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Learning … at the point of sale

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Is green glass especially preferred by alcoholics? Recycling in the Budgens’ car park, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire.

In advertising, the saying goes, that you are influencing a person’s decision to purchase as they reach up to the shelf: do they buy this or that product.

Increasingly, as we are forever at that point of sale because the shop shelf is now in the palm of our hands or at the end of our fingertips, these sales hints, tips and pushes are there too; or at least they try to be.

Learning on the job, in the workplace, or ‘applied’ and ‘just in time’ learning is like this too. The intention is to influence and support us right when we need it, to be that mentor looking over our shoulder, someone whispering in our ear … our omnipresent HAL.

Particularly when it comes to learning a language I most desire someone by my side, seeing where I am, what I am doing and even what I am looking at or reaching for to give me tips, in their mother tongue, describing or explaining what it is before me. I can think of four occasions when this has occurred:

From E-Learning V

1) On a French Exchange visit when I was at school.

I was 17. He was 19 and on his second repeat year at his French High School in La Rochelle, determined to achieve the grades in his BAC to go to an ‘Ecole Superieur’ (He succeeded, he now runs housing in Nice). Frédérique fed me words, explained what was going on, worked on my accent, gave me lyrics to French songs and poems, took me to school, to museums, introduced me to his friends … I kept a journal and scrapbook covering my three weeks in France; I’ve just been looking through it.

From E-Learning V

2) Working in my gap year as the ‘chasseur’ or ‘bell boy’ or ‘ day porter’ for five months in a French 4 Star hotel in the French Alps.

This was well before the ‘English invasion’ so, laughingly, my role was to help the Manageress and reception team when they had English speaking clients, as well as carry bags, dig cars out of snow, serve breakfasts, run errands, carry skis … The young women, I was 18, they were in their early twenties, on reception, would explain a term; the staff in the hotel fed me filth: phrases and words they hoped I’d use and get into trouble and sometimes the guests … I kept a photo journal of the five months Dec through to May that I spent in Val d’Isere.

3) Working with a bilingual production assistant

I’d known in the UK during the 18 months or so that I had various jobs in French TV/Film. We’d work in both French and English, rocking and rolling between the two languages to write proposals and scripts. I found a file of this stuff in the garage: I’ve not looked at it in 23 years.

4) My girlfriend, fiancée and wife

She went to a French speaking school in Quebec when she was 13 and like me has done spells working in France. She now limits herself to correcting my accent, forcing my face into an oral workout that makes me feel like I am 14 again and have a brace with elastics. Speaking French, if you’re getting the accent right, for a Brit, is like taking you mouth to the gym and pushing weight.

Examples of learning ‘at the point of sale’

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Poster display in the waiting room of the Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, Princess Royal Hospital. 


Exhilarating Learning on the edge

Fig.1. It felt like this even if it didn’t look like this.

I capsized four times this afternoon. The first I got over the side of the dinghy and righted without getting my feet wet; it is six or seven years since I did this crewing a Fireball. Even in a wetsuit the English Channel is cold enough early in the season. The second time I floundered into the drink and the mast ended up embedded in the mud – I had to be rescued. Ominously I’d been out all of six minutes. Was I up to helming a Laser in a Force 6 with a full sail? It took another 90 minutes before the next dunking; I was tired, cramp in one calf, both thighs shaking. By now I’d just about figured out how to wrestle with the gusting wind. I was also trying to get my hands swapped over effectively on ever tack and to keep my feet from being tied up in the mainsheet. Another hour before the fourth capsize: a proper dunking in which I fell overboard rather than the boat capsizing – I was grinning for ear to ear: still am. Like Tantric Sex? Hours of holding off the inevitable then woosh-bang-wallop. It’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. This sudden burst of enthusiasm for sport delivers on many fronts: exercise, fresh air, thrills, a mental and physical challenge … a modicum of risk and much more to do and learn before I take to the sea. In 10 days, potentially, I have my first club race. In the sea. With waves and tides and other boats. Unlike the brain, my muscles now need a day at least to recover – I feel like I’ve been on the rack.

I have a sailing Lasers guide on a Kindle. I read it before and after in the car, and flick through its pages in colour on an iPad before I go to sleep. The combination of trial and error, of applying lessons read, and picking up tips as I rig and go out will in time improve my skills. The next leap is to race: learning from the rear of the fleet trying to follow and copy the more experienced. It might not take too long; I did crew a Fireball in club races for a couple of years so I’ve been in the thick of it before.

I’ll watch some ‘how to … ‘ videos on YouTube too

Pen and ink drawing class at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

Fig.1 Chair and shade

It was like being back at school: though the ratio of 15 women to 3 men felt like I’d gate-crashed the girl school’s class down the road; I was educated in all male schools from 4 to 19. Of the 15 two were under 20, two were under 30 and the others above 60 and 70. No difference. Just like school. I recognised this swimming with Masters that given any opportunity to be the child that we were we are.

My relationship with art is an odd one: a mother who taught art, had an MA from Durham University in Fine Art, but who discounted at as a career for any of her children. I took it as far as A’levels (under her tutelage).

In 90 minutes we has some history, so thoughts on kit, then we got on with it. I found a secluded spot in the central courtyard (Jerwood Gallery, Hastings). And picked first on the climbing plants on a wall, and then the chair I’d taken out of the class. My challenge was to look at different ways of adding shade. Eventually I found that changing from pen to cotton balls and ink would differentiate between the object and the shadow. This’ll take further work.

Other learning opportunities over the last few days have included:

Power Boat II (Refresher)

It is eight or more years since I did the course and seven years since I’ve been in a power boat. A bit of it came back. And new stuff was added. I need this so that I can operate a ‘rib’ during ‘racing week’ at the local sailing club: laying the course, keeping an eye on the fleet to rescue and assist. The sea can be choppy, the winds strong. Dinghies go over and their mast can pin them to the shallow sand and grit of Seaford Bay.

How to train a pigeon

In her wisdom my daughter has rescued a pigeon with a broken wing. The RSPB and animal sanctuaries aren’t interest. ‘Ralph’ is now accommodated in a garden shed; shits everywhere but is eating from my daughter’s hand. Muggins will be looking after it shortly of course. The volume of pebble-dash shit is impressive as every shit is onto a fresh patch of shed floor – it will be one shit deep, like a carpet by the weekend.

Graphic Design

The exhibition on the designer Ivan Chermeyeff at the De La Warr is so good I’ve been back three times. There is no book on this exhibition, though many of his books are nailed to a table to admire (the page it has been opened at), with a few books you can browse. There is an insightful video too – an interview with the designer talking about how he got into fine art and graphic design from an inspiration father. One of the things he talks about is ‘learning to see’. Had photography not been banned I would not have got out a pad of paper and looked more closely at his collages. Had I not taken such a close look I wouldn’t have seen, with magical surprise, that one was made from ephemera collected at the inauguration of JFKennedy as US President on January 20 1961.

Near Field Communication

Where have I been the last could of years to miss Near Field Communication ?

Certainly over the last six months I’ve been reflecting on the desire for some kind of situation-based, intuitive, just-in time information-tailored system for applied learning … and more recently for use in museums and galleries. I have kids. I go to museums and galleries. The last time I looked we were still being invited to buy audio-guides.

Maybe that explains it. Does a museum or gallery want to diminish the value of its own paid-for services, even to reduce the likelihood of the purchase of a guide or any other sundry books or postcards if you’re getting a suitably rich record of your visit for free?

NFC, QR codes and the ubiquitous Smart Phone must in time give way to wearable technology, the wrist band with a chip in it that I got at the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum Ypres is the first step towards something bigger and brainer. The wrist band with a memory stick embedded in it from the University of Birmingham was a lost opportunity too – it should have been loaded with a ‘good bag’ some software, a piece to camera from the head of department and maybe an eBook to get us going.

In the past, and still, pen on paper, sometimes with coloured felt tips, is the main form of ‘user generated content’ for students – apt as they will be assessed by writing and colouring in. This needs to be replaced by UGC that uses the devices they have in their hands – their images, typed in text (or voiced) with annotations and mash-ups.

Try putting any letter from the alphabet in front of ‘learning’ and you’ll be able to say something about it.

It is learning whether you prefix with an ‘e’, ‘m’ or ‘b’ as in – electronic, mobile or blended.

Increasingly the opportunities, particularly with learning on a hand-held computer – 20th century terms for the 21st century smart phone or table – are for ‘a’ or ‘s’ learning – standing for applied or ‘action learning’ that is ‘situated’.

For example, I use a combination of an iPad or Kindle when coaching swimmers – not just for registers, but to show images from a swim drills book.

I am waiting for the wrist or lapel badge computer – an iPad the size of a Nano or ring. Will these come to be known as ‘w’ learning or ‘r’ learning or has ‘e-learning’ become generic? The Google display will be one to watch.

You don’t learn to swim by reading a book …

An applied degree must therefore be situated in the workplace?

Too much theory without practice was described by the owner of a successful specialist engineering firm in Germany today as ‘like trying to learn to swim from a book.’

Apprenticeship in Germany run for 3 1/2 years of which 8 months a year is practical. The remainder of the year they go to a special school. ‘If you  only learn theory it is like learning swimming from reading a book so you need both.’ Leonardo  Duritchich, Chief Technial Water, Sief Steiner Pianos.   The Today Programme, 27h36, Wednesday 17th  August.

I agree, though when it comes to swimming, there are some great books made all the better in electronic form. This is ‘The Swim Drill Book.’

Putting into practice what you learn, learning construction rather than simply knowledge acquisition; I believe this to be the case with something like The OU Business School MBA, something I needed each time I started businesses in the 1980s and 1990s.

As a swimming coach it matters that you swam competitively and/or still swim. A flightless bird cannot teach a bird to fly. So engineers learn through doing, often from apprenticeship. Junior Doctors need to put in the hours, solicitors start as trainees, the list goes on. It is particularly the case in the TV business where after starting as a trainee producer I was happier with kit, shooting, editing and drafting scripts, learning my trade, something that an a degree had not prepared me for.


Comments (from other blog platform)


Birds fly instinctively. They are not taught.

 I think you’re confusing coaching with instructing. If you read the works of Tim Gallwey or John Whitmore you will realise that coaching requires expertise in coaching and not the subject in hand. It is helping people to learn and break through internal barriers to improvement rather than teaching them.

 Engineers are significantly different from solicitors and doctors. Failure is acceptable for both solicitors and doctors as long as they can show that they have followed the accepted ways that they have spent years practising. Engineers have to tackle original and unique tasks using theoretical knowledge which they may never have applied or may have yet to acquire. Failure is not an option despite lack of experience.

I learn everything from books, magazines and newspapers. I learn about quantum physics from books as opposed to turning up at CERN and asking if I can have half a day on their collider. I learn about the war in Libya from newspapers rather than going there and shooting people. I learn about hydro-electric power without building a dam. I’m not sure about juggling though.

Applied or practice-based learning

Odd how I can treat a TMA like an essay, research it to death and build towards an essay crisis. Having to write the TMA equivalent, a strategy paper on Social Media, I find I am a couple of days ahead with the first draft written, expectations of a meeting where expert colleagues will have input before finalising and presenting in a week.

Applied learning, or practice-based learning … action learning, they’re all the same idea that attracts a good deal of interest; it increasingly makes sense for people, especially if they are settled in a position that they enjoy and need, to study as the work, the learning occurring alongside what they do, rather than separately from it.

In some respects this is the immersive learning that game-like learning environments are supposed to re-created; but why do that when you can have the real thing?

I had thought of creating it as a wiki, password protected for contributing stakeholders. As long as we’re on the same wavelength from experience of doing this in the MAODE I’d trust the end result to be better as a result, the equivalent of lifting something from the 70% mark towards 85% and beyond.

Blogging here My Mind Bursts more than here, where the audiences have far more choice and haven’t the focus of hear of learning with the OU.

Its been an interesting environment to hone some more advanced blogging habits and skills, not simply the generation of regular content, but how it is linked, where it is linked and the important of tags which I’ve used simply to identify content, but of course of search engine optimisation purposes too.

If you have a moment and can put the right hat on, perhaps you’re an Open University Faculty of Business and Law student anyway, then do please visit our website as I will be listening to all comers on valuable enhancements we can make here.

To ‘blogify’ is my mission.

Once was web-based training, then became cyberlearning – currently it’s e-learning (not eLearning, certainly not e.learning and can’t be elearning) Should be just learning?

Web-Based Training (WBT) (2000)

Margaret Driscoll

I bought this book in 2001. Nearly a decade on I am delighted how apt it remains, even if the term may now have been superseded by e-learning – while cyberlearning had currency for a few years too and before this we had ‘interactive learning’.

Even a decade on I recommend the book.

Training and learning are in different camps, one supposing a component of applied engagement (health and safety, fixing photocopiers, burying uranium trioxide, driving a delivery van, making cars, selling phones, employee induction) while the other is essentially cognitive (though with its physicality in this kind of prestidigitization).

Yet we made ‘training programmes’ on things like cognitive behavioural therapy. Corporate and government clients had the money to do these things.

Driscoll’s definition of WBT is somewhat longer than Weller’s definition (2007) of e-learning (electronically enhanced learning with a large component of engagement on the Internet). A bit ‘wishy-washy’ my exacting Geography A’ Level teacher would have said.

Hardly a clear definition if it has a let out clause. But when was anything clear about what e-learning is or is not, or should be? The term remains a pig in a poke; its most redeeming factor being that it is a word, not a sentence, and fits that cluster of words that includes e-mail.

Web-based training Driscoll (2000) says should be:

  • Interactive
  • Non-linear
  • Easy to use graphic interface
  • Structured lessons
  • Effective use of multimedia
  • Attention to educational details
  • Attention to technical details
  • Learner control

I like that. I can apply it in 2011. I did.

I was reading ‘Web-Based Training’ (and using the accompanying CD-rom) in 2001 and then active in the development of learning, or knowledge distribution and communication websites for the NHS, FT Knowledge … and best of all, Ragdoll, the home of Pob, Rosie and Jim, Teletubbies and the addictive pleasures of ‘The Night Garden.’

We may call ourselves students, mature students even, or simply post-graduates, but would we call ourselves ‘Adult Learners.’

It’s never a way I would have defined my clients, or rather their audiences/colleagues, when developing learning materials for them in the 1980s and 1990s. Too often they were defined as ‘stakeholders,’ just as well I saw them as people and wrote scripts per-the-script, as if for only one person.

That worked, producing for an umbrella term does not.

Adult Learning doesn’t conjure up innovative e-learning, perhaps because of the connotations Adult Learning has in relation to the catalogue of F.E. courses then comes through the door every July or August.

This definition of an ‘adult learner’ would apply to everyone doing an OU course surely?

The special characteristics of adult learners Driscoll (2000:14)

  • Have real-life experience
  • Prefer problem-centred learning
  • Are continuous learners
  • Have varied learning styles
  • Have responsibilities beyond the training situation
  • Expect learning to be meaningful
  • Prefer to manage their own learning

With some of these definitions baring more weight than others, don’t you think?


And additional references used by Driscoll but not cited above:

References (Adult Learning)

  • Knowles (1994) Andragogy in action. Applying modern principles of adult learning.
  • Brookfield (1991) Understanding and facilitating adult learning
  • Cross (1992) Adults as learns: increasing participation and facilitating learning.
  • Freire (1970) A cultural action for freedom
  • Merriam and Caffarella (1991) Learning in adulthood
  • Kidd (1973) How adults learn


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