Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Cloud Learning as Universal Primary Education

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

I will discuss the idea I call Cloud Learning – universal access to learning by all through the fact that our learning environments, learning content, learning services an learning devices are becoming digitally distributed, context aware (as in physical location, physical environment and learners themselves) and will resemble more of a cloud than a cathedral.

Cloud Learning takes a holistic approach in understanding how digitally distributed and transparent mobile technologies are shaping individual and organizational learning as a whole.

Cloud Learning Devices

Current trend on mobile and tablet computing points towards a future where the input and access devices we use are becoming paradoxically both context sensitive and location independent. Cloud learning on a mobile device matches distributed learning resources from human and non-human appliances to the context of use.

We now know the location through GPS, owner through the services, environment through the sensors and network through the social connections. This enables the devices to be tailored to individual needs and content to be delivered in a contextual way.

Applications such as Layar already show the potential of using the camera, accelerometer, location awareness and cloud-based content to augment human capabilities to a wholly new level.

Learners will loose their backpacks as all the content they will ever need will be available on their mobiles and tablets on-demand in a similar way as any track of music can be readily available through Spotify without local storage.

The future of a bookshelf is not going to be  a replica of the physical one: it will include the ability to bookmark, highlight annotate, share and filter any piece of content, article and page based on your social network graph.

Learners will combine various applications on their mobile devices to form a personal cloud learning environment, consisting of interconnected software applications utilizing content and services available from the cloud for individual learning needs. This is something that is being now enabled through application and content stores.

Cloud Learning Services

There are good examples on how social technologies are enabling new modes of collaboration and learning. In general, social computing platforms often deploy a network of people connected on a planetary scale.

Such networks are used to filter and display better and more focused information for learners based on their social connections, usage history and proclaimed interests. What is possible in open systems in terms of recommendation systems have major advantages over centralized and closed systems based on a limited content and user base.

Crowdsourcing enables one to outsource certain key tasks through the internet to a large number of people in order to tap into the collective intelligence available. Services such as Quora provide means for asking questions and getting answers from skilled people all around the world, increasing the diversity of conversations.

Cloud Learning Environments

Talking about a learning environment as a separate entity points towards the distinction that learning could only happen in certain environments and not in others. It also points to an idea that one environment could be better designed for learning than another.

The fact today is that learning environments surrounded by walls are a hindering factor to potential conversations, interactions and perspectives one could have. In other words the traditional model of a class room is outdated – it limits our access to other people, other content and other means of learning.

Mobile is about to liberate us from the walls and single point of access to content and resources.

The reason for centralized learning environments is obvious: during the age of analog media, one had to gather content (such as books) and resources (as in people) into a single physical location (a school) in order for learning to be efficient.

Now in the age of digital media, the best content and the best people to teach, co-learn and share with are accessible on the network, making centralized models less efficient.

Nobel laureate Ronald Coase wrote in his economic theory that high transaction costs lead to the foundation of centralized organizations. In the other hand, low transaction costs lead to a situation where economic activity happens increasingly in the open markets.

We already see this happening in the media: the internet has lowered the transaction costs in distribution and production of news, therefore leading to a situation where the internet is replacing the printing press as a distribution channel and consumers have become the producers of news.

If journalists want to be successful in the future, they need to focus on becoming curators of content, analysts and informants to their readers. Similarly school teachers are no longer the primary means to knowledge, but should act as a coaches or curators, rather than broadcasters.

The internet is lowering the transaction costs of learning. This leads to a situation where learning happens more and more in the open markets, in a distributed and decentralized manner. It is obvious that the primary interface will be based on mobile, cloud-based devices. Some principles:

  • Learning content: Content needs to be presented in various different forms and mediums from dynamic conversation-based streams to well thought out narratives and information visualization dashboards.
  • Learning locations: Learning should take place in different locations during the day. Material under study would connect with the objects in the environment.
  • Storage of learning content: a library larger than the library of Alexandria can already fit into a single device in your pocket. Content will be organized in an associative way through tagging and could potentially use the possibilities offered by the semantic web. Content that is based on physical objects will have location based information embedded within. Cloud computing will provide a distributed and efficient way to store and access this information.
  • Organization of learning content: digital technologies free us from the limitations of physical organization. Metaphorically the same book could reside on multiple bookshelves at the same time. Social recommendation systems and new kind of search engines provide relevancy and accuracy for finding suitable content.
  • From broadcast and consumption to collaboration and co-creation: the past was all about teachers acting as transmitters of content. In the future teachers and students are collaborators and students are considered part of the process of improving teaching. Teachers and facilitators will be available on-demand from anywhere in the world through the network.

It is evident that digitally distributed learning environments through mobile devices will be more scalable, more effective, more comprehensive, more social and more immersive than traditional physical class rooms and centralized locations for schools.

Cloud Assessment

The question os assessment often arises in the context of learning taking place in non-formal, informal and distributed environments. How do we evaluate that learning has occured and how do we certify that learning?

Traditional modes of assessment assumes that a set of questions should be answered in a specific way, demonstrating systemic understanding of the topic – the SAT scores are a good example of this. The questions are answered in isolation to the world to demonstrate memorization.

Contemporary modes of assessment would assume that learning happens everywhere (in the cloud) and that the way how you demonstrate learning is to track how ones thinking has evolved over time through multiple channels. It also assumes that one does not learn or solve problems in isolation with the world but is effectively connected to the world to its maximum.

There are effectively three levels of certification: 1st hand, 2nd hand and 3rd hand certification.

  • 1st hand certification is what you say you know. In the old world you would describe your skills in a resume and leave it to the employer to evaluate if that holds true. In the new world you can make your work and learning processes visible as it happens, demonstrating progress and increasing the believability of your 1st hand descriptions. A simple blog (a log of thoughts) makes reflection visible  and demonstrates the evolution and iteration of thinking as it happens.
  • 2nd hand certification is what others say about you. In the old world you would describe your references in a resume and leave it to the employer to call these references to evaluate if these people really value your work and learning. In the new world people accumulate links, likes and comments to the resources you produce on social networks. A Klout score on social media or a personal stock price based on social media activity on EmpireAvenue demonstrate your social capital through a simple metric. The question is, are you making an impact with your progress, enabling other people to build on top of your work through reflection and co-creation, or are you effectively invisible to others?
  • 3rd hand certification is what an authority says about you. In the old world you would get a certificate on hand to add in your resume that you have demonstrated the ability to pass a specific rat test (a school). This doesn’t necessarily mean you have mastered all the topics involved, but it demonstrates that you have been capable of passing such tests under the supervision of an authority. In the new world a single test in isolation is not enough but your ability to solve problems in connection with others.

A professor could go through your blog and certify that you have truly demonstrated learning, but this alone will not be sufficient. What it effectively means is that you have to demonstrate life-long learning, ability to switch jobs, be certified by multiple authorities and effectively becoming someone who evaluates the learning done by others. You have to master all three: 1st, 2nd and 3rd party certification to be a learner and worker of the future.

The Mind as a Cloud

Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers wrote about the idea of an “extended mind” in a paper on philosophy under the same title (1998). The starting point is that the mind, the body and the environment are interconnected and cannot be meaningfully separated. The tools and objects in our environment play a significant role in our cognitive processes.

As the objects and information in the whole world (e.g. books) become coupled with our context through the mobiles, the external objects will effectively become part of our cognition. We move from just-in-case learning (memorization) to just-in-time learning (interaction), where the real-time web combined with a mobile link enables contextual information to be readily accessible.

The whole world available in this manner through mobiles then becomes our 6th sense. Our mind is not separate from our environment and it no longer just uses external objects in our immediate physical environment. Through cloud-based mobile devices the global mind is effectively an extension of our minds – turning our minds from single brains to interconnected clouds.

Universal Cloud Learning

Assuming that we want to provide universal primary education to all, we first need to enable cloud learning for all. This requires that technology becomes embedded in our environment. In a similar way as pen and paper has partly enabled universal primary education in the old world, in the new world cloud-based mobile learning should be universally accessible. Consider what Mark Weiser, the former chief scientist at Xerox has said:

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave  themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are  indistinguishable from it. “

We should stop looking at mobile technologies as technologies alone and start embedding them into our environment and eventually into our culture in order to make them indistinguishable from it. When that happens, the old world (including mobiles per se, folks) will disappear and a new world based on universal cloud learning will enable universal primary education to all: no single institutions, no single learning environments, no single devices or software, but a distributed learning environment – the world as it is.

Horizon Report (+finnish presentation)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

New Media Consortium (NMC) supports around 300 learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and emerging technologies. Operating mainly in North America but also internationally, NMC releases every year their flagship analysis of the future of technology in education called the Horizon Report. Last round (2009 edition) I was part of the expert board consisting of around 45 people from all around the world who have something to say about the role of technology in education in the next few years.

I did a presentation about the Horizon Report findings at the International Technology in Education (ITK) conference in Hämeenlinna, Finland. NMC Director Larry Johnson was kind enough to participate virtually on stage with me. In the presentation I go through six main trends and give my own take on these:

  • Within a year: Mobiles and Cloud Computing
  • 2-3 years: Personal Web and Geo-Everything
  • 4-5 years: Semantic-aware Appliations and Smart Objects

The slides and the video recording are available below. For english speaking readers some of the slides are in english.

View more presentations from Teemu Arina.

Broken educational systems

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Robin Good asked me to record a few responses to questions he prepared about education and learning. He did the same thing for a few others like  Howard Rheingold, Jay Cross, Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Nancy White and Gerd Leonhard. The short fragments were used at his Le Web keynote along with a series of articles joining the strings together.

The first article in the series is about the paradigm shift in education and learning deals with the structure itself that is supposed to give us all we need to be successful in life at the current moment: the education system.

It’s all so good to talk about new media, 2.0, participation, collaboration, real-time web, mashing-up, agile development, remixing, or lifestreaming but what value do these discoveries have when as soon as we turn our heads home and to our kids we still force them to go through an education system that embraces none of such fantastic discoveries?

And while you are at it, you might as well continue and read Stephen Downes’s words on how to be successful (if you think the education you have is not getting you anywhere meaningful).

Subliminal pattern recognition and RSS readers

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I’ve done one statement a number of times: information overload is an opportunity for pattern recognition and thus leads to better abilities to sense what is going on and how to respond to it. Therefore, information overload is actually a good thing. Obviously it brings anxiety at certain times, but if you position yourself with it in a different attitude based on the flow/perceiving metaphor rather than collection/consumption metaphor, you will have much easier time coping with it.

Check out this video below. It’s about subliminal advertising and the result might surprise you:

This is exactly why those people who use RSS readers to scan through thousands of feeds, read blog posts from various decentrally connected sources and who engage themselves into assembling multiple unrelated sources of information into one (probing connections between them) have much greater ability to sense and respond to changing conditions in increasingly complex environments than those who read only the major newspapers, watch only the major news networks and don’t put themselves into a difficult situation of being hammered with a lot of stuff at once.

Linear, intentional learning was how you learned in the past. Enter nonlinear, visually active way of learning of the future.

The blogosphere is like a digital photograph: one pixel is one blog post. The details don’t make any sense but once the pixels appear to be connected, it forms a pattern, a picture perhaps that you can recognize. This is exactly what happens if you swim in information overload and try to perceive how things fit together. As a result, you might think that you have almost psychic capabilities to know what is happening at the market right now and how to respond.

If you are an individual, start using RSS readers and expand your field of subliminal vision. Use sources that regularly provide insight into your life. If you are a corporation, create information overload inside your organization and give people tools to follow and perceive patterns. Otherwise your competitors will soon know better than you what to do next.

How Mobile is Changing our Society

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

In a couple of weeks I will be talking at the Mobile Monday Amsterdam in the context of how mobile is changing our society. The 400-seat event was “sold out” in just 2 hours. People will come and listen what I, Bruce Sterling, Raymond Perrenet and Johan Koolwaaij have to say about the topic. The presentations will be recorded.

The popularity of the event for me points towards increased interest of people to know more about the mobile world. We are at a brink of transformation due to new market entrants (giants like Google and Apple are now Nokia’s new respectable competitors), convergence of the existing social web with the mobile (the web embracing functionality within the iPhone or new Nokia devices as an example), increased volumes, increased number of users and increased complexity in our society.

It’s all about emergence. An entirely new thing is emerging from this interconnected electronic mycelium.

I have a feeling that the question we pose today is wrong. It’s not about mobile anymore. For some people, mobile means the devices that we carry around as we move, usually hooked up to a cellular network. The truth is, the activities we go through online with computers and what we do with our “mobiles” cannot be seen as separate anymore. This convergence means our language needs to change or our culture will never understand its future.

As ordinary physical items enter the same network, it’s not going to be about virtual or physical activities anymore. Both will be different faces of the same coin. It’s not going to be about context or not. Context will be the primary component of everything. The primary device will no longer be a “mobile”, but more like something that interacts with the network in a highly contextual way. Ideas, people and physical objects will be part of the same network in a very literal sense.

“Mobile” providers and operators will face competition from many unpredictable directions. In addition to cellular networks, the devices will interact with a wide variety of other networks, starting from physically fixed WLANs to constantly changing MANETs (mobile ad-hoc networks), where every node in the network is moving arbitrarily. The internet of things seldom stays stationary. In a world where everything becomes densely connected, you cannot clearly define the market and opportunities within. Magic wands, cyborg technologies or matrix aside, what we are going to see is not the future of mobile but something entirely different.

The mobile is like the horse wagon. If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses”. It’s the language and our experience of the past that limits our understanding of the future of “mobile”. We need to drop the word and come up with new metaphors to open our eyes. We need new telescopes, binoculars and cleaner eye glasses.

We need to go to the roots of what mobile (latin: mobilis) truly means. Let’s see what the dictionary says about this.

Mobile: Changeable in appearance, mood, or purpose

Adaptable, versatile and migratory. From the point of view of the devices we will see rapid change in appearance and purpose. The mobile devices of the future bear little or no resemblance with the mobile devices of the past. The functionality will be context dependent. From the point of view of our society, we will have tools that help us to adapt to changing conditions and increase our connectedness. We need abilities to migrate from one situation to another in the increasingly changing environment. Yesterdays concepts, tools and metaphors will not work as-is. We need new ways to sense what is changing and adapt accordingly. That’s called effectiveness.

Mobile: Undergoing a shift in status

The social groups we belong to are no longer physically fixed. Electronic tribes will cross cultural and physical boundaries in ways never seen before. The traditional social levels connected to status, merit, power, race and relationships embedded in the fabric of our society will undergo major reconfiguration. The bottom-up and decentralized way of getting things done will become easier as we go forward. In a very McLuhan way, the electronic medium will profoundly involve men with one another.

Time will define our communities: long-term, short-term or ad-hoc. Boundaries will also define our communities: physically connected, ideologically connected or virtually connected. It will be harder and harder to experience the boundaries in a traditional sense. The boundaries blur, therefore time and experience of being connected becomes primary.

We will live in multiple metaverses. Meta+universe implies there are layers to our universe hidden from the previous paradigms of experiencing. Instead of multiple lives – in the metaverse – we will live through multiple personas. In latin, persona means mask. Our masks will be undertaken and carried by avatars. In Sanskrit, avatara means a descent from higher spiritual realms, a god. We will have god-like abilities and our lives will be an interplay between different personas fabricated by ourselves or emerging from our interaction in these contextual virtual worlds. The mirrors of ourselves will reflect who we truly are. Digital environments are capable of extending our experience of being.

Mobile: moving or changing quickly from one state or condition to another

Frequent relocation, fluidity and flowing freely. Increasing complexity implies we are no longer machines, or cogs in a machine. Our organizations will become organic; our tools will support this organic nature. Organic enterprises are like organisms, capable of adapting to changing conditions. Contextuality in learning, knowledge work, collaboration and business strategy requires dynamic and modular behavior. Static cause-and-effect, predictability and tight control are an afterthought. Albert Einstein once said, “a person starts to live when he can live outside himself“. The same could be said about organizations. The unpredictability of complex systems means that there are non-linear changes in time and there will be no silver bullet.

As you may see, by examining the roots of mobility and reflecting the changes we face today, we can no longer go forward by just talking about mobile devices and other devices. There is no need to separate ourselves in two groups, one of them being mobile and one of them being the fixed web. We no longer need to separate our developer communities to mobile developers and the rest. Engineers, programmers, visionaries and designers from various fields are tackling with the same problem. We need new avenues unifying the creativity and passion of people doing basically the same thing: building a better technologically empowered future for mankind. We need a revolution – of language and mind.

We need to reframe the question. With every new technology, it’s not the technology that changes us, but the frame that changes along with it.