The Sci-fi of Digital Transformation

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I prefer science fiction to the crisp white papers plotting techno-trends. I’m not talking about time machines or terraforming planets but everyday things like imagining how we learn, communicate and play in the future. Sci-fi writers don’t just predict the emergence of key technologies; they personify their impact on culture.

Back in ‘64 when the US Surgeon General Luther Terry wondered if smoking might be hazardous to health, sci fi luminary, Philip K Dick (PKD), sketched an anecdote in his novel Martian Time-Slip about kids learning from conversational computers. These computers were personalised and instructed you in the style of your preferred intellectual revolutionary: Aristotle, Abe Lincoln or Tommy Edison. How PKD extracted that vision from the clunky computers of the 60s is beyond me. But he was very much on point.

Today we are just starting to realise PKDs vision of personalised learning through digital technologies. We are beginning to interact with computers by having conversations about our interests and passions. Typically this is achieved through video instruction on a topic of interest, analytic real time feedback, personal assistants and chat-bots. Khan Academy and CLaned are pioneers in this space

Instructional video is increasingly popular with DIY people of any age. Recently when my eyes were burning from new contact lenses that I could not extract, I found refuge in YouTube before I could head back to the optometrist. If you want to learn to play a pop, build a deck or make a dinosaur birthday cake, where are you going head? YouTube.

Instructional video is a great form of personalised learning. The video format allows learners to explore personal interests, learn at their own pace, pause at their point of need and develop their discipline knowledge through content recommendations from a friendly algorithm that knows your learning interests and habits better than anyone else. We are fast approaching a point where huge numbers of kids have access to personalised virtual learning assistants (PVLAs). Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could leverage those for the good? As Sir Ken Robinson remarked: “the key is not to standardise education but to personalise it.” We need to explore the conditions that form the unforgettable in education versus the forgettable.

As video becomes the go-to-instructional technology, many educators are rethinking the role of teachers. On this topic, professor of Educational Technology Sugata Mitra once remarked: “A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.”

I understand where Prof Mitra is coming from and it’s a pithy perspective but not exactly the call to action that would motivate a room full of teachers who don’t have the time to engage in polemic conjecture. Many, after all, have to pick up their own children from school, take them to sport, manage the home front, assess student work and get some sleep.

We are approaching a point where many kids have access to personalised virtual learning assistants in their pockets.

A less provocative way of rethinking the role of the teacher in the digital world is to begin by asking teachers to outsource some of their knowledge dumps to online content which students can access and teachers can review. Teachers can then spend more time crafting their curriculum into personalised avenues of inquiry that journey deeper into student interest. This is the classic move of pedagogies such as Challenge and Problem Based Learning, IB personal projects and Deep Learning. This, we might add, can only be achieved when students have the requisite skills to engage in personal inquiry. So skill and drill is not out the window either. Digital transformation is much more a balancing act than a renovation.

The High Tech High Schools in San Diego provide some great examples of digitally inspired curricula that goes deep and authentic. Forget the idea that the teacher is now the guide on the side – that is far too passive. You’ve got to be an evangelist for curriculum, question asking, problem solving but also expert in scaffolding students towards deeper learning.

Whether you are in industry or education, helping people change their work habits is challenging. For the past few years I have worked in the professional learning space as a digital learning and digital transformation consultant. Part of my job has been to help people see the value of the technologies their organisations invest in. Seeing the value is code for using the tools in a way that improves the business. In the case of education, this improvement is not entirely about results, it about student engagement, genuine inquiry and teacher productivity. Much to my surprise the best quality we can bring to the table when engaging in digital learning is patience, trust and support. This is more acute in the digital learning space because we see people at their least knowledgeable and most vulnerable. If these qualities are not present, nothing is taken on board.

If you don’t want to be replaced by a computer, amplify your human-ness.

Each week, a headline tells us that some organisation is undergoing significant disruption or transformation. Possibly disruption and transformation are the same thing seen from different sides of the street. While each organisation hurriedly hitches its ride to the cloud, its critical to develop strategies to motivate your people to learn as they work. How you develop and roll out this strategy is arguably the secret to realising effective digital transformation.

The modern work place is fast. But it would be nice if we could slow down a bit, learn some skills, rehearse and practice them in preparation for next year’s implementation. But as you know, that’s too cumbersome. Your competitors just ate you alive as you planned out everything perfectly. Learning has to happen alongside day-to-day business and in way that licenses experimentation, growth and failure. So how exactly do you manage that?

Digital transformation is much more a balancing act than a renovation.

The change gurus – John Kotter and Michael Fullan – remind us that nothing happens without buy-in from your people. If you don’t have that, you can give up on your change. Buy-in creates the willingness to change habits and habit change realises your business raison detre.

Stephen Covey was famous for saying that slow is fast with people. Take your time with them and listen. People are prepared to change when they feel heard, that it’s okay to make small mistakes, that they can start again, ask questions, practice, see, repeat, demonstrate and reflect.

Philip K Dick anticipated a world where conversational computers would educate our children. A better solution to my mind is a world where the best of digital and the best of humanity coexists with strategies to enhance the learning and well-being of all of us. But we are not there yet.

As we edge closer to that world, and to that alignment, it’s important to remember that we are still in a long transition from the analogue to digital workplace. To make that transition effective, humans require more intensive assistance to develop their digital skills. Might it be that the key to effective digital transformation is hidden in our capacity to be more human(e) to one another?

The writer is Daniel M Groenewald, Digital Transformation Consultant, Catholic Education Western Australia.

Daniel GroenewaldGroenewald is a Digital Transformation Consultant focusing on digital technologies,change, communication and deep teaching and learning. He works with people and schools to help them change, develop, communicate, learn celebrate and prosper in the Digital World. He works on Catholic Education Western Australia’s largest ever Digital Transformation project, helping 163 schools access to a new digital platform that will change learning forever. The project is called LEADing Lights: The LEADing Lights platform seeks to put all schools in the same ecosystem, paving the way for virtual schooling, mega resource sharing and an analytic portrait of every student from K-12 that leverages AI and machine learning.

Groenewald helps schools, leaders, consultants and people love digital transformation.He does this by helping complex people realise what’s in it for them, by communicating clearly through a range of channels in a range of voices, by providing best in class training opportunities.

At EduTECH Asia, Groenewald will be speaking on How do you digitally transform an entire system. Do not miss this opportunity to learn from him in person.

Book you seat now before the ticket price rises.

See you there!

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