Saturday, March 26, 2016

E-Learning: More Benefits of Big Data and Ethical Concerns to Be Wary Of

The benefits of Big Data mentioned in the previous post would on the surface give us cause to adapt the whole regimen as very worthwhile in the design of learning experiences. Having the ability to produce Big Data that is individualized to each learner should enable us not only to reach that elusive goal of instruction designed to the strengths and weaknesses of individual learners but also when a case is needed to present to education ministry administrators for the purpose of increased funding.  There is also the great benefit of the efficiency and expediency that Big Data affords. In terms of efficiency, the ability to stream strategies saves time in the design of learning experiences that is not only noticeable when employed in the education sector but also in the learning culture of business organizations.

Credit: Surya P. Mohapatra
Despite these benefits, there also exists some serious ethical concerns to be wary of.

  1. Gate Keepers of Big Data: In the previous post, I posted the Latin phrase: " Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", which loosely translated means: "Who is to watch over the guardians themselves?"  With the incredible amount of data being produced every day on individuals in society in the online world, a very informative personal open dossier of individuals is available. Although this dossier has a vast amount of information on an individual, it does not mean that all the collected information is absolutely accurate or even true at all. Consider the fact that companies such as Google have and promote extensive services that include: email, document storage and processing, news, Web browsing, scheduling, maps, location tracking, video and photo sharing, voice mail, shopping, social networking and other tools of interest to users. From these information producing tools, personal data is collected, stored and cross-referenced. There are a number of important questions that need to be asked in regards to privacy:
  • Who will have access to this personal Big Data and for what motives?
  • Will this Big Data be protected from unauthorized access by individuals with motives other than the improvement of education for the learners? Data breaches of customer data is not science fiction but a serious reality and in the business world digital espionage is something to be prepared for. Are we ready?


  • Will governments use educational Big Data to improve the quality of real education for learners or will they use it for self promoted political agendas to slap down political opponents where learners and their schools, instructors and education districts are just pawns in a larger game?
  • Will learners themselves have access to the Big Data collected on them as well as the interpretations of that personal data?
If Big Data is the basis for decisions that will have an effect on the actions taken "in the best interest" of the learner, the whole path that the life of a learner will follow may be determined in ways that violate the learner's goals and future occupation.
2. Reducing Human Beings to Just Numbers: The concept of profiling learners can lead to the        dehumanization of learners. People can become just collections of objects and collections of facts rather than living, breathing thinking unique individuals. It is the extreme application of objective judgment.
3. Lying With Statistics: Correlation of data does not prove causation! The motives of the handlers and interpreters of Big Data always needs to examined. It is very easy in the heat of debate, especially in the political realm, to jump to purposed conclusions using Big Data and forget how many people's lives are going to be changed based on the interpretation of the Big Data.


Question: Do we have effective protocols in place to handle educational Big Data and address the ethics of using it?

Next.... Positive suggestions to address the concerns with educational Big Data

Saturday, March 19, 2016

E-Learning and Big Data: The Nature and Benefits of Big Learning Data

When we take a closer look at the nature of  Big Data as it relates to learning and in particular E-Learning, there are three standard elements used to describe it:

  1. Volume: Big Data can yield information on thousands of learners in the brick and mortar schools taking the same course or having the same instructional experiences. However, this grows exponentially when we look at E-Learning. using the world wide web, educational organizations can extend their reach on a global scale so that we are no longer looking at information from thousands but hundreds of thousands with the potential to reach millions as technology and infrastructure develops. MOOCS, such as Coursera  and Edx are just two organizations that are starting to reflect the exponentially growing access that is developing in E-Learning. With such volume, there are naturally benefits such as being able to provide a defining global perspective on education. There are also great dangers which will be addressed later. The level of scalability allows Big Data to be gathered from multiple institutions on a global level.
  2. Velocity: Big Learning Data enables learners or organizations to have rapid access to data in real time. Not only is Big Data accessed quickly but it is also agile in that it is constantly being updated at a rate determined by those who store the Big Data. This has the potential to make individualized instruction more of a reality since it drives customization based on the needs of each individual.
  3. Variety: For Big Learning Data to be effective, there needs to be a mechanism for the interconnecting and synthesis of a wide variety of information from students with different backgrounds.

Benefits of Big Data to Education

     First looking at how Big Data can direct L & D in a company, we identify three different types of data:

Credit: Surya P. Mohaptra
 The question that business organizations face in looking at their learning culture is the same one that ID's face in regards to the design of effective E-Learning in the education sector:

"Given the exponential growth of technology and information, what needs to change in order to capitalize on the new Big Data reality so that we are not paralyzed by this wave of change?"

In order to answer this question, we have to assert that the benefits outweigh the inherent risks and that we are willing to minimize the degree of risk through establishing effective protocols.
Some of the benefits of Big Data to E-Learning would be the following:

  1. Feedback: In the past feedback to the learner was limited to quizzes and tests at the end of a learning unit with the hope that the learner would take the attending comments seriously. The simple truth in such a situation was that we were helping the learner make decisions based on limited data and usually uni-dimensional data. Now with the rise of Big Data, we can provide the learner with more comprehensive information on learning experiences which allow him or her to compare with the performance of others who have had the same learning experiences. Feedback needs to be ongoing and multi-dimensional.
  2. Collaboration: Cross disciplinary design and learning is enhanced and encouraged through the collaborative use of Big Data. Discipline silos of information need to be changed to really promote collaboration. Protecting your turf in an age of information and learning is a naive attitude that can't stand in such an age.
  3. Tracking: The value of predictive analytics lies in the ability of the user to be guided into drawing insights. Big Data can provide insights into the real learning patterns of learners in E-Learning by following their "digital bread crumbs" that they leave when they work through an E-Learning course. Thankfully, advancements in AI research will make this task much more less onerous.

Next.... More Benefits and Ethical Concerns About Big Data

Thursday, March 17, 2016

E-Learning and Big Data: A Light At the End of the Tunnel?--Part I

When we consider the rapid growth of technology and how the technology might help support a needed transformation in the pedagogy of E-Learning, we are presented with a number of exciting options from  new and more adaptive LMS's to the use of AI and totally immersive E-Learning environments.

We can't help but ask the question:

"Are we finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to E-Learning?"

What is implied by this question is the observation that we see existing options starting to be further developed and come into the mainstream of E-Learning instructional design and others that have not been able to withstand scrutiny, disappear. However, there is still a troubling question that we need to carefully consider:
"Have we seriously considered all the ramifications of adapting new options, especially options that may have a dark side to them for learners?

The use of "Big Data" in E-Learning is one of the exciting options that we need to carefully examine all perspectives on.
The Rise of Big Data

One of the current rising stars in the business world is something called "Big Data". Three companies in particular that make use of Big Data are Google, Amazon and Apple. It should not be a surprise to consumers when these companies are able to determine your likes and dislikes in many aspects of your daily lives and then almost "magically" make personalized suggestions on what you should read, buy and think. From the perspective of these companies who have access to a myriad of personal "Big Data" that is mined from all the "digital bread crumbs" that you leave due to your online presence, they are merely looking after their customers as good corporate citizens should do. however, from the point of view of the individual, the troubling question faced is:

"Who should have the key to your personal data and what degree of access should they have without  your permission?"

 You might ask what this has to do with E-Learning. In this age of information and knowledge, more than ever before, business and education are intricately linked and in fact it is a relationship that is taking on a digital symbiotic nature but not in the way that existed in the industrial economy.

The term "Big Data" originally was coined by the "Open Source" community. The term refers to the large amount of information that flows through various online pathways each second. It is data that is far too large, complex and dynamic  for conventional tools to capture and manage. Many of today's business organizations are data driven and now thanks to technology advancements and predictive analytics, it can be interpreted and analyzed. The goal is to draw insights from large amounts of data that give direction. Its value to the education world is that data is collected across a huge variety of demographics, backgrounds, learning styles, thinking processes, IQ levels, academic intentions, environmental factors, skills and potentials. This data can be tracked through LMS's, social networks and other media. Even the young teen playing online video games with his or her X-Box One is contributing Big Data to the portfolio of individualized data. On the surface, the benefits to education are the insights that the data provides to help design instructional strategies, evaluate impact of strategies on both student and teacher emphasizing an evidenced based production of data. However, one question to consider is:

"Where does "small data" that is gathered in the classroom daily fit into the big picture?"

Next.........The Nature of Big Learning Data

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Collaboration: Assessment for Learning and Business Take Aways

One area of learning that the concept of effective collaboration has great potential for is in the area of assessment for learning. In the past, assessment for learning and assessment of learning were focused on the individual. Any attempt at collaboration would have been considered "cheating". However, if the daily learning experiences we expose the learner to involves a renewed emphasis on collaboration, should not assessment of learning and for learning also reflect this emphasis. This is not to imply that there would be no assessment of learning and for learning for the individual learner. What is being suggested is that we can create a more balanced assessment that includes a measure of the collaborative thinking, decision making and use of each others talents and gifts in solving complex real world problems.This fits with the understandings behind what we term as "Open Pedagogy" which the education community is moving towards.

The obvious question is:

 "How can we design such assessment tools so that we obtain measures of what we are looking for?"

Some Suggestions: Consider, with an open mind, these possibilities:

  1. Use of Share Applications As Assessment Tools: One of the great advancements brought to us by Google is what we call its cloud storage in the form of the Google Drive and the suite of apps such as Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Presentations. The singular common characteristic is that all of these apps can be set up according to defined sharing protocols. Imagine that a teacher creates a shareable document, which he or she stores on his or her Google Drive. Students are then paired (not sitting with each other) and the document is shared out to them alone with certain features turned off(can't change the directions or wording of task) but can add their thoughts, proposals or solutions to a tasked problem. No one else can be invited to the group unless permitted by the instructor. with the shared capability, students can collaborate without speaking because they can see what each other is adding to the tasked problem. Students would have access to the web which again reinforces the needed skillsets of the learner being able to analyze the problem collaboratively, search and authenticate useful information on the web collaboratively and use synthesis to prioritize and reduce information pertinent to the tasked problem using collaboration. The development of innovative solutions to the proposed problem could allow students access to a shared drawing and presentation tool to illustrate their ideas.
  2. Going Beyond Assessment By the Instructor: If we agree that in order to solve complex real world problems, we need cross disciplinary approaches then it is logical that the instructor alone may not have all the appropriate skillsets and experience to look at the solutions provided by students from the multiple of perspectives required. This is where specialists from professional learning communities can play a role in assessment of learning but also make important comments to students for assessment for learning. Tying the learner to real world feedback ensures that the student is engaged by what he or she is doing and realizes that their learning is very much part of the real world.

Nurturing critical thinking AND divergent thinking skillsets in a collaborative format is more in line with the type of future problem solvers that our societies need even now.

Business Take -Aways
Question: "What is business to learn from these shifts involving Moore's Law, Learning Culture and change management?"

Credit: Tom Hood 

It would be a gross understatement to suggest that Moore's Law will have an impact on business organizations because we are already caught in the wave. What distinguishes one business organization from another is whether you are in a state of reacting to the changes or are aggressively being proactive in planning change in an incremental fashion. Too much change creates disruption that can seriously harm a business and lead to a lack of trust on the part of stakeholders. Too little change paralyzes a business so that it appears as a "deer in the headlights" in a globally connected economy.
Looking at the learning culture of a business organization needs to go beyond just a needs assessment and committee report that quickly gathers dust on a back shelf. The forces that are holding a business back need to be identified and an honest risk assessment needs to go from the discussion stage to an action stage. Transformation will not take place without it.

Employee engagement and empowerment as collaborative agents of change, tasked by the vision of the company, needs to be nurtured. This might mean a bold move such as taking compliance training out of the hands of training and aligning it with another department so that the instructional designer, learning principles experts and instructors can concentrate on the transformation of the business organization's learning culture. Building collaborative networks both within the organization and outside the organization needs to be taken to a whole new level based on the new currency, information and knowledge.

Next....... E-Learning--A Light At the End of the Tunnel?

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Re-designing E-Learning with Systemically Designed Collaboration: Specific Suggestions

Based upon the impressions of the last post, there are a couple of points I would like to be abundantly clear:

  1. This type of re-design is not limited to the STEM area of learning activities. Even though I used a STEM example, if we believe that solving complex real world problems requires a cross disciplinary approach, then collaborative groups must involve more than just the sciences. STEAM projects might be the bridge to hybrid collaboration. The key to thoughtful engagement is to focus on real world problems and feedback should not be simply a self-quiz or exam at the end of a learning activity but should be on-going throughout the learning experience and should shape on-going decision making during the learning experience. This provides a wealth of information for the learner and can also result in a growing self-confidence in themselves as dynamic learners with a purpose.
  2. Experiential learning and project based learning take center stage in such a re-design. Design thinking as a skillset becomes a focal point and one that is consistently encouraged in the learner consistently.

Education: Specific Changes to Promote Effective Collaboration

  1. Moving Away From Content Focused Pedagogy:  One of the great realities of 21st century learning is that knowledge and information are expanding across the disciplines in an exponential rate. The advancing changes in technology based on a revised understanding of Moore's Law have not only accelerated the advancement of information and knowledge but also the time of globally communicating these expanding waves of information and knowledge has quickly grown shorter and shorter. As a student aptly put to his teacher in 2016:

    "I can find more information and knowledge on the Internet than you could teach me in your life time as a teacher!"

    Whether we like it or not, Moore's Law is being re-written by the advancements of technology and the growth of information and knowledge. This in turn impacts the shape that education should take. The past focus on educating students to acquire more and more information for the purpose of repeating it back to satisfy the industrial economy mindset, no longer fits with the needs of 21st century society.

    Credit: Ray Kurzweil and
    With the new start up areas in the Internet of Things, the skillsets required go beyond the simple acquirement of knowledge. The focus needs to shift to the higher order thinking skills (Revised Bloom's Taxonomy) and purpose driven innovative thinking.


    So, if we move away from a content for content's sake pedagogy, then what do we move to?

    In order for us to really build effective collaboration in a sea of information and knowledge, information and knowledge is not solely our end goal for the learner. More importantly, the re-design of pedagogy needs to emphasize the following skillsets:

    1. Learners already know that there is a huge repository of information and knowledge on the Internet but one of the skills that they need to be mentored on is how to effectively search for information that will be useful for sharing with partners with the common end goal of solving complex real world problems. The great realization that learners need to be led to is that not all information on the Internet is true, real or valid to a particular problem. The fact that the Internet has become an outlet for any person who has web access means that there is a need for "thoughtful discernment".
    2. Learners need to be able to collaboratively analyze a problem and be able to see that problem from a cross disciplinary perspective. This is where having an honest assessment of each others gifts and talents will help make the approach to solving complex real world problems easier. For example, a collaborator who has a solid gift for mathematics is able to contribute to the process by analyzing the problem from the point of view of mathematics and can also help in the search by being able to distinguish between shallow mathematics interpretations from those who are valid, real and hold promise for shedding light on the problem.
    3. In order for true collaboration to take place, networking with outside specialist learning communities must be established and facilitated so that relationships are developed between the collaborative learners who need to authenticate the knowledge that they find and those who are in the best position to validate what they find in their searches. This relationship is beneficial to both groups. For the learner there are the relationships that are formed between themselves and representatives of disciplines that provide impetus for future professional career directions. For the varied professional learning communities, they are given insight into the potential future growth of their profession. Another very unusual but real benefit for professional learning communities is that they have the opportunity to "step outside entrenched routines and see problems from fresh new approaches.
    4. A greater emphasis on the skillsets of synthesis and creativity is needed. With the exponential growth of knowledge, it is easy to become swamped by all that is out there.The learner's ability to analyze and then to synthesize information and knowledge so that it is focused on enabling the production of a host of innovative solutions. This is a discipline of the mind and like any other discipline it requires a commitment to "hone or fine tune" it with an eye on excellence.

    In a nutshell, it is not about learning all the content for the content's sake but it is about how to search for tasked content, how to authenticate that which is true, real and valid to the task and reject everything else, how to take a huge body of knowledge and through the skill of synthesis make it manageable so that you have the most current, authenticated cross disciplinary knowledge that can be shared and used to arrive at innovative solutions to complex real world problems that to this point have defied solution


    2. Create a Global Learning Contract Between Education and Professional 
                  Learning Communities

    The learning of future citizens living in our global societies is no longer just the responsibility of the educational communities in an age of information and learning. All of society has an important stake in how education of learners progresses because the focus is to create agents of change who can effectively deal with very real complex real world problems that are increasing. The professional disciplines as well as global business are stakeholders because they are greatly affected by the results of education. Education needs to establish what I would term a "global learning contract" between themselves and the other stakeholders. This means extensive collaboration among the learning communities with a powerful purpose of supporting those who would become agents of change in our societies.


    How are business organizations and professional learning communities affected? More in the next post and the idea of using collaboration in learning assessment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Re-Designing E-Learning With Effective Collaboration As a Priority---Designing Systemically

 The Nature of the Problem

A couple of comments often heard from students and their parents in the past and even today are the following:

Student: "I go to school all day and we do things that take up time in our day but in the end these things have nothing to do with the real world."

Parent to Teacher:  " Its okay with me if you have my child do all these discovery activities and have him/her make decisions but in the end I want you to tell him/her what they need to know."

If you examine these comments within the context of a society that is becoming more globally connected and precisely the world that young learners will take their place in as adult citizens, you can't help but ask the question:

" Is there a disastrous disconnect here? Are education systems really preparing students for the "real world" that they will actually have to live, contribute and function in or are they being prepared for a world that no longer exists but is faithful to our own memories?

If students are still making such comments, then we are at risk of them completely disconnecting from valuing education and "life long learning".


Recognizing and admitting that we have a problem are only the first steps. To reestablish the link between education as a relevant activity to preparation for living in a rapidly changing world means that we need to re-design the pedagogy that we use in such a way that the learner can see that what they are doing in their education is consistently connected to people, resources and needs that exist in the real world. We need to stop making excuses to learners that the regimented, conforming and controlling activities that are used in education but never go beyond the four walls of the brick and mortar classroom or even the virtual classroom, is somehow good for them.


 So, if we are going to involve learners, whether in the learning cultures of business or formal education, in effective collaboration, it has to be personally meaningful and give the learner the opportunity to make valid contributions to real world problems. It is no secret to those who are involved in educating or training learners that learning that is deep and sustainable reaches it potential by having learners actually do tasks where they can collaborate with each other and receive feedback from the outside world. Feedback from the outside world from people who are on the cutting edge of their disciplines is more validating for the learner than feedback from their instructor. It validates that what they are doing is real and has importance in the real world.

Lessons in Sustained Learner Engagement: "The NASA Martian Rover Design Project"

 If we want learners to achieve deeper and more sustainable levels of learning, it is not enough just to dazzle them with a uniquely designed learning experience, we need to have the learner remain engaged. This is where technology can serve our re-designed pedagogy.

One project that demonstrated the importance of this type pedagogy for me was a project titled: "The NASA Martian Rover Design Project" which was an off shoot of a larger initiative called: "The Marsville Project". This was a project that was first started as a result of the terrible Challenger Spacecraft explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. The families wanted to leave a lasting memory of the dedication of seven astronauts to the ideal of exploring space for young people. As a result, the Marsville project was born. This project was geared to the idea of collaboration in the exploration and design of a human habitation on Mars. The exploration focused on all aspects of such an endeavor which included structural design, life support systems, renewable energy production, food, communication systems and of course, the design of a realistic design for a Martian terrain vehicle called a rover.  Unlike other school based projects, this one was a good example of blended E-Learning since it combined in class based project with making connections with NASA personnel who could act as mentors with suggestions about student ideas.


I worked with students on this project for approximately 11 years. At first we focused on all aspects of the project but quickly discovered that the timelines became tight and the logistics of bringing our innovations to Toronto where over 50 other schools would meet to demonstrate their scientific innovative thinking on the project became a real challenge. As a result the teams decided to specialize on two aspects: design of a Martian Rover and the generation of renewable Mars based energy.

What I discovered about sustainable engagement and through talking with students amazed me. Here are some results:

  • Students asked why this type of learning that connected them with real scientists who were actually working on such projects was rare and too often a one time event.
  • After, our collaborative teams were formed, the students connected with scientists and included them in their collaborative teams. Although scientists are very busy with their research, many were willing to hear students innovative ideas and give them feedback and even references to easy to understand data and information.
  • After, our teams were introduced to the task of building and programming robotic rovers, my role changed from being the "sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side". Amazingly, the students took over, working collaboratively, accessing information from the Internet, problem solving and communicating with specialists. Intrinsic motivation became the driver for what they were doing. I was the "encourager on the side". There was no need for me to offer external motivators to keep them going.

On thinking back on this experience, it was one of the most gratifying of my career because what I was observing was what I would term "pure, ongoing learning". Students who felt that school was not the real world changed their minds in our groups because now they were connected to an important task in the world that involved them collaborating with real scientists and receiving meaningful feedback about their ideas.
For two of my students this experience encouraged them to come up with innovative ideas that found real application in the real world. One re-programmed the original program used to guide the robots so that they could navigate a maze of obstacles using different types of light and heat sensors where the other one went on and came up with a new and more cost effective treatment for Malaria.

The question posed by the students is a valid one:

Why is collaboration with the real world just a one time thing and not something that should be an important skillset designed as part of all their courses?


Next----Specific areas where effective collaboration should be part of the design in E-Learning.
NASA's space shuttle Challenger accident was a devastating tragedy that killed seven astronauts and shocked the world on Jan. 28, 1986. Killed in the accident were Challenger commander Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Judy Resnik, Ronald McNair and Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, who was set to become the first teacher in space. - See more at:
NASA's space shuttle Challenger accident was a devastating tragedy that killed seven astronauts and shocked the world on Jan. 28, 1986. Killed in the accident were Challenger commander Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Judy Resnik, Ronald McNair and Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, who was set to become the first teacher in space. - See more at: