Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Virtual Reality and Augmented Technology in E-Learning

An important technology that could have a very credible impact on E-Learning is virtual reality technology and augmented technology. At the recent CES show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Juniper Research declared that 2016 will be  the "watershed year" for virtual reality technology.

It was also predicted that 2016 would see the launch of Oculus Rift (Facebook), the first consumer level virtual reality headset that does not require a Smartphone like Google's Cardboard and Samsung Electronics Gear VR.

HTC predicts that its HTC Vive will represent a technological breakthrough in Virtual Reality, projected to be introduced in April 2016. It was also revealed that Audi will be installing Vives in pretty much all of its flagship stores to offer virtual test drives of their products.

To state that technology companies are "jockeying to position themselves to capitalize" on the evolving technology scene would be gross understatement!

So, the obvious question, with regards to E-Learning, that needs to be asked is:

"Is Virtual Reality ready for prime time as a tool to make learning experiences irresistibly engaging and capture the essence of being in an immersive learning environment?"

The technology companies would have you believe that in 2016, the year of Virtual Reality, that this would be a "slam dunk" for the affirmative. Of course, their answer is slightly skewed by their motives.
What Needs to Be Done to Slave This Technology to E-Learning

As mentioned in the previous post, it is incumbent upon us who are involved in ID and instruction, not to let the "tail wag the dog". Instead, the "tail needs to be customized" so that it performs according to the requirements of a new adaptive and agile pedagogical mindset. Interestingly enough, the primary purpose that many of the new virtual reality technologies are designed for, games and entertainment, provide important clues as to what the focus of our design efforts should be. What we are learning about the immersive techniques of  serious games and the thoughtful engagement that they promote can find the most productive application in E-Learning.


The evolution of the web's "Second Life" has shown us that we can develop an immersive community of learning and diversity that is representative of the human condition and its aspirations. It has also shown us that there is great potential in the development of collaborative learning networks that span the globe.
If this is true, then what needs to be done?

Some Ideas
Unlike, the various business and entertainment initiatives, use of such technologies in E-Learning is different because in education, we strive for "equity of access" for learners. In the past, technology marketers such as Microsoft & Adobe to name two, have made a good effort to make equity of access possible with education plans tailored to the education market. With regards to the use of these new technologies in E-Learning these initiatives need to be continued. I would suggest that given the fact that we are in an information and learning age that such initiatives should be extended to help improve the learning cultures within the business sector.
  • Human physiological data is needed that will reveal the effects that such technology has on the    human body system. For example, in early reports on the use of Oculus Rift users experienced headaches and dizziness after a prolonged use. More research data is needed before we design learning experiences using the new virtual and augmented technology environments. The obvious question, among a number, to ask is: "What is needed adaptation time needed for the human body to achieve biological synchronization with these new technologies and environments?"
  •  With regards to designing irresistibly engaging learning experiences that seek to harness the power of these new technologies, we need to focus on the elements that are most engaging to learners. "Story telling" that involves the learner as an active participant in how the story develops and proceeds is an effective way to maintain learner engagement in what they are learning. This is a lesson that we have learned from observing "gamers" who take on roles within a story which is defined by the choices that they make and act on. Recurrent and immediate feedback during the evolving story is an important element.
  •  The immersive element of virtual and augmented technology should appeal to as many of the human senses as possible and should be a social experience when used in a learning experience.
 It is important to remember that the goal that we strive for in regards to our learners is that they would achieve a deeper, sustainable learning that is driven by intrinsic motivation more and extrinsic motivators less. Learning needs to be a social experience that is collaborative and fun but also meaningful and challenging. Without the challenging aspects, we can not spark creative and innovative problem solving of real world problems.

Next...getting away from the culture of multitasking and closer to making use of each others gifts in collaborative networks.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Technology, Pedagogy and Change Management--The Perfect Storm

In many of the previous posts, I have suggested that harnessing technology in the service of effective pedagogy is not just a nice add on but is an essential in an age of information and learning. Having stated this, there is a necessary caveat which is:

" Not all the emerging technologies are going to be readily useful in creating irresistibly engaging E-Learning and in some cases can be disregarded completely!"

This is where we face the triumvirate of forces acting in a  perfect storm on efforts to create effective E-Learning. We need to consider the importance of "change management" in dealing with this storm. That is why we need to exercise a critical discernment when evaluating the potential of a technology to have sustainable and lasting benefits leading to the enrichment of the learning experience for learners now and in the future. For an organization and the learners who make up their learning culture, every piece of new technology that is introduced creates stress if the proper mechanisms are not in place to create a sense of trust among all who are impacted by the technology introduction. This has always been the case but the difference in today's world is the exponential rate that new technologies are evolving and being introduced.

In an organization which has taken steps to make learning among employees a core value that is in sync with this digital information and learning age, the danger is creating an environment in which, metaphorically speaking "the tail wags the dog". Simply put:

"Technology should not be the driver for change; evolving pedagogy and the needs of the learner should be, in which critically harnessing technology is done in a thoughtful manner"

Key Evolving Technologies Requiring Critical and Thoughtful Consideration

Mobile Learning: Mobile Learning has been one of the technologies that has been receiving much press lately but there are some critical questions that need to be asked that deals with time between introduction of the technology and its adoption:

  1. Has the pedagogy been put to the test using such a technology? Given that the purpose of such a technology is not only to provide access to learning any time and anywhere but also to present learning in short digital bites, has the divide been defined between learning that is strictly anecdotal and learning that leads to an in depth understanding of the topic?
  2. What will be the learning focus in using such a technology, skillset development or factual content?
  3. In a world of distraction, does the use of such technology distinguish itself in useful ways from the "white noise" that makes up the environments of many societies?
  4. If mobile learning incorporates augmented technology in some form, how will this harmonize with the environment that we are acting within and which is impacting on us?

Next..looking at other emerging technologies

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Building Effective Interactivity: The Critical Importance and Nature of Feedback

As human beings, we rely upon our senses to gather "big data" from the world around us. One of the marvels of the human condition is that when we are deprived of one or more senses, the other senses compensate by becoming even more in tune to the "big data" being received from the environment. For example, when a person is deprived of his or her sight for even a short time, he or she reports greater sensitivity and discrimination to sound, often picking up sounds that in the past may have been ignored. Davan Hiskey in an article titled:" Humans Have Alot More Than 5 Senses"(Nov. 2015) illustrates the idea that when it comes to the collection of "big data", the human brain beats artificial means handily.


Just as businesses are discovering ways to collect "big data" as a means of getting a more precise picture of something of interest in their particular environment over time, the human mind seeks constant ongoing feedback so that it may use the data to make decisions.

The Importance of Feedback to Effective Interactivity

When we consider the design of effective interactivity within learning experiences, we have to look at it on two different levels:

  1. Ongoing feedback while engaged in a collaborative learning experience
  2. Ongoing feedback in the form of "assessment for learning". 
Consider the situation of a collaborative learning activity within an immersive E-Learning environment. From a sensory point of view within such an environment, "equilibrioception" or the sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional change is something that is in the process of becoming more and more important as we seek to harness such VR technologies such as the MicroSoft Hololens , Samsung Gear VR or the Oculus Rift VR headset. A common problem that each of the companies are working on is how to eliminate problems associated with equilibrioception. Anyone who has used the Oculus Rift VR Headset for any extended length of time knows how it is difficult to adjust their balance because of the mix of incoming data that has both real and virtual streams. The same problem exists for users of augmented technology.

From a cognitive point of view, immediate and ongoing feedback is extremely important especially when the learning experience is in the form of a simulation or an immersive real world problem solving scenario. Decisions that result in actions being taken have consequences for how the simulation or problem scenario develops. Immediate feedback to the learner at each stage defines what decisions and actions the collaborative group will make. This process when given free reign should plant the seeds for innovative solutions.

For the learning culture of a business organization, feedback in the form of "assessment for learning" becomes an important consideration because it is tied to the acquiring of important skillsets that are valued by the business and also to a growth in performance effectiveness of employees.If a learning experience allows employees to make mistakes in a non-threatening, supportive environment then true "learning from you mistakes" will develop and efficiency will improve. The "big data" that is collected helps employees grow in their own learning development within the organization.

"Assessment should not be a one time event that happens at the end of a set of learning experiences. It should be ongoing throughout the learning experience so that it can be used to make more and more effective decisions. Effective feedback is feedback that is personally meaningful to the learner!"

If we wish to consider the importance of feedback, then consider how much data is received from even something as simple as drops of rain.

Credit: Daven Hiskey(2015)

Where is your learning culture in terms of effective use of feedback? Are you still relying on uni-dimensional polls and surveys alone?

Next---Not All technology is useful for educational purposes

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Building Effective Interactivity- A Hybrid Model--Part III

If collaboration is one of the hallmarks of the new E-Learning paradigm then it is important not only to encourage it in learners but also be willing to model it as an important professional practice. In the last post I suggested that there is much that we can learn about interactivity and engagement from the serious game designers. Many of the remarks in further elaborating on the hybrid model in this post will draw from the serious game designer's experience. One distinction I would make based upon the current state of "gamification" is that I believe that at the present time gamification does not have the same research and application rigor that "serious game design" does. Therefore, it is from the latter that I will draw comparisons from.


The Nature of Interactive Learning Experiences in the Hybrid Model

It should be recognized that relevant challenges within E-Learning experiences are key to the engagement of the learner in the activity so that the learner's intrinsic motivation becomes more stronger than any extrinsic motivators that may be in play at the beginning. In such a situation, the learner enters into what might be described as a "state of flow" where the learner seeks to actively engage with the experience on many levels. The shape that this may take could involve the learner actively, either as an individual or on a collaborative level, seeking to gather information needed to solve a task, re-thinking and re-formulating the approach to the task and generally going beyond the original parameters in order to come to terms with a tasked problem. For the learner, it takes on the same addictive nature that is seen in well designed serious games.

These are some of the qualities that can be observed of participants who are involved in a well designed "serious game". The nature of the challenges within E-Learning experiences are such that goals and objectives are re-defined as progress is made during the learning experience. This means that goals and objectives need to be agile and adaptive because in an online environment unlike in traditional learning environments, feedback to the learner is immediate during the experience and in fact impacts the decision making process of the individual or collaborative group in a dynamic fashion.
In the past, course objectives were written based upon Bloom's Taxonomy which was a valuable resource to start from but it is not a linear dynamic in an online environment and the "revised" Bloom's Taxonomy is more relevant to a digital age. Creating the environment where innovative ideas become a natural mindset requires that this level be considered and that movement does not proceed in an unidirectional linear fashion. This is especially evident when a collaborative group is involved in real world problem solving.

Level of Difficulty and Learning From Mistakes

Another important consideration in designing effective interactivity in E-Learning experiences is to make sure that E-Learning activities are neither too easy or too difficult. This especially true for corporate learners. 

"Why is this a necessary guide and should we be happy with this state of affairs?"

To begin to address the above question, we need to look to the past experiences of learners:

  • They were all educated in an education system that empowered them to believe that if they found something too difficult, that someone else would either change the activity, lower the standard for achievement or allow them to give up on doing the activity with very few personal repercussions for doing so.
  • They were taught that at least putting in the effort was just as important as actually achieving what was required.
This state of affair created an unfortunate attitude among learners where they felt that they were entitled not to have to face the consequences of their mistakes and the expectation that the education system, through its misguided "no fail" policies would shield them. In the corporate world this  resulted in learning cultures where true engagement was poor and deeper sustainable learning was fleeting.
Ironically, the best teacher of learning from mistakes and taking on higher and higher levels of difficulty without outside coercion comes from the gaming industry. It is this industry that we need to have more and more helpful conversations in creating effective interactivity.

Next---How immediate and ongoing feedback during a learning experience leads to deeper learning.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Building Effective Interactivity--A Hybrid Model--Part II

In the last post, it was suggested that for busy corporate learners, putting their learning in a practical context is a first step to building acceptance and engagement in their learning. It is therefore necessary to prove to them the relevance of their E-Learning to giving direction in their role related performance within the business. With this in mind the following two suggestions for building interactivity can be summarized as follows:

  1. From an educational point of view, to accomplish knowledge transfer and skill set development, there should be meaningful opportunities for learners to see and test out what they are learning as it applies to real life settings. One way that this may be accomplished using a blended E-Learning format is through well designed simulations and scenarios where the learner is the main character.
  2. It is important to establish a readily seen connection between theory and practical application of the E-Learning content. Using a variety of irresistibly engaging learning experiences such as scenarios, case studies, simulations and most importantly, collaborative problem solving scenarios where a group of employees are tasked to engage a problem in an online environment is important to developing engagement. Such E-Learning experiences that involve collaborative problem solving where decisions made, lead to immediate feedback and branching scenarios created as a result of decisions that were made are valuable. They lead to the development of important skillsets that can be readily measured and assessed. Immediate feedback to learners throughout the experience is more valuable than a test at the end.

The Importance of Challenge in Building Interactivity

All E-Learning interactions should be challenging enough to involve learners and motivate them at the same time for them to become engaged in the learning process.

  1. Learners should have a powerful purpose for engaging in E-Learning experiences. One of the most powerful motivators is the realization by every learner that the role that I perform within the business organization is important to the organization; my work is appreciated and my contributions are respected by decisions makers; my striving to improve my learning by engaging in experiences that challenge and grow my skillsets is an investment in the health of my organization and in my own professional development.
  2. Another way to challenge learners is to design into the learning experiences what may be described as "unforeseen distractors". The challenge in this instance is how a collaborative problem solving group are able to use divergent thinking that leads to innovative solutions to a problem when the previously decided upon solution can't work. This is a skillset that every business organization should commit to fostering and nurturing within its business organization. It is a pathway to the development of systemic innovative thinking throughout the organization. An example of such a distractor within a business simulation might be as simple as a new flash to the group that a crucial supplier has been unable to deliver on promised materials crucial to you meeting an impending deadline or it could be a case where a company responsible for creating vaccines for a specific illness discovers that their producing lab has not being operating according to the required protocols for a sterile environment. The decisions made by participants in such a scenario where they are thoroughly engaged will yield "big data" that can enhance the learning culture within the business organization.
  3. Another useful challenge, is to teach learners to use online media tools to search for useful information for tasks. One of the problems of the past is declaring in an uncritical fashion that "content is king". The fact that content was delivered to the learner and then all that was expected of them was to memorize the content is a throw back to the "operant conditioning model" mentioned in the previous post. In a learning and information age, being able to use online tools to search, analyze, evaluate and authenticate the truth value of information is far more important. "Well developed online critical thinking skills are king".

Next...Lessons from serious games that apply to the hybrid model