Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Pursuing the Future in E-Learning: Connecting Evolving Practices to a New Vision:Part I

As most world history teachers will tell you, all history is defined by "cause and effect". A simple analogy would be to consider a billiard table with a full set of billiard balls on the table. Striking the cue ball or introducing an event causes the cue ball to impact other billiard balls on the table. These billiard balls would represent current events on a world scale. The action of using that cue ball causes a chain reaction of effects on many events. It is worth noting that very rarely does one cause only result in one effect. We see this type of reality in historical events. For example, the cause of World War I was not just the product of one causative event. It was in fact caused by multiple events but the singular event of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife brought multiple causes that were already there to the tipping point.



Another popular analogy used to describe cause and effect in relation to the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia in the late 1960's and the decades of the 1970's and 1980's was the
"Domino Effect". However, this analogy was a based on movement in a linear, one direction paradigm and usually one cause.


So, you might ask why the history lesson and what does this have to do with E-Learning practices?

Perhaps, part of the answer is that when the Internet came into the mainstream as a credible means for people to pursue learning at the start of the millennium, the singular dimension of cause and effect in learning became a multi-dimensional entity because on a global scale and in a dimension of immediate communication and response, multiple causes of change in learning now impacted on how the art of education and learning should proceed. Instructional designers who in the past had followed a regimen of stable "best practices", now found that rather than having time graduated change in best practices they were forced to deal with an exponential growth in knowledge across disciplines and a new learning environment that was global and immediate in nature and took them into new pedagogical practices that allowed learners to capitalize on the assets made available by the World Wide Web. They were faced by and still are confronted by the question:

" Is a design model such as ADDIE still a viable best practice model or is this still single dimension thinking? Do we need to advance a design model that is more adaptive to the flux of change and agile?"


It would seem that there is movement in the instructional design community to try to address the challenges of the advance of a relatively new learning environment. There are many ISD models that are spin off variations of ADDIE. There are also ISD models from Dick and Carey and also Kemp. One important response to the changes has been the introduction of rapid prototyping which is a reaction to the immediacy of the web environment which has stepped up global competition to deliver new services and products to a whole new level. However, we are still faced with the sobering question:

"Is this enough or are we still mired in single dimensional thinking?"

Pursuing the Future: New Levels of Thinking

Collaborative Thinking: Making the best use of the intellectual assets of business organizations, the scientific community and the academic community in an online world is the goal to strive for in a age that by its own definition is an age of learning and information. Problems faced by societies of the past, due to geographical distance and time seemed to be isolated and largely insular in the relationships among nations. Outside collaboration was only sought when a crisis arose that would affect more than one nation. Examples of this would be the world wars. Resources were contributed and pooled to address the common threat to the nations involved.


However, the advance of technology and mediums of communication have changed the nature of the new problems that we face as societies. Problems are no longer just regional concerns but have taken on global dimensions. For example, in the past, a terror attack on a country half way around the world from you would be brought to your attention through the media but didn't directly affect you unless the leader of your country sought to include your country in the event. In terms of the billiard ball analogy, the causative events lost most of their impact before reaching your billiard ball. Now as a result of the Internet and its reach around the world, terror can be exported and recruitment in far away places can bring terror into your country. You can name many other complex real world problems that will exhibit the same reach and influence on a global level as a result of the ever increasing access of the human race to global internet resources.

This essentially means that in order to address these new complex real world problems effectively, requires a collaborative form of thinking that is global in nature. Simply put, in order to effectively address complex real world problems that are integrated into the world wide web, we need to utilize collaborative thinking on a global scale. This means the creation of global collaborative groups whose members may be from a plethora of countries around the world.

The Billiard Ball of New Technology: Collaboration of AI With Humans

The advance of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence is a rapidly moving billiard ball that will have a substantial impact on our new way of doing collaboration in order to solve complex real world problems.
We can choose from two main approaches:

  1. We can deem that in order to free up time for humans to be creative and innovative, we can relegate the intelligent machine to the often repetitive, time consuming tasks that take us away from using our creativity and innovative thinking. In an industrial setting, this is being done in ways in which the robotic device is involved in assembly line tasks. The motive of business organization leaders is not necessarily to free up the creative and innovative talents of their human workers but may come down to producing effective capital streams.
  2. We can make greater use of the capacity of artificially intelligent machines to use their talents to collaborate and adapt to the needs of the tasks the human group have before them. In other words, work hand in hand with them and using their talents to complement our own.
Credit: Global Specs
In an editorial in Science Magazine (Jan. 2016), the authors argue for human-machine collaboration in “human computation systems.” Such a system would use human creativity to propose new ideas while algorithms test, evaluate, and facilitate revision of those ideas. The authors tout it as a kind of shortcut to solving the “hard problems” of A.I. by having humans do the work that computers can't quite do yet.
 They also point out that this approach avoids the “existential risks” of A.I. that the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have been warning about.

 The Japan Times (Aug. 19, 2016) reported that the government is funding an all in approach to encouraging AI machine and human collaboration in various phases of life. The two examples they give are:

  • In the medical field, AI technology is expected to be used in diagnosing the symptoms of patients and advising doctors on optimal treatments by analyzing electronic medical records and huge amounts of data on similar cases.
  • In the manufacturing sector, for example, AI technologies could be used to detect signs of impending machinery glitches and failures at factories more efficiently than humans to reduce output disruptions
The drive towards the utilization of AI machines as collaborators with human beings had long been predicted by science fiction writers. In recent Marvel comics based movies and in particular, the Iron Man series, details how both human and AI can work together to solve complex real world problems. Pay special attention to the nature of the interactions between Iron Man Tony Stark and his AI. This is the type of collaborative synergy that needs to take place in order to arrive at solutions to complex real world problems that threaten us as human beings.

 The future of effective decision making involving complex real world problems will include the use of new technologies but they must be used in a life affirming manner rather than a self destructive manner. The sobering question that we face is one suggested by Max Tegmark, a founder of the Future of Life Institute which is this:

" In a race between the growing power of the technology, and the growing wisdom we need to manage it, can our wisdom meet the challenge?"

Next.... Part II--Pursuing the Future--Putting the Pieces Together

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