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Changing the Responsibility for Learning

Last week has been a busy week with both the E-learning Event and a webinar for En Nu Online. I’ll share some of the presentations that I did in this short post.


Based on my presentation at last year’s E-learning Event I was interviewed by the Tijdschrift voor Coaching about culture and the quantified self. You can read a PDF of the Dutch interview by clicking the image below:

Culture and the Quantified Self

Culture and the Quantified Self


Marcel de Leeuwe and I hosted a session at the E-learning Event on Do-It-Yourself learning (building on what we had done earlier at the Masie conference last year). The slides are available on SlideShare.

We copied one of Mitra’s Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) experiments and gave all the attendees a challenging assignment to be solved by themselves in groups of four while Marcel and I walked out of the room for 20 minutes. This gave us interesting results: the attendees had no problem engaging with the assignment and were hard to stop after 20 minutes of discussion, while Marcel at the same was struggling with letting go (“Can we please check whether they are doing ok? Shouldn’t we tell them they only have 10 minutes left?”). This taught us that it is often our own behaviour as educators that is an inhibitor for people making themselves responsible for their own learning.

Minimally invasive pedagogy (as Mitra calls it) could then be a way to battle the now pervasive learned helplessness.


During the boardroom session at the E-Learning event I worked with Marcel (again) and Ruud Smeulders to deliver a masterclass on Learning Business Models. I’ll publish a full post about that session a little bit later.


In the webinar for En Nu Online we also discussed self-organized (or self-directed) learning. I did a short presentation, explained my rules for a Socratic conversation and then we discussed on the basis of a few questions. One interesting topic we addressed was the balance between providing a safe learning environment while at the same luring the learner into a stretch or into a zone where they are less comfortabe. The webinar has been recorded (there were some technical issues during the start, heroically battled by Sibrenne Wagenaar and Joitske Hulsebosch). You can view the Dutch recording on YouTube:

Written by Hans de Zwart

19-04-2013 at 10:50

Society as a Platform for Learning

I’ve written before about the #4T2 project by Kennisnet. A while back I was interviewed by Wietse van Bruggen about a concept, society as a learning platform, that we brainstormed in a small subgroup. Below in Dutch what we discussed. You can find the original here.

Tijdens de #4T2 brainstorm op 22 juni hebben de leden van de denktank hun ideeën gepitcht en samen de meest kansrijke concepten uitgewerkt. Dit zijn concrete innovatie-activiteiten die het innovatie team van Kennisnet in het programma voor 2013 gaat opnemen.

Eén daarvan betreft de ‘maatschappij als platform voor het leren’, een idee dat is uitgedacht door Niels Gouman, Hans de Zwart, Iris van Gelder, Thijmen Stavenuiter, Frida Hengeveld en Wietse van Bruggen. In dit model wordt er binnen een soort online marktplaats een match gemaakt tussen vraag en aanbod. De maatschappij wordt daarbij gezien als de bron voor kennis en competenties. Iedereen in de maatschappij zou deze kunnen aanbieden aan lerenden. Wietse van Bruggen sprak over dit concept met #4T2-lid Hans de Zwart.

Society as a Platform for Learning

Society as a Platform for Learning

Kun je kort het idee uitleggen?

De basis van het idee is het ontscholen van de maatschappij, het demonopoliseren van de school als enige instituut waar het leren plaatsvindt. Met behulp van technologie zou2e de gehele maatschappij als platform voor het leren moeten kunnen fungeren. Met behulp van vouchers die de overheid geeft aan individuele leerlingen kunnen zij zelf beslissen voor welke skills, vaardigheden en kennis ze een voucher willen inzetten. Technologie moet helpen door als een soort makelaar te fungeren tussen vraag en aanbod. Iedereen in de maatschappij zou op een platform kenbaar kunnen maken welke skills, competentie of kennis ze iemand kunnen bijbrengen. Afhankelijk van de leervraag van de lerende kan er dan een match gemaakt worden tussen vraag en aanbod.

Als je bijvoorbeeld Japans wilt leren, dan zou je in plaats van een opleiding Japans te volgen ervoor kunnen kiezen bijvoorbeeld in een sushi restaurant aan de slag te gaan en daar Japans te leren van de koks. Of te kijken bij andere organisaties, bedrijven of individuen waar je deze skill op kan doen. Iedereen in de maatschappij kan iets bijdragen in dit systeem.

Daarnaast heeft iedere lerende een coach. Zeker voor jonge kinderen is er iemand nodig die je tot op zekere hoogte monitort, leert kennen en het brede perspectief voor blijft houden. Deze coach kan middels technologie inzichtelijk houden waar een leerling staat (ook wel learning analytics genoemd).

Wat is de onderliggende behoefte?

Met dit model kan je veel gerichter aansluiten op de behoefte van de leerling zelf. Daar sluit je nauwer op aan en het zou een efficiëntere manier van leren met diepgang kunnen zijn. Scholen zijn traditioneel gezien gericht op massa en niet op personalisatie. Door het individu veel centraler te stellen kan je veel beter gepersonaliseerd onderwijs verzorgen.

Wat verandert er door dit idee?

Als je dit echt gaat doen dan heb je het over een structurele verandering van onze maatschappij. Functies die scholen nu hebben plaats je terug in organisaties, bedrijfsleven en andere instellingen. Vakspecifieke docenten heb je eigenlijk niet nodig in dit model. Voor heel jonge kinderen zul je nog een schoolachtige omgeving willen organiseren. Maar een klassieke invulling van vakken is er niet. De lerende en de skills, competenties en kennis staan centraal, en daarom is iets als een vak niet relevant.

Welke vraag of probleem wordt hier door opgelost?

Het is een oplossing voor de steeds groter wordende disconnect tussen wat er op school en daarbuiten gebeurt. De manier waarop leerlingen communiceren, buiten school werken en bezig zijn is fundamenteel anders dan op school. Het feit dat je als leerling je telefoon soms moet uitzetten of zelfs inleveren op school is daar een symptoom van.

Welke actie zou je nu kunnen ondernemen?

Je zou kunnen spelen met het idee van een makelaar op het gebied van skills en leerervaringen. Hoe zou je een soort matchmaker machine kunnen maken die dit mogelijk maakt? Het is echter ook moeilijk om dit klein aan te pakken, omdat het zo allesomvattend is. Wat je zou kunnen doen is proberen om leerervaringen buiten school te creëren en te organiseren in plaats van dit gelijk in de realiteit van het huidige onderwijsmodel proberen uit te voeren. Het model zorgt er namelijk voor dat je heel veel dingen los moet laten. Dat kan voor scholen moeilijk zijn om te doen. Leuke voorbeelden om van af te kijken zijn bijvoorbeeld learnable.com, udemy.com en skillshare.com.

Wat gaat Kennisnet Innovatie in 2013 doen met dit concept/idee?

Kennisnet organiseert een brainstorm met potentiële partijen die aanbod kunnen bieden binnen dit model en learners, de vragenstellers binnen dit model, om het vraagstuk verder op te pakken en de werking van het marktplaats model verder uit te werken. Daarbij maken we gebruik van de ervaringen uit bestaande vergelijkbare initiatieven.

Written by Hans de Zwart

08-12-2012 at 21:51

Posted in Articles, Learning

Tagged with

Privacy at Ars Electronica 2012

I attended Ars Electronica this year and noticed their was a lot of art about privacy. I’ve written a Dutch blog post for the civil rights activists Bits of Freedom about these art works. You can read it below or find the original here.

Ieder jaar wordt in Linz (Oostenrijk) Ars Electronica Festival for Art, Technology and Society gehouden. Dit jaar barstte het festival van de privacy gerelateerde kunst. Hieronder een aantal highlights.

Memopol-2 van de Estlandse kunstenaar Timo Toots was de winnaar van de Golden Nica voor interactieve kunst. Deze dystopisch aandoende kamergrote installatie scant paspoorten van bezoekers en verzamelt daarmee zoveel mogelijk informatie online. Deze informatie wordt met een donkere en enge esthetiek getoond aan de bezoekers. Door slim met gegevens om te gaan wordt bijvoorbeeld niet alleen je geboortejaar maar ook het jaar waarop je statistisch gezien gaat sterven getoond.

“Memopol-2 in KUMU Art Museum / Tallinn, Estonia”, foto van Timo Toots

“Memopol-2 in KUMU Art Museum / Tallinn, Estonia”, foto van Timo Toots

Kyle McDonald is bekend van het controversiele project People Staring at Computers waarin hij met webcams foto’s maakte van nietsvermoedende computer gebruikers in Apple winkels in New York. Hij wilde met dit sousveillance project de lege blikken laten zien van mensen die computers gebruiken. Omdat McDonald in een juridische strijd met Apple verwikkeld is heeft David Pierce aquarellen gemaakt van een aantal van zijn foto’s. Die werden op het festival getoond.

“applestore-employee”, copyright David Pierce

“applestore-employee”, copyright David Pierce

Het project qual.net won een beurs. Deze open source technologie maakt het mogelijk om compleet ad hoc een netwerk te maken tussen verschillende apparaten met een Wi-Fi antenne. De netwerkverbindingen worden niet centraal geregeld maar verspreiden zich als een virus. qual.net kan dus gebruikt worden om Internet blokkades te omzeilen en is ook een goed alternatief voor overbelaste netwerken.

Het Ars Electronica centrum heeft op dit moment een vaste tentoonstelling getiteld Out of Control – What the Internet Knows About You waarin de verschuivende grens tussen publiek en privé wordt onderzocht. Drie projecten maakten indruk:

Newstweek bestaat uit een klein kastje dat je op kunt hangen op een plek met een draadloos netwerk (bijvoorbeeld een Starbucks). Het kastje logt in op het netwerk en corrumpeert de ARP tabellen zodat al het netwerkverkeer via het kastje loopt. Met een simpele webinterface kun je daarna de tekst van bekende nieuws websites (onder andere het NRC) aanpassen en je eigen propaganda creeëren. Gebruikers van het netwerk zien dan bij een bezoek aan de nieuws site jouw aangepaste tekst in plats van de originele tekst:

Faceless is een wat ouder project van Manu Luksch. Zij heeft een film gemaakt door voor het oog van London’s surveillance camera’s een aantal scenes op te voeren. Door middel van recht op inzage verzoeken heeft zij vervolgens alle beelden van die scenes opgevraagd. Om de privacy van de ommestaanders te garanderen moeten al hun gezichten geanonimiseerd worden. Vandaar de titel Faceless.

De Oostenrijkse student Max Schrems heeft vorig jaar alle door Facebook opgeslagen informatie over hem opgevraagd. Na wat juridisch gesteggel heeft Facebook uiteindelijk een dossier van 1200 pagina’s opgeleverd. Een uitvoerige analyse van de gegevens laat zien wat voor soort gegevens allemaal door Facebook worden opgeslagen. Dit zijn niet alleen maar de connecties met je vrienden, je foto’s en je status updates, maar ook zaken als je laatst opgeslagen locatie, gegevens over alle apparaten waarme je Facebook gebruikt, de mensen waarmee je inmiddels geen vriend meer bent, en je complete log in geschiedenis (zie hier voor de ontnuchterende complete lijst). In het Ars Electronica centrum werden de 57 categorieën mooi verbeeld als verschillende puzzelstukjes die tezamen het lijf van Max Schrems legden.

Kunstwerk Europe Vs. Facebook, van website Ars Electronica

Kunstwerk Europe Vs. Facebook, van website Ars Electronica

Schrems is inmiddels een campagne gestart, Europe vs. Facebook, met vier eisen aan Facebook:

  1. Meer transparantie over de gegevens die door Facebook worden opgeslagen
  2. Opt-in in plaats van het nu gehanteerde opt-uit
  3. Echte controle over de eigen data door de gebruiker
  4. Data opslag minimalisatie

Daarnaast vindt Schrems het onacceptabel dat Facebook sommige gegevens voor eeuwig bewaard en gebruikers niet de mogelijkheid geeft om deze voorgoed te wissen.

Naast installaties over privacy was er aan de Donau nog veel meer interessante digitale kunst te zien. Ars Electronica is echt een aanrader.

Written by Hans de Zwart

16-10-2012 at 09:00

Putting the ‘Design’ in Learning Designer (for The eLearning Network)

The eLearning Network publishes a yearly advent calendar at the end of the year. I wrote a small post for this year’s calendar. Please find the text below (first published here):


The Big Lebowski

It took weeks to properly "age" the clothes in The Big Lebowski

It took weeks to properly "age" the clothes in The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski by the Coen brothers is my all time favourite movie. I am not the only one who feels this way. The movie has inspired a whole movement of followers. I’m a Lebowski, you’re a Lebowski, a book describing this movement, gives a wonderful insight into why thousands of people come together every year for a Lebowski fest where they watch the movie on a big screen, dress up like characters from the movie, host a trivia competition and announce books that are published about the film. In one of these books, Mary Zophres, responsible for costume design, talks about dressing the protagonist:

I’ve used a lot of drop shoulders on him because when somebody has higher seams, it somehow improves the posture and makes their look seem more put-together and tidy, which of course we didn’t want. [..] I know this all seems like a very subtle thing, but from a costume designer’s point of view it does make a difference. And if you make sure that you’re doing it the right way down to the basics, then you’re assured of getting the overall effect you want.

This shows the extraordinary high level of authorship of the Coen brothers. The quote made me realise that one of the reasons that this movie gets better every time I see it, is because every single element in the movie is put there by the directors for a purpose. Nothing is there by chance or by the fact that it was just there when they came around to shoot a scene.

Unusable stuff

We all have had the experience of trying to turn on one of the burners on a stove and randomly trying out the knobs to see which one works. Donald Norman explains in The Psychology of Everyday Things the cause of this problem: the burners are arranged two by two and the knobs are in a single row of four. There is no natural mapping between the two. Why not? Because even though we all know the problem, there has never been a designer who has cared enough to think about a solution and implement it (i.e. if the knobs were arranged two by two then we would never make the mistake). Often aesthetic reasons get first priority. I keep a Twitter account, @unusablestuff, dedicated to documenting these design follies.

Paying attention to the title bar

Like what appears to be all of the technology world, I too am fascinated enough by Apple’s disruption of multiple markets to have devoured the biography of Steve Jobs as soon as it came out. One passage that really struck me was the following:

Jobs lavished [..] attention on the title bars atop windows and documents. He had Atkinson and Kare do them over and over again as he agonized over their look. [..] “We must have gone through twenty different title bar designs before he was happy,” Atkinson recalled. At one point Kare and Atkinson complained that he was making them spend too much time on tiny little tweaks to the title bar when they had bigger things to do. Jobs erupted. “Can you imagine looking at that every day?” he shouted. “It’s not just a little thing, it’s something we have to do right.”

This shows that he was able to take the tacit view of the user of his products. A view that the user might not even be able to verbalise themselves.

What does this mean for learning design?

These three stories are all about ways of looking at the world that are sorely missing from a lot of elearning design nowadays. So ask yourself the following questions about the next piece of elearning that you design:

  • Do you see yourself as an author in the sense that you are fully responsible for the experience that the learner has? Did you look at the end results with the eyes of the learner? Do you realise that the thing you create might be seen by thousands of pairs of eyes?
  • Did you make a conscious design decision about every single part of your elearning module and does everything that is included have a clear purpose? Or did you just use things that were turned on by default or put in things because that is the way it is always done?
  • Have people around you been talking about the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) and are you therefore delivering something that is mediocre? Do you like interacting with things that are mediocre?

To summarise: Details matter, so please act like they do.


P.S. I have just started reading On Writing Well. I intend to use the lessons in that book on this piece of writing. I am curious to see how much it can be improved!

Written by Hans de Zwart

28-12-2011 at 09:44

Interviewed in the “We Are the Competent People” Series

Homo Competens The Book

Homo Competens The Book

Bert De Coutere has written a very good book on competences: Homo Competens (I wrote a small review on Goodreads).  As a follow up to the book he is interviewing learning professionals about their competences, how they acquired them and how they keep them. I had the honour of being interviewed too (and he kindly allowed me to publish the interview below). You can find the other interviews here.

This is the full interview:

Bert: At what competence domain(s) would you consider yourself “competent”?

Hans: This is a hard question. I have different levels of competence in all kinds of domains. So I am a competent teacher, a relatively competent speaker and a very competent learner. If I would equate (professional) competence with what it is that I do then I would say I am competent in Internet technology with a strong focus on learning and open source.

Bert: Describe moment(s) where you grew the most in a particular competence domain.

Hans: Whenever you start something new, the learning curve is probably steepest. For me these have been the moments I switched jobs or roles in my career. So when I first started teaching in a high school, when I became an external consultant and then when I joined a large multinational company. I love to kickstart that learning process by consuming as much information about the topic as I can, starting with books, subscribing to tens (if not hundreds) of RSS feeds and then connecting to people who are really in the know about a particular topic.

Bert: How did you become good at what you do? How do you stay good?

Hans: You become good in what you do by actually doing it. This should be combined with a natural sense of curiosity, participating in a community of experts and the occasional pause for reflection. The one thing that really helps is a positive attitude towards experimentation. You have to be willing to try something different to be able to make progress, that means you should be afraid of failure.

Bert: Do you care to share any tips for those who want to follow in your footsteps? What went well? What would have been even better if only…?

Hans: Here come the platitudes: What has worked well for me is getting authentic pleasure out of what I do for a living. So if you want to follow in my footsteps (please, why?), start there. The one thing that I wish I had done more in the past is stretch myself a bit more: I am a careful person and I only like doing things that I know I can actually do. I am now trying to embrace those challenges when I get them.

Bert: How do you recognize competent people?

Hans: They usually wear purple outfits. No, seriously…

Bert: Do you see yourself doing something completely different five or ten years from now?

Hans: Looking back at how I thought about myself 10 years ago it would be foolish for me to answer anything but “yes” to this question. In a world where the accelerated change of technology is itself accelerating I don’t think we can imagine what the world of work will look like in ten years from now. So it is very likely I would do something different by that time. I’d like to think my job would still involve me thinking about how I can affect social practice through technology.

Bert: What do you think of the responsibilities of the knowledge professional at one hand, and the employing company at the other hand in terms of competence development?

Hans: This might be a trendy thing to say, but I am really starting to believe that working and learning are turning into the same thing (at least for knowledge workers). So who is responsible for doing the work? The professional! The one thing that the company could (and should) still do is to facilitate this by creating the right environment.

Bert: How would you categorize your professional network? Is it large, or do you keep it small? Is it composed primarily of people you meet regularly face to face, or is it very virtual, or any degree in between?

Hans: My professional network is larger than most of my direct colleagues. I actively work at making it larger: if knowledge resides in networks it only makes sense to work at optimizing that network. I have met most people in my network face to face at some point. Seeing people once a year at a conference is often enough to keep the professional connection alive for the rest of the year and be in touch virtually only.

Bert: Describe your ideal environment to thrive in.

Hans: There are two things I need: autonomy and a decent Internet connection. I get very uncomfortable very quickly if I don’t have either of these things.

Bert: How long did it take you to become good?

Hans: Aptitude has something to do with it. It didn’t take me very long before I was a good teacher, but I have been practicing my juggling skills for years now, and even though I am better at it than 99% of the people that can juggle three balls, I would still not consider myself to be good at it. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, I would say it probably takes about 3,000 hours to become good at something.

Bert: Are you involved in any “sharing” activities? Do you think sharing helps you grow? Did you experience people taking advantage of the things you shared?

Hans: This is what I call the “teacher paradox”: the nature of the teacher-student relationship makes it that the teacher is always the one who learns the most. Thinking about how to share something with the rest of the world forces you to think about things just a little bit harder, gaining a better understanding. I write a blog under a Creative Commons license, have a Twitter account and share a lot external information in our internal Yammer network. “Taking advantage” has two meanings. I sure hope a lot of people have found the things I shared useful and have taken “advantage” of it in that way. I realize people are sometimes scared to share because they think people might “steal” their materials. I think this is a fallacy: I for one have gained way more from sharing than other people have gained from using my stuff.

Bert: How do you feel about the “self-reliant” professional? Do you find the evolution to “self”; self-steering, self-succeeding or self-failing, … a liberating evolution or one that rings alarm bells?

Hans: This is probably the most interesting question of the interview and it deserves much more thought than I will give it here. An increase in autonomy is a good thing and in that sense I like the increasing focus on the “self”. However, to live a fulfilling life you should have some dependence on others. It wouldn’t surprise me if this focus on the “self” is in some way a consequence of the fact that we can now organize ourselves without having organizations to facilitate that process. The focus on “self” can be there now, because our Western world finally enables us to be self-reliant.

Bert: How do you think your competence should be evaluated?

Hans: I should be the first judge of my own competence, other good alternatives would be my professional network, external or internal clients and my direct colleagues.

Bert: Thanks for the interview, Hans. Nice purple suit!
(Just kidding.)

Written by Hans de Zwart

09-02-2011 at 10:00

Posted in Articles, Learning

Tagged with ,

Free Software in Education and Implementation Scenarios for VLE’s (in Dutch)

Van twaalf tot achttien

Van twaalf tot achttien

About one and half years ago I wrote two Dutch articles for Van twaalf tot achttien, a magazine catering for teachers in secondary education. These articles were the first in this magazine to be published under a Creative Commons licence. This means that I can publish them on this blog and that you will be able to reuse what I have written (as long as you comply to the license agreement).

The first article is titled Vrije software in het onderwijs is een must (Free software in education is a must). It tries to explain not only the benefits of free software (yes, free as in speech, not free as in beer) but also touches on open standards and open educational resources. The article has a companion webpage which is still available here.

I have always believed that is very strange that our government subsidises many schools and teachers to create learning materials, but that these organisations and people are not required to share these materials under a free license. This has mainly to do with a lack of awareness of this problem and I am hoping that this article increases knowledge about the importance of free licensing of software and content.

Note how the designer who laid out the page wasn’t very interested in the contents of the article. His or her thought process must have gone something like: “Ah an article about software… let me find an image of a CD… yes, great Adobe Creative Suite CS2″. Really fitting for an article that talks about the Gimp!

The second article was co-written with Leen van Kaam (at the point of writing a colleague at Stoas Learning). It is titled Scenario’s voor de implementatie van een Elektronische Leeromgeving (ELO) (Scenarios for the implementation of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)) and describes a maturity model for implementing virtual learning environments in secondary education. It can be used to set goals and manage expectations in schools and should make it easier to understand why certain parts of a VLE implementation are successful and other are not.

Hope you enjoy the read!

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