A Blended Learning Odyssey

We are all gloriously different and we all learn differently.  We seek, consume and absorb knowledge in different ways (aurally, visually, perceptively), in different environments (classroom, online, smart phone, DVD) and at different paces.

The means by which we acquire skills and training depends on the complexity of the subject matter and our pre-existing knowledge of the subject matter.  Undertaking training to become an expert in aeronautical engineering may require a blend of practical instructor led tutorials, video learning and text based study.  A refresher course in fire safety on the other hand, may be best acquired via a short video tutorial.

Blended Learning, then, offers a means of targeting specific content through the most appropriate delivery channel to ensure optimum absorption of knowledge!  It is surely the most efficient way of delivering learning across an organisation as you can both control content and put control of learning outcomes into the hands of the learner.

ROI through Blended Learning

Blended Learning, as the name suggests, implies blending different learning environments, such as traditional instructor led classroom events with technology supported mobile and online events to achieve predefined learning outcomes.  A blended learning approach is more flexible in meeting the needs of the learners and a more efficient way for organisations to deliver learning and development programmes.  Blended learning reduces the reliance on resource intensive instructor led classroom events and allows training teams to optimise their budget.

Blended learning provides a ‘good’ mix of technologies and interactions, and importantly it embraces the social aspect of learning.  The result is a socially supported, constructive, learning experience; this is especially significant given the profound effect that it could have on distance learning.  Individual learners can draw on communities of experts, fellow learners and practitioners to augment their success.

Blended Learning gives us the best of all worlds in its power to deliver a mix of content, from the theoretical to the practical, through a mix of media, from text documents to video instruction.  Instructors and curriculum developers can collaborate to produce the best course material.  Learners can access a wealth of information to enhance their classroom or on-the-job learning.

Course leaders can deliver pre- course material via eLearning to ensure delegates arrive at scheduled events with the required starting knowledge, and deliver follow up assessments to ensure the right skills have been acquired and learning objectives met.

How to Deliver a Blended Learning Programme

A blended learning programme may include classroom events, video learning content, and online assessment modules.  The exact combination depends on analysis of the learning objectives, the competencies required, the audience and the resources available, which requires sophisticated management tools.

Designing the learning programme: with a wider choice of content types and delivery mediums to combine comes greater complexity.  Once learning outcomes have been defined, content and the appropriate delivery media must be designed and the course programme created.  There needs to be a logical flow to the learning and how it is consumed.

Defining roles and responsibilities: with a blended learning programme there might be multiple instructors so it is crucial to assign roles and responsibilities to avoid conflict and confusion.

Delivering and managing the programme: delivering a successful blended learning programme requires a central management function to ensure consistent and clear communications among instructors and learners; provide accurate evaluation and reporting at each stage across all learning elements and effective planning of resources.

Manage costs and meet ROI goals: blended learning offers great flexibility and great effectiveness, but the challenge is to make the blend efficient as well.  Cost controls that work hand in hand with quality assurance and learning effectiveness measures help manage ROI.

Blended learning, if managed effectively, can deliver tangible ROI and ensure you optimise your training budget.  The key to success is a comprehensive learning management system that can handle multiple delivery mediums – from instructor led classroom events, to eLearning to Video Learning to Mobile learning – not only from a planning and resourcing angle, but also provide accurate evaluation, management and reporting.

Berkhampstead School are loving iPads in the classroom

Berkhampstead School have introduced iPads into the classroom and they appear to be a roaring success, this is a quote from the newsletter:

iPADS IN THE CLASSROOM
We have been really excited by the introduction of iPads in the classroom this term. It is certainly a quicker and cheaper alternative to a room full of computers but most importantly they can be used to work alongside our traditional teaching methods. The iPads can be used as a quick warm up in maths, as a word processing tool in English in addition to an accessible dictionary and an Internet reference tool in the humanities. They have been priceless in our creative curriculum for taking and editing photographs and creating music compositions. They are easy to print from and to store work and more importantly very easy to restore if they go wrong!

Many parents have asked for recommendations of apps which have been influential in the classroom. Our current top eight in the Prep are:
Pages
Comic Life
IFPoems
GarageBand
iDraw
Brain Challenge
PopMath

and

The iPads have been enormously successful and the children love them; they seem to have no difficulty learning how to use them and they are a great educational asset.

Great stuff!

Siri, book me on the next flight to New York and drive me to the airport…

I’m 45 years old. Over the years I’ve seen some amazing advances in technology. If I could have told you way back in 1976, that today I would be typing an article on a glass slate. That the slate has a touch sensitive keyboard, no moving parts and a high resolution colour display. That it is connected to a thing called an Internet, without wires. That this Internet thing is a massive interconnected web of computers and my article could potentially be read by hundreds of millions of people, worldwide (well, I did say potentially!).

Not only would you have thought that I was crazy, but you would have been unlikely to have even been able to visualise what I was talking about.

Back then we had dial telephones, not because they were retro and cool, but because that was the state of the art. Computers were unknown outside of the lab. TV came with 3 channels.

The changes I’ve seen over the last 35 years must have happened at the fastest rate ever witnessed by the generations that have come before, and I wonder how much faster it will go. The only thing that is certain – it will change.

‘I will ignore all ideas for new works on engines of war, the invention of which has reached its limits and for whose improvements I see no further hope.’

– Julius Sextus Frontinus, prominent Roman engineer (c. 40-103 AD)

Today three recent advances were demonstrated that gave me a glimpse of what might be coming next, a world where technology starts to become a seamless part of our lives, rather than the accessories that they feel today.

They are, in no particular order:

Apple’s Siri. What may be the first real world implementation of a practical computerised assistant. It’s only as good as its data sources, and a lot of those are currently locked up inside the companies that own them. That will change of course, once they work out who is going to pay for it – will Siri always get its data for free?

Google’s self driving car. It works, well. They have even made it slightly aggressive so that it is able to make its own way across an intersection – without that it would be too cautious and never go anywhere.

How Google’s self driving car works

Computers are beginning to see. We saw that revolution start with the Kinect system and lately two more very interesting demos have been aired:

Marco Tempest performs magic using iPhones (and some neat software). His TED Video:

…and how he did it:

 

This is another related video that you must see, Researchers create a touch screen on any surface

 

On their own they are cool things, but together, packaged for the masses, they are game changers. That’s where we came in:

Me: Siri, book me on the next flight to New York and drive me to the airport…

Siri: Ok Steve, setting destination for Bristol Spaceport, eta New York 4 hours. Would you like me to book dinner at your favourite restaurant?

Thinking of blocking YouTube? Please don’t

I must be getting old! I didn’t get the whole YouTube thing. Until recently my experience was limited to watching a couple of high profile videos, such as the baby panda making mummy panda jump with a sneeze, circulated in the usual way, via viral email.

Stairway to heaven, a classic viral YouTube video

Then I saw the light. It started with a website that linked to reviews of iPad cases, and more recently a video from a spares company.

A video by www.espares.co.uk

I found these reviews very helpful. It helped to see the dynamics of the iPad case, how it handled, how it folded and how sturdy it was. Visual content can help a user appraise a subject far more efficiently than reviewing pages of text and all sorts of companies and individuals are embedding video to enhance their content.

I then progressed to more professional tutorials and guides. It’s not just YouTube either, there are a number of alternatives including Vimeo and Viddler.  Microsoft have a large library of videos.  Pluralsight thrives on producing high quality videos for software developers.

The challenge for organisations is managing access to appropriate content on these sites and it is increasingly common for companies to set their firewall to block YouTube.  After all, we don’t want people surfing YouTube looking for the latest cool viral video.

How to curate a list of videos appropriate for your company

Ideally what you need is a personal YouTube for your company, a curated list of the best videos appropriate to your needs, one you have control over and can put in front of your staff. This will help people quickly locate the videos they need. The Enterprise Study Video Learning module allows you to do just this by compiling videos into chapters and ‘books’. These videos can be:

  • uploaded to your dedicated secure area on our site
  • self hosted on your own servers
  • or uploaded to YouTube

You can configure the content to record plays in the user’s training records, or just allow them to be played anonymously.

I’ve put together a small selection of videos to demonstrate what I mean and I hope it will convince you that there is a good business case to keep YouTube on your network.

The Library – by Enterprise Study [opens in a new window]. Go take a look – I’ll be here when you’re done.

Tips for creating your own videos

Once you are sold on the idea of video, I’m sure you will want to produce your own.

Here are some tips:

  • Watch several videos related to the topic or style that you want to produce and see how they do it. Make notes about what works and what doesn’t. Is the camera moving or fixed? How did they light it? Were they zoomed in close enough. That reminds me of the great Keith Floyd – “don’t film me, film the food“.
  • If you are filming objects then get a tripod for your camera. Shaky camera work should be avoided.
  • A good microphone can make a big difference too.
  • If at first you don’t succeed – try again. The videos you are watching are almost certainly not their first attempt – so be prepared for a second take or two.
  • Get other people in your company involved, it could be a good team building exercise.
  • Write a story board. It doesn’t need to be complicated, you just need to understand what you want to say. This will help you understand what content you will need and who you might need to involve.
  • Have fun! Being passionate about what you do makes for really engaging content.

The iPad could cut IT costs in the NHS and IT departments as well as improve the adoption of applications

The iPad ecosystem is tightly controlled by Apple.

This is a good thing – it means it is very difficult to break, it also means that it’s difficult to infect with malware.

Apple doesn’t allow 3rd party companies to install software that has access to the lower level parts of the system (for example Adobe Flash isn’t supported). This limits the possibility of the device being compromised or crashing due to bugs in 3rd party software.

If you believe the media reports then we are unlikely to see Flash on the iPad because Steve Job’s doesn’t trust Adobe to get it right. This is a problem for a lot of eLearning content that contains video or Flash animations, but this will rapidly be replaced with HTML 5 technologies as developers try to reach this new audience. Content could also be hosted with 3rd party specialists (YouTube, uStream) who do support the iPhone and iPad.

Yet the device is very powerful. Many powerful applications relevant to modern business are available as web applications, such as our own application. These are ideal for use on an iPad.

The app store contains many powerful native applications and the app store process, loathed by developers, acts as a right of passage for applications that should limit the possibility of badly behaved applications.

All of these things mean the platform should be very easy to manage by IT departments.

What will be interesting is whether or not we will ever see an iPad ‘desktop’. There’s nothing in the system that would preclude it. In fact the iPad can even be plugged into a keyboard.

Users should find it easy to use as well – which should translate into greater adoption of many applications.

Even email can seem complicated to many users, on the iPad it’s easy.

Why the iPad will succeed

>Robert Scoble recently tweeted:

“Normal people still don’t see as having a great web experience on their mobile phones as important. I see it everyday in mobile stores.”

and

“For instance, I search Google for sushi, find a restaurant, then click on its phone number. We aren’t doing a good job of explaining this.”

It is this inexperience with technology that will make the iPad succeed.

The geek crowd at TechCrunch, Engadget et al. myself included, see the iPad in the context of all the other great devices out there. To us it is evolutionary, a great step forward, but not a massive one.

The other 95% of the poplulation isn’t exposed to the most recent technology in the same way – they will see the iPad on the TV, both in the news and in Apple’s adverts, and they will see a magical device.

I can imagine the reactions now:

“I saw one of those in Star Trek/Avatar I want one”

“I didn’t know you could do that”

For the first time they will see that technology is getting very close to meeting the promises it has been making for the last 20 years – and I think they will want it.

It will also be interesting to see how the other players respond to it.

I think Microsoft will have to get into the hardware business – there is no way they can compete with that level of integration without owning the end to end experience. They need to drastically shorten their release cycles to catch up and they can only do that with a new approach.

Windows Mobile 7 will be a defining moment for Microsoft, not just for the mobile platform, but for the company as a whole. It will demonstrate to the world that it can innovate in a way that can match Apple and Google. They will have to start from scratch and they will have to be willing to drop the Windows Mobile 6.x legacy.

There are signs that this will happen, but if they don’t then I would take that as a sign that they will not be able to keep up, let alone take the lead.

Timing attacks

I’ve just read an interesting article (linked) that describes how a Google encryption library was hacked by detecting how long it took for the code to fail the request. The longer it took, the more of the key was correct.

The solution was to make sure that the comparision always compared every character regardless of how many were correct.

However that’s only one solution to a particular, limited scenario.

A commentor described how a library may take several different paths to analyse a request. Making sure that all of those different paths took the same amount of time would be very difficult, if not impossible.

There may be a simpler solution.

Way (way) back when I were a lad, I put a microswitch and an alarm on my bedroom door, but my brother would always find and defeat the switch as the alarm always went off as soon as the switch was tripped.

I solved the problem by adding a delay to the alarm, it was then impossible to tell how the alarm was triggered.

It occurs to me that a similar solution would work here. Just add a random delay into the code and you will add enough noise to mask what the code is really doing to the outside world.