Archive for November, 2009

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in  Facebook makes a provocative statement in a report by New Scientist. He says:

I believe that the computer age culminated in the internet, the internet culminated in social networks, and that we’ll have to look extremely far afield for what is next…My view is that the last wave of innovation is social networks, and that after that you have to go back to the science fiction of the 1950s for what’s next.

That’s interesting. He is not negating other possible histories that advances in social networking may spawn, just that an innovation as momentous may not happen anytime soon. Not quite what Kurzweil would say, though, when he talks about singularity (“there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality”).

Realization that the network is a crucial dimension and the accompanying technology shifts that enabled (and will continue to enhance and enable)  the impact of this realization, has been the key driver for this innovation. Perhaps the realization that we will enter “an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today” may birth new histories. Perhaps other ideas and realizations may negate Thiel’s assertions too.

I would be optimistic. The reasons are many. I think we have barely scratched the surface of the implications of the network across multiple disciplines. Much will be discovered on the way as networks evolve. And that will spawn many specializations, many new opportunities for cross disciplinary research and development.

Personalization could be one of those areas, with the network and singularity concepts contributing immensely to its evolution. For instance, in learning, if I could get exactly what I need, in the way I need and when I need to help me learn by some complex of systems, that would be effective personalization.

I would go so far as to state that this innovation is not the end, rather it is one of the first enablers towards a larger, much more fundamental change. And that change is not too distant or “far afield”.

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The 21st century LMS

I recently read a report compiled by eLearning Network from their Next Generation Learning Management Event held in September, 2009. It is an interesting report.

Personalization of content is a base expectation with an element of learner’s control or choice over what she wants to learn coupled with added intelligence from the system to provide relevant content.

Access, to the degree of ubiquity, seems to also come up as a key requirement with pressure on LMS vendors to resolve user experience and tracking challenges across devices.

Search, to make content available easily, and the corresponding improvements in taxonomies, is a key requirement. So are classroom management tools.

A key shift is from the learing management system from an administrative and management function to a communications function, lowering barriers to knowledge flow within the organization.

Competency definitions and links to HR systems for a variety of tasks (such as talent development) find their way as other key requirements. Similar to the IMS standards for Reusable Competency Definitions and Learner Information Package, a need is voiced to make transcripts transferable (from organization to organization).

The report ends by stating:

At first glance this may just seem like a long wish list, but a more detailed reading demonstrates two things. Firstly, pretty much everything here is already available elsewhere in some form, and LMS vendors need to catch up with wider developments. Secondly, long development cycles and expensive development resource are not acceptable. It seems that LMS still has a key role to play for many organisations, but the terms of their engagement with vendors needs to change.

This report is interesting because it provides an insight into how the participants were trying to accomodate recent developments in social networking, talent management, Web 2.0 and technology with specific bottlenecks that they have experienced using an LMS. They are also seeing the LMS as part of a wider ecosystem with closer linkages between learning, talent development and performance. They are seeing the roles of the vendors changing to more proactive and technologically updated levels.

My personal opinion, though, is that we are flogging a dead horse. The changes we are seeing around content, personalization, search, collaboration, learning experiences, ubiquity, mobility (just to name a few), pronounce the need for LMS vendors to fundamentally re-architect their systems, not just technologically. Mere addition of social networking or Web 2.0 features does not cut any ice for me. 

A key shift in perspective could be the one from “management” to “facilitation” or from “courses” to rich “experiences” or from “common structure” to a much more delegated, learner led self organized environments.

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Brandon-Hall 2009 Award!

Winning a Silver at the recently concluded Brandon-Hall 2009 Awards is something special! We were nominated along with our fantastic partners at ICICI Bank in the Best Use of Games for Learning category. Our “work of art” was a game that allows sales people to sell banking products to a set of customers. What was great was this was something built over a framework that we specially created for the bank. This framework has been leveraged to create more games and simulations since we created it.

All in all, I don’t think we could have done it without the support, vision and encouragement of the brilliant team at the bank. Kudos!

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Interesting contribution and ensuing discussion from George Siemens post on the Future of Learning: LMS or SNS. Had this brief discussion not long ago on Wilko’s blog.

What has Facebook taught us? That “social connections and information sharing” is the model that will be “successful in the long run”? I am sure George is not saying that it will be the ONLY successful model there is going to be. Also,  George lets out a fear of not using a Google service, for fear of it being revoked by Google if not successful – are we to worry too?

Was also really interesting to follow Ulises Mejias’ post on the tyranny of nodes. Ulises argues that “network undermines productive forms of sociality by over-privileging the node.” That is, by focusing on the nodes, we are obscuring the spaces that lie between nodes. Context is important, the ability to make connections and explore these dark spaces is what is important.

I am forever confused, though, why discussions on tools should precede discussion on the model. The tools will follow if the model or framework is defined, should not be the other way around. Janet does point out the amazing work around social media that some vendors are putting in to their LMS systems in her reviews and the challenges they face running both in parallel in an organization.

But to get into a discussion of whether ELGG is the best way or Moodle is really it is bringing the tools before the concept. The concept is NOT fleshed out yet. We do not have a working understanding of an implementation of networked learning beyond the collaboration tools we have today, much less an appreciation of how organizations can really implement it. For example, we do not know how to reconcile or present in alternative ways the nouns and verbs of a traditional LMS (and processes).

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Reading Marshall mcLuhan’s the medium is the MASSAGE. Deep. The impact of media – the wheel as an extension of the leg, clothes as an extension of the body, electronic circuitry as an extension of the brain – has powerful impacts on the way we are.

He makes the point about “electric technology” presenting a unifying force, “recreating in us the multidimensional space orientation of the ‘primitive'” unconstrained by the dictates of the primarily visual and pushing us to become aware of the integration of time and space – “an acoustic, horizonless, boundless, olfactory space”.

“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible.”  This is crucial to us when we think about creation of learning environments. To be able to use “multiple models for exploration – the technique of suspended judgment” is key to these environments.

We cannot approach now by looking into the rearview mirror or use new media to do old things or things the old way. We need to understand how that impacts the way we “do learning”.

Writing in 1967, mcLuhan exhorts us – “it is a matter of the greatest urgency that our educational institutions realize that we now have civil war among these environments created by media other than the printed word”.

The book, and the wonderful visualization by Quentin Fiore, is a call to action. And action it should provoke among us!

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