Technical Expert

sven_jgSven Laux is Technical Director at City & Guilds Kineo. He sets their technical vision and strategy and leads on innovation of new technology-driven approaches. His goal is the leveraging and more effective use of technology. Sven started in 2000 as a software engineer and elearning developer and joined the founders of Kineo as a partner in 2007. Sven is also the project lead of the Adapt open source project, established in 2013.

We should, says Sven, be doing a lot more with technology: “We have a young target audience au fait with technology, and the challenge is for learning technology to keep up with what’s happening elsewhere.” Recent innovation has been led by hardware changes, with mobile devices at the forefront, and that means that learning content and functionality has to work really well on tablets and smartphones. While Internet connectivity and bandwidth are constantly growing, he says, we still have to take account of areas without coverage and intermittent connectivity. Consequently, multi-device learning technologies have to handle offline as well as online scenarios.

The commercial learning content sector has driven responsive design in eLearning but less so native apps—the programs developed for use on a particular platform or device—because with responsive design, a single learning resource can be used on multiple device types. This gives the learners the ability to access the learning wherever they are and also makes production, maintenance and delivery of the learning much more straightforward and cost-effective.

Adapt is a free, open source tool for creating multi-device, mobile learning. It enables users to design a single piece of elearning in HTML5 that will run on multiple devices, including desktops, smartphones and tablets. City & Guilds Kineo has turned the design process on its head by developing and designing content first for the smartphone rather than the computer. Responsive design has been around for a long time based around downscaling the great content and functionality on websites to work on ‘lesser’ devices. Adapt delivers a simple, high quality experience on the smartphone first, only applying additional functionality where it improves the experience. Innovation, he says, tends to start with hardware, be developed by the web industry, and then bleed into the learning space:

“We’re doing the same, really, but our starting point is different. It’s the same chain of innovation—nothing new there—but it’s a paradigm shift of sorts all the same.”

The capacity of learning created using Adapt to run on different devices is driven by the different ways they will be used in learning. Most learning, says Sven, will probably be on tablets and, to a lesser degree, computers. But he differentiates between core learning and secondary learning: “If you have five minutes and want to refresh your memory or skills before class, you might look something up on your smartphone. If, on the other hand, you’re learning or training in an immersive environment—simulations, virtual, 3D—you will probably be working on a personal computer. But then you might want to get a coffee and be able to review your work on a tablet.”

Sven is critical of the practice of accessing content by page turning and ‘Next’ buttons and says we need to adopt a more modern approach: “People are now much more used to scrolling to access content because it’s what they do on smartphones and tablets. There used to be a strong advocacy, a remnant of hardcopy publications, for ‘nothing below the fold’—below the initial visible screen— because it would be missed or deemed to be less important. But that just isn’t how people behave online. They anticipate more information and they scroll down to find it.”

Adapt is an open source project that started as a software development project and is now a growing community sharing, collaborating and developing in the responsive learning space:

“What has always been understood in the open source world is that what really matters is the community. The software is second. We want to become the online space that tackles the subject of responsive learning—what it looks like and how it works. I’m keen for anybody reading this to join the Adapt community and have a look around, whether they’re developers, practitioners or just want to know more.”

City & Guilds Kineo is also working with online badging, the latest disruptive technology, and Sven is interested in the question of value: “Badging enables more people to evaluate and certify. Colleges and awarding organisations used to be the sole arbiters of ‘value’, but now anyone can give a badge. We have to work out how to audit that. Also, sometimes there may be more value in a badge certified by a brand rather than a college—for example, customer service skills certified by a major retailer.” Together with his colleagues, Bryan Mathers and Doug Belshaw, he delivered the Learning Futures CPD webinar on badges, exploring how they have been used to set goals, motivate behaviour, represent achievement and communicate success in the education and training sector. (You can freely access the recorded webinar here.)

The output of Learning Futures, he says, must bring to people’s attention the affordable and free technology that is already out there. It is the responsibility of governors, leaders and teachers to understand it and use it. It is not, he says, the responsibility of IT departments:

“They will simply be doing their job if they remain sceptical and risk averse. I don’t look to them to push new technology. They need to maintain and operate. It’s the users—the teachers—who need to lead. They must know what’s out there and make a case for using it. They need to collaborate and share and provide case studies for others to access. Anybody going through teacher training should have mandatory modules on what technology exists and, as importantly, what’s available for free. They need to build a community of ambassadors who can inspire others and who can also connect to the open source communities that are developing the latest tools and techniques.”

Sven is committed to the world of open source and crowd sourcing because it speeds up innovation. The Adapt project is exciting, he says, not because it’s revolutionary—responsive design has been around for a long time—but because it’s open source and is being accessed and continually improved by a massive community of developers and end-users. He is also excited by big data and the potential value of harnessing and understanding it: “A recent NMC Horizon Report concludes that we have generated more data over the last three years than in the entirety of human history. That raises all sorts of issues around ownership, access rights, storage and analytics.”

In terms of learning technology, he’s interested in xAPI (also known as project Tin Can)—enabling the collection of data around the wide range of experiences a person has both online and offline—and the Learning Record Stores (LRS) that hold that data. A free, open source example of this is Learning Locker. There is so much, he says, that we can access without being bound to a desk or a computer, and that has huge potential and possibilities.