual artist who went to actual art school:

“Overall it sounds fairly realistic, not insane,  well conceived,etc.
The Chinese art as a theme sounds great and the way it wraps in history, tools and technique is all good.
I guess the only thing i can add as an artist is that the reality is this- it’s good to make artists try varied subject matter and techniques for sure. But in execution it would be better served to try broad subject matters like abstract cubism, chinese watercolor, to have a real flow with a group. Too specific might be too limiting in execution.
If its about studying art instead of actually creating art in a group then anything goes!
But if it’s about making art in class then the scope shouldn’t be too narrow.


Woods, D. R. (2012, January 17). Having Students Work in Groups? 5 Ways to Get the Results You Want. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from



Learning Theories Compared

I understand this graphic may not be large enough to read unless you increase the zoom on your browser. You can download the PDF as a document to read more conveniently by clicking on this link Learning Theories Comparison Matrix

Here are the sources I found most valuable whilst I was completing coursework and indeed this matrix:


Keramida, M. (2015, May 25). Behaviorism In Instructional Design For eLearning: When And How To Use. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from

McLeod, S. (2015). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from


McLeod, S. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. (2012). Zone of Proximal Development. Retrieved from

Author not attributed. Jerome Bruner. Retrieved from


Smith, M.K. (2002). Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education.

McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura – social learning theory. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 38(1), 43-52. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from


Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017.

Downes, S. (2010, September 10). Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not. Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Siemens, G. (2009, September 12). What is Connectivism? Retrieved December 7, 2017, from
Discusses how Connectivism differs from other learning theories.


Finlay, J. (2010, May 17). Andragogy (Adult Learning). Retrieved from

Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved from
Cites Knowles 1984 but there are two sources in the list from 1984, not sure which one.

Constructivism-Connectivism Venn Diagram

Here’s how I see these concepts in my mind, hope it is interesting for you. I picture constructivism more as the individual learner being provided a foundation by the teacher, then building a house on top of it. If the learner is really motivated, s/he will decorate the inside and buy nice furniture too.

I picture Connectivism in a much less “boxy” way. The teacher provides some initial knowledge but encourages the learner to use that as more of a virtual knowledge “lilypad” to spring from. The learner is free to seek out connections and synthesise his or her own concepts, then come back to the community to share new learnings and insights. Their conceptual and social networks grow naturally as the quality of connections increase.

Sources for diagram:


McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura – social learning theory. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017.

Downes, S. (2010, September 10). Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not. Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Siemens, G. (2009, September 12). What is Connectivism? Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Discusses how Connectivism differs from other learning theories.


Grandjean, M. (2015, March 16). Social network analysis and visualization: Moreno’s Sociograms revisited. Retrieved from

BeWiser Business Insurance. (n.d.). Bricklayer Insurance. Retrieved from

Constructivism in Action at Business School


Aaaah, if only we got along as well as the Breakfast Club kids…

A classic Constructivism learning scenario I experienced (usually painfully) in my MBA programme was the dreaded group case study project. The intention was good: students took concepts we had absorbed in textbooks and lectures into a group context to work on a case study project. The final deliverable was a five-to-ten paged paper which addressed given learning objectives or specific questions. Normally the group would have to put themselves in the role of a senior business leader and propose a set of strategic recommendations.

Groups were between three to five students. The case materials described a business scenario and provided some context and a variety of graphs, charts, tables of figures, all of which might or might not be useful.  On two occasions I experienced, we did actual consulting projects with local businesses and presented our recommendations to the “client” and our professor.

I say these activites were “dreaded” for two reasons. First, due to heavy courseloads we students rarely had sufficient time to learn or reflect much. Group meetings took place outside of class in our limited free time, and were highly objective-focused. We aimed to achieve a good-enough submission to meet the requirement. Furthermore there were varying levels of motivation in the group. Inevitably one or two of the group members would wind up doing most of the work whilst the lazy ones coasted.

Inevitably we split the work into manageable pieces and some poor idiot was up all night trying to massage each piece into something coherent. Unfortunately the result was usually very little social collaboration, and the stronger members didn’t do much to enhance the learning of the weaker ones.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) skills could be varied but often we were given “puzzle pieces,” such as parts of an annual report, inventory stock levels, personnel turnover statistics etc. We had learned the basic theory behind these types of data in the classroom. Using a combination of these clues, the scenario and creativity, we were meant to collaboratively come up with solutions with the understanding that they wouldn’t be perfect and we didn’t have all the information. This was meant to be good training for the real-life business world.

A scaffolding strategy to improve the experience would include planned meetings with a teaching assistant facilitating a small group. Even better idea: enlist a volunteer from the real business community could mentor the group in these planned sessions. This would force the group to have a real discussion and focus on the process and purpose of learning, rather than on the outcome of completing the assignment on time.

The entire teaching method of case studies in business schools is meant to be a social constructivist one, however it rarely worked as intended. Another idea could be to do the same exercise but in the classroom in a longer session, perhaps using a “world cafe” facilitation method. This method puts participants in rotating groups so that they all have a chance to discuss a topic. As the members rotate they share insights they have learned during their discussions with the other groups. Gradually knowledge builds during the process and there is a wrap-up at the end to share ideas.

As part of my outside research I discovered that my instructors weren’t executing the case teaching method as it was intended. The method is not designed to be completely student-driven with a “deliverable” outcome. Harvard Business School’s website on the method calls it “participant-driven learning” and the onus is on the instructor to first, know their students’ backgrounds and second, meticulously prepare and structure the discussion in advance (Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning, 2017) often with a large student audience. Students are graded on the quality of participation in these class discussions. With this in mind, the method my professors used seems like more of a shortcut and explains why it wasn’t a satisfying learning experience.

I’m reminded now of another business school lesson on cultures which was excellent! The Organisational Development professor had us come in on a Saturday so we would not be rushed. We were split into two groups and given standard behaviours for our group. One group was meant to ask several questions about the health of one’s family, offer refreshments, and get comfortable before starting a business discussion. This was meant to be a typical middle-Eastern way of interaction. The other group came in, started throwing money around and was impatient with the questions, wanting to “get down to business” immediately. This was meant to be a typical American or Northern European way of working.

After the exercise each group reflected on what the interactions felt like. Even though we had only been “wearing” these cultures for a few minutes, the emotional reaction was intense. I was in the middle-Eastern group and found the “Americans” quite jarring indeed!

In this scenario the instructor was a facilitator (“scaffolding”), giving us some resources to do the exercise and facilitating the discussion and reflections. The instructor challenged us to compare our experiences with the theories of culture we were learning, and what cultural dimensions were at clash with one another (ZPD because we were stretched to apply our recent experience to enhance our understanding of an abstract concept). We as peers encouraged one another to participate (“social constructivism”).


Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Teaching By the Case Method. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from

Image courtesy of IFC, no photographer cited. Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Breakfast Club, from