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Archive for April, 2008

Dipity

It was Dapper that was great. And now I have seen Twitter Earth and Dipity – two extremely intersting “mashups” that essentially give you a visual story of your activities. To give you a flavour, I just had to link Dipity with this blog to get a visual timeline! You could even get a spatial map of where you performed an activity. From a learner tracking perspective, such tools could be an important component of being able to track learner activity in a given learning context. The instructor or guide could not only measure the level of the learner activity but also traceback to time taken to complete a particular activity (maybe even follow a learner’s chain of thought?).

 

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I thought that this was an interesting attempt, even if I would not subscribe to it wholeheartedly. The author takes the formal dimensions of traditional learning – objectives, time, measurement, improvement and content or knowledge – and maps them to Learning 2.0, defined loosely as a combination of social networks, collaboration, and the rest. I think that the main problem is that there isn’t going to be a simply mapping like that. It’s like when people ask, “how do i use blogs to teach English?” Blogs aren’t a teaching tool, and you shouldn’t just expect to use Web 2.0 tools to do Learning 1.0 tasks.

Learning 2.0 Formal Methodologies? ~ Stephen’s Web ~ by Stephen Downes

Thanks, Stephen for your review. It has spurred on a few more thoughts.

So what happens if we step away from the technology itself for a bit (blogs, wikis etc) and look at the five basic components of learning – goals, time, measurement, improvement and content/knowledge.

My main assumption was these are generic to learning – whether traditional learning or learning 2.0 – and I want to test that assumption.

To start off, Goals. Are there learning activities that do not have a goal? Certainly in the mind of the teacher, the goal is well-defined. If I want to teach someone how to install a particular software application, I would sequence a set of activities for the learner that I think would enable her to meet that learning goal. If the learner was to try and think what those activities would be at the outset, these activities may not be apparent. Rather these activities would be “discovered” as the learner collaborates and gains more knowledge.

For example, when I started out trying to understand learning 2.0, my starting point was Stephen’s article. As I moved through the article, clicked through on links, researched terms on Google, saw related presentations on Slideshare, videos on YouTube and joined blogs relevant to the domain, I began to piece together an understanding of the space that is continuously validated and critiqued by the community that views my posts. Along the way, I learnt many things incidentally which are now “filed away” in my repository and may come in use in another context for another learning goal. Were blogs a source of learning for me? Certainly. Would I use blogs or voicethread to teach? In certain types of activities, why not?

What is interesting is that I am limited by what I can access and experience. Even with all the tools, such as being able to ask the community for an answer, social bookmarking and those around folksonomies, there are limits to what I can access (what I find) and experience (what all do I really get my community to respond and mentor me on). Kind of reminds me of when I created a content management system for egurucool, tags were a window or a view of a cross-section of the huge content repository that we had.

In the entire process, the learner may achieve “discovered” goals, but not till the end of this achievement be potentially able to really demonstrate how the learning goals should have been met.

This also takes me to Time. Any learning activity, depending upon context, will either be or not be constrained by time. These constraints may be internal or external to the learner, such as the need to learn something so as to solve an immediate problem or the need to demonstrate proficiency in a given learning context. The ability of the learner to meet a learning goal in a constrained period of time is a function of the path that she has to take to meet those goals and how easy or difficult it is to achieve that. Lots of learners would perhaps say, “just tell me how it is done”.

Measurement.  There is a measure attached to everything we learn, whether by ourselves (self-assessment), by our community (peer reviews) or by our performance (external assessments, certifications and scores) stakeholders. The measure could be satisfaction levels (I got that argument right!) or could be a high SAT score (I topped the rankings!) or any other measure. How we measure it in the workplace or at school has been the subject of many discussions? How we measure it effectively has been the subject of countless others. However, there is a measure.

Improvement. Is this a generic factor too? I believe that it is fundamental. I can’t think of a learning situation that does not have scope for improvements in learning. In fact, we continuously improve all the time. Here is where I feel 2.0 has a distinct edge though.

Content/Knowledge. Can any learning context not be associated with a structured base of knowledge. Yes, it can. Can any learning context not have an informal base of knowledge? Yes, it can. Can both be true? No.

I feel fairly comfortable that my assumptions hold and as I wrote, are applicable in different ways to both 1.0 and 2.0 modes. So lets get the technology into the picture.

Why cannot we use a 2.0 technology in a 1.0 world to accomplish “1.0 tasks”? Is there something about 2.0 technology that restricts it’s use there? Or is it simply that it is inappropriate to use for a 1.0 task? For example, would I use SAP to store kitchen recipes (perhaps it would be inappropriate :), and SAP may not be able to do it anyways).

Certainly some types of technology are better suited for a specific context than others. But the goal should be to harness the right technology for the right learning context as far as possible. Technology is an enabler and not the end point.

If a teacher were to use a blog to teach English and asked an expert for that, the expert may find the right way to construct such a blog. However, it may not be the best way to teach English and the teacher should be encouraged to understand why and when to use a particular technology (or not at all).

I completely agree that the “keeping up with the Joneses” is detrimental. Just because a technology or tool is gaining hype and currency does not mean that it is the best use in your scenario and Stephen does well to remind us of that!

More to follow in my next post. I am particularly intrigued by a presentation that George made and believe it ties in to this discussion very well too. Thanks for your interest!

Sequel: Part 3: Learning 2.0 Formal Methodologies

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Now this is really very exciting. Let me start with explaining how I got here.

The first thing is there are groups such as the One Laptop per child (OLPC) and those within Intel, HP and many companies that are trying to create laptops for the classroom in the K12 segment. These are small form factor devices with limited features and capabilities in terms of processor speeds, memory and storage capacity, designed to be lower cost, extremely rugged and portable. Check out the OLPC XO and the Intel Classmate PC.

The second thing is brilliant. An important part of the experience is the software that the learners see and the first base component is the operating system. The operating system itself has two components – the system components and the graphical user interface. The important consideration is to make the operating system rugged, powerful and at the same time a lot more usable for the K12 audience than Windows or Linux or even the Mac is as of now.

Enter Sugar. Read about the Human Interface guidelines they started with. Look at the tour.

Sugar is built on top of Fedora Linux and provides a new opportunity for all of us learning professionals to relook at how we can use technology and interface design to think out of the box, align whatever we have been talking about in social constructivist learning, Web 2.0 and activity based learning. Whats more, Sugar offers developers a development platform to be able to extend and write new functionality for learning. Check out the activities page.

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Learnlets » Learning Management Colloquium: Day 1

I think this is a really important chart from Clark. The first striking thing about it is the start point – elearning. We are, today, at the low point of design depth and technical elegance and need to move to “intelligent systems” towards the top right. Running backwards, the precursor to intelligent systems is a Performance ecosystem. This concept is intriguing because it implies that at some point we will have learning designed so deep and so elegant in technological terms that performance (tracking, measurement) will become part of the learning environment itself. This is a precursor to intelligent systems because once we are able to get an integrated view of learning and performance, we shall be able to design systems that can implement the “business rules” of performance management and learning progressions. Thanks, Clark for the chart!

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Jane Hart, in response to my comment on Manish’s blog post, was wondering what I meant by structured construction and tracking models for teaching-learning in a Learning 2.0 world. I guess this is as good a time as any to start throwing some ideas around for discussion. Thanks Jane, for forcing me to think harder!

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I came across Dapper. This is a fantastic tool that allows you to take structured data on the web and aggregate and present it in the format that you want. So let us take this from the beginning.

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Part of the Work at Learning/Learning at Work blog carnival hosted by Manish Mohan.

A few months back, I started two collaborative multi-author blogs for my company (one for my software development team and one for my e-learning development team) and helped a couple of other individuals at work to start their own. I also started a group at Ning and am an active member of LearnHub. My own blog at WordPress is my own anthological meandering. I have used or am aware of most of the collaboration tools available that use Web 2.0 technology or learning 2.0 frameworks.

So all that was great. However, I found that, passion/skill/capability or not, it is probably only people with a high level of self-motivation, the humility to learn, the need to be part of the community and share,  and having an incessant need to improve themselves, that would really be able to leverage learning through this new medium. The other blogs never really took off despite organizational incentives (an elaborate point system that encouraged posts, comments and community participation linked to actual incentives) that I set up.

I find myself asking the question – how many of those would we find in our organization, or in any other for that matter? Are there barriers to entry that we can identify and lower for this kind of a mindset/behaviour? Is this behaviour something that would have existed in physical or other forms even if Web 2.0 wasn’t around? Maybe people who earlier (than 2.0) exhibited the same mindset in an offline/non 2.0 space are the ones who are most geared for the new medium? Maybe the vast majority are resistant to learning per se? Maybe the amount of content is so vast and endless that they give up quickly trying to find the right stuff? Maybe there are personal and cultural inhibitions to being able to articulate their thoughts? Maybe the very concept of being in a community requires them to identify themselves and this interferes with the preferred anonymity of a classroom or prior online space? Are we over-hyping the Web 2.0 phenomenon? Is a PLE going to really help in the mind boggling explosion of content? Is the ability to clearly demonstrate a metrics based assessment and certification system in the traditional approach going to exist in the new approach so that organizations can really track progress and award certifications?

Don’t get me wrong. I love and believe in what is going on. I appreciate the fantastic work people are doing and the exemplary discussions we are having between traditional and new social constructivist schools. My team is a fantastic collection of extremely skilled people. However the questions and experiences so far that I have are a trifle unsettling and demand answers. 

What was great in Learning at Work was that I learnt a whole load of new things using the new tools and gained access to a lot of extremely intelligent and articulate people. Even more interesting was that I could find a way to get relevant information to my teams even if they were not actively blogging or participating in the community through simple emails to various groups. I am now starting focus groups around specific posts or articles I found for each interest group within my organization and creating a collaborative culture in small localized steps. It’s hard work to merge what they need to learn with what interests them, but I am hoping this approach may act to lower their barriers to entry.

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