Saturday, August 15, 2015

ODL for Corporate Training (Abridged version)



Abridged version of a Chapter titled “ODL for Corporate Training” that I wrote in 2010 for the collaborative book “Education for a Digital World 2.0” initiated by Sandy Hirtz and Kevin Kelly and later published in two volumes in April 2011 by Open School BC, Ministry of Education, Province Of British Columbia, Canada. Considering the continued relevance of the topic, I am sharing it here also. 

All of us in the 21st century are witnessing rigorous reform initiatives in all sectors of industry with diverse objectives like qualitative and quantitative improvements, cost reduction, exploration of the possibilities of new technologies, better protection of the interests of both institutions and customers/stakeholders etc. When we look into the success and failure stories of such initiatives, it is vividly identifiable that all success stories are heavily indebted to effective training and development programmes and all failures have their absence as a prominent cause.

Yet another area, perhaps the largest and the most important area, which is going to generate unimaginable magnitude of training and development requirements in the forthcoming decades, is environment protection. As our precious PLANET EARTH has begun showing visible symptoms of possible sickness in the immediate future, whether it is in the form of global warming or acid rain or climate imbalances, it is now widely recognized that time has arrived wherein concerted efforts to save our planet is most required. Quite naturally industrial houses have to develop and implement alternative technologies. It will substantially increase the T&D requirements. The last sentence of the 3rd paragraph of Copenhagen accord reads: “We agree that developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries”.

Establishment of systems for regular training and development programmes most often pose strong challenges to the HR Departments. Reasons are many like, constraint of funds, demand-supply gap in HR, business contracts that require 24x7 service availability, non-availability of required training programmes/skilled trainers at the time of necessity, absence of the mechanisms to review the effectiveness of training and development programmes etc.

Considering the above facts, there is a solid business rationale behind using Open Distance Learning (ODL) methods for corporate training including in governments. The conventional face-to-face training and development systems alone cannot meet the increasing and diverse requirements of training. Moreover organizations cannot keep their employees away from their mainstream activities frequently and for long durations. Whereas modern web based ODL systems, that offer courses through Internet, can effectively help business houses to conduct regular and effective training programmes for their employees without disturbing the day to day work flow with the added advantage of substantial cost savings. Employees can pursue their learning activities during the free time/time set apart for training at work places or at home or any other place of their choice.

In traditional training setups, business houses have to keep highly paid expert trainers in each training location. It is one of the major cost items in the training budget. But in ODL, we would require only a core team of experts for the entire organization, even if the personnel to be trained are spread over many continents. When there is a growing pressure on reducing costs in the hard times of economic meltdown, as presently being experienced by many, corporate training budgets would be slashed. This in turn will adversely affect the performance of employees. But the organizations that use ODL systems for staff training need not worry about training budgets to the same degree and hence there shall be no down time for training in such institutions.

Training and Development cost is always a headache for individuals and HR department alike. For instance let us look into the findings of The Adult Education Survey (AES) conducted as part of the EU Statistics on lifelong learning, which is available in the website of European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (url is given at the end). The surveys have been carried out by 29 countries in  the EU, EFTA and candidate countries between 2005 and 2008 (The reference year is set at 2007.) This indicator shows that at European level, cost is the main obstacle to participation in training - “training too expensive or difficult to afford”) is the third most frequent answer, reported by 15% of adults in Europe. But its importance varies across countries ranging from 43% (Bulgaria) to 5% (Cyprus). Except in the Czech Republic, cost-related obstacles tend to be more important in Eastern European countries, particularly in Bulgaria, Poland, the Baltic States and Slovenia. Furthermore, in these countries, cost is the most frequent main obstacle for not participating in education and training.

Open Distance Learning mode training and development programmes, implemented with the aid of suitable LMS, is easily measurable. This is possible chiefly because ODL systems use standardized scheduling, content and delivery systems. In ODL, the participants normally feel free to cooperate with the evaluation process and furnish their feedback truthfully. Most often evaluations are done regularly through interesting online methods that attract every participant. Moreover, since the employee would be available at the workplace during the training period, superiors can monitor the attitudinal changes and improvement in performance as the training progresses.
 
In traditional face-to-face training methods, HR departments generally spend more money on transporting and housing trainees than on actual training programs. Time spent away from the work for travelling and sitting in a classroom reduces per-employee productivity. It will also disturb the business process of the whole organization. In multinational companies, employees may be working in different continents and arranging logistics for traditional training/development programmes for them would become a real nightmare. In the case of study materials, printed study materials for conventional training programmes are generally very expensive and often represent around 20-30% of the training cost. Arrangements for periodic revision of materials, ensuring sufficient stock, and its timely distribution are additional burdens. Therefore in the traditional training setups the training managers prefer to maintain the same curriculum for longer periods and this in turn degrades the quality of training/professional development. 

Whereas as in ODL based T&D, the curriculum and content can be kept up-to-date always through the intelligent use of technology, open educational recourses and free courses being offered by national and international agencies. Even in the case of new production, it can be done online using the expertise of persons from different geographical locations for minimal cost.
 
Traditional setups can only address a minute portion of the huge training and development demands as given above. In this context, Open Distance Learning, with its flexibility of time, place and adoption is being accepted as a top priority inclusive mainstream learning system. Open Distance Learning supported by a suitable Course/Learning Management System (C/LMS) is the fastest, most cost effective, accurate and easily accessible mode of learning available today. It can meet the learning needs of all categories of learners. The learning environment can be customized to the needs of policy makers, technicians, educators, professionals, support staff, volunteers etc etc with amazing speed and accuracy.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Overcoming the stigma associated with TVET; comments given to a query in UNESCO's UNEVOC e-Forum

I wrote it in UNESCO's UNEVOC e-Forum today. Since it is a topic having general interest, I thought I should share it here as well.

Success stories would continue to be limited as long as TVET continues to be a watertight compartment. Stigmas take shape and grow strong when majority in a society holds anxiety towards something deep inside and which comes out as distaste, dislike or at least neutrality. If the grounds for such stigma is false, it will fade off. However, if it continues strong, it is an indication towards the existence of some concrete reasons.

In the case of TVET, compartmentalization is one of the basic reasons that triggers all other issues. If we have a clear academic vertical or horizontal mobility (with other systems) plan to offer to the students, the stigma will begin to wither.

Of course, in most places, TVET came into existence as a solution to provide a sufficient workforce for industrial development or as a solution for unemployment after higher education. It does not mean that the young chap who happens to be a part of the TVET system does not have the right to move out of the system. It also does not mean that those who are there in the regular academic system does not have the opportunity to enter TVET. It points towards the need for a system that facilitates vertical mobility within the TVET and horizontal and vertical mobility between the TVET and
other streams of education.

Side by side, the TVET should serve its purpose. As other friends pointed out, it should cater to the HR needs of the industry. For this to happen, TVET should have strong industry linkages. Industry should be an integral part of the entire life cycle of TVET courses, starting from course identification, development of content and transaction method, course transaction, practical, internship, assessment, certification, placement to feedback on the placed candidates and the changes in the industry as an input into the system for further refinement or development.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Online Open Distance Learning; the future we deserve

Image attribution commons.wikimedia.org
Originally wrote in Appropedia and later appeared in the collaborative book titled “The Future We Deserve; 100 essays about the future  “ as fifty fifth essay in 2012. Since the topic continues to be increasingly relevant, I thought, I should share it here as well as in the case of the previous essay.

Development of formal classroom study setups are now in a saturated situation. In most places further development of infrastructure for conventional classroom learning, especially for higher education, is quite difficult. On the administrative side reasons are many like constraints of space, resources, etc. On the learners' and parents' side, nowadays, a majority of people do not have the financial health to spend a lifetime for education alone. In these tightening economic circumstances, work and study is the only principle that can keep higher education accessible to all who seek it. 

In the present educational set up, universities and educational institutions require very large amounts of money for planning and providing quality education. We are living in an age where complete State funding of universities and educational institutions is simply not possible. Therefore, private universities, for-profit as well as not-for-profit educational institutions etc are being promoted generally throughout the world. But this strategy, coupled with other factors that lead to inflation, in turn makes education a high cost commodity. 

Nowadays, worsening individual/family budgets have alarmingly reduced the buying power of learners. This situation prevails everywhere in the world including in the developed countries. An ABC News report which appeared online on Sept. 20, 2008 says that the average cost of a private university in the USA is $23,000 annually per student, while the median yearly income is $50,000 for the American household. This situation is unlikely to change as long as the imparting of education is not considered as a selfless contribution of the past generation to the present, and the present generation to the future generation. The foundation of every civilization is built with free exchange of knowledge. Those who buy knowledge may not impart it free and so civilizations might be weakened. It is the point at which we require alternative systems for low cost delivery of quality education and acceptance of qualifications across the globe. 

The only alternative option currently before us that has the competence to tackle the above situation is Online Open Distance Learning. Serious thoughts about virtual learning environments can be traced back to the 19th century. However, interestingly, a clear imagination of audio/video communication networks being used to deliver a lecture on Australian music to a remote audience can be seen in the short science fiction story "The Machine Stops", written by E.M Forster and published in 1909. In 1953 the University of Houston offered the first televised college credit classes via KUHT, the first public television station in the US. These attempts were all part of the efforts to use modern technologies to meet the ever increasing need for education in a cost effective manner. Virtual learning activities got amazing pace in the 1990s with the advent of the Internet. Internet based online education originally began through various business houses using online training courses to prepare their newly recruited employees. Subsequently this method gained popularity among universities and other academic bodies. 

Many universities and organizations have already identified the need for Online Open Distance Learning. United Nations University, Open University UK, Virtual Campus of The Robert Gordon University UK and the VUSSC project of Commonwealth of Learning are a few examples. Now it is time for universities all over the world to think seriously about running online open distance courses based on a mutually agreed Transnational Qualification Framework, so that qualifications are easily approved in the labour market throughout the world and the interests of the learners are safeguarded.
Innovations in communication sectors make virtual classrooms and virtual communities more reliable and lively. The time is not far off wherein we will have plenty of Online Open Universities that are connected to a Transnational Qualifications Framework across the world and providing quality education. The Virtual University for Small States in the Commonwealth (VUSSC) project of the Commonwealth of Learning can be considered as a great step ahead in this context. There are also other budding online initiatives like WikiEducator project.

Online Open Distance Learning can be considered as the most environmentally friendly way of education in the current world situation. For instance, it will directly reduce journeys and the use of stationery including paper during the learning and teaching process. Both these will save the environment as well as reduce the cost of education. 

Online Open Distance Learning can also be effectively used in technical as well as professional education sectors. Technology is now competent enough to provide simulated labs, virtual conferences, etc. Unavoidable hands-on-experience can be arranged through accredited centres near to the learners or through learn-by-working arrangements. 

The basic tool we require is also the greatest challenge in this context: a Transnational Qualifications Framework including Quality Assurance and Control that is generally agreed by governments, universities, other academic bodies and labour markets. Based on such a TQF, online courses can be framed and freely available content linked to each curriculum through collaborative efforts along with promoting the development of free and open content. Till that time individual universities may be encouraged to contribute to this effort by starting online open distance courses highlighting the greatest ethic of education, that is, imparting education is a selfless contribution of the past generation to the present, and the present generation to the future.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On the skill gap in TVET systems

This is a feedback given by me to a query on 'Skill Gap' in TVET systems in the UNESCO's UNEVOC online forum. Since skill development is a hot topic today, I thought I should share it here as well.

At the macro level, skill gap is the demand-supply gap of skilled manpower being faced by Industries. At the micro level, it is the gap between the skills acquired by a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) graduate and the skills required for specific job roles in the industries.

The above context requires that the skill gap study should start from listing out the job roles in the industry and the general standard of competencies required to carry out each function of a job role. As we are all aware of, in most cases, a job role will be a combination of many functions. A general practice, nowadays, is to list out the competencies for each such function and notify it as an 'Occupational Standard'. When we pack together such function-related 'Occupational Standards' together we will get a 'Qualification Pack' for a specific job role. Now, the skill gap study should attempt a comparative study between the Qualification Packs and the Curricula of TVET courses. The higher the amount of differences, the greater will be the skill gap.

Ideally, the principal factor that triggers the development of a course in TVET system should be the industry demand. The greater the receptiveness of TVET systems towards the above demand of the industry, the higher will be the relevance and acceptability of its courses in the labour market. This ideal scenario would be possible only through industry consultation and industry involvement during the entire life cycle of TVET programmes, that is, course development, content development, course transaction, internships, assessments, certification, placement and the industry feedback on the placed candidates for further improvement of the TVET programmes.

You can download the reports of the skill gap studies organized by the National Skill Development Corporation (India) from the website www.nsdcindia.org

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Healthy and Smiling Planet

This is an article I wrote in appropedia in 2012 and later published as 39th essay in the collaborative book titled "The Future We Deserve; 100 essays about the future"



Hi friends, if the future environmental situations would force the world population to queue up for the daily ration of oxygen supply, floating over water and wearing heavy insulated suits, all prosperity would mean nothing but a curse. It will be the future we deserve, if we continue to harm our lovely planet – the most precious planet in the vicinity of science so far. Definitely, we do not want this nightmare to happen. Instead, we want a healthier and smiling planet - IT SHOULD BE THE FUTURE WE DESERVE. The enormous quality as well as quantity of knowledge, experience and wisdom acquired through the millions of years of existence in this planet make man deserve for it.

How can we make the planet healthier and more smiling? (the answer to it will also explain when it does smile). Well, I think, the greener the planet is, the healthier it would become. Similarly, the more peaceful it is, the more smiley it would become. This should be the future we deserve. At this, the next question arises - What should be the effective strategy that can take us to the future we deserve? It is nothing other than SIMPLICITY! Because, the root cause of most of the problems are man's struggles to own luxuries. Apart from environmental issues, it also causes unrest in our individual as well as social lives.

In the current world situations, our luxuries have much more serious and deep implications than the individual health issues. In the millions of years of history, man has overcome drastic changes in living environments by naturally adjusting himself with the changes. But today, the fortress of luxuries that we build recklessly around us has made the adaptation to natural changes quite impossible. Ironically, the luxuries that we build to create what we believe is a comfortable living environment, actually make the changes in the environment harder for us to adapt to. It is the real hurdle on our way to the deserved future.

Now the crucial question before us is "how are we going to advance towards our deserved future with the power of simplicity?" In my opinion, we needn't make big leaps. Small steps would be more effective. For example, we should decide today itself that we shall not use motor vehicles for travels below two k.m, as long as you are healthy and the weather is not too bad? We will be free to occasionally breach it for emergencies. As responsible individuals we may also ensure that authorities build and maintain safe walkways for people.

We may also:

  1. Keep away from consumerism and lead a simple life to the maximum extent possible. Stop fleeing after luxuries, it will save not only the PLANET but also our family budget and health. 
  2. Love agriculture and farming. Find sufficient time to work in the farm along with the family members and stay with them in the home. 
  3.  In agriculture, use environment friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers (a lot of environment friendly alternatives are available now). Research and develop more such alternatives and share them with the global community. 
  4.  Effectively use online technologies to avoid unnecessary travels. This can visibly reduce the threat of hydrocarbons. 
  5.  Research and develop open technologies to make cyber space more socially accountable. 
  6.  Use public transport systems for travel and help authorities to maintain reliable, safe and comfortable public transport systems. 
  7.  Develop and popularize alternative planet friendly open technologies in place of technologies that ruin the planet.
All these together will provide us a deserved future of living in a healthier and more smiling planet.