Posted tagged ‘dystopia’

The future of learning management

11 February 2013

People familiar with my blog will know that I’m not a member of the anti-LMS brigade.

On the contrary, I think a Learning Management System is a valuable piece of educational technology – particularly in large organisations. It is indispensible for managing registrations, deploying e-learning, marking grades, recording completion statuses, centralising performance agreements and documenting performance appraisals.

In other words – and the name gives it away – an LMS is useful for managing learning.

Yet while LMSs are widely used in the corporate sector, I suspect they are not being used to their full potential. You see, when most people think of an LMS, they think of formal learning. I don’t.

I think of informal learning. I think of the vast majority of knowledge that is acquired outside of the classroom. I think of the plethora of skills that are developed away from the cubicle. I think of reading a newspaper and chatting around the water cooler, and the myriad of other ways that people learn stuff. Relevant stuff. Stuff that actually makes a difference to their performance.

And I wonder how we can acknowledge all of that learning. We can hardly stick the newspaper or the water cooler into the LMS, although many will try in vain.

No – the way we can acknowledge informal learning is via assessment. Assessment represents the sum of learning in relation to a domain, regardless of where, when or how that learning was done.

The assessment need not be a multiple-choice quiz (although I am not necessarily against such a device), nor need it be online. The LMS only needs to manage it. And by that I mean record the learner’s score, assign a pass or fail status, and impart a competency at a particular proficiency.

In this way, the purpose of learning shifts from activity to outcome.

Wheelbarrow

Having said that, the LMS suffers a big problem: portability.

I’m not referring to the content. We have SCORM to ensure our courses are compatible with different systems. Although, if you think migrating SCORM-compliant content from one LMS to another is problem free, I have an opera house to sell you. It has pointy white sails and a great view of the harbour.

No – I’m referring to the learner’s training records. That’s the whole point of the LMS, but they’re locked in there. Sure, if the organisation transfers from one LMS to another, it can migrate the data while spending a tonne of money and shedding blood, sweat and tears in the process.

But worse, if the learner leaves the organisation to join another, they also leave their training records behind. Haha… we don’t care if you complied with the same regulations at your last organisation. Or that you were working with the same types of products. Or that you were using the same computer system. We’re going to make you do your training all over again. Sucker.

It’s hardly learner-centered, and it sure as hell ain’t a smart way of doing business.

Enter Tin Can.

Tin can in the cloud

According to my understanding, Tin Can is designed to overcome the problem of training record portability. I imagine everyone having a big tin can in the cloud, connected to the interwebs. When I complete a course at Organisation A, my record is recorded in my tin can. When I leave Organisation A for a better job at Organisation B, no worries because I’ve still got my tin can. It’s mine, sitting in the sky, keeping all my training records accessible.

This idea has taken the education world by storm, and some LMSs such as UpsideLMS have already integrated the API into their proprietary architecture.

Furthermore, I can update my tin can manually. For example, if I read a newspaper article or have an enlightening conversation with someone around the water cooler, I can log into my account and record it.

This sounds admirable prima facie, but for me it raises a couple of concerns. Firstly, the system is reliant on the learner’s honour – ! – but more concerningly, its philosophy reverts back to activity over outcome. Recording reams and reams of minor learning interactions all seems a bit pointless to me.

So where to from here?

Enter Plurality.

Plurality is a brilliant short film watched by the participants in Week 2 of The University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures course.

The film paints a dystopian vision of the future whereby everyone’s personal details are stored in an online grid, which is controlled of course by the government. When you swipe your finger over a scanner, the computer reads your DNA and identifies you. This is convenient for automatically deducting the cost of a sandwich from your bank account, or unlocking your car, but not so convenient when you are on the run from the cops and they can track you through everything you touch.

Despite the Big Brother message pushed by the film, it prompted me to recognise an emerging opportunity for Tin Can if it were to re-align its focus on assessment and exploit the Internet of Things.

Suppose for example you are sitting in a jumbo jet waiting to take off to London or New York. If the cockpit had a scanner that required the pilot to swipe his finger, the computer could check his tin can to confirm he has acquired the relevant competencies at the required proficiencies before activating the engine.

Or suppose you are meeting a financial advisor. With a portable scanner, you could check that she has been keeping up with the continuing education points required by the relevant accreditation agency.

Competencies and assessment tend to cop a beating in the academic sphere, but in the real world you want to be reasonably confident that your pilot can fly a plane and your financial advisor knows what she’s talking about.

DNA strand

If the film’s portrayal of DNA is too far-fetched, it need not be the mechanism. For example, the pilot could key in his personal credentials, or you could key in the financial advisor’s agency code.

But maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all. The Consortium for the Barcode of Life – based at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, no less – is currently researching DNA barcoding.

And still, maybe Plurality is looking at it the wrong way around. We can already store digital information in synthetic DNA. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future our training records will be coded into our natural DNA and injected back into our bodies. Then instead of the scanner referring to your tin can in the cloud, it mines your data right there in your genes.

And you thought science fiction was scary!

All hail the electronic calf

28 January 2013

Given I’ve been blogging about MOOCs lately, I thought it was high time I better informed my perspective by actually doing a MOOC.

So I signed up to The University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures course on Coursera.

It has just kicked off, and one of the resources that we have been pointed to in the first week is Zumbakamera’s short animation, Bendito Machine III.

This film really resonated with me.

Anyone familiar with the Judeo-Christian story of Moses climbing Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God will recognise its alignment with how modern consumers interact with technology. The arrival of the all-singing, all-dancing device-of-the-moment sweeps away all the false idols before it. Rejoice! as we consumers are only too willing to worship the one true god.

That is until the next one comes along.

Golden cow

Beyond the theme of religious zeal, yet another theme pervades the film: the distraction of the masses by “popular culture”. Whether it be news, lifestyle or banal entertainment, the machine can meet all your needs – and so the populace remains glued to the screen, flitting about from scene to scene without ever considering the context.

We’re intelligent because we’re hyperconnected.

Insofar as these themes relate to e-learning, the obvious parallel for me is the undue influence of Apple. The iPad in particular is heralded by some as the panacea of education. The archangel of autodidactism. The shining light of mobile learning.

The iPad can do anything and everyone owns one, so you would be a luddite not to use it, either as a teacher or as a student.

I sooo can’t wait to get mine. When I do, I’m going to put it in a golden case. With horns.

UPDATE: Helen Blunden from Activate Learning Solutions commented on this post pointing out the overly theoretical nature of the EDC MOOC content. I agree, so I have drawn out the following practical messages from the Bendito Machine III animation…

1. Don’t believe the hype - The ultra effective marketing campaign by the Apple folks would have you believe that the iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the world. If you were to develop an e-learning solution specifically for the iPhone then, you might find that you have left most of your target audience out in the cold.

2. Future-proof yourself – The current situation will not remain so forever, so don’t paint yourself into a corner. (Just ask the Flash designers!) I’m not inclined to develop device-specific mobile apps, for example, but rather HTML5 that is web-based and device agnostic. I’m not saying never develop apps; what I am saying is if your platform of choice disappears (Nokia? BlackBerry?) you don’t want all your work to disappear with it.


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