Thursday, February 19, 2015

Three Things Learning Practitioners Can Learn from the Open Source Community

As I listened to the TED Radio Hour “What is Original?” I kept wondering what originality really means in today’s age of building on top of what is already there.

Back in the early days of modern science, the scientific method was new, and you could discover new scientific truths by observation – in your backyard, or in a home laboratory. Even in those times, getting together with other like-minded people in a cafeteria was a ritual frequented by the scientists.

Today, we live in an age of endless sampling and borrowing. Virtually everything we build is based on the work of those who came before us.

So, what can we, as learning practitioners, learn from the open source community?

For one thing, not every piece of content has to be an original creation. If there were a way of openly sharing small pieces of content for repurposing and reuse, with due acknowledgement to the author, it would help build high quality curricula faster.

We could evolve standards for learning technology together, making it easier for systems to interoperate and exchange data.  When Elon Musk decided to give away Tesla’s patents, he did precisely this – he diffused proprietary knowledge into the broader industry so that as the ecosystem grows, Tesla in turn gets further ahead.  While this appears to be philanthropy, it is sound strategy.

And finally, we could celebrate new ways of contextualizing existing pieces of knowledge. For example, e-learning developers could openly share learning interactions built for teaching core concepts, and others could modify those interactions to illustrate specific applications of those concepts.

Open source community boasts of several collective accomplishments in the field of software. There is no reason learning professionals cannot repeat that success in education. Or is there?


Inspired by TED Radio Hour “What is Original?” Part IV (18 min)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Six Learning Techniques

Every human being learns through six different learning techniques. The quality of our learning is the binary value of the 6-nibble (24 bit) word, where each nibble is a technique, as shown below.


Here value of each nibble represents the expertise level in respective technique. The overall expertise of a person as considered in Industry could be the total binary value of 24 bit word.

6. Memorize – It’s the least significant nibble of learning word. We use it to store the information in our memory and try to retrieve it whenever we require it. We hardly do any processing of this information.

5. Understand – It’s the next level of learning technique where we try to construct a meaning from instructional messages communicated over a communication channel.

4. Apply – In this technique, we carry out or use a procedure / framework of some rules to the data we collect, in a given situation, to make meaning out of it.

3. Analyze – In this technique, we decompose the matter; study how parts are related to each other and to the overall structure or purpose, to make some conclusion.

2. Evaluate – Here we make Judgments based on pre-defined and accepted criteria / standards with one or more options. The main objective is to take or justify a decision.

1. Create – This is the most significant nibble of the learning word where we put all elements together to form a coherent or functional assembly, reorganize elements or add some new elements, to create a new pattern which helps to improve existing processes or builds new processes.

In many countries, the entire focus in schools is on “Memorize”. Whether students want to “Understand” it; is completely dependent on the student. The evaluation system will hardly test if the student has learnt “Understand” technique. When the student enters undergraduate course, he / she gets introduced to “Apply” technique, and some attempt is made to use this technique. In the exams though, highest weightage is still for the “Memorize”, then to “Understand”, and last (and least) to “Apply”.

After graduation, when one enters industry, he / she is exposed to “Analyze”, where earlier techniques are not enough to do the job. Those who can adapt to this “Analyze” technique survive and grow. As one becomes experienced, he / she also needs to develop “Evaluate” technique. Those who do well mastering “Evaluate”, become decision makers, and climb higher in organization. While at work, some people also learn “Create” technique and they excel in technical and R&D assignments.

An ideal education system should facilitate learning for all these techniques, thus making them industry ready and smart work force.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why is Augmented Reality not Mainstream in Learning?


Augmented reality technology has been around for over a decade now, and there is a lot of talk about its promise and applications. In this post, we would like to survey our readers to discover why augmented reality is not a mainstream technology in learning. We offer four reasons we have heard around the industry. Please feel free comment and let us know where you are on this issue. 

A.      There is not enough awareness about where AR can really help 
B.      It is expensive to build AR applications
C.      Technology expertise is not widespread (not enough know-how)
D.      AR tools have not evolved to meet the needs of the e-learning market

Posted on behalf of Vikas Joshi.

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.