Thursday, October 9, 2014

Internet of Things: Imagination is the only limit

I started my journey with Harbinger Systems sometime back. Though I am just a couple of months old here, the knowledge and exposure which I have received has been enormous. I have interacted and learned a lot from my colleagues who always push and encourage me to dabble in new things. A few days back, one of my colleagues mentioned about The Internet of Things (IOT) to me. This was something new for me and so I decided to do a little research to understand what it is all about.

Though there are a lot of ways in which the IOT has been defined, I understood it as a network of physical objects accessed through the internet. These objects could be natural or man-made which would be provided with an IP address and the ability to transfer data over a network.

A lot of companies over the world are investing their time and resources to come up with various creative things as part of the IOT. These could actually make a difference in our lives. A good example of this is a product which is being developed by Microsoft Inc. It is aptly named as ‘The Smart Alice’ as it helps the visually impaired to ‘see’ things around them. It is a tiny wearable device which they could use at various places. For instance, at a railway station, it could give them directions to reach their coach and an update in case of a delay. It could even describe the food item that they are about to eat. Shopping could be made a simpler and enjoyable experience as it could read out the size of the outfits, the cost and could even describe the colour and the texture of the fabric.

Another exciting example of the IOT is the newly launched Nike+FuelBand. This cool and trendy looking wrist band not only ups your style quotient a notch higher but also tracks the amount of physical activity done; the energy burned and counts the number of steps taken. The information gathered is integrated into the Nike+ online community which helps us to monitor and track our fitness progress.

Good quality education has become easily accessible to thousands of students studying worldwide, thanks to the IOT. There are software applications which help the students to create content or to interact with content. Teaching methods and classrooms have become more open through voice, video and text based collaborations.

Sparked, a Dutch startup uses wireless sensors on cattle. If one of the cows gets sick or pregnant, a message is sent to the farmer.

Smart kitchen and home appliances such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and coffee makers have made our lives much simpler. They let us know when the milk is out or when the clothes are dry.

This vast network formed by a humongous number of connected things is expanding by the day. These things have started talking to each other and are developing their own intelligence. Constant learning has been beautifully weaved into our lives by the IOT. These are just a few examples which I have mentioned but there are many more. Besides simplifying things in our daily life, these applications help us to learn about a wide variety of things at all times. These products and are aimed at benefiting a wide section of people. As stated rather truly by Cisco, technological limitations are receding exponentially. When billions of things are connected, talking and learning, the only limitation left will be our own imaginations.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Six Simple Questions about Learning

Our world keeps changing and we need to continuously adapt to change. There is a process through which we adapt to change, and that process has a name, and that name is learning. Today, let’s boil this topic down to six simple questions about learning.

6. What is learning?
Learning is not what they teach you, learning is what you get out of it, right? As we shift our focus from teaching to learning, suddenly it’s an ‘aha’ moment: learning doesn’t have to be confined to formal education, it can be everywhere.

5. When do we learn?
Do we learn only during the childhood?  Hardly.  The fact is that learning is a lifelong process.  

4. Where do we learn?
Learning happens everywhere and it particularly happens when you least expect it. Life is always trying to teach us something and we are ignoring it for the most part, because we’re not mindful about it. Every experience, good or bad, should be an occasion to stop, think, and reflect. That is how we convert experience into learning.  

3. How do we learn?
People learn in many different individual ways: reading, listening, writing, teaching, talking to oneself, doing, observing, and so forth.  It is important for us to recognize our most natural learning style.

2. Who Learns?
Yes, you read that right.  Who is it that learns? On the face of it, it looks like a silly question. Obviously, individuals learn. But then, if you look deeper, in any organization, the whole system is learning. Teams of people develop tools, processes and work methods that help teams to get better and better at working together.

1. Now the final question: why is learning so important?
Learning helps you cope with uncertainty and it actually helps us adapt to change that’s occurring around us. It’s something essential for professional growth. We can grow to a certain level in any setup by following the rules. Beyond that level, we have to demonstrate adaptability, and that’s when all the learning DNA that we may have comes really handy.  To another point, there is something about the structure of our brain. If we don’t use its neurons and synapses, we begin to lose them. We can therefore say that learning keeps us young.

So here is wishing you happy and fruitful learning!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Crowd-sourced Learning Content: Opportunities and Challenges – (Part 2)

Last week, Vikas Joshi shared his thoughts on opportunities inherent in crowdsourced learning content. This week we talk to Maheshkumar Kharade, a technology expert, to follow up on the previous post. 
Q. How are tracking systems keeping pace with the opportunities inherent in crowdsourced learning content?
[Maheshkumar] Due to its multidimensional nature, crowdsourcing apparently brings in multiple challenges and opportunities for tracking systems, content creation and content delivery platforms.
I think development of TinCan API specification is on the lines of supporting crowdsourcing requirements. Its activity based tracking model enables LRS (Learning Record Store) to record almost any user action.
Recent advancements and usage spike in MOOC paradigm in education is another major step in creation of online platforms for crowdsourced learning content. Though these steps have helped gain some momentum, it’s not yet enough.
Q. What needs to be done?
[Maheshkumar] We are getting to the goal in pieces like enriched tracking specifications, delivery mechanism, etc. In my opinion, content creation should be at the center stage of crowdsourcing, other challenges would revolve around it. The key is to provide an ability to create semantically structured content through proper community collaboration. It will enable maximum reuse and re-purposing. Social networking has to be given equal consideration.
Video content adds lots of value to learning experience, but we have to look for ways to enrich it further using crowd sourcing. Imagine what can be done if we have both TinCan API and MOOC together on a single platform.  This combination will enhance current MOOC based learning experience i.e. set of sequential video lectures to next level by means of collaborated learning. Currently, multiple dimensions of crowdsourcing are different stand alone systems; we need better interoperability.
Q. How can the industry encourage platform vendors to support a common structure?
[Maheshkumar] The focus right now is on an individual aspect of crowdsourcing which is tracking systems; it needs to be widened. Also, solving problems in proprietary ways will limit overall outcome, so equal importance should be given to developing a standards based approach while addressing any aspect of crowdsourcing. Interoperability amongst multiple systems holds the key to successful crowdsourced learning.

We would love to hear from our readers in the e-learning industry if they are familiar with any work in this direction.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Crowd-sourced Learning Content: Opportunities and Challenges – (Part 1)

We are doing this post a bit differently. We present a short interview with Vikas Joshi, the primary author of this blog, and Maheshkumar Kharade, a technology expert. In this post, we start by understanding the opportunities inherent in crowdsourced learning content.
Q: How is the nature of learning content changing with time?
[Vikas Joshi] Nowadays crowdsourcing is playing an increasing role in the creation of learning content. When people have a question, they simply post it on a social networking site, and elicit responses. Sites like Quora organize questions and answers into topics, and make them searchable. People are increasingly open to participating in online platforms such as Wikipedia, that deliver crowd-sourced content. Increasingly, organizations are seen using internal portals that support crowdsourcing among employees. Learning content, therefore, comes not only from some pre-defined curriculum, but it evolves as people ask questions and contribute answers. 
Q: Can this lead to new ways of evaluating learning?
[Vikas Joshi] Absolutely. Now we are not limited to evaluating learning outcomes—we can also evaluate the learning process. There is an opportunity to evaluate people based on how they are contributing to crowd-sourced content. There is also an opportunity to observe how people are learning, the kind of questions they are asking and how engaged they are in the community of learners. Such fine-grained evaluation can create opportunities for better remediation, leading to better outcomes.

Q: Doesn’t that make the job of evaluation more complex?
[Vikas Joshi] Undoubtedly. The key issue is the following. If you evaluate only behaviors, you will get right behaviors, but you won’t know if the student has really understood the subject matter. You will keep wondering if the student is simply parroting the right answer. If you observe the thought process instead, you get a better view into the student’s learning. This is hard work, but it may be worth the effort. Maybe peers can play a role in making this easier in an online community.
Next week we will explore the technology challenges in making this possible.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mini-bite Learning - One of the Top e-Learning Trends

Came across an article on Vista Training's blog that talks about 8 trends in eLearning. Last one in the list is about mini-bites of learning (also called learning chunks by Craig Weiss in his blog) where the author talks about learning which is incremental and can be done through short learning programs. Here is a portion of the article, which paraphrases Craig Weiss's thoughts. (You can access the article here.)
"Mini-bites" of learning: Not all training is focused on teaching a new hire how to perform a task from scratch. Some of it is incremental or remedial in nature. That means a growing demand for short learning programs, packed with just one or two nuggets of knowledge that help workers get a specific task done. Weiss envisions lessons that are five minutes in length at maximum. Formats could include brief videos and one-page documents.

Performance support is one possible use for "mini-bite" training: In the construction and mining industries, an equipment operator could watch a brief video in the cab of his machine prior to performing a task. This would bring the required best-practice knowledge to the top of his mind, increasing the odds that he will perform it at peak efficiency.

Are you too thinking about short learner attention spans? Is five minutes too long for many of your learners?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Learning Arcs and Story Arcs

The purpose of a learning arc is accomplish a change in the learner, as implied in the learning objective, by taking him/her through multiple learning interactions.

Think for a moment of a TV series drama, which follows a story arc, spread over several episodes. The main character undergoes transformation as the plot progresses. The story culminates with the resolution of plot towards the end. A well-designed self-paced learning experience parallels some of these elements. The learner experiences one or more ah-ha moments as s/he moves through a series of interactions with the learning environment, completing a learning arc. Learning arcs transform the cognitive state of a learner, and concerns get resolved as learning progresses.

With that background, then, here is a definition of interactive learning arc for instructional designers who build e-learning courses. An interactive learning arc consists of multiple interactions linked together in a cohesive learning experience that is complete in itself, and can be part of a larger online course.

Have you used learning arcs as short learning nuggets all by themselves? Have you used learning arcs as branches within longer web based courses? What are your thoughts about the various ways in which learning arcs get implemented?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Learning Interactions in PowerPoint: Add Engagement to Instructor-Led Training

e-Learning course designers have traditionally turned to traditional classroom instruction for insights in instructional design. Now with a couple of decades experience of e-learning, classroom instruction can incorporate some of the best practices in e-learning. The use of learning interactions is one such example.

Self-paced e-learning courses employ learning interactions that allow learners to engage with the course materials in interesting ways. Interactions include games, exercises, simulations, drill-downs and so forth. Course authors typically use ready templates of such interactions, and add content as appropriate. When effectively incorporated, interactions make learning more engaging and memorable, provide a change of pace, and improve outcomes.

In the classroom environment, too, there is a need for enhancing outcomes. Since PowerPoint is one of the most commonly used presentation tools, I will limit my comments to a typical PowerPoint presentation here.

All of us know that slides after slides of ‘training’ content can be boring. The way to overcome this is adding interactivity. If you incorporate a quiz game, a quick exercise, a brainteaser or even a few trivia questions, the classroom comes alive. To make this process simple, Raptivity, the leading interactivity builder, recently released a PowerPoint add-in. This free tool installs a menu for interactions inside PowerPoint. Using the add-in, people can search and add interactions to their presentations in a single click. To know more, write to

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Brand New User Interface for Raptivity

There are two reasons I love the new user interface of Raptivity.

One, it is trendy. The look-and-feel, colors, white spaces and screen layouts are pleasing to the eye. The design is simple and soothing.
Two, it boosts productivity. Its customer-inspired design helps you get around in fewer clicks. The interaction search is powerful. Help is embedded in the right places, so users can access support materials, other users' work samples and community from the application. The descriptions of interactions include useful tips on how and where you can use them.

Besides, Raptivity now provides a HTML5 preview of your work - another first in the industry.

Download Raptivity to try this yourself. Or check out the six cool things about the new Raptivity interface here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Learning at Harvard

For all the discussion on learning and interactivity in these pages, I always had a hunch that I would discover something new about learning if I were to go back to school. As it turns out, the hunch was right. I did get the opportunity to spend some time at Harvard Business School recently. And, getting back to campus life was both enriching and fun.

So, what are the 'new' things I discovered about learning? Here we go.

  1. A lot of learning is accidental. You run into someone from a different walk of life, start chatting and come away with a new idea. Happens all the time.
  2. Stories are a powerful way to immerse yourself in the subject matter. Nearly a hundred and fifty case studies that we completed were an amazing experience. It was like we were living inside those stories. In some cases, the real-life protagonists would show up in the classroom. That was cool.
  3. Lecturing is easy, listening is the hard part. The best HBS professors get it.
  4. When the learner understands that enjoyment of learning is directly proportional to the preparation beforehand, no additional motivation is needed to flip the classroom.
  5. The design of the classroom and seating arrangements should encourage interaction - it has a big impact on the learning outcomes.

In our graduation ceremony at Harvard earlier this year, my classmates and I were ecstatic. We had endured the hard part. Now, I miss the campus, and  our cohort of over a hundred owner-presidents and CEOs. The time we spent together in various interactions spread over the three years has been most memorable.