Another dot in the blogosphere?

In this reflection, I draw a lesson from a Netflix strategy and apply it to blended and e-learning.

This Gizmodo interview of Netflix’s Chief Product Officer revealed that the reason why the company does not plan on offering an option to download videos for offline viewing is the paradox of choice.

Simply put, Netflix rationalized that when people are offered too many choices, they do not know what to do.

In this case, they are not referring to the variety of television shows and movies you can stream to watch because you rely on your preferences and Netflix’s algorithms.

Instead, Netflix seems to make the argument that it wants to make the answer of watch now (with a reliable Internet connection) or watch later (without an Internet connection) simple. It takes away the latter option so people have only one choice and change their behaviours based on that choice. That is why we now have binge watching.

There is still an element of choice in binge watching in that a consumer decides how much to watch over a given time instead of being held to traditional weekly television programming for example.

Wide variety of food by markb120, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  markb120 

How does this apply to providing choice when flipping a classroom, differentiating learning, or preparing e-resources?

No, it is not about creating binge learning opportunities.

It is the idea that more is not always better. Not only is creating more choices and resources more work for the teacher or media creator, it might also paralyze learners who do not know what to start with.

A teacher might offer just one resource, an article that is entirely text-based. This unlikely to reach all learners — not because of learning styles but because the text is boring and the format is irrelevant — so the teacher decides to create one or more videos. Now should the teacher also create audio-only resources, braille resources, and other alternatives? Can the teacher rely on just the videos?

There is a point of diminishing returns in terms of preparing a wide variety of resources, particularly under the misguided practice of applying learning styles.

Instead of focusing on choice and content, a teacher or instructional designer might start first with learning outcome(s) and context of use. The latter two are fundamental principles upon which a myriad of considerations should be factored in for teaching that leads to learning.

The problem of content and choice keeps resurfacing when because those in the instructional line forget:

  • to ask why a concept is important
  • that teaching does not always lead to learning
  • that lessons should lead to better thinking not better grades

So here is a choice you can make. You can continue to do things the same way because that does not rock the boat and it seems efficient. The paradox is that you will be constantly buffeted by change and you will struggle to keep things the same.

Alternatively, you can embrace the initial difficulty with change. Like jumping off a platform, the first step is the hardest. Then you hang on and start to enjoy the ride.

Glass Floor - Observation Deck of the Sh by _chrisUK, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  _chrisUK 

I have been on the circuit as an independent education consultant for over a year. I continue what I did before as a teacher, educator, and teacher educator in that I conduct seminars and facilitate workshops. Despite the difference in job title, the job scope remains the same: Trying to win hearts and minds, and creating the push and pull for change.

Anyone who stands up to this task will want to know how successful their sessions are. The success of such interventions can be measured several ways: Involvement of participants before, during, and/or immediately after the event; longer term follow up after the event; scores in a feedback form; the “feels”.

Most event organizers rely heavily or even primarily on a feedback form. They forget or ignore the backchannels, the one-on-one conversations, the informal follow-ups that lead to loose online communities, etc. A feedback form is limited in scope and Kirkpatrick might say that this is only Level 1 evaluation.

Most speakers and facilitators are used to relying on the sense they get after an event (the “feels”). Depending on their experience and how sensitive their radars are, this might be a gauge that can dovetail with other methods. The problem with relying solely on this method is that a person can experience 99 positive things and just one negative thing, but choose to dwell on the latter.

I have discovered another measure that has strong predictive and evaluative effects. This is the energy of the room. The room is often the combination of the physical venue and the people in it. It can also be online spaces for interacting with others and getting feedback.

The energy of a room takes many forms. For example:

  • How many people are there early or on time?
  • Are they smiling?
  • Do they make the effort to participate?
  • What is their body language as they sit or do?
  • What types of questions do they ask?
  • Are they there for just one session or many in a series?
  • Do they get the nuances or jokes?

The most important question to find answers to is: Are they there because they have to or want to? If they are part of the event by their own choice, half the battle is won. They will participate more willingly and they are likely to follow up with some action on their part.

Unfortunately, I cannot fully control this factor as I design learning experiences. I can merely influence it by urging organizers to carefully select participants or skillfully craft their communication. I take the trouble to do this because the energy from a room is infectious. It gives me the energy to keep doing what I do. It is also the initial tank of fuel for my participants’ journeys of change.

The Today paper had a good long read on how Singapore might deal with the transboundary haze that we experience every year.

For almost 20 years, we have been able to add one more season — hazy — to our standard rainy and more rainy. But as much time and effort as has been put in, the haze returns every year between July and September. This year it has extended into October and threatened to affect the PSLE.

So what can we do collectively to stop the haze? If politics and policies do not seem to have much of an effect, the Today article highlighted ground-up efforts like boycotts, public education, and suing haze-linked companies.

These newer efforts need time to be tested, particularly in conjunction with existing strategies. They might be more effective because they hit the companies and individuals where it hurts.

The ground-up efforts focus on creating awareness among consumers here that what we buy keeps haze-linked companies in business. At least two of the newer efforts also seek to take legal action by suing companies and individuals responsible for contributing to the haze. All these hit where it hurts most: The wallet.

This reminds me of a funny line from a movie I watched a long time ago. Once you have got them by the balls, the heart and head will follow (see quote by Harry Rosenfeld).

As I look at everything through an education lens, I still wonder if there is a crotch shot in schooling and education. If being nice and nurturing does not change the hearts and minds of those collectively in this arena, where is the crotch?

I could go on about why this quote might almost singularly represent pedagogical change, but I could also challenge you to Google for answers.

I could also explain how I created the image quote, but you can easily use Google to find out how. But I will share the original CC-licensed image below.

The droids we’re googling for by Stéfan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Stéfan 

Tempting to link the future of anything to technological development. That is what most people seem to do because technologies make things faster, better, or are just plain awesome.

Caps-Lock is FULL OF AWESOME!!1! by colinaut, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  colinaut 

Since my passion and work lie where the fields of education and technology overlap, that might also be why I am often asked to offer answers to the question “What is the future of education?”

I do not have a ready or standard answer. But I have distilled some ideas that have withstood scrutiny.

The first is that education and schooling overlap, but they are not the same. For example, schooling is about enculturating the masses while education is about finding the individual.

We need both schooling and education, but I think that we have too much schooling and not enough education. It is just as important to realize that some people use the terms interchangeably. This is why you will get different and confusing answers.

The second thought I have is that it is a mistake to link changes in schooling and education to the pace of technological development. Schooling and education move and respond very slowly to change. Both are very conservative, but schooling more so than education.

The world’s first university might have started in Bologna in 1088. Lectures probably started shortly after and they are still a mainstay in 2015 despite the changes in technology.

My third thought is that we are extremely short-sighted as a species. We want to look forward as far as we can, but we hold ourselves back with our short and selective memories, our biases, our greed, and our fear:

  • We forget that every important technological development had its opponents and failures.
  • Some of us refuse to accept evolution as a fundamental change process because we cannot see beyond a human lifetime.
  • A few of us in control of products like educational media and policies like Internet access would rather maintain the status quo to make money or to feed worry.

So is there a future for education in spite of all these barriers? Of course. Can I tell you what it will look like definitively? Of course I cannot.

What can we do then? Instead of wringing our hands in despair, I say we learn to be now-ists because what we do now shapes the future. If, as William Gibson put it, the future is already here; it is just not evenly distributed, then I say we find ways to spread it around.

On Wednesday evening I participated in a salon event that brought together thought leaders from different areas of the education arena.

While I am not at liberty to discuss my assigned topic, I think I can share some thoughts publicly about an offshoot from that topic.

One of the things my group discussed was the inequitable access to technologies that might boost human cognition. It was a reminder that the future is already here; it is just not evenly distributed.

The rich can provide for their kids. Creating new educational technologies helps this group because cost is no object. Doing this raises the ceiling in our bid to move up and along the cognitive development trajectory.

The poor or otherwise disadvantaged cannot do the same. This only increases the gap between the haves and have-nots. We should be thinking and acting to raise the floor. This will also create positive movement in human cognition while not leaving people far behind.

We will probably need to raise both the ceiling and the floor, but we are already good at doing the former. It is time we did more of the latter.

A little over a year ago, I reflected on the three dimensions of educational technology: IT, ICT, and IDM. These evolutionary dimensions focused largely on technology affordances.

This year, I reflect on another three dimensions, this time from the social and pedagogical perspectives.

In the era of IT, teachers and media folks used technology to create content. We leverage on technology to do that to this day. This might be why Bill Gates declared “content is king” when predicting the ascent of the Web in the 90s.

While content is important and will not lose relevance, how policy makers, school leaders, teachers still treat it with reverence is passé. We can comfortably declare that we now live in an information-rich world. We need to question if any content we create is new or if it adds any value (to the next dimension, context).

However, schools now still largely process and reprocess old content. Teachers are evaluated on their ability to recreate such content, get students to practice it, and test how much content students retain temporarily.

What matters more is context. It shapes why we need content and it makes learning meaningful. Context also provides an authentic platform for practice and application. If teachers and lessons are labelled as not being relevant, it is because they are poor or lacking in context.

These contexts provide learners with opportunities to connect with knowledgeable others in order to create new content, context, and connections.

The technologies that kids embrace today, e.g., video games and social media, are not just places for learning content. Teachers who think inside their content box and try to create cool lessons are only partially reaching their students.

Video games and social media are also the platforms that provide context and connectedness.

One example: The content behind the skill of being able to make a prediction is learnt in-game as well as practiced and negotiated in that context.

Another example: Fans learn Korean by watching K-pop on YouTube or English as a Second Language learners watch English game play videos; YouTube as a platform is an authentic context for learning, conversing, and connecting.

Technology becomes educational not just when teachers create content with it, but especially when learners can do the same while in context and in connection with each other. To do any less is to provide a disservice to our learners and not do our job as educators.

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