What this post is about: Some thoughts on making the decision to “go online” with training interventions, and how you might go about doing that.

What this post is not about: This is not a specific, tailor-made guide that can help you determine whether and how to go online. This is informational. Always speak to your instructional design specialist, and only follow the instructions on the label if you are sure it will provide the outcome you are seeking.

Here is a summary: I have been following the ocTEL course provided by ALT. While I have been lax in activities, I have been thinking a lot about the discussions and resources provided. In one of (hopefully) many posts inspired by the ocTEL course, I consider how one should make the decision to provide online learning content.

Here begins the post.

So, you’re going online. Genius move. There are training and marketing dollars in that. You are the future, ever stretching and all-knowledge providing. What next?

First, I’m assuming you know you need training (and that you really do). If not, I suggest reading this blog by Cathy Moore on whether you even need to provide a training intervention.

So, let’s assume you do. What next?

A few days ago from my (PLUG WARNING) new @BrenLearning Twitter account (which is reserved for learning and development thoughts and tweets), I tweeted the following:

“Having studied theories and styles, plus reflection, I’m going with “People are #learning, everywhere and all the time, in different ways”
(https://twitter.com/brenLearning/status/340805463589388288)”

“(2/2) My job in #learning is to provide opportunities for learning that are appropriate, applicable and assessable, for learner and subject.
(https://twitter.com/brenLearning/status/340806028377600000)

(PLUG ENDS)

This encapsulates my current thought on learning, and what you need to do. Current is the key word here, as this may change, because I am 1. quite ambivalent about everything, in general and 2. constantly learning, so may well refine, rework or reverse my opinion.

So, now you’re done.

Except, how do we turn a pithy tweet into something workable? Let’s break it down.

(MC Hammer Dance)

Making it Assessable for Learner and Subject

What? This was the last point in my pithy “rule of three”-structured comment. Why is it first?!

Because:

You need to consider the outcome first. How will you know your online learning has worked? And how is that translated to the workplace/skills applied/etc (in most cases, “assessment” is really a proxy result that will confirm a learner knows something – how this affects behaviour after may require further follow up after the training intervention).

What is it you are trying to achieve for your learners? And will that work for them? What you’re trying to achieve can range from depth and breadth of knowledge to proving an ability to apply that knowledge to – in some cases – actually testing the application of knowledge (although this can be limited in the online space – see the first point).

In terms of what will work for learners, do they need to learn this, do they want to learn this, is “online” an appropriate manner for teaching?

Once you know where you want to get to, then you can start mapping a path to it.

Making it Appropriate for Learner and Subject

In terms of going online – think about your intended learners and ask yourself: Why?

  • What is the value to learners? (this is key. Many, many people think of the value to the institution (in terms of improved service or esteem), which can leave learners cold. While your institution may well gain in terms of esteem (but that is up to you and your marketing department to know or figure out), if you’re going online, think of the learners.
  • Will they see that value themselves? (if the answer is “No”, some marketing may be required. Just because someone doesn’t know whether something will work for them does not mean it won’t. My 5 year old who will not touch carrots but loves broccoli confirms this for me)
  • What is the most effective way to get the information into their heads (This will include what learners will be able to access, will have time to access and will not be too difficult to get through)?
  • How are they used to learning, and is there anyway to leverage that (e.g. Could you record “live” events (lectures, presentations, round tables, etc.) and put these online, along with assessment? Or would this bore them? Or, do you need to provide more applicable content – see below in Applicable bit)?

In terms of the subject matter or content you want to teach, consider:

  • What do you teach now?
  • What is taught in a “live” event?
  • What can you put online (e.g. again, can you record lectures? Or would it make more sense to provide case studies and activities online? Or would it make sense to provide both?)?
  • What is worth putting online (Just because it can go online, doesn’t always mean it should. I give you LOLCATS and many, many Tumblrs as examples. Don’t assume that if you build it, they will come – it must be worth coming for)?
  • Is there a split between what can be taught effectively using live events, and what can be taught effectively using online (self-directed) methds? (Commonly known as blended learning, but more often now known simply as learning, as more institutions and providers actually design their learning output to work in this way)

Another aspect to developing learning content that is appropriate to learners and the subject is what it actually looks like. It might be:

High in interactivity, using Flash or HTML5 (here is a really interesting issue right now. Flash is not supported on iOS devices. Yet (and despite the death notices), it is still the main technology used for highly interactive and video-based content for learning.  This probably will not last, as so many new products are released that publish to HTML5, offering similar types of interactive content, and indeed products that publish to apps for iOS or Android phones and tablets. A full discussion on this is beyond the point of this post, so to go back to the initial consideration: High interactivity using Flash or HTML5 is expensive, and labour intensive, but can offer really excellent results. An experience can be developed, rather than a resource.

High in social interactivity, using forums or social media. The appropriateness of this approach again depends on your content. If you are trying to be quite didactic (i.e. this is the information you need to learn), then careful monitoring, mentoring and moderation will be required to ensure incorrect information is not circulated through your learning community. However, if the purpose is to be more exploratory (i.e. through discussion, the community will build up their own knowledge base), the effort required is less so.

Low in interactivity, but rich in information: This is a common approach because it is fairly easy to create. However, it can be difficult for learners to engage with – so is a trade off. In short, you provide an indexed, searchable body of information, with supporting assessments and some kind of curriculum outline (perhaps with supporting activities as well). Then launch it. Learners can access information as they need, and go back to it as required. The difficulty with such an approach is that it can get boring for learners, who may use it in 20 minute bursts (or something similar), rather than sitting down to a course. (By the way, 20 minute bursts is the recommended timeframe for any specific “chunk” of information you want people to learn).

And so forth – one could go on forever, but really the approach you take should depend on your objectives, and what will work for learners to help them better learn and understand the information. Again, I’ll reiterate: You should consult a learning specialist to help you determine what will meet these requirements – and within your budget.

There are some ways to help with this: Surveys of potential learners; Looking at case studies from others in industry, or if you are part of an association, etc.; Looking at other case studies, which may be applicable to the type of information you are learning. In these cases, the more information the better – build up profiles of your learners – and through those profiles – your online service.

Making it Applicable for Learner and Subject

So you know what you want them to do after the training, and you’ve figured out a way to provide online content that will work for them. Now, what will that content be? Some more questions to ask yourself:

What should they be able to do (see assessment), and how can the content align to that?

What the hell does this mean? Here are some examples!

If you’re teaching software, consider developing activities where they use specific functions in a targeted way. Don’t just say “Use the file menu to open a new document and save it with a title…” Instead, go with: “You have received a support call from a client, who has asked for a breakdown of their current account information to be posted to them. Prepare this document and include a cover note to explain what it contains and how the customer can read it. Remember to give it an appropriate file name, because it will be going to them!”. Or something similar. The point is you should be considering real life application at all times.

In a project I worked on, we used animated diagrams and click events (click here to see what happens) to explain the inner workings of machines. This helped learners to “visualise” the mechanisms involved and (hopefully) to consider how they might apply such mechanisms in other situations (i.e. when on the job, to consider what mechanical applications could be applied to specific problems they needed to solve).

But wait! That’s too advanced! I need to roll back a  bit…

OK. Well, here you need to consider:

  • What it is they have to learn
  • How they will use this information

Going back to our software, you could:

  1. Explain a typical workflow, which includes how the software “fits into it”
  2. Break out the specific information you will be talking about, and what it means
  3. Run through the specific information and its place/function within the software
  4. Provide one or two examples
  5. etc.

For more theoretical information, consider the use of diagrams that relate how different information works together. For example:

  • Specific information to be input to a process (data, a situation, etc.)
  • The process itself (steps taken, tasks)
  • The output (result of using the information through the steps)

Such a diagram could also be used as a download or job aid, which the learner could print out and keep, so they have a ready-reference when they need it.

You also need to consider your expertise, with regard to making your content applicable. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are fundamental to making your online learning work. Without them, you have nothing. These are the people who can tell you what needs to be in the course. What learners need to know, be able to do and the relationships between what they know and what they do.

  • How will you engage SMEs? Who will they be?
  • Will they be paid? Can they work voluntarily?
  • Could they (with some initial training) develop the online content themselves? Or, if they are time poor, how can they be involved efficiently – so that being involved in your project does not take up too much of their time.

Another tough question is how your SME(s) might be managed. They are often senior figures, who can think of better things to do with their time. You are better off finding people who are interested in learning (have a “vocation” for want of a better word). What happens if they miss deadlines? Can you exert any pressure on them?

Of course, all of this will be done for free, so that’s the end of this post.

What?

Oh, yes. Budget.

This is why I suggest talking to an instructional designer or eLearning professional. They may have some idea of costs for you (time for instructional design, technical costs and what you may need to pay out initially and on an ongoing basis).

However, they may also (drawing on their experience) have some creative ideas on maximising your budget. For example – as mentioned earlier, you could engage an instructional designer to teach your SMEs to develop content over a set period. During that time, they could develop templates, themes, manage installation of technical infrastructure, etc. Then perhaps come back once a year or so to look at refreshing the look and feel of your content and provide pointers on improving what has been developed.

If you have loads of money, you could look at a “big house” company, where teams of instructional designers, graphic designers and programmers will work to create content.

In many cases, you’ll probably fall in between these stools, and perhaps require someone on an ongoing basis (but part time) or full time as an employee.

In Summary

I hope this has been a helpful post for those thinking of providing online learning content, and at least give you an idea of how you should be thinking. As I say, none of this could be taken as specific advice, as there is no guarantee any of it is appropriate, applicable and assessable to your specific needs (as I hope is made clear by the post). You should engage an instructional designer or eLearning professional, at least to provide advice in the early days, and perhaps for a longer and more involved engagement. Always read the label, but only ever follow the instructions when they will specifically deal with the problem you are facing.

Advertisements

What this post is about

Some (very late) initial thoughts on the uses and applications of iBooks and the idea of iBook development for instructional designers.

What this post is not about

This is not a detailed discussion on technical capabilities or creative development using iBooks.

Here is a summary

This post is part 2 of a 2-part posting about Apple’s iBooks. In this post, I want to record my initial reaction (as a learning design professional) to Apple’s iBook technology.

Here begins the post

Well, here they are. The much rumoured iBook Textbook. Apple’s latest addition to education using technology. Together with podcasting, iTunes university and other initiatives, these will change the shape of education, and the use of technology in education.

What are iBooks? iBooks are a software implementation for the iPad that allow developers to create interactive, rich media text books. Apple have released the code for developing iBooks for free, but of course development and use of the final product requires an Apple product.

Why do I make such grand claims about their dominance? From a technical point of view, the key to successful instructional design is to get people to work with/explore/use and process information. This post (Pulse Learning) says it very efficiently, so I link to it for economy’s sake.  Quite often, there are constraints to using technology to teach anything. You want to make the experience as rich and effective and efficient as possible. Quite often, information may need to be truncated – to keep it to the point. Perhaps all the information is provided within the scope of a course.  But within a specific topic, it may be isolated, modular, away from its natural environment (that being related concepts or important things to consider).

The iBook offers various methods for allowing the highly interactive content to be deployed, while also providing a full account of the information. Learners don’t just read text.

They can be encouraged to interact with the concepts being communicated:

  • Watch engaging/entertaining video (that might take 2 minutes to consume), rather than read dense and complex text about the relationships between things
  • Play with interactive graphs to see how adjusting X will affect Y
  • Take and keep notes directly from the text, which are then available as note cards, which help with things like revision (for students) or quick “just in time” support/reminders (for those learning work skills).
  • 3D images will also help to make text books more interesting to read.

All of this contributes to a better learning experience and the possibility of maintaining learner attention for longer than the normal 20-30 minutes of self study.

Is it all good? Well, I do have some issues…
One key market they are targeting are schoolchildren. This makes sense when one considers the size/weight of the average school bag. However, as a parent I can tell you there are several issues arising from the prospect:

  • It is an unequal world. Will children whose parents cannot afford an iPad be left behind?
  • It is an imperfect world. I wouldn’t trust my child to look after a €5 (or $5 or £5) radio and not break it. What about a €400+ device? If they (and my kids will) break their “school iPad”, what happens? Am I spending €400+ everytime they break one? Get insurance? Sure – but then they break their iPad so often,I’m probaby paying for another iPad a year anyway.

I have heard the arguments that text books are as expensive, but I don’t know whether they stretch to this cost. Furthermore, printed books can be handed down to younger children, bought/sold second hand, etc. In short, there are various factors that will mitigate the cost of text books, but these are not so easy to find for the iPad.
It is an impractical world.  (Update – please see comment below)Not every school will have a PC/Mac to load these iPads with content. Will parents need a computer? What about those who don’t quite understand the requirements of such technology (I know of someone who got an iPod, but didn’t realise they needed a computer to load content onto it). Will parents need computers and WiFi?

Why Am I So Down On This All of a sudden?
I’m not down on it at all. The first thing that does strike me is that it is a shame such a technology could not be provided in an open source model (or perhaps even the One Laptop Per Child model). Using cheap but effective technology and open source software could bring down the cost of developing and purchasing the technology. Furthermore a OLPC model could aslo have tablet computers with iBooks sent to developing countries. In short: Apple cannot be blamed for doing a good job. It is a shame that it cannot be more open and available, but Apple cannot be blamed for not being a charity.

On balance, iBooks are a definite step forward in education and the use of technology in education.

For instructional designers, I offer a tentative SWOT analysis for instructional designers in the use of iBook technology

Strengths
There are many strengths in the iBook model.

  • The deployment of rich-media, engaging learning content makes everyone happy
  • One device (rather than many books) is very compelling. I worked on projects in the past where people took eLearning courses to learn about a technology, but then brought manuals to work sites where they might need them. They would need a specific workbook for a specific worksite, depending on the technology installed. An iBook textbook means all of this can be kept in one portable device.
  • Moreso, they can become a one-stop-shop for learning and reference. (Imagine reading Ullyses with a guide/dictionary/notes all built in so you aren’t grappling for the back of the book or another book – you simply tap to bring up the information you may want immediately). As an example of an adult-learner, imagine a technician having the full manual, as well as troubleshooting guides and interactive guides explaining the concepts behind a technology altogether? They can find and use the specific information they require in seconds. This could help speed up processes, especially for rarer problems people face. Similar arguments could be made in medicine (reference guides, diagnostic practices, photos of symptoms could all be provided in one place, on one sleek device), sales (product references, user guides, application guides, price points, etc.).
  • (Possibly) Automatic revision? I am unsure of this, but if iBook Textbooks are built on the app model, a publisher could keep the content in their texts up-to-date in a much quicker, much more effective method, pushing new updates so their learners/users will always be confident they have the most up-to-date information.  This could completely disrupt the textbook model, with purchasers taking a “Subscription” to a text book for core content and updates.

Weaknesses
From an instructional design point of view, some educational technology is missing from iBook textbooks.

  • Ability to network/use forums or social media
  • Quizzes to help learners monitor their progress through a subject
  • the development of interactive scenarios

These are all regulalry used to enrich the learning experience at all levels (from school children to young and even more advance adult learners.

Perhaps this is on the horizon? Is it conceivable that someone else has already thought of this and could be developing an Android equivalent?
For instructional designers, this may mean we cannot extend/develop our learning content to the full extent that we might want. (From my own personal point of view, scenario/quiz based learning is very important). On the other hand, there could be great challenges in using the core functionality to mock things such as quizzes and scenarios (for example, if there is a function to jump to a specific page/point). However, without a dedicated quiz engine, any workaround would still lack key functionality, or make that functionality too clumsy to mock up (consider a question with several options, individual feedback for each, as part of a quiz of several questions, with feedback at the end of the quiz… that’s going to be complex)

Opportunities

There are obvious opportunities immediately available. Apple hook up with some publishing companies to provide a massive library of content. Their success with iTunes and the music industry would indicate that a development roadmap will be full for quite some time, and libraries of content will be released in time.
For instructional designers, this could mean opportunities within more traditional publishing houses to help them develop/redevelop a huge amount of texts into more engaging and interactive content. Whether publishing houses would go for this is anyone’s guess. I would imagine there will be a critical mass – once X number of publishers are on board, the rest may have to follow to stay relevant.

Threats
I think the biggest threat could be the model itself. Again, price is going to be a problem for many people. This might mean someone else comes along to develop an Android equivalent using cheaper hardware and OS. But then will instructional designers have to deal with development from 2 differnet operating systems (and hardware setups)?

As it is, one will need to buy a Mac to develop iBook Textbooks – which is a costly prospect to say the least.

With any technology for eLearning development, there is also the threat of instructional designers becoming lazy. You could get away with a lot of content that looks very good, but is instructionally poor if you don’t keep in mind the fundamentals of your profession. There is no inherent design/development process – this is the value you add as an instructional designer. You will still need to deal with SMEs, designers, project managers and clients. You will still be responsible for ensuring that learners using the finished contnet will learn – will achieve the objectives set out for that content.
Another threat could be that many people decide they *only* want iBook textbooks content, disregarding a lot of other content that could be more engaging/useful for learners. Without quiz/scenario based learning, this would degrade the quality of your learning product even further. Unless you could somehow hook the textbook up to an LMS, where learners could go for testing/scenarios. While this could work, it seems quite clumsy given that you’re using such a sleek model to deploy your content in the first place.

Conclusion

I have no doubt that the iBook Textbook is going to make serious waves – not just in school/college education, but in further education, CPD and ongoing requirements for those who work in industries where information is constantly being updated, or where typical responsibilities will often require a small library of content for reference. I myself am looking to save for a Mac for the express purpose of being ready, should (and when) the revolution hits full throttle.

Can We Fix Jobbridge?

September 7, 2011

IRISH READERS: Please skip to the next paragraph. For non-Irish readers, Jobbridge is a National Internship Scheme, which has been developed to help those who have lost their jobs to gain experience and/or upskill. The programme has been subject to some criticism as there is a belief employers are exploiting it – and that furthermore, there is nothing to stop unscrupulous employers from exploiting those who are out of work.

The past couple of weeks have thrown up more bizarre positions on the Jobbridge website.  Many of the “internships” being advertised appear to certainly be entry level (or higher) roles – jobs that people should be getting paid to do. This is causing deep concern, and rightly so. Not just concern that employers are getting free labour, subsidised by the government. Some have pointed out that they have lost income as contractors – because work they would have pitched for is now being done by “interns” for free.   Some interns have pointed out that they are the only person performing a specific function within the companies where they are working.

In fact, a Tumblr blog is now listing some of the worst offenders.

What this post is about:  In light of all this, I would like to consider some ways in which the scheme might be made to work as a  proper internship programme, offering real value for those who are enrolled.

What this post is not about: I’m avoiding critiquing specific roles (I did that in my last post) or the range of positions advertised on Jobbridge, as I believe they are adequately dealt with elsewhere. (The Tumblr blog I’ve linked to collects them, alternatively, search #jobbridge on Twitter, and you’ll see plenty of complaints or positions that appear to be improperly advertised)

Here is a summary: Jobbridge lacks three vital ingredients which must be addressed to improve its reputation and usefulness:

  • Employer effort (not just the effort of taking on staff – but the effort of contributing to a workplace learning and development programme)
  • Defined training paths, which prove that the internship is – in fact – an internship and not a free-labour scheme
  • Accreditaiton and certification, which benefit both candidates and organisations by defining a skills range and level and benchmarking it so that employers and employees have a common reference point when discussing ability

In short, Jobbridge might be fixed by applying a structured training and development framework to it. In this post, I’ll map out my thinking in reaching this conclusion and list some ways in which these vital ingredients can be included in the mix.

Here begins the post

Jobbridge is meant to be about internships.

An internship should be a position specifically created to train young (usually professional) person in applying learned knowledge to a role, or set of roles (this is my own broad description).

The point of an internship is that the candidate can learn how to bring together various and diverse knowledge, skills or approaches in order to perform some role. For example, as an instructional designer, one pulls together knowledge of learning styles and learning design, computer skills, some insight, and certain approaches to develop learning content. All of these specific skills/knowledge may have been learned elsewhere or in different contexts (e.g. studying educational psychology, computer science,  browsing the Internet and taking an interest, etc.). An internship can take this knowledge and the candidate’s “raw talent” and shape it (by training them how to apply these skills, or providing some new skills) into a form that is useful for business/productivity. This benefits the intern, as their new skills are now marketable. It benefits the business (and business in general), as it means that candidates are better skilled to enter the workforce and become more productive in a shorter timeframe.

The US Dept of Labor asserts that an internship must meet 6 criteria (these 6 criteria separate an “unpaid internship” from “unpaid work”):


  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

US Dept of Labor Fact Sheet #71 http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf

How Does This Apply to Jobbridge?

What Jobbridge offers – despite calling them internships – is “experience”.  This is intended to ” the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills.” As long as this remains the case, Jobbridge is wide open to exploitation by unscrupulous business practices. It is easy to offer anyone “experience”, as all you need to do is tell them to do something. And that something may well profit you.

It is also easy to make exploiters out of those who may have good intentions. In a range of comments and tweets, I’ve seen people defend Jobbridge listings, claiming that “it’s a legitimate opportunity”. This may well be a firmly held belief – not everyone is a scheister. I can understand that some without an understanding of professional development or training may well feel that they are offering people a real chance to apply their knowledge/practice skills. This is not to say that all employers are struck by such a feeling of benevolence. It is simply to point out that many may not see the problem that others see. Which is what I want to talk about next.

What is the Problem?

The immediate and obvious problem is everything written thus far in the post – the possibility of exploitation (and the assertions that this exploitation is not only ocurring, but is rampant). A less obvious, but perhaps more damaging problem is that there is no proof of learning here. Without such proof of learning, the whole exercise is empty and pointless.

Empty and pointless because:

  • Businesses/organisations cannot describe what it is that they will teach interns (which leads to suspicion of their motives)
  • Interns have no objective evidence that they have done anything at all (which doesn’t help them when searching for actual, paid work)
  • Not necessarily essential – but Ireland is also missing the opportunity to draw up and develop a real skills register – i.e. a list of the skills used in businesses and organisations across the country
It is probably useful at this point to restate Jobbridge’s “aim”.
The aim of the National Internship Scheme is to assist in breaking the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills. The scheme will also give people a real opportunity to gain valuable experience to bridge the gap between study and the beginning of their working lives.
There is just about nothing here that describes education or training. (Another irony here is that Jobbridge comes under the aegis of FAS (soon to be SOLAS), the national work skills training and development agency.  FAS is Irish for “grow”, but there is little proof here that any growth will occur, offering much less by way of solace for those who are out of work and seeking opportunities).
So, How Can We Fix It?
Simply put (and it is much easier said that done), a proper training and development framework needs to be applied to the Jobbridge programme. This would:
  • Define the prerequisite level of education and skills required to undertake the internship
  • Identify the training that will take place during the apprenticeship, and describe the manner in which this training is provided
  • (The hardest part) Plot the skills to be learned/developed/applied according to their complexity and level of expertise. While this is difficult, we do have a National Framework of Qualifications, which plots – in the abstract – just this kind of information. The NFQ is used to decide whether a course leads to a certificate, diploma, degree, masters degree, etc.
  • Describe how the intern’s learned skills can be tested and applied in future
  • Provide a form of accreditation and certification, which gives the intern objective proof of their efforts, and identifies both their skillset and mastery for potential employers
So, How in Hell Do We Do All This?
This is a blog post, not a white paper. But forms of such internships exist (Accountancy/Law have used some form of learning/workplace development for generations, with new graduates undertaking “office work” while studying for examinations – often sponsored by their employers). However, I can think of 3 methods that could at least be investigated:
The medical internship model, in which educated people (i.e. those with a degree in medicine) are trained to perform certain tasks and encouraged to develop their skill. The traditional method is Learn One, Do One, Train One – in which the trainee will see a task being done, then – under supervision – perform that task, then teach the task to another, or explain it back to their supervisor (it is often easiest to prove to yourself and others that you know how to do something when you explain it to someone else in a clear manner). Of course, there are other learning methods employed (and indeed, different medical disciplines have their own training methods).  However, I suppose my point here is that if we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we could always look at a tried and tested method for learning and developing professional skills, which can eventually be accredited and certified.
Another model might be to take a breakdown of the skills that an intern will gain while working for the ‘host’ organisation. These skills could be plotted against existing courses and training efforts already certified by FAS. Final testing for accreditation/certification could be developed.  The benefit of this approach is that many of the courses exist, and therefore will have standard curricula, syllabi and testing methods. These would need to be  tweaked, to be applied to workplace learning.  This is something for some kind of national skills training and development agency.  Where ‘holes’ exist (i.e. no courses currently exist), courses could be developed to bridge the gap – which then means Ireland (and Ireland’s training and development organisations) can better respond to the needs of organisations in the “real” economy.
Finally, and perhaps most difficult, is to develop skills accreditation on the fly. This would be absolutely meaningless without reference to something like the NFQ – it would require the development of a framework within which working skills are described in terms of effort, mental dexterity, expertise and complexity. These separate aspects would then need to be configured in such a way as to provide an abstract, objective description of the types of skills one has learned – but within definable categories (these categories being along the lines of “IT”, “Hospitality”, “Design”, etc. and then “Novice”, “Intermediate”, “Expert”, etc.). This might be considered impossible by some, but many corporate employers have something like this in place – because it allows them to gauge their own talent pool. Such a system would have to work on a national level. Skills descriptions would have to be defined by organisations working with objective experts in the training and development field. The skills descriptions would then need to be plotted against something like the NFQ.
In all cases, there are 3 important aspects which are missing from most Jobbridge listings:
  • Employer effort (not just the effort of taking on staff – but the effort of contributing to a workplace learning and development programme)
  • Defined training paths, which prove that the internship is – in fact – an internship and not a free-labour scheme
  • Accreditaiton and certification, which benefit both candidates and organisations by defining a skills range and level and benchmarking it so that employers and employees have a common reference point when discussing ability

In a country where we consistently discuss the “Knowledge Economy”, some form of knowledge development scheme should not be beyond us. However, whether the appetite for the challenge and the effort is there is another question.