Thursday, May 9, 2013

Finding the Right Solution

A friend of mine remarked on how restrained I've been on a recent conversation about Learning Management Systems (LMS). So I figured... why not say what's so terribly wrong with the conversation to the world at large!?

A solution has to fit the problem. But what if we don't really understand the problem? We need to step away from ourselves and think about who we're trying to help. What are the drivers? Even though two different sets of behaviours look exactly the same, the drivers behind the situation may be completely different. What are the desired outcomes?

In the case of an LMS, the outcomes from the various different approaches are quite different from each other. And even the way they've come about are different. Google Apps for Education is probably the most surprising of them all. It's a motley collection of tools which don't really offer much in the way of integration between them BUT with Teacher Dashboard, it offers something that provides probably the lowest barrier to entry (i.e. you can get to a "here's your worksheet online" point really early on with very little set up and from there, there's nowhere to go but to use the tools better - and with a bit of PD {Professional Development}, those tools WILL be used better).

So what every school considering an LMS (and really, you shouldn't be considering an LMS unless you know what problems that LMS is going to solve in which case, you'll probably have a fair idea of which LMS fits your needs) needs to consider is:

  1. Learning is never a one size fits all thing. Trying to teach people in the same way that I learnt almost never works. So what way mostly works for your kids? This can't be answered. Every day we learn in different ways. (And people do learn in spite of us though I can name a few teachers who really got through to me on one point or another).
  2. The people using the tools have to know the tools. What level are your teachers at? Are they more comfortable in an environment that encourages them to try different things? Or do they need structure to function? (in which case, I'd suggest working on empowering these people first - getting them to a point where they're comfortable trying different things in the classroom). This could be considered a driver. If ShinyDevices™/MeaninglessTLA™ (Three Letter Abbreviation) are/is to be deployed, how are they going to be used? Are the teachers confident to use them to deliver the desired outcomes?
I would consider any money spent on solutions well wasted if these questions haven't been asked first.

So when asked, can Manaiakalani be ported over to other areas, my answer is yes and no... The other communities absolutely have to own it - so instantly, it can't be Manaiakalani. It has to be their own thing. Which also means that the solutions and conclusions reached at Manaiakalani need to be challenged. Be the skeptic and find anything that doesn't work for that community's situation. Don't make assumptions. Communities do have a way of surprising you in all sorts of interesting ways when they're on the same page collectively (which can only happen if they're thinking about their neighbours as well as themselves).

And if it's being adopted for a "we need to stay relevant and need ShinyDevices™" sort of a driver, then it's being set up to fail. Yes, it could be pulled out of the fire - but it's REALLY hard work to do so. These aren't problems you can just throw money at. It all requires thought.

And that means, looking at the problem... And yes, people will accuse you of being overly negative - ignore them. You're solving problems. Meanwhile, if you find yourself looking at a set of solutions, ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve? The solution needs to fit the problem (not the other way around).

I could have just as easily written this post on computers... The choice of operating system/operating environment has a huge effect on the users - How empowered are they? How does that effect how they feel and interact with a business at large? What problems is a particular solution trying to solve? i.e. I'm not a huge fan of The Linux Terminal Server Project or Citrix because I think they solve a problem while introducing a huge amount of risk and the problem they solve is usually around the administration rather than the usage (where they generally introduce new problems - some exceptions here i.e. the Raspberry Pi makes a terrible desktop but is probably okay as a terminal).

I was talking to someone about how they were handling warranties and had to do my best not to laugh. If it's taking them an hour to determine whether something's a warranty job, for risk of it getting to the warranty provider and the job being rejected and thus being charged an $80 inspection fee.... at what price per hour does this become practical? At this stage if they sent EVERYTHING that got logged in as a warranty through, with as high a figure as 10% being rejected, they'd still be saving money. i.e. 10 computers inspected for an hour. 1 computer found to not fit warranty criteria. So that 1 computer costs $80 if it had gone through. However, the people doing the inspection would have to be paid $8 or less per hour for this to be even vaguely practical. I'd suggest a much more... organic approach (i.e. listen to gut instinct).

Meanwhile, that hour could be used for other more meaningful support. Go and see the users and have a chat. See what everyday problems can be solved (which they've learnt to live without).

I swear... finding the right solution is almost a science (though much easier once you figure out the problem).

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