Voices from Future Learners

Good idea to take a moment and watch and  listen to the video … feels like they sent a camera into a time machine and came back with this report. If you want to move forward you’ll pay attention to where education (aka learning) is headed.

Badges for Learning

Good Idea? You tell me …

Will a Harvard Professor’s New Technology Make College Lectures a Thing of the Past?

This is straight from Good Education by Liz Dwyer. It actually makes me believe that change can come to Education sooner than ever before. It’s a case of ‘if it’s broken fix it’. It’s the model that was first talked about by   Here are a few more articles and sources for you to learn more about the new way of learning in the new Idea Economy. Definitely trumps the Industrial Economy model of mass education for mass consumption.
The secret flipped side of Khan Academy: http://www.khanacademy.org/coach/resources
An Educator’s Take on The Flip http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/1534
There’s a lot more and Liz Dwyer’s piece is a great place to start …

Education Editor

Another sign that the college lecture might be dying: Harvard University physics professor Eric Mazur is championing the “flipped classroom,” a model where information traditionally transferred during lectures is learned on a student’s own time, and classroom time is spent discussing and applying knowledge to real-world situations. To make it easy for professors to transition out of lecture mode, Mazur has developed Learning Catalytics, an interactive software that enables them to make the most of student interactions and maximize the retention of knowledge.

Mazur sold attendees at the recent Building Learning Communities conference on this new approach by first asking them to identify something they’re good at, and then having them explain how they mastered it. After the crowd shared, Mazur pointed out that no one said they’d learned by listening to lectures. Similarly, Mazur said, college students don’t learn by taking notes during a lecture and then regurgitating information. They need to be able to discuss concepts, apply them to problems and get real-time feedback. Mazur says Learning Catalytics enables this process to take place.

The way the software works is that first the instructor inputs the concept she wants students to discuss. The program then helps create either multiple choice or “open-ended questions that ask for numerical, algebraic, textual, or graphical responses.” Students then respond to these questions using electronic devices they’re already bringing to class, like a laptop or smartphone.

The instructor can see a snapshot of who “gets” a concept and who still needs extra help, and then pair up students accordingly. The students even receive personalized messages on their devices telling them who to talk to in class, like “turn to your right and talk to Bob,” until they master the concept. And, when it’s time to study, they can access questions and answers from the class discussions.

Learning Catalytics was so successful in Mazur’s physics classroom that it’s being rolled out across Harvard, but it’s also open to other users on an invitation-only basis. If this tech-based flipped classroom approach takes off, maybe we’ll end up with a generation of students that retain what they’ve learned, long after the final is over.

Towards a Smarter Nation

Towards a Smarter Nation.

Crossing the Analog \ / Digital Gap

I’ve written several posts about the evolution of education, especially from the analog past to the digital present and future.

My own experience between the two was real a wake-up call. I bought a new car a many thousands of miles ago and had a lot of music I wanted to hear from my cassette tapes (analog). The new car could only play cassettes and not discs. That was okay until I went over to Borders (remember them?) to buy some new cassettes (remember them?).

Surprise! No more cassettes only discs … Bill Gates was right, the pace of change is changing.

Longer story shortened,  I was listening to the old cassettes until I found a way to transmit the music from my iPod (digital) through my car’s stereo speakers.



Back to Crossfy. I’ve been wondering since then who was going to be smart enough to build a bridge from the ‘old’ analog – which will be around for quite awhile yet – to the new digital.

And here it is …

“Think of all the possibilities” …  Crossfy is an Brazilian company that has figured out how to connect the offline and online worlds, build a bridge between space and cyberspace. Well known in the Brazilian startup community, its CEO Amure Pinho is also the founder of Sync Mobile Based in Rio de Janeiro, a startup initially focused on developing apps and other mobile solutions.

The Crossfy technology identifies printed ads and images to give access to associated digital content, from text and audio to video. It  connects the offline to the online world, via a mobile phone.

As Amure Pinho explains:

“The integration between print and digital media will revolutionize the way we consume newspaper content. For instance, think of all the possibilities around the upcoming Olympic Games in London. For the first time, Brazil’s main TV channel won’t broadcast the largest sports event of the year. This gives us space to deliver a new experience on top of print media. Who knows, this could even help print media to be stronger than TV over that period.”

Imagine you’re reading a textbook, and there’s a great piece about [   fill in the blank  ], and you hold your phone (or iPad) over the book and SHAZAM you get your choice of

  • a video of a recorded interview with the writer
  • directions from here to there if you’re nearby
  • a documentary that relates to the subject
  • photo album of people who went there.

… and more.

I know it would be a curated link, and not as much fun as surfing around, then again how many textbooks make you want to learn all there is to learn about a subject? I don’t know about you, but anything that brings the printed page ‘alive’ for many students is a great option for people trying to transfer information to others, not to mention their instructors (facilitators … more on that later).

Part Two: Anyone, Anytime, and Anyplace

For starters, since it always helps to know where you are before you decide where you’re going, let’s first take a quick 30,000 foot look at the three economic paradigms, from the Agricultural to the Idea Economy.

Once you see where we’ve been, and understand the business models, methods, theories and approaches that were designed for the Agricultural and Industrial Economies, you will hopefully see why business models everywhere needs to change, why learning experiences need to change, and why the decentralized learning experience is so crucial to success in the this type of economy.

Economic paradigms are at the very heart of the way we live and have lived. They are a critical part of the Social Contract. They directly – albeit usually unnoticed – affect your life in every imaginable way. And the educational systems and programs are either in concert with the current economic paradigm, or they quickly become irrelevant.

The Agricultural Economy

Economists usually separate the last 300 or so years into three economic paradigms. They started when there was a break from things made on a small scale, when the things made and sold by artists, craftsmen, masters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, family farmers, merchants of handmade goods, etc. were replaced by things that were mass produced and mass consumed. The key point is that mass production is the cornerstone of all modern economic paradigms.

First it was food that was mass produced. So the first economic paradigm was the Agricultural Revolution.

For the first time in history, many people had enough to eat. They stopped worrying about food, did not farm their own crops nor raise and slaughter their own livestock. The mass production of food marks a turning point in history. It gave people something they never had as hunter-gatherers: free time. The ability to move about and travel, even live in new places. Leave the farms and come to what became the first cities.

Owning land became the key to wealth, since land used to grow food was the key to the Agricultural Economy. Land Barons were born. The landed gentry were created. Kings gave land as the highest boon for services rendered. Kings were kings because they owned all the land which is why they could give some of it away. Private property was born. My land was fenced off from your land. New nations opened up huge tracts of land because they knew that making that land productive was the key to prosperity. Rich agricultural lands were fought over and conquered, farmed and fought over again.

We managed muscles because farming was a hard, back breaking job, even for the oxen and horses.

The few existing and emerging educational models was still carefully controlled, managed and centralized. Very few people knew a little and most people knew only what they needed for survival. Reading and writing farmed no land and produced no food. Men were trained to be manly and women to be womanly according to the mores of the time. There was no need for mass education.

The Industrial Economy

Next up was the Industrial Economy. I believe it started with the printing press in the mid-15th century. I also believe it created a period of transition – much like the Incunabula – that has occurred every time there is a new economic paradigm.

The incunabula was a period in which the church still controlled the written word and, until the printing press was invented, ‘books’ were in limited supply. The idea of providing the masses with unfiltered ideas was heretical. So the church decided that it would use the printing press for God’s work, and take the illuminated manuscripts from the scriptorium in the monasteries, where all bibles were created, and print out the words and send these first ‘forms’ back to the scriptorium for illumination.

So the monks took the forms and added colorful pictures of devils and angels, ivy and floral scroll-work, visual ‘job aids’ for learning about right and wrong and what happened to you if you strayed from the path of righteousness. The pictures were important because most people alive then could not read. These first printing press books are called incunabula. They represent a paradigm shift that ultimately affected everything – your work, your play, your family, your thoughts, your life.

Once the Industrial Economy really started to steam ahead, again it was all about mass production, only this time it was the mass production of things. We managed hands.

The first things to become ‘industrialized’ were farming tools – cotton gin, land tillers, tractors, and more. A clean bridge from one economy to the next. Other things began to become mass produced as well. Cars. Trains. Ships. Typewriters, a personal printing press when you added carbon copies (the origin of cc).  Stuff people believed they needed and bought out of the Sears catalog. You didn’t need to read just look at the pictures and send in the money. We not only became consumers of food but simply consumers.

The capitalist world was all about moving capital around to further the production of things (including the industrialized production of food) in order to create wealth. The wealth of nations, as recorded by Adam Smith, was built upon an educational system that led to a culture and political system supporting the mass production and mass consumption of things.

Owning the means of production was the key to wealth. The great wealthy dynasties of the industrialized world were created at this point in time. If you look at America, you see Ford, DuPont, Getty, Rockefeller, and Kennedy ad infinitum, owning the means of production and becoming the kings of this era.

It also meant we needed to make sure the culture of mass consumers was healthy and working. According to John Taylor Gatto, public schools were created for this very purpose. We did not want a critically thinking, independent population focused on anything other than acquiring things. Work to spend. Spend more and work harder. Make the rich richer while you enrich your life with things. Towards the end of this economic paradigm, we invented the credit card, one of the greatest boons to mass consumption imaginable.

Since we had all the food we could want, and all the things we ever hoped for and couldn’t really afford, most Western countries were ready to move on into the next economic paradigm. But not everyone around the world was in lockstep. Many countries were slower to adopt and adapt and it turned out to be a good thing. Those countries has the disadvantage (?) of being stuck in the Agricultural Economy as we, for example, industrialized. We used to call them names. Third World, Underdeveloped, Developing, etc.. Until they realized that they could skip over 100 years of expensive, sweaty and generally nasty industrialization, and go right to the Idea Economy. To automate their new factories. To use cellphones and skip all the wires and poles. And most importantly to drive their new educational models.

The Idea Economy

The Idea Economy was born sometime in the late 20th century since economic paradigms are not given birth on a specific time or in a specific place. In 1959 Peter Drucker  was prescient enough to see what was coming and named the people who labored in this new economic paradigm Knowledge Workers. What they mass produced was Knowledge. New ideas. Innovations. Know-how. They spent their days thinking, writing, communicating, meeting, disseminating, rethinking, researching, creating, innovating, designing, reading, listening to the ideas of others, sharing, collaborating. Later they added emailing, instant messaging, tweeting, texting, wikiing, blogging, commenting, tweeting, etc. We managed minds.
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Part One: The Decentralization of Everything

Part One: Bringing Order Out of Chaos …

What you are reading was born as a simple post about elearning, and ended up taking on a life of its own…

I wanted to write about why it is of critical importance at this point in the history of human evolution that learning is becoming available to almost anyone, anytime and anywhere.

I actually had a philosophical “chicken-and- egg” debate with my self late last night about whether history somehow consciously provides what is needed to take the next step, or do we rummage about in the attic of history and find what we need to keep evolving? I’ll leave the question for my two favorite Radiolab philosophers Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich.

Here’s the point. If we are to continue to evolve from the treetops to the Savannah to wherever we are headed in the futures, we need to find a creative and innovative way to transfer knowledge and know-how. There’s just too many of us who need learning, and not enough people to do the teaching.

Here’s great story that illustrates the point. It’s from one of my earlier posts.

Daphne Koller is a computer science professor at Stanford, and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She has been working for years to make online education more engaging and interactive.

“On the long term, I think the potential for this to revolutionize education is just tremendous,” Koller says. “There are millions of people around the world that have access only to the poorest quality of education or sometimes nothing at all.”

Technology could change that by making it possible to teach classes with 100,000 students as easily and as cheaply as a class with just 100. And if you look around the world, demand for education in places like South Africa is enormous.

Almost two weeks ago, at the University of Johannesburg, more than 20 people were injured and one woman was killed trying register for a limited number of openings. Thousands had camped out overnight hoping to snag one of the few available places and when the gates opened, there was a stampede.

Koller hopes that in the future, technology will help prevent these kinds of tragedies.

Up until this writing I was overwhelmed by the number of choices for learning technology in particular, and technology repurposed for learning in general. Chaos makes me nervous. So I have this need to find a pattern that provides order.

As often happens in my mind the pattern emerged while I was dreaming.

I saw my hand write the word “Decentralization” with white chalk on a blackboard. When I awoke, I wrote the word at the top of this post, realizing that everything was being driven by decentralization.

So before I take on writing about the decentralization of education I thought it would be a good idea to write a Part One about decentralization itself.

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A Brave New World of Learning

The following is from NPR and I wanted to share it to make a point. Learning is becoming decentralized. Instead of going to Stanford, Stanford came to over 160,000 students worldwide and they learned about Artificial Intelligence. Really learned it in a way that allowed for knowledge and know-how to be transferred, tested and even provide feedback to the professors to improve their course.

It’s no longer a brave new world of learning. It’s just the way it is and will be.

Stanford Engineering’s Online Introduction To Artificial Intelligence is made up of videos that teach lessons by drawing them out with pen and paper.

Last year, Stanford University computer science professor Sebastian Thrun — also known as the fellow who helped build Google’s self-driving car — got together with a small group of Stanford colleagues and they impulsively decided to open their classes to the world.

They would allow anyone, anywhere to attend online, take quizzes, ask questions and even get grades for free. They made the announcement with almost no fanfare by sending out a single email to a professional group.

“Within hours, we had 5,000 students signed up,” Thrun says. “That was on a Saturday morning. On Sunday night, we had 10,000 students. And Monday morning, Stanford — who we didn’t really inform — learned about this and we had a number of meetings.”

You can only imagine what those meetings must have been like, with professors telling the school they wanted to teach free, graded online classes for which students could receive a certificate of completion. And, oh by the way, tens of thousands have already signed up to participate.

For decades, technology has promised to remake education — and it may finally be about to deliver. Apple’s moving into the textbook market, startups and nonprofits are re-imaging what K-12 education could look like, and now some in Silicon Valley are eager for technology and the Internet to transform education’s more elite institutions.

Thrun’s colleague Andrew Ng taught a free, online machine learning class that ultimately attracted more than 100,000 students. When I ask Ng how Stanford’s administration reacted to their proposition, he’s silent for a second. “Oh boy,” he says, “I think there was a strong sense that we were all suddenly in a brave new world.”

Ng says there were long conversations about whether or not to give online students a certificate bearing the university’s name. But Stanford balked and ultimately the school settled on giving students a letter of accomplishment from the professors that did not mention the university’s name.

“We are still having conversations about that,” says James Plummer, dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering. “I think it will actually be a long time — maybe never — when actual Stanford degrees would be given for fully online work by anyone who wishes to register for the courses.”

‘Uncharted Territory’

Thrun’s online class on artificial intelligence or A.I., which he co-taught with Google’s Peter Norvig, eventually drew more than 160,000 students who received detailed grades and a class ranking.

“We reached many more students, Peter and I, with this one class than all other A.I. professors combined reached in the last year,” Thrun says.

Thrun believes a class that size creates a valuable credential — even if Stanford doesn’t recognize it. Students hailed from 190 different countries, including Australia, China, Ukraine and the U.S. They included high school students, women with disabilities, teachers and retirees — and they were all taking the same class Stanford students took, grades and all. But the online participants didn’t get credit.

“I think we all realized we were in uncharted territory,” Thrun says. “As we move forward, it is my real goal to invent an education platform that has high quality to it, [that] prevents cheating, that really enables students to go through it to be empowered to find better jobs.”

Widespread Impact

Stanford does award degrees for online work, but only to students who get through the admissions process and pay sometimes $40,000 or $50,000 for a master’s degree. Technology could push prices down.

Dean Plummer believes low-cost, high-quality online education will have a profound impact in high education, even at institutions as august as Stanford. He doesn’t think it will diminish demand for undergraduate degrees or Ph.D.s, but he says the impact on master’s programs could be profound.

“What it will look like in 10 years or 20 years or 30 years — your guess is as good as mine,” he says. “But I think the impact will be large and it will be widespread.”

Online education and distance learning have been going on at Stanford and other schools for years, but Plummer believes the technology has reached an inflection point.

Videos stored online let students build course work into their schedules anywhere in the world. Embedded quizzes let students monitor their own progress and give professors much richer data to improve their teaching.

Ng noticed that 5,000 students made the identical mistake in an online quiz. Within minutes, teachers were able to respond and clarify the issue that had led a large fraction of the class down a dead-end path.

Global Benefits

Daphne Koller is a computer science professor at Stanford, and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She has been working for years to make online education more engaging and interactive.

“On the long term, I think the potential for this to revolutionize education is just tremendous,” Koller says. “There are millions of people around the world that have access only to the poorest quality of education or sometimes nothing at all.”

Technology could change that by making it possible to teach classes with 100,000 students as easily and as cheaply as a class with just 100. And if you look around the world, demand for education in places like South Africa is enormous.

Almost two weeks ago, at the University of Johannesburg, more than 20 people were injured and one woman was killed trying register for a limited number of openings. Thousands had camped out overnight hoping to snag one of the few available places and when the gates opened, there was a stampede.

Koller hopes that in the future, technology will help prevent these kinds of tragedies.

Trying ‘Bold New Things’

Over the past six months, Thrun has spent roughly $200,000 of his own money and lined up venture capital to create Udacity, a new online institution of higher learning independent of Stanford. “We are committed to free online education for everybody.”

Udacity is announcing two new classes on Monday. One will teach students to build their own search engine and the other how to program a self-driving car. Eventually, the founders hope to offer a full slate of classes in computer science.

Thrun says Stanford’s mission is to attract the top 1 percent of students from all over in the world and bring them to campus, but Udacity’s mission is different. He’s striving for free, quality education for all, anywhere.

Koller agrees, but she says Stanford and its professors will adapt.

“How it all is going to pan out is something that I don’t think anyone has a very clear idea of,” she says. “But what I think is clear is that this change is coming and it’s coming whether we like it or not. So I think the right strategy is to embrace that change.”

Over the years, Stanford has launched dozens of disruptive technologies into the world, but now administrators and professors seem to agree that the school may be about to disrupt itself. This semester Stanford will put 17 interactive courses online for free.

“Stanford has always been a place where we were will to try bold new things,” Plummer says. “Even if we don’t know what the consequences would be.”

Minority Report for Learning

(YAWN) … that’s my summary of the most recent CES show that seemed to have more iPhone and iPad cases on display than any really new or innovative technology. I’m always looking for “high tech stuff’ that we can use for learning. This year was not a great year with one exception that knocked me out … maybe it was a standout because everything else was so not innovative, but I think it really would have been exciting even in a great year for new products. It was especially hot since the plans to go into production this year are real.

Take a look …


So you’re probably wondering why I think it’s such a potentially great product for learning?

Use your imagination … since the enormous growth of elearning online and in a virtual classrooms, place one in your kitchen and learn how to cook great scrambled eggs or manage a families diet. Put one in the kids room and let them go learning crazy.

The more learning we can do on the Internet, Skillshare being just one terrific example, the more Samsung’s ‘Smart Window’ will become a mirror for the mind.

The Numberlys are iPad Learning Rockstars!

I first read  about “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore” last summer in an article in Fast Company by John Pavlus. I was to say the least ‘gobsmacked’. It was an amazing look into the future of ebooks for learning, admittedly aimed at a much younger audience than you usually see in the workplace. It ignited my imagination when I started to envision ways it could be used for educating learners who had entered their age in double-digits.  Take a look …

I thought after that ebook, produced by Moonbot Studios,  there there would be years of copycats and catching-up before the work was excelled.

Boy was I was wrong.  And never more happy to be that way …

Moonbot Studios has not done it again. Actually, they have outdone it again. The new ebook on the iPad is called “The Numberlys,” about a group of amazingly adorable out-of-the-numbers-box characters who create ” The Alphabet”  in a spreadsheet boring and rigid universe ruled only by The Numbers. They build it from parts and pieces of the numbers.

Before I say another w..o..r..d, take a look at the video.

The ebook takes about 15-minutes to read through if you skip the games that are part and parcel with the story. I especially like the game “V” which is the letter V spinning faster and faster until you spin it fast enough to make it a “W”. It may sound like Sesame Street but it’s not. It’s a beautiful example of a direction that learning can take when the lessons are taught by bright, creative and very talented teachers, aka ebook creators, who obviously love what they are producing and are pushing the boundaries of the new technology to a new level.

PS. The added pieces on Vimeo about how the ebook came together are entertaining and interesting on theor own. Kudos to Moonbot Studios.