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Posts Tagged ‘choice

One of the best reads of 2017 so far is this blog entry simply titled Evaluating Personalization.

Personalised learning is a continuum between non-learner-provided choices and learner-directed agency.

I distill the long read to this takeaway: Personalised learning is a continuum between non-learner-provided choices and learner-directed agency. The non-learner could be the teacher, vendor, or edtech platform.

Or, in the words of the author:

…one end of the continuum is personalization for the learner; the other end is personalization by the learner

Instead of trying to outline the main points of the article, I will try to add value to it by making an observation.

In the era before current technologies like computers and phones, the focus was on providing choice. Today, edtech vendors still tout choice: pacing, content, modes, etc. The personalisation by agency — goals, expectations, strategies, evaluation — is still sorely lacking.

We cannot keep making the excuse that learners do not know what they want. If we teach them to wait to be fed, they will be lazy consumers. If we nurture them to think, they will not just critically consume, they will also skilfully catch and create.

There is another major problem with personalisation-as-choice. The options a vendor or designer provides might not actually be choices. I use an example I have cited before.

StarHub app

My current telco, StarHub, has an app that claims to provide “choices” for some cards that you can display or hide. However, if you deselect them, the app reverts to the selected state upon restart. So you cannot remove the content that is not relevant to you from the app.

While the example is from a commercial entity, edtech vendors and designers of curricula often do the same thing — they provide choices in theory that are not actually choices in practice. So even the provision of choice is not necessarily indicative of personalisation.

Learners need not wait for vendors, designers, or teachers to give them choices. With current open and/or collaborative tools like Google Apps and YouTube, learners can take matters into their own hands and find or make their own choices. In doing so, they move from one end of the spectrum to the other by creating their own agency.

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.

A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

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 recall playing a childhood game where we would cock a pretend gun to someone’s head and ask, “Your money or your life?”

That was just a game. I had to ask myself that question yesterday because I had to decide between taking a well-paying consultancy gig or taking care of my health.

As chipper as I have tried to be about the last week since being diagnosed with a kidney stone, I have been in considerable pain. While I am better now, I still cannot stand up straight or walk properly without punishing myself.

I was ready to bite the bullet and do a consulting gig today which required a quick trip overseas. Just the thought of all the months of planning, preparation, and effort was enough to push me to go. But deep down I knew that I was being stupid.

When I had an office, one of my walls was covered with a spiral of my son’s photos to remind me why I did what I did. The photo above is one that I took in 2010.

The photos reminded me to do what I can (and even push myself to do what I think I cannot) to ensure my son has the education that he deserves, not just the schooling he is provided. To do that, I must change the mindsets and behaviours of teachers and educators of all kinds and at all levels.

That mission has not changed. But now that I am at home more, I have a more immediate mission of being there for my family. So the question of money or life was easy to answer. I am glad I chose life.

Video source

Sometimes we are paralyzed when we are presented with options and have to make a choice. This RSA Animate video tells us why.

  1. We want to make a popular choice
  2. We try to make an ideal choice
  3. Making a choice creates a loss (you miss out on what you did not choose)

What then might we do?

The presenter in the video does not recommend that we take away human choice.

In the context of this video, I have a simple answer. We try to simplify the choices. Not to the extent that there is effectively just one choice (and therefore no choice), but to the extent that it is all right to make an individual choice that works for you or where the consequences of making that choice are clearer.

But when it comes to teaching and learning, I think that it is important for educators to strategically create struggles and for learners to wrestle with them. These often count as the best opportunities to learn more about self, values, and content. Roughly in that order.


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