Monday, July 28, 2014

10 counter-intuitive, researched tips on use of video in learning

When considering video what do key pieces of research say about impact on learning outcomes. As it turns out video may seem instinctively useful but that is not always the case. Our limitations in terms of working memory, episodic & semantic memory, attention and perceptual systems all play a role in limiting the effectiveness of video. Understand how the mind works and you can use video more effectively and cheaply. Here’s seven research-based facts that you should perhaps consider when using video in learning:
1. Media rich not always mind rich
Intuitively we may feel that rich, high quality, high production value video with animation, graphics, background sound, music and narration makes for great learning. But the evidence suggests otherwise. This approach can often result in ‘seductive but irrelevant distractions’. Meyer and Moreno have researched this area in detail and found that cognitive overload and dissonance can often occur when too much information is being presented. Controlling the load on working memory is an important consideration. Lesson: video is not always a good medium for learning. Lesson: Video can inhibit as well as enhance learning.
2. Attention maxes out at 6 mins
Philip Guo has tracked median engagement times versus video length, aggregated over several million EdX maths and science video sessions. He found that the average engagement time of any video maxes out markedly at 6 minutes, regardless of its length. An interesting side finding was that students who had enrolled for the certificate engaged more with the videos. Lesson: keep videos below 6 minutes.
3, No  to 1 hour lectures (even chopped)
The edX researchers, confirmed by the MOOC factory in Lausanne, have found that, in addition to avoiding the dreaded 1 hour lectures, one should also avoid simply chopping up the existing 1 hour lecture into 6 minute chunkes. Take time to rework and rehearse the chunks as small videos in themselves, not the result of meat-chopper editing.
4. Stay personal, informal & enthusiastic
An interesting research finding from MOOCs, where huge amounts of video have been used by millions of learners is that learners don’t like over-produced, TV quality presentation. They much prefer more informal, personal and, above all, enthusiastic performances by their teachers. Hesitations, a chatty relaxed style even corrected errors. Lesson: More YouTube than TV.
5. Image quality NOT key
Most video cameras these days produce good pictures. Even then you really have to know about ISO, depth of field, framing and so on to get the best results. However, on the basic issue of picture quality, it doesn’t matter that musch when it comes to retention.
6. Audio quality IS key
Poor quality video quality is rarely the problem when it comes to learning and retention. Bad audio can, however, cripple both. . are not necessarily damaging in terms of learning and retention, poor quality audio, however, is bad news. Nass & Reeves showed that poor audio, hissy, distant or robotic can seriously affect retention.
7. Do not mix video & text
Video and accompanying text is a no-no. Never put the script up at the same time as the video. It overloads working memory and damages learning.  Mayer (2001 suggests that both a visual and a narrative description increases the amount of time information about the process can be held and processed in working memory, leading to measurable, lower retention.
8. Worked examples
In research on 862 videos from four edX courses, for subjects that rely on symbolic, semantic reasoning, such as maths, physics and coding, worked examples (a la Khan Academy or Udacity) work far better.
9. Size matters
In an HCI course I took the talking head was postage size stamp size in the bottom right of the screen. Nass and Reeves showed that screen size does matter when it comes to reaction.  As my BBC film editor used to say – it’s all in the eyes.
10. Alternate heads & images
With talking heads, go full screen and alternate with slides. Use talking heads for conceptual explanation and slides for diagrams, images and pictures that really do explain a point and don’t merely illustrate the point.

There’s lots more to be said about the use of video in learning. I’ve been using it for over 30 years and all of the above are confirmed by that vast and wonderful experiment – YouTube. There’s lots of different types of video and when it comes to learning, it is vital that the optimal technique is used. TV and film, in that sense, are not the most useful guides as, for learning, you often have to break their rules.

 Subscribe to RSS

Leadership: the weasel word that led to bad management

‘Leader’ is an odd word when it comes to management. It’s a bit phoney, exaggerated but does it also lead to dysfunctional behaviour? What do you do for a living? I’m a ‘leader’. Cue laughter and ridicule. Have you ever heard anyone in an organisation say, “We need to ask out ‘Leader’?” - only if it was sneering sarcasm.
Weasel words
When I first started in the learning world over 30 years ago ‘Leader’ was not a word I heard at all. There was plenty of good management theory and training and most people who headed up companies were called Managing Directors. Then the tech bubble came along in the 90s and we all went gaga for snazzy, new US terms and everyone swapped out the sober and descriptive MD for CEO (Chief Executive Officer) (I’m guilty here). The word ‘Chief’ is an interesting choice. You were no longer someone who ‘managed’ others but the big chief, big cheese, a big shot.  It was then that another word rose like Godzilla from the depths of the cess pit that is HR lingo – ‘leader’. Suddenly, managers weren’t people with competences but top dogs who ‘Led’ people towards victory. Mike, senior manager in accounts, was now a dog of war.
The opposite of leader is follower. In a sense the word infers that the people you lead and manage are followers. It sets you apart from other people, not a great quality in management. Of course, leadership trainers will tell you that it’s not about creating followers, but in practice this is the effect the word creates and management trainers jump through hoops to reconcile this leader/follower dilemma. If you want to avoid this problem, simply don’t use the word ‘leader’.
Leadership courses
When the language changed so did the training. HR bods were suddenly the leading thinkers on leadership. HR and training departments saw an opportunity to big-up their status by breeding, not managers, but leaders. Middle managers went on ‘leadership’ courses run by people who had never led anything, except flipchart workshops, in their entire lives. In practice this meant cobbling together stuff from existing management courses and adding a veneer of specious content from books on leadership. Winging it became a new course design methodology and every management trainer in the land suddenly became a leadership trainer.
Middle managers went crazy for books they’d never dreamt of reading. I’ve seen everything from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius to Lao Tzu’s Art of War touted as serious management texts. I knew it had all gone seriously wrong when I saw a commuter, with a bad suit and combination lock briefcase, on the 7.15 from Brighton to London, reading ‘The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan’. What next? Hitler, Stalin… Pol Pot?
Led to the abyss
Managers loved their new found status as little generals, leading the troops. They responded to the training as narcissists respond to flattery, with gusto. I don’t think it’s an accident that this coincided with the megalomaniac behaviour in the banks where ‘leaders’ fed on a high-octane diet of ‘leadership’ training, ‘led’ us into the abyss of financial collapse. These ‘leaders’ adopted delusional strategies based on over-confidence and a lack of reality. There’s a price to pay for believing that you’re destined to ‘lead’ – realism. Managers who now saw themselves as ‘Leaders of the pack’ engaged in behaviours that flowed from the word. They became driven by their own goals and not the goals of the organisation or others. It also led to greater differentials between leader and follower salaries.

We have seen leaders in every area of human endeavour succumb to the tyranny of ‘leadership’, in business, politics, newspapers, sport, even the police. Rather than focus on competences and sound management; fuelled by greed, they focused on personal rewards and ‘go for broke’ strategies. So what happened to these ’leaders’? Did they lose their own money? No. Did any go to jail? No. Are they still around? Yes. Have we reflected on whether all of that ‘leadership’ malarkey was right? NO. Let’s get real and go back to realistic learning and realistic titles.

 Subscribe to RSS

Friday, July 25, 2014

MOOC points from a real learner

For the last 9 weeks I have been enrolled in a Coursera MOOC ‘An Introduction to Marketing’, run by Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. Here’s the question; was it worth it and have my marketing skills improved? YES & YES!
I have to admit, nine weeks ago, I was skeptical and slightly reluctant to set aside  time over nine weeks for this course, as I had looked at others that were not so good and weaker on content. Strangely, the thing that attracted me to this course was the nice certificate at the end that I could link to my LinkedIn profile. To do this I had to sign up for the ‘Signature track’. This cost £30, didn’t break the bank, but gave me a goal, made me care and kept me going.
Context matters
I had a quick look at some of the lectures and was hooked. They were not hour-long, boring videos of a dull Prof talking at me, they were 10 minute videos, well made in different consumer locations, with interesting people, explaining things in context. For example, I really appreciated the insights into the difference between product and customer-centric companies. It was this contextual approach that worked for me. I liked this real-world application side as that’s the world in which I have to apply my skills.
Quizzes kept me going
Every so often, the video would stop and I had to answer a question on what I had just seen, keeping me engaged and not allowing me to simply go with the flow, immersing me in theory until I drowned. The module quizzes also keep you on your marketing toes as it’s easy to just drift along without reflection.
Useful app
I quickly downloaded the app so I could dip in and out when I had a free 10 minutes. That is exactly what I did. Every night, before I went to bed, I watched one quick lecture, at my own pace, until I understood the concepts. This was the perfect amount of learning for me as I have a job, play the drums and all that stuff. Whenever I had a bit of free time, I’d do it – even at 3/4am - that suits me, as when I felt productive, I’d get a load done. I felt in control. 
The Prof got back to me!
I could interact with different students on the forums, reading what they had written from their experiences. I didn’t spend a huge amout of time on the forums but they were interesting. I did ask some questions, to which the professors promptly replied. It was cool to get a reply from the Prof on a question I asked about ‘Celebrity endorsements’. For once learning was a pleasant experience! 
Tests not tricks
Tests came frequently and I scored 100% in all of them (honestly!). These really made me focus on the content and commit to remembering what I had learnt. Now I look back on it, I realize that these first tests weren’t trying to trick me , judge me or confuse me (that’s what tests and exams have always felt like), but asking me if I really knew something. If I found it hard, I could flip to the lecture and seal up any gaps. Only the last and longest test was a struggle, asking me more in-depth questions and making me project what I had learnt onto different situations. This was challenging but that’s exactly what I needed, as I was doing this, not as a course, but as a way of improving my marketing skills for my job.
Overall, a good MOOC has a good set of people behind it, professors who are clearly excited by the fact they are teaching an unlimited amount of people and are passionate about that. I like the idea that I can shop around, find the MOOC that suits me, and the convenience of doing it when it suited me, usually late at night.
Final thoughts
Did I like the MOOC? Hell yeah. Did I learn much? Absolutely. Was it useful? My job is in social media marketing and this gave me some depth of understanding on mainstream marketing. Would I do another? Already started.
This is my LinkedIn profile with the certificate. I am a marketing person after all ;)

I missed something. My employer encouraged me to take this sort of course and the fact that I can take my certificate (with distinction!) back to him is a big plus.
    Carl Clark (20)

 Subscribe to RSS

Sunday, July 06, 2014

6 reasons why we don't need ‘mentors’

I’ve never had a mentor. I don’t want a mentor. I don’t like mentoring. I know this is swimming against the tide of liberal orthodoxy but I value liberal values more than I value fads, groupthink or orthodoxy. But there’s many reasons why I’m both suspicious of and reject mentoring.
1. Fictional constructs
Mentor was a character in Homer’s The Odyssey and it is often assumed that his role was one of a guiding, experienced hand for his son and family. This is false. Mentor was simply an old acquaintance, ill-qualified play a protective role to his family, and worse, turned out to be a patsy for a hidden force, the God Athena. A similar tale has unfolded in recent times, with mentoring being revived on the back of late 19th century psychoanalytic theory, where the original theory has been abandoned but the practice upon which it is based survives.
There is another later work of fiction that resurrected the classical model as a source for the word ‘mentor’ in education, Fenelon’s Les Adventures de Telemaque (1699). This is a tale about limiting the excesses of a king but it did reinforce the presence of the word ‘mentor’ in both French, then English. Yet Mentor in this ponderous novel is prone to didactic speeches about how a king should rule (aided by the aristocracy), hardly the egalitarian text one would expect to spark a revolution in education. Interestingly, it pops up again as one of two books given to Emile in the novel of the same name, by Rousseau.
2. Psychoanalytic veneer
Mentoring came out of the psychanalytic movement in education with Freud and Rogers. Nothing survives of Freud’s theories on the mind, education, dreams, humour or anything else for that matter. But Rogers is different. His legacy is more pernicious, like pollution seeping into the water table. His work has resulted in institutional practice that has hung around many decades after the core theories have been abandoned. We need to learn how to abandon practice when the theories are defunct.
3. Mentoring is a trap
As Homer actually showed, one person is not enough. To limit your path, in work or life, to one person is to be feeble when it comes to probability. Why choose one person (often that person is chosen for you) when there are lots of good people out there. It stands to reason that a range of advice on a range of diverse topics (surely work and life are diverse) needs a range of expertise. Spread your network, speak to a range and variety of people. Don’t get caught in one person’s spider’s web. Mentoring is a trap.
4.  People, social media, books etc. are better
You don’t need a single person, you need advice and expertise. That is to be found in a range of resources. Sure, a range of people can do the job and hey - the best write books. Books are cheap, so buy some of the best and get reading. You can do it where and when you want and they’re written by the world’s best, not just the person who has been chosen in your organisation or a local life coach. And if you yearn for that human face, try video – TED and YouTube – they’re free! I’d take a portion of the training budget and allow people to buy from a wide reading list, arther than institute expensive mentoring programmes. Then there's socil media a rich source of advice and guidance provided daily. This makes people more self-reliant, rather than being infantalised.
5. Absence of proof
Little (1990:297) warned us, on mentoring, that, “relative to the amount of pragmatic activity, the volume of empirical enquiry is small [and]... that rhetoric and action have outpaced both conceptual development and empirical warrant.”  This, I fear, is not unusual in the learning world.
Where such research is conducted the results are disappointing. Mentors are often seen as important learning resources in teacher education and in HE teaching development. Empirical research shows, however, that the potential is rarely realised (Edwards and Protheroe, 2003: 228; Boice, 1992: 107). The results often reveal low level "training" that simply instruct novices on the "correct" way to teach (Handal and Lauvas, 1988: 65; Hart-Landsberg et al., 1992: 31). Much mentoring has been found to be rather shallow and ineffective (Edwards, 1998: 55-56).
6. Fossilised practice
Practice gets amplified and proliferates through second-rate train the trainer and teacher training courses, pushing orthodoxies long after their sell-by, even retirement, date. Mentoring has become a lazy option and alternative for hard work, effort, real learning and reflection. By all means strive to acquire knowledge, skills and competences, but don’t imagine that any of this will come through mentoring.
Conclusion: get a life, not a coach
I know that many of you will feel uncomforted by these arguments but work and life are not playthings. It’s your life and career, so don’t for one minute imagine that the HR department has the solutions you need. Human resources is there to protect organisations from their employees, so is rarely either human or resourceful. Stay away from this stuff if you really want to remain independently human and resourceful.
English translation of Les Adventures de Telemaque
Little, J.W. (1990) ‘The Mentor Phenomenon and the Social Organisation of Teaching’, in: Review of Research in Education. Washington D.C: American Educational Research Association.
Warhurst R (2003)Learning to lecture Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

 Subscribe to RSS

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What does the learning game have to learn from the World Cup?

Most professional sports employ data to improve performance. Yet football (soccer), in data terms, is not so much the beautiful game as a rather messy and random affair. Unlike many sports, such as basketball, American football and baseball, in soccer the ball changes sides so often it is difficult to identify patterns in the numbers. That’s not to say they don’t exist. As usual, the data, although messy, reveals some surprising facts:
1. Corners don’t matter that much. Mourino was amazed when English supporters cheered corners, as he knew they rarely led to goals. The stats support this. There is no correlation between corners and goals – the correlation is essentially zero.
2. Then there’s the old myth that teams are at their most vulnerable after scoring a goal. Teams are not more vulnerable immediately after scoring goal. In fact the numbers show that this is the least likely time that a goal will be conceded.
3. Coin toss is the most significant factor in penalty-shootout success. 60% of all penalty shootouts have been won by coin toss winners. Goalkeepers who mess about on the line and hold their hands high to look bigger also have an effect, making a miss more likely. Standing 10 cms to one side also has a significant, almost unconscious effect on the goalscorer, making one side look more tempting.
4. It’s a game of turnovers. The vast amount of moves never go beyond four passes. This has huge consequences – ‘pressing’ matters, especially in final third of field. Avoiding turnovers is perhaps the most important tactic in football.
These are just a few of the secrets revealed by Chris Anderson and David Sally, two academics, from Cornell and Dartmouth, in their book The Numbers Game – Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong.
Seasoned managers, coaches, trainers, players often get it wrong because in football our cognitive biases exaggerate individual events. We exaggerate the positives and what is obvious and seen at the expense of the hidden, subtle and negative. A good example is defending. Mancini may have been the greatest defender ever because of what he never did – tackle. We prize tackling, yet it is often a weakness not a strength. We think that corners matter when they don’t. Similarly in education, we prize the opinions of seasoned practitioners over the data: exams, uniforms, one hour lectures, one hour lessons and all sorts of specious things just because they’re part of the traditional game.
Soccer and learning
If a sport like football, which is random and chaotic, can benefit from data and algorithms that guide action such as buying players, picking players, strategy, and tactics, then surely something far more predictable, such as learning will benefit from such an approach? What we can learn is that data about the ‘players’ is vital, what they do, when they do it and what leads to positive outcomes. It is this focus on the performance of the people who really count, learners, that is so often missing in learning.
Education gathers wrong data
Education has, perhaps, been gathering the wrong data – bums on seats, contact time, course completion, results of summative assessments, even happy sheets. What is missing is the more fine grained data about what works and doesn’t work. Data about the learner’s progress. Here. We can lever data, through algorithms to improve each student’s performance as they take a learning journey. We need the sort of data that a satnav uses to identify where they start, where they’re going and, when they go off-piste, how to get them back on track.

Just as the ‘nay-sayers’ in football claimed that the numbers would have no role to play in performance, as it was all down to good coaches, trainers and scouts, so education claims that it’s all down to good teachers. This is a stupid, silver-bullet response to a complex set of problems. It is partly down to good teachers but aided by good data, learners have the most to gain from other interventions. Education needs to take a far more critical look at pedagogic change and admit that critical analysis leads to better outcomes. This means using data, especially personal data, in real time to improve learner performance

 Subscribe to RSS

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Africa - the mobile continent

Africa is a mobile only continent. Phones were never meant to be tethered to the wall like a goat. Mobile is their natural state and everywhere you go in Africa, you see people with $10 mobiles. There’s kiosks everywhere, that offer phone charging, airtime, money transfer, recycling and repair. We have a lot to learn from Africa in this regard.
Mobile is lifeline
Why Africa? Mobile is far more important to the poor than the rich. It’s a lifeline to work, money transfer, running a small business, communications with family, medical advice, vetinary advice, market prices and increasingly knowledge and education.
Sustainable success
There is a strong relationship between internet access and economic growth. In a donor-dependent continent where agents of virtue, often compound, rather than solve problems, the ubiquitous use of mobile is one of Africa’s great sustainable successes. It’s cheap, compelling and continues to grow as it’s so damn useful. Small businesses can thrive, money managed and progress made in people’s lives.
Mobiles & literacy
Last year in Namibia I participated in a discussion about mobiles and literacy. Cornelia Koku Muganda, from Tanzania, explained why mobiles were pushing a ride in basic literacy. Every child in Africa WANTS to read and write, as they want to TXT and read TXTS. We now know that this constant writing leads to better literacy, a fuller phonetic understanding of the language and more social skills. There’s even phonics apps to txt in local languages. School is not cool but mobiles are as cool as it comes.
Mobiles & education
I’ve always been rather sceptical about m-learning in the developed world but in the developing world necessity is the mother of mobile learning, with Dr Maths through Mxit, Wikipedia Zero, even SMS requests for SMS delivery of Wikipedia in Kenya. There’s a vibrant, home grown m-learning industry emerging.
Political transparency
Africa has its share of problems, with cronyism and corruption but remember that eth Arab Spring happened largely in Africa and young people across the continent are finding their voices leading to gains in transparency and political action.
Leapfrogged landlines
They have leapfrogged the landline infrastructure and with 635m mobile subscriptions rising to 930 million by 2019. $10 simple phones, often with FM radio and torches are still dominant but $50 smartphones have hit the market. Samsung are the market leader but cheaper Chinese phones are gaining ground. (Note that Apple has only 3% share of the smartphone market.) This will make a huge difference as internet access in Africa is largely through mobiles. 70% of internet use is via mobile. According to a World Bank study, An astonishing 1 in 5 would forgo basic necessities, such as food, for extra airtime, it’s that valuable a commodity.

This is a good news story from Africa, something simple and sustainable that has emerged across the whole continent. This is something that Africans use with other Africans to improve their lives. For Africa, the future is mobile. It’s powerful, personal and portable; perfect in a continent of huge distances with huge problems and huge demand. Scalable internet access offers a cheap infrastructure with access to free content. (This is a sort of summary of a contribution made to BBC Radio Scotland this morning). 

 Subscribe to RSS