Posted tagged ‘technology’

Back to the future

24 September 2018

I’m both a science nerd and a history buff, so naturally I’m fascinated by the history of science.

When I visited Bern several years ago, the Museum für Kommunikation was at the top of my “to do” list. This captivating institution is dedicated to the history of technology-mediated communication, from the cuneiform tablets of the Sumerians, through the gamut of the postal service, telephony, telegraphy, radio, television, computers and the Internet. Upon my return from Switzerland I eagerly blogged my highlights from the museum.

More recently, I’ve just come back from a trip to the UK, where of course I continued my exploration of geeky curiosities. I was delighted to have discovered three excellent museums, from which I will now share some of my highlights.

My first discovery was the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, which houses “an unrivalled collection of early scientific instruments”. Indeed this institution houses a wide diversity of vintage apparatus – from microscopes to telescopes, abacuses to astrolabes.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer age of some the artefacts, such as the spring-operated prosthetic hand (Figure 1) which is thought to be from the 1500’s!

Artificial hand

Figure 1. Artificial Hand, 16th Century?

My second discovery I wish to share with you, which I’m ashamed to admit wasn’t originally on my “to do” list, was the Science Museum in London. Tight for time, I had bigger fish to fry, but my good friend in Kensington urged me to visit this place a mere tube stop away. And boy I’m glad I did.

If the Museum für Kommunikation and the Museum of the History of Science are impressively stocked, the Science Museum is the mother lode. I could have spent days poring over its expansive collection, and I intend to return to do so.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer fame of some the artefacts. For example…

Faraday's magnet and coil

Figure 2. Faraday’s Magnet and Coil, 1831 – that’s Michael Faraday. You know, the godfather of electromagnetism.

Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector

Figure 3. Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector, 1896 – the type of camera which recorded that ground-breaking footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat.

An Enigma machine

Figure 4. Enigma Machine, 1934 – a suitable corollary to Faraday’s magnet and coil, this ingenious electromagnetic device needs no introduction for anyone who’s watched The Imitation Game or The Bletchley Circle.

Watson and Crick's 3D model of DNA

Figure 5. Watson and Crick’s 3D Model of DNA, 1953 – the glorious double helix.

Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

Figure 6. Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, 1985-2002 – in the 1980’s, the museum began building Chuck’s 138-year-old design for a mechanical calculating machine, finally completing it in 2002.

My third and final discovery I wish to share with you was the Wellcome Collection, yet another destination which was inexplicably omitted from my “to do” list. The only reason I visited it was because my wonderful wife pointed it out as we were walking past.

This institution founded by pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome specialises in human health. Hence I think the strength of this collection is focus, particularly the “Medicine Man” exhibition including the following array of medieval surgical equipment (Figure 7).

An array of medieval surgical equipment

Figure 7. Centuries-old surgical tools.

There’s just so much good stuff in these museums, highlighting more would make this blog post a mile long and might breach some sort of copyright regulation. For more of their artefacts, including several that are relevant to financial services, follow me on Twitter where I’ll post them over the course of the next week or so.

Unlike the “vintage future” whereby people of the past predicted a largely fanciful civilisation, each of the objects I have highlighted here offered a glimpse of our real future. In their respective moments in time, they weren’t theoretical constructs or figments of imagination; rather, they were manifestations of advances in technology upon which further advancements were rendered possible.

Which begs the question: What will be our next advances in technology, given the manifestations we see in this moment in time?

While we await our brave new world, I hope you have the opportunity to visit the museums I have mentioned and embrace your journey back to the future.

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The foundations of innovation in L&D

14 May 2018

There are two sides of the innovation coin in corporate learning & development: technology and pedagogy.

The former is rather obvious and is often conflated with the term innovation. Futuristic hardware and magical software that educates everyone at the press of a button are tempting “solutions”. Some folks call this mindset Shiny New Toy Syndrome, and by golly, it’s a pandemic.

The latter is less obvious because it involves thinking, and I’m not being facetious when I say that thinking is hard. Traditional ways of learning in the workplace are, by definition, ingrained in the psyche of the vast majority of the workforce. Changing the concept of how we learn and redefining how we can help people do it better involve shifting the organisation’s culture, and that is a challenge greater than any IT implementation.

I see technology as an enabler of the pedagogical outcome, rather than it being the outcome per se. And just as we must learn to walk before we can run, so too must an organisation lay the foundations of innovation before it can reach for the stars. Though not as sexy as their more tweeted-about alternatives, these foundations are the building blocks of long-term efficiency, flexibility and creativity.

So what are the foundations of innovation in L&D?

I will hereby attempt to answer this question by looking through the lens of the 70:20:10 model. Whereas previously I have advocated this approach when designing a solution for a specific learning objective, this time I’m elevating the approach to the strategic level, with a view to designing a future-proofed solution for all the organisation’s learning objectives.

The Foundations of Innovation in L&D: content library, knowledge base, enterprise social network, and performance-oriented training

The 70

From the get-go, a false idol that must fall is the belief that the role of the L&D department is to create all the training to meet the organisation’s learning needs. These needs are so diverse within and across all the different job roles that the task is an almost comical impossibility.

Moreover, a large proportion of these needs is generic; despite what many organisations think, they’re not that special. Analytics is analytics. Decision making is decision making. Difficult conversations are difficult conversations. The nature of such content is universal.

So my first building block is a third-party content library. There are many players in this space, and sure it makes sense to pick one that matches your organisation’s profile, but their pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with immediate access to an extensive suite of learning assets, covering a broad range of topics, on demand. Such a resource empowers self-directed learning which, in the language of 70:20:10, can be done on the job, just in time.

Another false idol to fall is the myth that all the information we need is at our fingertips. Clearly, not all our needs are generic. The organisation is special in the sense that has its own products, processes, systems, policies, etc, which a third party will never cover.

So my second building block is an in-house knowledge base. Whether the underlying technology is an intranet, CMS or wiki, again the pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with on-demand access to bespoke content that improves performance.

The 20

Despite the best intentions of a content library and a knowledge base, they will never meet every conceivable learning need. An enterprise social network covers the “in-betweens”, principally by empowering everyone to ask their own questions to the crowd, and to keep abreast of emergent knowledge in the moment.

The 10

The building blocks in the 70 and the 20 spearhead an informal first approach to learning and development which lifts a mountain of weight off the shoulders of the L&D team. Freed from the burden of training everything, we can now focus our attention on what should be trained.

Furthermore, these building blocks enable change in the nature of the training. With the bulk of the content hosted elsewhere, it doesn’t need to be shovelled into the course. The class can be flipped, the narrative pared back to its key messages, and a scenario-based design adopted to train not the content, but its application.

In this way, the training becomes performance oriented.

A man working on a house frame

By no means do these building blocks exhaust the 70:20:10 model, nor do they represent the extent of innovation in L&D. Rather, they form the bedrock of further innovation.

For example:

  • User-generated content has a home, not only where it can be housed, but also where it can be governed.

  • Blended learning goes beyond pre-work online modules by integrating social activity and ongoing performance support.

  • Corporate MOOCs have a delivery vehicle.

  • Micro-learning and micro-assessments have a rich source of reference content to which remedial feedback can link.

  • If the content library, knowledge base and ESN are mobile accessible, they support mobile learning.

  • Any reduction in training volume creates more space to explore emerging technologies such as AI, VR and AR.

  • An orderly, structured L&D service offering provides the basis for a proper consideration of the value that a next-generation learning management system may add (or not).

So while I remain an advocate of ad hoc innovation, I see it as a necessity in the absence of a plan. My preference is a much more strategic approach, bedding down what matters most to meet the immediate needs of the business, prior to building additional innovative initiatives that stand firmly on that foundation.

In this way, not only do we innovate now, but we have a platform for innovating into the future.

25 more real-world examples of Virtual Reality

5 March 2018

A couple of years ago I started up Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week to promote real-world applications of virtual reality.

The inaugural #VRwolweek unearthed 20 real-world examples of the emerging technology, and the enduring popularity of that blog post tells me that we are hungry for more.

Loath to disappoint, I hereby present 25 more real-world examples of virtual reality, drawn from this year’s and last year’s events. I thank everyone who contributed to the following list.

A virtual hand grabbing a virtual drumstick.

  • Kicking off with the Colonel, it would be remiss of me to omit KFC’s virtual escape room The Hard Way. Widely criticised for its evil genius paradigm, I urge us to appreciate the game’s otherwise authenticity. If used as a primer for training in real life, then it’s an engaging example of setting up an employee for success.

  • Anchor Construction uses virtual reality to train its construction workers, while UPS uses it to train its truck drivers.

  • South Wales Fire and Rescue uses interactive 360° video to train its new recruits on extricating a casualty from a road traffic incident.

  • The Dutch Fire Department uses 360° video to teach the public how to react in case of an emergency, while on the other side of the flames in Australia FLAIM Trainer combines VR with haptics and heat-generating clothing to immerse firefighters in realistic situations.

  • In Africa, Meet the Soldier aims to increase empathy among warring cattle farmers, while Cisco and Dimension Data are helping save the rhino.

  • This charming Kiwi uses 360° video to record pov tutorials for mobile productivity apps. “See the apps and devices in action, in the context of where we work, live and play.”

  • A group of middle school students has used 360° photos to create a virtual tour of Fort Vancouver, while the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust uses 360° video to take you on a tour of their Age of Sail galleries.

  • This Australian agency creates virtual tours and visualisations for the mining, architecture and tourism industries.

  • Have you ever wondered how a self-driving car senses the world around it? Wonder no more with the Waymo 360° experience.

  • Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Storytelling, Pearl is a beautiful 360° animation that heralds the future of narrative.

  • Virtual reality isn’t new to gamers, but now it’s social. Check out Evasion and Poker VR.

  • I’m continually amazed at what can be achieved with CoSpaces Edu, such as the Virtual Reality Learning Lab’s uber cool reboot of Frogger. And while we’re going retro, have a laugh at Mario in real life.

  • Topshop allows their customers to ride a virtual waterslide over the black cabs and double-deckers of central London.

  • SeaWorld hybridises the real world with the virtual. Patrons of The Kraken Unleashed ride a rollercoaster while wearing VR headsets that plunge them into the abyss.

    It reminds me of Batman Adventure at Australia’s Movie World back in 1992, when we all sat on moveable seats in front of a big screen simulating the batplane screaming through Gotham City.

    A rollercoaster ramps the immersion up a few notches, to say the least, and I can see why it’s the perfect vehicle for a pre-recorded experience because the timing is precise.

  • In Norway, Audi lets you test-drive their new Q5 in a giant virtual sandbox. It took me a while to work out the prospective customer would dig the racetrack in a real sandbox, which was then scanned and transformed into virtual reality. It’s a modern-day twist on Daytona USA presumably intended to attract the Amazon generation in-store to be worked over by the sales reps.

    Incidentally, I see the clever Scandi’s have now moved on to Augmented Reality with the Quattro Coaster app, which lets you build a road and drive a mini car on it in your living room.

  • VR needn’t have an Audi-sized budget to be effective for marketing. A product manager in the medical industry created a WebVR experience to promote the hi-tech material in her range of surgical gowns. Given her name you may deduce I know this person, so I can tell you this impressive project was done on a shoestring.

  • Finally, these other examples of virtual reality in healthcare – for autism, disability and pain management – must surely turn the most ardent of sceptics.

Hugo Gernsback wearing his teleyeglasses.

Oh how far we’ve come since Hugo Gernsback strapped on his teleyeglasses back in 1968. Long may this wonderful technology continue to evolve!

Virtual Duality

7 March 2017

Something struck me during this year’s Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week.

Billed as an event for “anyone who is working with or experimenting with virtual reality, whether that be at home, at school or at work”, this was the second time I had run it. Again I was keen for our peers in L&D and other industries to share what they are doing with this emerging technology.

At the time of writing this blog post, the #vrwolweek hashtag achieved 612,836 impressions on Twitter with an estimated reach of 350,292 accounts. Impressive indeed. Less impressive, however, is the fact that barely a dozen people shared an experience.

And this is what struck me… There is a gulf between those who talk about VR and those using it, and it appears this gulf is widening.

As last year’s 20 real-world examples of virtual reality attests, the technology is being applied by pioneers in various industries. This year unearthed additional examples in healthcare, transport, firefighting, education, special needs, gaming and tourism.

Screenshot of a Virtual Reality experience used to promote surgical gowns.

This year also highlighted folks such as Robert Ibisch, Flemming Funch, Lorraine Minister, M. Lovecraft, Simon Dueckert and Arun Pradhan who are actively experimenting with VR.

Screenshot of a Virtual Reality experience simulating a river canyon.

So that leaves approximately 350,000 people who have nothing to share. Is that because they can’t or because they won’t…? In any case, they didn’t.

As with so many other examples of technology, there is a division between the haves and the have nots. Yet among those who own a smartphone and can afford $20 for an entry-level headset, VR polarises the doers and the do nots.

A use for 3D Printing in the corporate sector

6 September 2016

I’ve often wondered about the relevance of 3D printing in the corporate sector because we rarely produce a thing. Our products – such as bank accounts and insurance policies – are essentially 1’s and 0’s floating in the ether.

Then I attended a webinar presented by Jon Soong from Makers Empire. This Australian startup is active in the K12 sector, helping teachers bring 3D printing into their classrooms.

With the right hardware, software and guidance, teachers and their students can visualise abstract concepts (Mathematics, Science), produce replica objects (History, Geography) and create original objects (Art).

As the following video demonstrates, the technology can also be applied to problem-based learning.

I like what I see at St Stephen’s School, not only because of the pedagogical benefits that 3D printing affords, but also because it makes sense to familiarise our children with emerging technology.

This particular technology is already impacting manufacturing. A diverse range of products is currently being 3D printed, including clothes, jewellery, candy, teeth, prosthetics, tools, car parts, architectural models, furniture, toys and accessories.

I predict one day in the not-too-distant future, hospitals and medical device companies will dispense with their warehouses. Instead of stockpiling surgical equipment in big rooms – or worse, waiting for products on backorder – a hospital will be able to build the device it needs on-demand. No more need for storage and transport; just a licence to print the proprietary design.

A 3D printed umbilical cord clamp

In the corporate environment, however, we don’t make widgets.

In this context, I suggest we turn to the students from St Stephen’s for inspiration. When the kids use 3D printing to solve a problem, a by-product of that activity is collaboration. Following their lead, we could split our colleagues into teams and task them with producing a 3D artefact; whether or not that artefact has practical application is irrelevant. What is relevant is how the team members work together to achieve the goal.

The technology is the vehicle with which a collaborative situation can be engineered, experienced, observed, and reflected upon.

And we can go further. Consider a methodology such as Human Centered Design. By baking HCD into the task, the team members can practise it in a low-stakes scenario – for example, creating an office mascot. If the artefact doesn’t gain the target audience’s approval, it’s relatively cheap to make the necessary modifications or even go back to the drawing board.

After the team members build up their experience with the methodology via this seemingly silly exercise, they can apply it to the organisation’s real products and services.

The Average Joe imperative

24 June 2014

There once was a time when I thought Second Life was going to take over the world. Well, the virtual world.

I was so impressed with the technology – and amazed at its availability for free! – that I saw it as an unstoppable force.

Yet more fascinating for me was its implications for education. Web conferencing was starting to become popular around the same time, and while these days Skype and FaceTime are de rigueur, back then webcamming introduced a sorely needed human element to distance learning.

However, I noticed something peculiar with web conferencing. While the webcam presented the human face, the learning experience remained undeniably isolated. We were all together, yet each alone.

Second Life was different. Its animations reproduced not only the full human form, but also the learning environment: chairs, tables, stage, etc. Now (at least visually) we were all together. The irony was that by making the interaction entirely artificial, it made it more real.

A virtual learning session in Second Life

Alas, Second Life had an Achilles heel. While it was drop-dead easy to participate as a consumer, it was relatively difficult to participate as a producer.

For a start, if you wanted your own space, you had to buy your own virtual real estate. But worse, it was surprisingly hard to make stuff. I remember trying to build simple objects using the developer tools, but I struggled. So I’d give up, go back to it later when I could steal some time, only to abandon it again. Until I finally gave up for good.

Now I’m a fairly tech savvy kind of guy. While I can’t hack into NASA, I’m confident enough to give any software a go and not be put off by shiny new toys. But I was put off by this. And so too, it would seem, was the rest of the L&D world.

Graph of Gartner hype cycle showing that all new innovations follow the same predictable trajectory from hype to eventual application

The moral of the story is deeper than the Gartner hype cycle.

In fact, while we experienced a peak of inflated expectations with Second Life, and then the trough of disillusionment, I don’t think as a profession we ever reached the slope of enlightenment, let alone the plateau of productivity. Sure, some educators such as Sydney Medical School are doing wonderful things on the platform, but that’s hardly universal.

So what happened?

To me it’s simple: Second Life failed to accommodate Average Joe. If Joe wanted to attend a virtual conference or a meetup, he could do so with ease; however, if he wanted to host a virtual conference or create a meetup venue, that was beyond him.

And so Second Life sailed off the edge of the virtual world.

Statue of Achilles Thniskon

Compare Second Life’s journey to that of other products that have emerged recently. For example, everyone says that Articulate Storyline looks and feels like Microsoft PowerPoint. Well guess what… that’s the point.

Love it or loathe it, PowerPoint is easy to use. So hundreds of millions of people use it.

Articulate’s master stroke was to piggyback the usability of PowerPoint for their own purposes. And the proof of the pudding is in its eating. I am seeing Average Joes everywhere who wouldn’t touch other authoring tools with a 10-foot pole expressing an uncharacteristic willingness to give this one a go. That’s not by accident; it’s by design.

I predict a similar fate for other emerging technologies, be it Tin Can, augmented reality, responsive e-learning, or whatever else lay on the horizon.

Address the Average Joe imperative. Lest your Achilles heel becomes your fatal flaw.

Out of the shadows

24 February 2014

“What apps do you recommend?”

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the workplace, this is a question I am being asked with increasing frequency.

And I don’t really like answering it. I mean, I have my faves, but they are my faves. What I find useful might prove useless for you. It all depends on the nature of your role and what you are endeavouring to do with your device.

So to better inform my answer to this question, I am crowdsourcing a list of favorite business apps. I can now point to a dynamically curated selection of apps that a range of other people find useful. The weight of numbers lends credibility to my recommendations.

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

While it’s early days yet, I’m not surprised to see Evernote streaking ahead. In just about every conversation I have with my peers about apps, the peppermint pachyderm rates a mention. It seems everyone is talking about the elephant in the room!

However, I am surprised by the listing currently in second place: Dropbox. I’m not surprised by the fact it’s listed as a favourite app – Dropbox is excellent! – but rather that it’s listed as a favourite business app.

You see, while Dropbox offers wonderful affordances in terms of cloud-based storage and retrieval, it’s (apparently?) not very secure. Despite its Help Center’s claim to the contrary, the internet is littered with warnings such as this one and IT departments tend to frown upon its use.

Nonetheless, people use it. A lot. For business.

I see this as a sign of the times. Employees are circumventing their company’s restrictive and frustrating IT policies with their own technology.

Now I must stress that I am neither an IT manager nor a security expert. I am not arguing one way or the other on whether this is right or wrong. What I am saying is that this is happening. Shadow IT is casting itself over the corporate landscape.

Consider the implications for the e-learning professional:

  • Your employees expect to access information and resources on their own device – whatever make, model or operating system it may be.
  • Your employees are watching YouTube videos and engaging in social media, even if those sites are blocked by the company.
  • Your employees are participating in MOOCs, even if you disagree with their pedagogy.
  • Your employees are playing games when they get bored or they need a break.
  • Your employees are familiar with apps and they are using them.

The list goes on… You can try to suppress it – or embrace it.

Isn’t it time for your organisation’s e-learning to come out of the shadows?