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.

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Leadership: the weasel word that led to bad management

We have fetishised the word 'Leader'. You're a leader, I'm a leader, we're all leaders now - rendering the word completely meaningless. 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. The bottom line is that no one in the real word uses the word. It's a bureaucratic construct used only in courses and organisational charts. No person in their right mind would call themselves a leader to someone's face. Describe yourself as my 'Leader' and I'd dismiss you as someone lacking the skills to manage me. In fact, introduce yourself to me as my leader and I'd think you were the opposite.What HR has missed, is that in the real world it's a pejorative term. We need to be far more critical of this terminology and the 'leadership' craze. If you teach this stuff, what exactly have you 'led'? What evidence do you have for the things you are calling 'leadership?  It was invented by people who sell management training to fool us all into thinking that it's a noble calling. It’s all a bit phoney, exaggerated but a more worrying proposition is that it may also lead to dysfunctional behaviour? 
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 was plucked from the shelves of the sweet shop that is faddish HR theory – ‘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.
Leadership platitudes
The first problem was was the flood of platitudes that accompanied the word 'leadership'. Leadership is , , noun
>..... that's the problem right there. Lacking any depth of analysis or solid theory, HR and Learning & Development re-badged any old management theory courses they had lying around into 'Leadership' courses. As long as you knew what the the acronym SWOT meant, you were a leader. To get an idea of how superficial this has become, check out any Twitterchat on Leadership and marvel at the shallowness of the debate. Leadership is, apparently, any old cliche.
Using the word 'Leader' creates a sense of us and them. Leaders are the aristocracy in an organisation, everyone else is a working serf or 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, allowing them to add a few bucks onto their daily rate.
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.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

MOOC points from my son, 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)

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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.

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