Archive for 2009

Tools for Learning: Trends and Implications to Language Education

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I’m here at CCN Arctic Think Tank – Talking the Future: Languages in Education, a two day conference in Levi, Lapland. The weather is well below freezing and the landscape from the conference window looks pretty awesome. It was great to think about ideas with a horizon like this.

levi snow Tools for Learning: Trends and Implications to Language Education

Here are some notes I just produced with Emily Rosser from Macmillan Education, UK and Oliver Meyer from Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany regarding the future of online tools in language education.

Tools for Learning: Trends and Implications

Everything that can become digital, will rapidly become digital. Everything that could be automated by computers, will be automated. The amount of information in explicit form is increasing exponentially. We are moving towards an age of transparency: people produce user-generated content in the form of status updates in social networks, videos, interactive content, podcasts, blog posts, links and commentary.

The dynamic web fueled by social media is affecting content in real-time. New approaches to information visualization and categorization (e.g. with bottom-up categorization methods like tagging) are needed. Approaches like commons-based peer production enabled by technical architectures of participation in combination with open content licensing schemes (e.g. Creative Commons) changes the role of consumers into active participants – or prosumers.

The hardware capabilities, internet access, content production, content distribution and underlying educational methodologies are constantly improving and changing. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift regarding online learning. Traditional books are becoming non-linear, embedded in the very fabric of the network architecture. Paid content alone is no longer relevant enough. Publishers need to come up with added value services, extending their offering and role beyond traditional realms.

Technology takes content out of the classroom to the very context where learning happens. Smart internet enabled technologies will be embedded in our environment on e.g. walls and tabletops. Portable devices like e-book readers, tablets and next generation mobile computers make content available and integrated to the environment everywhere and anytime.

Opportunities for Language Education

Digital content and delivery will help enrich the pillars of language learning:

1. Enrich input

Content that should be made available to teachers and learners needs to make full use of the multi-sensory potential that digital formats and digital delivery offer to facilitate language intake. It also allows to deal with different learning styles.

2. Enhance interaction

New forms of communication allow instant cooperation between teams within a class and beyond.

3. Provide opportunities for dynamic output

Microblogging, tweeting, social networking and other Web 2.0 applications provide an authentic setting for output and communicative tasks in real-time.

4. Tailor scaffolding to individual needs

Non-linear learning environments allow for various kinds of scaffolding with respect to different learning styles and individual preferences.

5. Provide continuous and end-of-task assessment to give individualized feedback and offer individual learning pathways

Teacher qualification and new literaricies:

The increasing amount of available information will make it paramount for teachers to know how to select quality materials in the appropriate format. Teachers and/or material writers will need to design scaffolding and communicatively and cognitively challenging tasks around any available content. Teachers have to become literate in digital technologies.

Ideas for facilitating the above:

  • Development of a hub for teachers to link them to quality resources, planning and assessment tools online (e.g. to join an interconnected web of learners online).
  • Development of a hub for students which gives them access to resources and tips on how to make best use of new communication tools (e.g. to build a personal learning environment).
  • Personalized, flexible and delocalized online training services.

Interactive Value Creation, Apples and Nokias

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Recently I’ve been talking with my colleague Esko Kilpi about interactive value creation and its relation to social media. In Esko Kilpi’s new blog he writes (I suggest you to follow his space, even though part of the articles are in Finnish, there will be highly relevant stuff in English too):

As the demands for higher value and creativity are the norm today and the complexity of offerings has grown, we have begun to see that division of labour has reached its points of diminishing returns.”

I agree. The industrial production logic has reached its limits in the increasingly networked society. He continues to elaborate that higher value creation is impossible without interaction. There is a move from action dominated by division of labor to interaction driven by increasing complexity. The result is higher value activity.

My example that follows is very personal regarding the Finnish psyche: why Apple is doing better in interactive value creation compared to Nokia?

Closed Design Process

Apple is very well known for its secrecy in creating new product. Nokia is well known for embracing openness through open source and open platforms. So from interaction point of view, Nokia should be doing better. Or is it?

In innovation, if you believe you know better than anyone in the world  how to complete a certain task, there are good reasons to operate in a closed manner. If you know for sure that in-house resources, ideas and capabilities are limited in achieving a certain goal, you should open the process up for outside contributions.

Apple has a focused design process and knows how to do it. It has a vigorous design process outlined here, including some basic principles grounded in perfectionism:

Pixel Perfect Mockups [...] removes all ambiguity.
10 to 3 to 1
: [...] start with seven in order to make three look good.

Nokia is known to be an engineer driven land, where production efficiency often has the ability to dominate final design decisions. They might have better technical devices, but not the most original and detailed approaches to UI design. What matters is the ability to produce a truck-load of devices with minimum costs.

Apple constantly designs new products ending up as trendsetters. Their activities doing so seems almost effortless. In the background, there is obviously the unquestionable belief in their own design ability.

Open Value Creation

Let’s take the iPhone. It’s beautifully designed. What Apple doesn’t know, is how people would use the device. Every usage pattern is contextual in nature.

What you have on an iPhone is a minimum set of features that would be needed for an internet-connected phone and multimedia device. The end-user is the final missing piece in completing the product. Apple created the Appstore, so that people could come up with new ways for using the device. If you are a sailor, you might need some maps for sailing. If you love restaurants, you might have a restaurant guide. If you are a Star Wars fan, maybe you have lightsaber in your pocket. The clue is that Apple doesn’t have the resources nor the crystal ball to say how the device would be used.

Open interactive value creation is about designing the bare minimum and let people build on top of the platform and have the ability to try (almost) everything. Apple has invested in communicating their design principles regarding the iPhone. Take a look at any of the engineering documents and you see the difference. That’s why so many applications look so great: everyone is working on an app as if it would be eventually approved by Steve Jobs himself.

Ambiguity of Designing for Demographics

Nokia has a very different strategy. It runs focus group studies, figures out various demographics and designs phones for the imaginary average middle of the gaussian shape. At least that’s how it looks like. You end up with products like the Nokia 5300 XpressMusic and a myriad of other differently branded products obviously targeting different demographics.

As a result your phone will be full of pre-loaded apps, music and other details that a typical average user in the target demographic might use (let’s bet in this case we are talking about a 25-35 year old hip cool group that has  a life). The end result? You use 5-10% of the features, because nothing is really exactly right in context.

This is why designing for demographics creates unnecessary clutter and ambiguity in product design. Apple seems to know this by making the phone as simple as possible: one device, you customize the rest for yourself: apps, music and physical appearance.

The byproduct of the way how Apple designs their core offering and how people build on top of it is meaningful conversation. Creative work, that people do in interaction. Pushing boundaries.

What really matters is context. The context of use. The conversation that happens around a particular context. The way how the company listens and links this conversation back to its R&D. Designing a product too far and insisting on saying what it is doesn’t result in interactive value creation.

As far as engineering goes, Nokia is very open on the technical level but lacks the ability to be open on the design level.

Nokia is very open in the beginning, but behaves more closed as they make final decisions on how the device would be used.

Apple is very closed in the beginning, but becomes more open towards the long tail of usage.

Information will permeate our skin

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I’ve used a few times a video from the BB 2.0 – a collaborative music project to illustrate the changing nature of information and how we relate to it. The music project itself is very interesting as the original concept of authorship doesn’t really apply there: pieces of it was written by various authors and the one who plays the music really composes it.

Anyway, the interesting video in question is the video version of a poem written by Daniel Donahoo, available below (emphasis of some interesting points by me):

Information
By Daniel Donahoo (2009)

she closes the lid
and unplugs the device
no bigger than her thumb
from the computer.

My lifes work, she says. But, it isnt her lifes work.

You see, we store information like an Escher painting.
It shouldnt all fit in there. But, it does.
And every day we manage to fit more and more into smaller and smaller spaces until one day
she says,
we will be able to fit all the information the world has
everything that everyone knows and believes and dreams
into nothing.

It will all be there. Stored and filed.
Tagged with any keywords you might imagine.

Our hard drives will be thin air.

They will make nanobots look like elephants.
And elephants will be in there too. Tagged. Accessible with search terms
like grey, ivory,
and the largest land dwelling mammal

We will process away at nothing and understand everything.
We will think of a word and the information will slip in, not through our ears or eyes
but straight thorough our skin. Information will breathe in and out of us,
permeate our skin.

Our knowing will be as deep as it is wide.
You see our work here is to learn so much,

to be so full of knowing,
that all there is left to do is unlearn.

Humanity must get to a point where we let go.
We leave the useless ideas and the spent ideologies in the recycle bin.
like an adolescent brain shedding neurons.
like a snake slithering from its old skin.
like an old man who has come to understand so well the point where reality meets the intangible that he is able to decide which breath will be his last. And, he will enjoy that breath more than any that he has taken in his entire life.

And, her lifes work is more than a four meg flash drive.

My lifes work, she says, is the impact that this has.

This is not about what I produce. It is all about what others receive.

Measuring your SlideShare success

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

I know that a lot of my leads for speaking engagements have come through SlideShare. People who invite me tell me that they actually found my ideas through SlideShare and were convinced I would be a good speaker or sparring partner for their case. Until now I haven’t really thought how to analyze what works and what doesn’t. I just know what presentations are viewed most often.

Anyway, my experience is that by sharing your presentations you will get more than you would get otherwise. More leads and valuable feedback. The downside is that you become conscious that giving the same presentation twice doesn’t help your online distribution at all. You have to keep on changing and that’s great for everybody.

I took the views, downloads and favorites stats of all of my presentations and put them on a spreadsheet. This was easily done by looking at the document stats at LeadShare (business extension on SlideShare to encourage leads).

Then I looked at the following things:

  • The relative percentage of downloads compared to views. The assumption is that people are more likely to download the presentation if they find it useful.
  • The relative percentage of views + downloads for a single presentation compared to all views + downloads for all presentations. This gives you a good overview what presentations are actually leading the way (or have got most exposure).
  • The relative percentage of favorites to views + downloads for a single presentation. The assumption is that people will favorite a presentation because they love it or want to store it for later reference.

Of course it’s hard to get an objective view here, because:

  • Certain good stuff is picked up by more popular bloggers and some perhaps even better stuff sometimes never gets picked up at all.
  • A great enhancer for traffic is also the moment when your presentation gets featured by SlideShare. This has happened to several of my presentations.
  • In the other hand, time is here an issue: my presentations are published in around two month intervals since October 2006, not all of the presentations have been available for the same time.

Therefore, the view, download and favorite counts are not good enough indicators of how you are doing, but rather the relative percentages I’ve been calculating. Below you can see my current situation on SlideShare:

The most popular presentation by far is my Web 2.0 Business Models presentation with 40.35% of all traffic. This doesn’t mean it’s the best presentation. If you look at some of the relative percentages, you can see what presentations likely generate most value to their viewers.

Most downloaded presentations compared to views:

18.39% – Web 2.0 Business Models
13.07% – Vision of the future: Organization 2.0
11.43% – Culture Matters – The cultural requirements for Web 2.0 powered innovation, networking, and collaboration
10.69% – Innovation and Microinformation
09.48% – Age of Real-Time: Future Trends in a Digital World

Most favorite presentations compared to views+downloads (I have highlighted the ones that are also in the most downloaded chart):

2.34% – Collaborative Edge: Real-Time Social Technologies in Organizations
1.69% – In the age of real-time: The complex, social, and serendipitous learning offered via the Web
1.40% – Age of Real-Time: Future Trends in a Digital World
0.92% – Vision of the future: Organization 2.0

0.91% – Using Social Technologies to Run Better Events

How would you improve these stats?

Fractal learning

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

One day I asked myself the question, what would learning look like if it could be visualized?

322px Mandel zoom 00 mandelbrot set Fractal learning

A fractal. Latin fractus, meaning fractured. It is recursive by definition.

What comes to my mind is the Mandelbrot set. In 1975, Benoît Mandelbrot first coined the term fractal. Mandelbrot emphasized the use of fractals as realistic and useful models of many “rough” phenomena in the real world. In The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982) he writes:

Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.

If something is rough, that’s learning. As you approach a new topic, you start from a fuzzy idea of what it could be. As it comes into focus, new details expose themselves on the fringes, enabling you to discover even more interesting perspectives you were not aware beforehand.

Fractals are seen in many parts of nature. Even fractal cosmology exists as an area of study. In a New Scientist article (2007) Labini & Pietronero asked the question, “Is the universe a fractal?“. Their study of nearly a million galaxies suggests that the matter in the universe is arranged in a fractal pattern up to a scale of about 100 million light years.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the total entropy in the universe increases over time, as change happens. In layman terms that would be analogous to a room getting messed up over time as people live in it. In thermodynamics, entropy is a measure of the amount of energy in the system that is no longer available. As entropy increases in the universe, at the same time incredibly intricate and detailed order emerges from the details. Think of the human brain on planet earth for example.

250px Fibonacci spiral 34.svg Fractal learning

Fibonacci spirals also depict the fractal pattern of beauty in nature. Golden ratio is a very well known principle in mathematics and art, first originating in the Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation) in the 13th century. Good examples of forms with Fibonacci spirals include the spirals of shells, various flowerings, the branching of trees and arrangement of leaves on a stem.

The internet looks like a fractal.

So what do fractals have to do with learning?

When considering learning, we are pattern recognizers. Just like fractals, our neural networks evolve over time and extend outside of us. As our environment changes, so do we.  As we process information, in addition to entropy, new patterns emerge. By increasing the ammount of information, you increase the possibility of new patterns to be recognized by people.

In the digital world, entropy is information overload and order is the pattern that emerges from the interconnection of such information.

Knowledge is like a hologram. In holograms, even smaller pieces of it include the picture of the whole object. Knowledge is like a hologram. The experience changes as your point of view towards the object changes. The knowledge is not in a single image, but distributed on a network.

This is pattern recognition. And it’s the culmination of fractal learning. It’s a Mandelbrot set that zooms into the details indefinitely. Universe is fractal by nature. So is learning fractal by nature. It’s rough, it’s self-similar, it’s recursive and increasing the likelihood for serendipity is key for building higher structures.

Here is a recent Finnish presentation recording of my talk on the subject at a conference (Verkkoja kokemassa):

Warning: video ID not specified!

Here are my slides from the Distance Education & Teaching conference in Madison, USA (still waiting for the presentation recording to be published):