Sunday, 2 August 2015

You're Ahead of Your Time: FELTAG Reaching Out?

Following some critical input about "Promoting my own stuff" in an EdChat recently, I've been reviewing how my blogging has evolved. In a recent post I questioned if I am "Blogging, Sharing New Ideas... Or Selling?"

I have found that ideas which had previously gone by unnoticed when they were first suggested, but can get support and traction if there is an opportunity to suggest to people that we re-visit the idea. 

This has happened a number of times in the last 12 months while I'v been focusing on US-based projects. This post looks at the same issue with ideas I had when focusing my attention on UK Further Education Colleges over the course of 2012-2014. 

This is very much a cathartic exercise, one where I try to make sense of being ignored for two years, and contemplate the reasons for some invitations to re-connect with some FE people have come out of the blue.

So I'm just "Thinking Out Loud," as I assess my previous experiences in FE... and whether or not to consider changing course with my current plans and return to some older ones. Could the timing be right to try again with them as I have found in the US?

NB This is a longer post with a few links, if you are involved with FE you may find the ideas and links useful.

I'm finding that group of educators who really were not interested in hearing my views have reached out to me over the last few weeks. 

I had a business plan all worked out and felt there would be win-win-win situations for FE, their students and suppliers. From 2012-2014 I tired to make these ideas work. I gave up trying when I achieved more in 4 weeks in the US than I did in 2 years in FE.

This was not an easy decision to make, I was extremely confident about the robustness of my plans given the level of due diligence that I carried out.
People involved with the Further Education Technology Action Group (FELTAG) have been in touch with me. For example, the Think Out Loud Club asked if I would be interested in cross posting some articles from my blog for them. 

I said that I'd be happy to, and included some posts that they might want to consider. Like some of these FE based posts from last year:

Leaving FE 
FELTAG Cultural Considerations 
The Problem with FELTAG 
Academies & Entreprenurship in Edu… It’s All About the Culture

FELTAG Friday... Rocket Boosters On!
I tried desperately to get in touch with various people involved with FELTAG when the initiative was being planned and launched in 2013-2014. I was keen to ensure that ideas from these posts were taken on board. I also wanted to let them know about some other insights I had gained based on my research around exploring the roll out process of technology.

I was so passionate that I had something of value to say that my approach was rather unconventional. The reason for this was;

1) To make sure this introverts views were heard, 

2) There was some serious "method in the madness" as I was looking to employ a tried and tested strategy with the adoption of technology, and the culture change that I felt would be required.

The response to my correspondence, approach and ideas varied...but the result was the same: FELTAG had no interest in exploring my ideas or engaging with me.

You're Ahead of your Time...
Over the course of 2013-2014 I had the discussions I tried to have with FELTAG members with some of my critical friends in FE, as well as a couple of  "FE experts" who were happy to have a chat. The feedback I received from some of these people was; 

"I can see what you're trying to do... and there is merit in your ideas, your only problem is that you're ahead of your time" 

As I've mentioned previously, my Belbin report suggested that my "operating style is closest to that of strategic leadership" and 
I laughed at this suggestion a few years ago but it makes more sense today. 

All I was doing was taking the data that was in front of me, and coming to what I thought were some blatantly obvious conclusions... And, given the changes I noticed were taking place in the sales process, the overall aim was less strategic leadership and more to figure out what skills would be relevant! 

Through my work with US educators I have been extremely fortunate to have some discussions with people who have a lot of experience at Silicon Valley technology companies.

I found it curious that there was no need to offer detailed explanations about these ideas or to "sell" them... They "get it" immediately. I asked one of these hot shot tech people why this was. Their reply was the same as my FE friends;

"It's because you're talking about things that are 12 months away. I understand how and why this will be the case... but I can also see why others might need more of an explanation and a little more convincing"

I have to be honest that I find all of this completely bizarre! All I did was notice that traditional sales was dying, and I was trying to get "ahead of the curve" with EdTech sales and re-skill accordingly.

FE Plans 2014 Vs 2015 No Change... But More Urgency
Not only have the ideas that I was trying to discuss with FELTAG and implement within FE a year ago not changed one iota...I am more convinced than ever about the merit of these ideas. I think they have potential to make an impact within FE.

In 2013 & 2014 I felt that there was a sense of urgency due to the imminent threats, but felt there was time for colleges to innovate their way out of any potential trouble.

I feel this is still the case, but based on what I've seen elsewhere, whatever FE's technology plans are... they had better be good ones! And implementing them in a timely manner might not go amiss either!

Other models are on the way! At least some of the 5 million FE students will be going elsewhere... If there is too much procrastination, it just might be most of them!

Here are some examples of these alternative models;

Starbucks: Massively Creatively Disrupt... Or Someone Else will

Alt School: Inside the school that Silicon Valley thinks will save education

Apple: Our Children Need to Schools of Tomorrow Today

Adidas: All Hail the Rise of the Corporate University

Holograms offer the Promise of Transforming Electronic Modes of Teaching

I have been writing about alternative models and the education-skills gap since I started blogging... And I've seen organisations like Starbucks exploration in education come on in leaps and bounds. Every year at the GSV Summit Starbucks announces new ideas and innovations.

What will happen to government funding when Starbucks is a more cost effective model than FE? 

Will FE funding be re-directed to projects like Adidas once the iron out any teething issues?

Personally, I have no issue with these models. If FE is not fit for purpose and can't (or won't) see the threats coming, and decide instead to cling to the status quo... New providers with new models will move in.

Where I do have an issue with these models is when we consider who will suffer most if FE can't or won't keep up with the pace of change and innovation?

It will be young people who are marginalised and where FE is the last (and sometimes the students first and only) chance before they are Lost in the Ghetto

"One of the terrible fates that can befall a human being is to be born intelligent or sensitive in an English slum. It is like a long, slow, exquisite torture devised by a sadistic deity from whose malevolent clutches escape is almost impossible"

These alternative models may be unlikely to cater for this group... and you don't want to know my opinions about UK politicians and/or their ability to cater for (and, in some cases, to even care about) these vulnerable young people.

Has the Government Already Given up on FE?
FE Minister is not a current government role
Given the pace of change at the organisations mentioned above versus FE's attitude of "culture change takes time" I wonder if any commentators on the outside looking in would speculate that - if it's not already too late - then the time to plan, set the course and innovate is certainly running short.

Opportunity... Or Threat?
If my observations are accurate and some of my crazy ideas are "a little ahead of their time," then I would encourage people in FE to check out the reasons that I got excited about Declara before the site went live in April and how things are shaping up today... Not to mention the things that this student has achieved! Helping Max with his Drive

Prior to this post I observed how a platform like this could be an opportunity or a threat, depending on educators reaction to the potential of social learning (See Declara: A Laggards Thoughts for more on this).

In this weeks update Declara CEO, Ramona Pierson, announced that Wise Kangaroo have their coaching courses on the site. Stop and think for a moment about the potential opportunities and threats here;

1) Opportunities: if there was a directory of all FE courses on this platform?

2) Threat: If there was a Starbucks/Declara partnership or an Adidas/Declara one?

"Learning by connecting with others...
Ideas can come from anybody and anywhere"
I can see very clearly how this platform could work in FE. I would also be happy to detail my thoughts... but I have to question why should I take time out from other projects, when my previous experience has been that no-one in FELTAG and few in FE want to hear my thoughts?

I already know how I would work with any ideas that were focused on FE, I also know who I would work with... I have remained in contact with them over the last 12 months to sound them out on a few things.

Sales and Technology in FE... 2014 Vs 2015
For anyone in FE who recalls my Technology in FE Report and/or posts like The Problem with EdTech Integration post, you may see some parallels with these ideas and an article written by Hubspot's Brooke Freedman recently (Except Brooke explains things SO MUCH better!)

Evolving your Sales Process for a B2C2B World 

Sales is a vital component to any new idea, but it is also a profession that gets vilified in education. I would argue that it is not the sales or the sales people that are the problem... But can be any one of a number of issues including the CEO/Founder and the culture they set and whether or not the idea has achieved "Product Market Fit"

The Culture of "Rocket Boosters On"
If I had to guestimate the reasons for this outreach from FELTAG members at the moment, it would be that 

1) Maybe the people in FELTAG have reviewed some of the information I sent 12 months ago and realise there was merit to my suggestions... And perhaps even appreciate the "method in the madness".

2) The gung-ho "FELTAG Friday: Rocket Boosters On" attitude has not translated into propulsion at ground control. Part of the reason for this might be because

3) People in FE are tired of the culture. Maybe morale is extremely low because of years of criticism and budget cuts... not to mention the huge changes that take place every 4 years based on whatever soundbite the politicians at looking to get out to demonstrate how proactive they are about edcuation.

FE staff have been through the "Things can only get better... Education! Education! Education!" Blair years, Gordon Browns' BS... Erm, I mean BIS. The scrapping of Every Child Matters at the stroke of a pen with Cameron's signature for his "Big Society," MP's infatuation with celebrity 
entrepreneurs, Mike Russell's major FE merger project and the latest big idea for having a preference for all things academy. These constant changes leads to dissatisfaction with

4) The top-down approach: whether it is memos from central government to colleges demanding that get behind ideas the Principal does not agree with... or dictates from SMT to staff, but the staff are not supportive of the plan or idea.

If you don't have buy-in on the ground, regardless of what the plan is... or how good the idea is, it's unlikely to be implemented well.

5) The top-down ideas have not been fully tested... they lack due diligence and/or is rolled out too quickly. This leads to uptake from a few colleges but growth stops to a crawl... as opposed to leaping like a Gazelle. 

These are all points that I tried to raise with FE and FELTAG last year.

Takers, Fakers and Collaborators
So why all the interest from FELTAG to reach out now? Is it because my Silicon Valley friends are right that these ideas are easier to understand and appreciate 12 months on? 

Any recommendations I would have today would be what I said last year, and is information that I shared with everyone in FE and FELTAG a year ago. 

The only thing I would add is that they might want to implement these plans quicker, maybe this is the reason for the outreach. Perhaps people have noticed that the ideas I tried to implement in FE working elsewhere?  

Is it because the rate at which the various threats are approaching are going at a faster pace compared with FELTAG's rocket boosters? 

As well as asking "Why are they reaching out" I need to consider questions like;

Should I attempt to re-connect? I ask this because I need to consider if they are interested in listening to my ideas to take what they can and then I don't hear from them for another year? 

Or is it to truly collaborate, to discuss what's best for our young people as the first priority? 

This last point is a common theme amongst the people I have remained in contact with in FE, one fantastic individual saying to me during a meeting 

"We'll do what's best for our young people... even if it means we innovate our way out of our own jobs"

I have a good idea of what could work in FE, along with these plans from 12 months ago I now also have some experience with making them work... but I know that making them work involves the right culture, mindset and the ability to collaborate and co-create.

If things are the same as 12 months ago I'd be surprised if I'd be able to make much progress. Why consider this when I'm doing OK where I am regarding my current road map.

At the same time, my main interest is marginalised young people and it is ironic that I live in the UK, but most of the projects and people in my PLN are in the US.

I think I'll ask the people in FE who have remained in touch with to get their thoughts and reflect on this further. If anyone wants to help me with this decision please feel free to complete this quick two question survey Tech Stories: Re-Assessing FE Plans

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