Online Education

This post comes from this post that i read on linkedin today. The post is about a young girl doing courses through MOOC providers. These courses are offered by some of the leading faculty in the field, from some of the top universities in the world, but by the inherent structure of these courses, its not really expensive to do these courses. The cost of running the course can, in fact, be lower because, with the MOOC paradigm, the cost of the course can be shared by participants across the world, instead of only those in a particular physical classroom. However, as you will read from the comments on the post, the main thought people have is, does this collection of courses, and the credits these would represent in a traditional university system, represent a MBA?

Lets consider this closely.

What are the components of education?

1. The right content covering all the topics which a student is required to know to be able to say that he or she has attained a particular level of proficiency in a particular topic.

2. Teaching by a faculty who can teach the concepts covered in the course, answer questions from the students, give them homework, evaluate their homework, and make them do projects or case studies, and evaluate their performance in these.

3. Collaboration between students which helps them to learn together, from each other, and to contribute to the learning on the group as a whole.

4. An exam which can test the knowledge of the student and be able to say with a certain amount of confidence that the student has attained a certain level of proficiency in specific subjects or courses.

Apart from 4, all the other three are available in the structure of MOOC. Here are courses delivered by some of the best faculty in the world, with some of the best courseware, and students have a multitude of options for collaborating with each other. What is lacking is the assessment of the performance of students with some form of standard testing, to signal to prospective employers the suitability of the student for a particular job (this is the economic function of test scores, isnt it?). And what is lacking is the attaching of credentials to these courses.

I feel this is something that is going to change over a period of time. With more participation from leading universities in MOOC programs, what is required now is a structure which can bring courses together into a single framework, regardless of which university is teaching those courses, and aligning this framework with a standard testing model, and we have all the ingredients of a completely new paradigm of education.

The question that arises is why universities would want to do that. With the rising costs of education and delicning subsidies or grants, as universities are finding it harder to recruit students, this is a model which can help universities recruit students from across the world, without those students having to travel to the university location (which is a large cost), and each university getting funding based on the number of units taught, case studies developed or delivered and assessments run by them, this could be a viable financial model for universities.

Anyone aware of studies done which might be able to define the sensitivity of student enrollment towards cost? In other words, are we able to quantify how student enrollments would increase as costs reduce? With this information, it may be easier to find out the feasibility of this model. Anyone aware of any such studies? Please do leave a comment.

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Filed under Education, General Stuff, International, Social Networking, Teaching, Technology, thoughts

A Gamification Scenario

Let me describe a scenario that i came across, of gamification changing the way one tends to interact with something. I have been playing, as i suppose a lot of you have been, sudoku for some time. I have a version of sudoku which is a straightforward one. You select the level of the puzzle you want to play, and it generates the puzzle for you, and you go ahead. It tracks the best times for completing puzzles with different levels of difficulty.

Some time back i got another version of sudoku which has puzzles at different levels of difficulty. The difference is that in this one, the higher levels of difficulty need to be unlocked. Only once you have solved the puzzles at easy level, with a particular best time, and some other parameters, does the medium, difficult, and super levels get unlocked. You cant just jump to a higher level puzzle.

The same game, with simple functionality included creates a different level of motivation to solve the puzzle less time. Earlier, i wasnt too aware of the best timing for the different levels, but now, i was keeping track. And unlocking the level gave a sense of achievement. In short, i tended to look at two versions of the same game in different ways, and this was because of the small component of gamification introduced.

This is the impact of gamification, and this could be harnessed to create the motivation, engagement, and a sense of achievement, like in a game, in learning.

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Filed under Education, Learning, Teaching, Training

Social Marketing & Games

If you think social media is only for technology companies, think again. Heres a look at how Danone use social media to change the image of the Activia brand.

As you can see, its all about engagement. Now, i am not a marketing person, so i wont even try to look at that aspect of things, but another interesting aspect of this is the fact that the campaign was played out as a game. Users would go through a series of Activia challenges designed to create more engagement of users with the brand. One of the aspects which probably would help to create a buzz around the campaign would be the component of the challenge which would give users a sense of achievement have having crossed different levels of the challenge.

Now, this campaign could also have been run as a series of activities, probably the same set of activities, seemingly unconnected to each other (think activity of the week). The series of challenges, like the levels in a game, leading to the final event creates the level of excitement among users at crossing levels, at reaching the next level. This creation of a continuum of levels into “higher” levels brings with it the engagement which the brand needs, and gives a good illustration of the effect of gamification on activities, whether they be marketing or learning.

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Filed under Communities and Networks, Facebook, Social Computing, Social Networking, Web 2.0

How To Teach Maths?

A recurring question which keeps coming up in discussions is how mathematics should be taught. There is a strong view that given the computing power which is available to us, we should relook the basic maths curriculum. So i went looking, and found this video which i feel looks at the problem in a logical way.

Conrad Wolfram is giving some compelling reasoning for why maths education should change, and gives a description of how it should change, too.

Hand-culcating the mundane way should not be the focus on the curriculum. Rather, the focus should be on building and enforcing the concepts, and leave the calculating to computers. In other words, as he says, students should be taught the procedures which define fundamental concepts, but the implementation of those should be left to computer programs. For example, students should know what a square root it, how it is calculated, but they shouldnt have to calculate, beyond illustrations. And here is the cool part he says … focus on teaching students how to write programs to calculate square roots, rather than having them mechanically execute the procedure for calculating. This will immensely help students clarify their concepts (how can one write a program without understanding the underlying principles to a very large extent?), while at the same time help them become more comfortable with the concept of application of these concepts. In other words, our mathematics curriculum should stress understanding and application (application to real world problems is a very good way of teaching these concepts) rather than stress on the mundane calculations which stress out students as well as parents alike. After all, why should a child lose marks in an exam (thats what happens) if he or she takes the square of 5 to be 10 when all the conceptual aspects of the solution are correct, and the only mistake is a calculation mistake?

Connect this with the post i had written earlier, and a rather innovative picture of mathematics teaching emerges.

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The Focus Of Education

When we talk about education, we are talking about giving the children the right answers. We teach the children to answer questions. That means, the focus of education is on answers, as Lawrence Krauss says in this video.

What is more important is to teach children to ask questions. Answers are the consequence of questions, so it is important for children to learn how to ask questions. If children know to ask the right questions, they can find the answers they need. Education needs to be to teach children to ask questions, and then, only then, try to find the answers. In the process of finding answers lies a high level of learning.

This isnt necessarily true of the sciences, but of any subject. I believe that this demarcation between science and the humanities is an artificial one, and that children need to be taught to ask questions and find their answers in all realms. For example, when teaching history, instead of telling them the facts, if children can be taught to ask questions like what circumstances led to the emergence of a civilization or a culture, or what was the social milieu in which an empire grew, the children would learn more about history just trying to find answers to these questions than today.

In this process, the teacher needs to, to begin with, guide students to the fundamental questions and their answers, about the subject being introduced, and from there on, help children formulate questions. Children should be encouraged to come up with new questions, and then, either the teachers could answer those questions, or enable collaboration in the classroom which lets children find out the answers to these questions.

As you can see from the Kalikuppam, Gateshead and Turin experiments, children’s natural curiosity, and their ability to collaborate easily can be harnessed to enhance education being provided. This curiosity can be channeled into asking the right questions, and this collaborative nature can be channeled into exploring the vast sources of information available to the children, and to find the right answers from there.

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Filed under Education, History, Learning, Teaching, thoughts

Teaching Maths Without Words

Thats a somewhat crazy question. I came across this video, and i would say its quite a nice watch.

This video makes a compelling case for the why and the how of teaching maths in a visual way. After all, maths is not about words or languages, is it? If so, why should mathematics education be so language heavy? It should be about the concepts of mathematics. And i have found that the visual impact of mathematics is quite powerful. I tried this trick with my then 10-year-old … I introduced him to the concepts of integers, and multiplication with negative numbers without bringing in negative numbers to begin with.

We started with directions. Left and right. So, theres 3 to the left and 2 to the right. Or, 4 to the right and 5 to the right. Now, adding the 4 to the right and the 5 to the right is easy, but how does one add 3 to the left and 2 to the right? This is where the concept of the negative sign came into the picture. And once this was done, then it was a simple extension of this to see how multiplication with negative numbers simply changed the direction and nothing else.

What this did is help him build a mental picture of these concepts. In my experience as a trainer, i have found that these mental pictures are far more enduring than theoretical concepts. To take an example, i used to teach the concept of min-max planning, or the sawtooth curve, using the analogy of mom planning to go out and buy rice. Now, a few days after the class, the students, even if they had forgotten the min-max planning theory, or the sawtooth curve, still remembered the rice story, and this helped them to relate to the concept. The rice story here helped build a mental picture which is more enduring than theoretical concepts. So this isnt just about children learning mathematics, but also about adults learning.

Now, knowing him, he would have built a picture of Ben10 doing something which saves the world from the wildest aliens imaginable while multiplying two negative numbers, but hey, thats a picture i can live with!

Oh by the way, where there are integers, can vectors be far behind?

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Training’s Khan Academy

Theres lot said about the way the principles of Khan Academy can be applied in the world of education. However, i see education and training as two essentially linked areas, and so, if there are lessons for education from Khan Academy, there must also be lessons for corporate training teams.

This made me think about what could be the key take-aways for a training manager from the way content is structured in Khan Academy. And an immediate answer that comes to mind is brevity.

Today, organizations are under pressure to increase productivity so that organizations are able to deliver more with the same number of employees. This means that employees need to deliver more in the same period of time. In consulting organizations, this is a euphemism for utilization pressure. Many of us would have heard those, havent we? And while L&D managers are under pressure to deliver training to enhance employee capabilities, there is also the constraint of getting participants away from their work for a few days to attend classroom sessions. There is of course e-learning, but can e-learning be an en bloc alternative for classroom or virtual education? I dont think so.

And this is where the Khan Academy concept comes in. This is something i had championed to some extent over a period of the last few years. I am talking about training modules which are a twitterized form of training. In other words, module videos which are to youtube what twitter is to blogs.

In this scenario, the fundamental idea is that people are more interested in training to enable them to do their jobs more effectively. This means that they would be more interested in short, crisp programs (not more than 5 minutes) which help them learn how to do specific tasks as part of their job. Just the things which are required for them to become more effective in their work.

Think job aids meet youtube meets twitter.

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Filed under Communities and Networks, Content Management, E2.0, Education, Knowledge Management, L&D, Learning, Social Computing, Teaching, Training, Twitter, Web 2.0