Archive for December, 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.