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Posts Tagged ‘learning

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.

Banksy’s tweet below was a call to use the lenses in your eyes instead of the lenses in your phone to process life events.

It is easy to sigh and complain that “young people” or “millennials” are staring at their phones instead of paying attention to each other or what is around them. It is more difficult to see things through their eyes.

Who are we to judge? Your parents complained about your time on the corded phone or television. They also had negative things to say about your taste in music and clothes. Anything of theirs was nostalgically good while yours is alarmingly questionable.

No, you do not have to put down your phone to enjoy life. Life is not just what exists outside the phone. Some moments are best enjoyed through it.

There are FaceTime calls with loved ones that you are separated from by physical distance, but not technological distance.

There is the capturing of significant moments in life like first steps, graduation, a new home, and eye-opening trips.

There is information and intellectual connection you can make via YouTube and social media.

The larger issue is awareness of context. There are times to look up, look down, or both. It is about knowing when, not applying a blanket rule to cover every situation.

There is so much world to see and so much life to experience. Why make it either-or instead of taking in all that life has to offer?

I love watching the YouTube videos from Great Big Story. That channel finds amazing and inspiring stories from all over the globe and distills them into just a few minutes.

This video is a collection of four stories. The first two personify lifelong learning in ways that no academic, policymaker, or school leader can describe.


Video source

The first story is of an 80-year-old woman who started weightlifting at age 70. The second is about a 69-year-old Nepalese man who is in the equivalent of tenth grade high school.

No words I might write do them justice. Watch and be inspired!

Count your blessings if you do not have to deal with customer “service”. I must have been cursed to need to communicate with three different groups this week. But ever the optimist, I link my negative experiences with lessons on learning.
 

 
My first encounter was to arrange a redelivery with a courier company that I had never heard of. I Googled for information and found their site.

Like most modern companies, their site had a lot of information and an option to type in a reference number. However, the number was handwritten poorly on the delivery chit. Whatever number I keyed in gave me an empty return.

I resorted to calling their hotline, and while the customer service representative was polite enough, he also could not find the reference number. We eventually used other information to find the package.

When rearranging a delivery time, he offered a wide 9am to 6pm window on a weekday. This meant waiting at home, potentially the whole day, for a package. I asked for a weekend delivery with a smaller delivery window.

The problems here were bad human handwriting and ridiculous delivery windows. Both are examples of not putting the customer first — writing in a way only the delivery person understands and wanting to redeliver when no one is at home.

The first thing an expert forgets is what is it like to struggle with learning.

Just as there was no empathy for the customer, teachers sometimes forget what it is like to be a student. If you forget what it is like to struggle with learning, then there is no point teaching.
 

 
My second call of the week was to arrange for the recycling or responsible disposal of a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) that had stopped working.

I called a service number and discovered that I had three options: Bring the item in to an industrial office, pay a courier to deliver it, or arrange for pickup based the convenience of the company.

A UPS is heavy and I was not going to lug it to an industrial area that typically has poor access via public transport. I had already paid for the UPS and was not about to pay for its collection.

So I got the instructions to send an email — to an address that was not listed at the company’s website — to arrange for pickup. I received an automated reply with a reference number. And nothing else. No schedule, no instructions, nothing.

The main problem in this case was a broken promise because someone forgot to combine human effectiveness with technological efficiency.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

The reminder to teachers is a mantra I repeat: You must reach them to teach them. This goes beyond delivering content and providing critical information. It means following up and providing feedback until there is clear evidence of learning.

Singapore's Mos Eisley, Sim Lim Square, is still a hive of scum and villainy.

My third encounter was to find a replacement UPS. To get a good deal, I looked for alternatives at Singapore’s equivalent of Mos Eisley, Sim Lim Square (SLS).

While some scum and villainy still exists, SLS has cleaned up its act and I know a few reputable stores. Reputable, but not dependable.

I looked up price lists and contacted one shop by SMS since the contact number was plastered prominently on its website. I did not receive a reply and called two-and-a-half hours later. The lady realised I was the same person who send the SMS and told me that they had contacted the supplier.

This would have been a fine response if my question was: Did you contact the supplier? It was not. Instead, I had asked: Do you have this item in stock?

I applaud her anticipation in answering the second question, but she did not answer the first. She did not inform me via SMS or a phone call that it was not available.

Immediately after the phone call, I received an SMS reply repeating what we already talked about.

The problem here is not just inertia or not being able to communicate in a timely manner. It is assuming that the customer knows what is going on (the item was not available and they were trying to get a supplier to deliver one).

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

In teaching, it is easy to assume that learners understand things the way you do. Easy does not mean that it is right. The learner does not have the same experience and mental schema as the teacher. Learning is a messy process and teachers who already see the order may forget what it is like to tidy up.

There are little things in everyday life that can remind educators what we can do to be effective pedagogues. We just need to be open, critical, and reflective.

Yes, learning as social, not learning is social. There are times when each person learns alone and some believe that is when they learn best.

However, we probably learn better in social contexts. These are opportunities to get new information, negotiate it, internalise it as new knowledge or reshape schema, and make that learning visible.

Learning as a social endeavour is not new. Educational philosophers, researchers, and thought leaders have left an on-going legacy of social constructivism, social constructionism, and connectivism.

Connectivism is particularly relevant in the Internet-connected age. Knowledge does not just reside in the nodes (individuals) but also in the links (social connections). You are more knowledgeable if you have more connections, not more content. 

Learning as social is often described and applied in pedagogy (e.g., group work) and andragogy (e.g., exploring shared experiences) of young and adult learners respectively. How about much older learners?

I loved this MSN article on Singapore’s senior citizen Pokémon players.

These are the uncles and aunties who seem to have taken over the PoGo playground and gyms after impatient kids abandoned them.

I have met and interacted with my fair share of PoGo aunties and uncles. They are generally a gentle breed and fond of mentoring newbies — their peers or juniors — and offering unsolicited advice to strangers.

I recall an incident at a level 4 raid in which other players and I gathered at a heartland venue that coincidentally looked the circular PoGo gym. I was not successful with my raid and an uncle across from me offered a strategy after the fact. I had not heard this strategy before. But the next day, that same strategy was mentioned an expert on YouTube.

Old age and treachery will always overcome youthfulness and skill.

Now some might say that the uncle’s strategy was a result of this adage: Old age and treachery will always overcome youthfulness and skill. This might assume some individual sneakiness. It was not and is not.

The uncle was with his posse and they were chatting like any group of players do. They were learning as social. That is how they learnt best and shared what they knew. They learnt so fast that even a YouTuber had not shared that idea.

The strategy was shared socially and spread by word of mouth and type of social media. Do not underestimate learning as social.

I discovered an unexpected source of ideas for flipped learning. It is a video of a teacher trolling his students after he banned them from flipping bottles.


Video source

At first glance, the teacher might come across as the embodiment of “do as I say, but not as I do”. After all, he did not want his students flipping bottles and did so himself.

Viewed through the lens of YouTube entertainment, the teacher was not only a master troll, he was also aware of memes and what connected with his learners. Even the groan-worthy references were gems.

Viewed through the lens of education, the video was a good example of practice, creative endeavour, and content creation.

The practice of bottle flipping required not just elbow grease, but also experimentation to determine the right amount of water. I have no doubt that there was much failure footage left out of the final video.

The teacher kept flipping bottles just like teachers might try flipping their classrooms. However, routine with both gets old quickly. Since the flipped classroom is still largely reliant on the teacher as driver, the teacher must design and lead interesting journeys. The teacher provided creative variations and levelled up the difficulty of bottle flipping. The same could be said about flipping classrooms.

The most important idea is that of having the agency to create content. This is one principle that distinguishes the flipped classroom from flipping learning. Learners must be empowered to create content so that they make their thinking visible, are teaching their peers, and acting on the feedback they receive. Only then does the flipped classroom transform to one that embraces flipped learning.

Bonus: This viral video also illustrated one strategy for creating videos for flipped learning. Every learner should show only what is critical. They do not need to create epic movies. They should be creating trailers that leave their peers wanting more.

Yesterday I spotted this sign near where I stay.

A warning sign & a cry for help #english #grammar

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

In proper English, the sign might read: “Danger – spoilt seat. Please don’t sit.”

Despite the broken English, most of us still get the message. Why?

We are probably mentally flexible enough to bend the rules to understand what the sign intended. Just as likely, the warning tape was a visual cue and physical barrier.

The bottom line is that you get the message in spite of the poor English. Something else helps send and enforce that message.

This reminds me of lecturers who insist that students can learn deeply from didactic teaching. The students learn not because of a lecture, but in spite of it.

In higher education, students learn more outside the lecture. They visit the library to research, read quietly, and edit their notes. They form study groups, meet with faculty or tutors, and might even pay for remedial tuition. They Google for information and search YouTube for videos.

I get anecdotal confirmation of this every semester when I conduct classes for university students.

You might think of this as the 80:20 “rule” of learning. The actual proportion is not important nor is it that precise. The point is that deeper and more meaningful learning is often a result of what students do, not what the lecturers do.

In the working or corporate world, there is the 70:20:10 rule. The learning opportunities are hands-on work, learning from others, and formal professional development. Again the ratios are not absolute or fixed, and the point is that learning socially and on the run are key.

The fact is that much more effort to learn is spent outside the classroom or training venue than inside of it. This is because the other contexts are more fitting, opportune, or otherwise meaningful for learning.

Our students do not necessarily learn because we teach. They learn in spite of what we do. This is a humbling thought and we need to focus on where, when, how, and why they learn, not just what they learn or who they learn it from.


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