Digital Literacy – teach it or speak proper?

This is another reflection on my time at Learning Technologies 2017. Much fat was chewed and I find myself with interesting matters to reflect on again.

Today I find my mind orbiting the theme of digital literacy. This was a phrase I had not heard before in the conference (my lack of attention I suspect). Digital capability or competence has come up many times before. Most often and tiringly, as a deficiency in L&D teams. There was an echo of fragile confidence in teams, colleagues and ourselves to create solid digital experiences for learners. Adding to the anecdotal evidence, I would say that this was less of an issue this year (from my own anecdote digest). There was much concern still about the digital literacy of senior managers and of IT departments but less about ourselves. Progress of a sort.

Digital literacy is a stalwart from the lexicon of my BBC days, when we would fret over how best to raise levels and close the digital capability gaps in the UK population. With typical BBC hubris, we would assume a central position in campaigns and march out to educate the populace. In fact, I think the iPlayer has done more to raise the bar of digital confidence nd understanding than any social action campaign by the BBC. It offers a service that people understand and is designed to stick to it. A well designed product with a singular use case is alway a solid foundation to bring any doubters on board. “Watching the favourite telly shows you missed” is a good call to action and remains so.

Facebook has changed the game of digital confidence for users. At least the combination of the Faceboook mobile app and smartphone adoption have. It has been common to worry about older users and their confidence in taking digital steps. Huge numbers of the over 65s are regularly sharing and commenting now. This platform has been responsible, in part, for a couple high profile elections amongst these demographics. Again, a well designed product for a clear use. We can worry less about those further reaches of demography for our content and services if we design well. Or just use Facebook, maybe. If we speak the language of our users in the conversational spaces they gather themselves, we will seem literate to them and can become useful and interesting to them.

On the other hand ( and typing this from a position of a certain age) I find my own levels of literacy undermined by Snapchat. Like many of my anxious contemporaries, I have had a go to see what all the fuss is about. To see what the youngsters are on about and to cling to connection with my ageing kids. It went quite badly and I confess that I don’t like Snapping very much. It leaves me with furrowed brow. As an interesting twist in product design, I am being designed out of the service. Or at least it is designed with no regard for me whatsoever. It’s kind of deliberately confusing. The UI and design is consciously tricky apparently, particularly for us older folks who have grown up with certain usability conventions. Successfully confusing, I might add. These features may evolve as the business needs to demonstrate a revenue model that ad executives can be confident of. We shall see…

Besides these demographic challenges and positions, there are more serious literacy chasms to cross. The pressing digital literacy challenges are now privacy, security, safety and the small matters of truth and trust. These are real challenges to gather around and support. (Use of Facebook becomes a little more problematic on all of these fronts). How we judge veracity of information, who knows what about us and why, where does our identity reside, can we keep it safe from harm? These are the pressing literacies we need to rehearse and develop. They are hard work too. Few services are designed to make these issues transparent.

I am no clearer now than I was when I started typing. Back to literacy school for me.


Two speed IT for colleagues now too please

What follows is about half of a thought. I hope it is better than none.

During an excellent two days at Learning Technologies this week the notion of two speed IT kept bubbling up in my mind. I am in the foothills of writing a book on the impact of digital transformation on organisations and how they work (and need to work). One theme of my notes, conversation and reading is “Two Speed IT”. I reckon this is what L&D needs to embrace. It’s already happening all over the place but I reckon it’s time to come out or to plan for it more deliberately.

Two speed IT typically refers to businesses adopting faster digital products and tools for customer facing purposes. Faced with large, slow and inflexible corporate systems, many digital teams started to use lightweight and cloud based tools to solve customer problems quickly and simply in way that the legacy monoliths could not support. Frequently, this is borne from the need to respond the the pace and accuracy of digital only competitors with infrastructure built to operate quickly and with flexibility as a basic principle. Things like cloud based content management systems, infrastructure as a service and analytics tools become very useful in trying to service ever more demanding customers without the pain of a massive IT programme. There are multiple systems to work with but that is better than lost customers.

This is how I saw much of my #LT17uk experience. There were many vendors (with some *very* large stands) espousing the virtues of an integrated system, configured to meet all needs. There is merit here, probably, bit you need to contend with HR, Procurement, IT and L&D in some combination. You might also end up with a product experience where every feature is a bolt on to something else.

There were, equally case studies of excellent implementations of these systems both in the free seminars and the conference. As I said, there is merit here.

Research – define the problem – come up with an idea – prototype or test a solution – refine and iterate.

There was a less deliberate thread though running through the conference sessions and the conversations between them. Tugging on the thread reveals stories of teams and individuals giving some things a small scale try with smaller, lighter and simpler tools. These tend to be cloud based products designed to enable a quick project to start and test its mettle. Teams were talking about piloting and testing an approach to see if there thinking is right, to see what their colleagues make of it and to test the direction before setting out on a longer journey. Research – define the problem – come up with an idea – prototype or test a solution – refine and iterate. Design thinking. (I really hope I banged on about that a lot in my own session. Apologies to anyone who was there if I didn’t).

James Tyer and Mark Britz gave some great accounts of this in their talk on finding, helping and supporting communities and collaboration groups. They have some excellent principles to follow as well if you are facing similar tasks. A clear theme was: start small, solve a real problem, make it easy and use what you have. In some cases this was two speed IT (a new, lighter, quicker tool), in some cases it was Sharepoint, which is rarely described as any of those things.

Slack was mentioned a couple of times too, which is a fashionable (and very effective) second speed IT tool. Easy to implement and easy to learn to use, it has seen rapid adoption amongst teams who need to communicate and collaborate directly and frequently.

Jane Hart’s Top 100 learning tools is full of two speed IT recommendations (for both speeds). L&D is already happily operating at both speeds but seems to be absorbed much more with delivery in the organisation at the traditional infrastructure pace. Traditional tracking needs (gosh I dislike that word) draw one to traditional systems and the impulse to control the experience draw us even further. Despite this, there were many conversations about testing new approaches, trying new tools and trusting users to work sensibly. This is to be commended.

So many of us live and work with these tools anyway. Fighting the tide seems like hard work. We learn with these tools naturally as well, without even considering it. IT’s time to adopt two speed IT internally and purposefully, I think. We are already making great progress with it, even if incidentally.