Saturday, March 31, 2007

Web 2.0 Award Winners

Nothing better than just doing it. For the best possible introduction to Web 2.0, bounce around these prize winning sites to get a feel for what’s possible. It’s good fun.

Each category has a 1st, 2nd & 3rd place:

Blog Guides Technorati Blogniscient Bloglines

Bookmarking Blummy furl Spurl

Business LinkedIn Basecamp Side Job Track

Classifieds/Business Directories craigslist Judy's Book PageBites

Collaborative Writing Writely Rallypoint Thinkfree Office Online

Communication: Email/Chat meebo Campfire Slawesome

Digital Storage & Remote Access eSnips Avvenu YouSendIt

Mapping Wayfaring Frappr HousingMaps

Mashups & More The Supreme Court Zeitgeist Ning liveplasma

Music MusicStrands Upto11

Peer Production News Newsvine Digg

Personal Organization HipCal Planzo voo2do

Photos & Digital Images Flickr Slide Zoto

Podcasts Odeo podOmatic Loomia

Real Estate Propsmart Zillow Trulia

Retail Etsy threadless Wists

Social Networking Facebook Consumating MySpace

Social Tagging StumbleUpon Blinklist

Start Pages Pageflakes Google Start

Trusted Search Rollyo swicki Truveo

Video Dailymotion YouTube MetaCafe

Web Development & Design CSS Beauty Performancing Mint

Wikis (Hosted) Wetpaint Jotspot pbwiki

Friday, March 30, 2007

Google calendar and learning

My two boys have paper planners for school. Three weeks into any term they’re unrecognisable. They’ve been torn, dog eared, soaked, mashed, scored and written upon to such a degree that they look like pieces of abandoned litter.

Isn’t it about time that every child had a timetable and planner on the web? If we used Google calendar it would be FREE – yes FREE!

Timetable in the calendar
Simply assign an email address and password to every child, preload the calendar with school days and holidays for the year, INSET days etc, populate it with other events such as parent days, plays, sports events and so on.

Populate with curriculum and homework assignments
A further step would be to populate the calendar with curriculum descriptions (what the student will be learning in any given lesson) along with assignments (when they commence and when they’re expected to be handed in). This can be done at the start of the year or as it comes.

Manage, invite and remind
Calendars for the entire school or class can be managed by teachers. You can set event reminders for homework (how many times has your child failed to tell you about deadlines?) and emails can be sent from the calendar as reminders. Invitations can also be added, for example, to the school play etc. In one simple act we could revolutionise communication between teachers, students and parents.

What to do?
Get the school to set up a general calendar visible to all on the outside. The get the teachers to set up a calendar – this could be done for them in one batch. Then set one up for every pupil.

Then there's the whole Moodle+Google thing - that's another post!

Stick learning

Sticking my neck out
Laptops get far too much attention in education whereas the cheap and humble memory stick is almost forgotten. Yet many kids already have one, transferring homework and assignments to and from home and school. They’re the umbilical chord between the usually better home PC and the school ‘network’. This is not exactly an original idea but I've been astonished at how widespread these sticks have become yet how little they are formally used in schools.

Preload content and tools
We could surely preload sticks with all the necessary school/college/university documents, information for parents, holidays, timetables, planners, curriculum content and homework assignments at the start of every year, saving millions in paper and general parental angst. A main directory could be there for all the general stuff and directories for each subject would contain interactive content and links to other useful sites and content on the web. This would give student and parent full visibility of planned progress at the start of every academic year, reducing at once the parental concern about not being told what is happening in the school. The headteacher and staff could also all do a brief video piece, putting faces to names.

Cheap as chips
These sticks have plummeted in price. At cost, and in bulk, a local authority could buy one for every child for just a few pounds per child. Most parents, I suspect would willingly buy one for their child once the benefits were explained.

What to do?
Stage 1 - recognise that most students have one and use it for assignments and homework. Stage 2 – make sure that everyone has one and preload content at the start of every year. Stage 3 – make it a normal part of the school's culture.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Education - bad theatre

Closer to theatre than any other medium
Education and training is closer to theatre than any other medium, as it is largely delivered ‘live’ and not recorded. It is ‘staged’ and mostly not interrupted. We do, after all, call them lecture 'theatres'.

We know that the mind struggles with long presentations and that most of it will be forgotten, and that cognitive overload or inattention will prevent the acquisition of knowledge delivered in this fashion. The learner is cheated out of pausing or rewinding if a point is missed, or simply to rethink and reinforce the learning. So why is such a stupid model so prevalent?

Millions delivered, few recorded
Every day vast numbers of lectures and talks are given and only a very few recorded. Imagine a novelist, journalist or filmmaker who only delivered his/her work once, live, and refused to have it recorded and distributed. Education plays this 'once only' game on an unimaginable scale. It’s obvious that this is true, less obvious as to why it happens. Why is it so rarely recorded?

Why can't we see it twice or more?
Why doesn’t the learner have the simple ability to replay the talk/lecture/teaching experience? It’s not ‘intellectual copyright’, as the majority of these lectures/talks get culled from other sources and few have any resale value. It’s not because it’s difficult or expensive. Recording as audio or video is dirt cheap. It’s not because it’s against the rules. It's simply not done. The whole system is moulded to the needs of the teacher, not the learner.

This leaves only institutional sloth or fear. Is education simply stuck in a world where technology doesn’t matter? As there's no real sense in which one fails, does the system just trundle on? Can it only think in terms of theatre?

Or do they fear the fact that they may be found out? That it's all an act.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

TIME waits for no man

TIME magazine had an inspired front cover on 1st January 2007. The title was ‘Person of the Year’ and it had a reflective mirror with the word YOU writ large. User-driven content was on the rise and shaping travel with user reviews, politics with blogs, education with Wikipedia. Everywhere you looked users were doing it for themselves.

It was also prophetic, as the New York Time ran a story less than there weeks later about TIME Inc losing 300 jobs in the magazine to focus on new web developments!

We’re along way off newspapers an magazines disappearing but they are being salami sliced day by day month by month as younger, less print sensitive people switch to digital media.

The classic argument is that they’ll use their brands to exploit new online models, but I have my doubts. They’re fundamentally print people and don’t really get, or more importantly, like digital media. A brand like TIME Magazine (has that awkward second word in there) is a print brand that won’t transfer easily. The only exception I can think off is WIRED. I love the magazine and feeds from the web site. The successful magazines will be the ones that embrace blogs, feeds and user-generated content, seeing it as a two-way dialogue, not push it out at them.

Mobile phone novels

Rankin rubbishes m-novels
I once asked Ian Rankin (question at a literary event) if he would ever consider publishing on the internet, even mobile phones. He thought it a 'daft and disgusting' idea. But it may not be as daft as he thinks. Book sales have been falling in Japan but ‘keitai bukai’, mobile phone novels are doing a roaring trade. There's also a healthy Manga comic on mobiles market. It would seem that this is creating an entirely new literary form.

Keitai bunkia
Written in short three minute episodes, to be read between tube stops, they are written to hook the reader into downloading the next episode. This takes skills as it depends on creating plotlines that create up to a hundred cliffhanging moments, as some have as many as 100 episodes. It's actually evolving into a new form of literary writing.

E-books bombed
E-books have failed as the devices were too big and expensive. Out of 127 million people there are 100 million with mobiles, and as the screens have got bigger, with better resolution, text has become readable. Downloads are superfast and with flat rates, you can access as many as you wish, once you’ve paid a subscription fee of around £2 per month.

Readers mainly young women
Four of the top selling paper books in Japan started as keitai bunkai. The readers are mainly young women with romance (peppered with erotica) the flavour of the month. They seem to like the idea that there’s no bookcover and that they can read in secret. Some admit they have never read a book before.

This is interesting. The book is just as much a technical device as any other medium. With its shape, cover, content page, preface, chapters, paragraphs and index. Books on mobiles are just another example of the rising tide of digital content. I see a bright future for mobile access of text, especially on iPhones-like mobiles. Check out the way it automatically switches your screen when you tip it on it side from portrait to landscape.

These japanese mobile novels could be a model for the 'little and often' spaced practice learning that the psychology of learning tells us works so efficiently.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why I love PLEs and hate VLEs (or LMSs)

Attended a great talk by Terry Anderson and it really made me think deep about the strength of PLEs. Tens of millions of people have PLE (Personalised Learning Environment). Hardly any of them see it that way – but that’s their strength:

MyYahoo – 50 million
MyMSN – 12 million
Googe personalised homepage – 10 million
Netvibes – 10 million

The personalised homepage with calendar, alerts, links, feeds, news, to do lists, weather, stockprices, gadgets and knowledge sources is fast becoming the norm. The point is that the learning is part of the doing – it’s next to your calendar and things to do list. It’s part of your everyday life.

Why do I like them?
Well they conform to my needs as a person and learner, I don’t have to conform to the system, it conforms to me. It gives me a sense of freedom and control as opposed to the sense of big brother surveillance I get with LMSs or other top-down content management systems. An LMS/VLE is teacher-centric about push and top-down control and dissemination. They’re course-centric and get bogged down in dull and destructive debates about IP. Content is no longer institutional – it’s increasingly abundant and free.
As we’re now witnessing the death of the compliant learner, learner control and freedom are essential. The contributing student is the future and PLEs along with web 2.0 can do the business.

Thanks again Terry – wonderful talk.

Web 2.0 - who's doing what?

Fascinating survey of Web 2.0 use by 1369 students, academics and others from this JISC funded SPIRE project:

Calendars top the poll
What struck me was the popularity of the rarely mentioned Web 2.0 application – the calendar. It would seem that everyone’s using them. There’s a lesson here – that web 2.0 is part of one’s everyday life through tools and desktop add-ons. Everything else hangs off these core activities.

Wikipedia storms ahead
Then comes Wikipedia, blogs, YouTube and Myspace comimg up the rear. The scale of Wikipedia use is astonishing. It really is becoming the world’s most important knowledge and reference source. Blogs are analysed in detail – they really are a force to be reckoned with.

Messenger and Discussion forums are the two big ones, then Google Talk and Skype. RSS feeds had a surprisingly poor showing.

File sharing
Napster, Kazaa and Limewire were neck and neck, with Grockster a poor fourth.

On online games Second Life was less popular than World of Warcraft, with a surprising number playing online chess and Half-life.

Web 2.0 age sensitive
Engagement with web 2.0 services were tracked across age groups and, not surprisingly; the younger the group, the higher the use. Interestingly the converse was the case for institutional service such as email, library services etc. The older the group, the higher the use.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Turtles and Fruit flies

Having been around in the e-learning or computer based learning business for nearly a quarter of a century, I've seen lots of private and public sector initiatives. There's been good and bad from both sides.

In the public sector I make a distinction between 'Turtle' and 'Fruit fly' initaitives. Turtles, although sometimes a little dull, mature steadily and have longevity. Fruit flies, however, breed like crazy but die soon after they're born.

Public sector turtles would include:

Ubiquity of secondary school education
Open University
Abolition of the 11+
1992 expansion of Universities
Janet and Superjanet
Classroom assistants

Fruit flies
Public sector fruit flies:

Whole language literacy
BBC Doomesday project
Individual Learning Acccounts
Local LSCs

Give me turtles anytime. By the way, Blair is a fruit fly sort of guy - Brown I'd call a Turtle!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

BBC Jam, £75 million for what?

Is the content worth the £75 million (yes read that again) that has been spent so far?

It was with a heavy heart that I tried to log in to BBC Jam, last time was a depressing experience. The whole experience was of an over-engineered project, where visuals and animation took priority over everthing else, including learning.

But here goes. Damn, I’ve had to register again, as my previous registration details had mysteriously disappeared.

You get used to looking at ‘loading’ screens in BBC Jam. Huge amounts of time are spent waiting on something to happen. Then, as many things are introduced with an annoyingly elaborate flash animation, if you repeat something you get this stuff over and over again. This ‘animate everything’ approach disappeared from web design years ago.

Not another robot!
An annoying floating robot (circa 1950), with one of those synthesised voices that remind you of cheap children;s TV, explains a settings toolbar without actually showing it on the screen. What is it with the BBC, robots and tinny voices? It’s the same in Bitesize – they’re everywhere. And why talk through a screen navigation sequence without showing the screen? In any case, the curiously dated robot crashed out with an error message before I could finish the session (just two minutes in). This happens a lot in BBC Jam.

Long linear tour
I then took the tour. A linear animation with zero interaction and no user control. If you miss something, you’re lost. Even the simplest of video and animation delivery on the web has some rudimentary user control.

Design and technology The menu system on this module is a real hoot. I clicked on ‘food for though’ and got nothing but bouncing menu items and coming soon messages. Thoroughly confusing and a complete waste of time. The linear video and animation sequences were as dull as dishwater.

Fieldtrip for SEN (Special Educational Needs)
The laboured animation at the start (you get used to this) has a dog that puts a VHS videotape (dated or what?) into a VCR and, you’ve guessed it, a video appears on a TV screen. By the way the back button doesn’t work. It has the wrong symbol (fast rewind) –should’ve been a vertical line and less than symbol to take you back to the start. Damn. an error message has appeared “A script in this movie is causing Adobe Flash Player 9.0 to run slowly” Not again. In a way I was glad as the content was dire. Largely a scrappy set of linear video and animation resources and horrific load times. I do the ‘game’. It’s a deadening experience wit pythonesque animation – again this is something that’s really common in BBC Jam – scrapbook animation. It’s tedious.

Confused from the start. They’ve improved the front-end menu since I last looked but it’s all hopelessly over-engineered. Basic design errors abound. For example an icon with a tick on it is the confirm button, yet the meaning seems to be ‘you got it right’. You have to press exit twice from each section, one would have sufficed. There’s also too much loading time, this was disruptive with endless countdowns and waits. Some just didn’t load at all, with no explanation.

First episode is a few cartoons – linear and next to zero learning. The second is video broken down into phrases, but some edit points are in the middle of words! Identifying the parts of the car was fine, although the vocabulary (windscreen wipers, licence plate, gears etc) was far too advanced for the age group. In another you have to identify words as you hear them, but this is just identifying what’s said, divorced from the meaning of what’s said. In some interactive exercises when you get things wrong there’s no formative feedback to tell you why or what the right answer is. The ‘make your own comic’ is fine, but is an exercise in sorting sentences and takes too long to navigate and complete. The DJ game is simply to identify masculine, feminine and plural, this is OK, but the vocabulary is far too complex at this stage.

The whole thing is VERY clunky and clumsy in navigation, style, interaction, vocabulary and learning. “I was fiddling around with it for ages and nothing happened. It was just a movie. It was crap. It’s confusing. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like it was, like, I should have been getting involved more as I was getting a bit bored. I thought it’d be better cause it’s BBC.” Carl (12 years old). Oh dear!

For a detailed critique from a language teaching expert see:

The introductory menu is very strange. Loads of animation with buttons flying about, but when they settle, try clicking on the large orange button, nothing happens – classic design error – something looks clickable, but it’s not. You have to look for the barely visible, small rectangle below. Then I get the inevitable loading screen. This time it says the user-friendly word – ‘Processing…’. I do feel as though I’m being processed.

It gets weirder. One of its ‘star’ businesses is Eidos! I’d love to tell you about the other businesses, but hardly anything loaded and worked. What the BBC case study doesn’t tell you is that Eidos was days away from bankruptcy when this was being filmed. Their bank wanted to pull the plug and it was sold off cheaply after massive losses, missed deadlines and bug–ridden releases (a bit like BBC Jam). As an assignment you are asked to do a SWOT analysis of this now defunct company – that WOULD be interesting, if you had the real and current data to view!

The only interesting bit was the ability to explore the Eidos offices, but again, it was a lot of effort for very little reward. Why were all of the Eidos senior staff posing about for BBC film and photo-shoots at the very time the company was sinking - they should have been trying to get their lamentably late games out.

In general, the whole thing is a scrapyard mess. The repeated animations are annoying – same images over and over again – it makes you scream with rage. E-learning is about the user being in control. This is what you get when TV people create interactive content – thinly disguised broadcast material. Interactivity is the name of the game. Here you spend more time hanging about waiting, often on just simple pieces of repeated animation, than learning. Most of the time it’s like an animated PowerPoint in extreme and painful slow-motion. Try the Library – you may lose the will to live waiting on search results.

At last, something that is really, really good. Don’t know who did the content, but it was well designed and the simulation approach to learning worked. It was way beyond the other content in terms of its focus on learning. It has a consistent interface, sadly lacking in the other content, good structure and a strong focus on learning by doing. Only a couple of niggles – figures should be lined up when presented in columns and some of the video sequences were overscripted.

Is the content worth the £75 million spent?
NO, NO, NO. It’s plagued with:

Technical problems
Horrific loading times
Strange and confusing navigation
Too many linear sequences
Misjudgements on content

Perhaps the wider debate boils down to:

Was the government & EC right to proceed with BBC Jam? NO
Was the early content up to standard? NO
Was the later content up to standard? NOT MUCH
Was the content hopelessly behind schedule? YES
Is the content produced so far worth £75 million? NO
Did the BBC break the government and EC rules? YES

Friday, March 16, 2007

Coaching –panacea or placebo?

I’m struggling with training’s fondness for ‘coaching’. By ‘coach’ I mean someone who helps you achieve their goals, who questions but avoids giving advice. I’m not at all convinced that the personal reports I hear of its effectiveness amount anything more than the famous placebo effect.

Horoscopes work because they’re true!
That’s right, it’s a paradox - let me explain. The psychologist Ross Stagnar famously gave a group of 68 HR professionals a personality test, then gave them all an identical response, with phrases culled from that day’s newspaper horoscope. When asked if the test had ‘nailed’ them, many were very positive about its diagnostic ability. In other words, horoscopes are true because they are so general they apply to almost everyone who reads them. Unfortunately they are also trite.

Graphology also works!
Another psychologist, Kreuger did a similar test with graphology. He asked students to assess a personality diagnosis based on their own handwriting. They were amazed at its accuracy despite the fact that he had given them all the same report. The content that seems to appear to be most personal, but in fact is the most general, is the idea that the person is, deep down, fragile and insecure, yet they put on a front to appear strong and robust.

Coaching as placebo
Could it be that coaching and other aspects of training simply do the same. Placebos work, not because they actually have a causal effect, but simply because the patient believes they work. Does coaching simply state and confirm trivial truths and APPEAR to work?

Non-directive coaching has a similar appeal. But are we simply seeing people as patients to be counselled into healthier states of mind. Managers are portrayed as dysfunctional beings, who, if only they saw the way, would become caring masters, loved by all they manage. As Frank Furedi claims, we seem to be ‘redefining personal difficulty as a pathology’. Do we really think that we can short-circuit the human condition by simply asking ‘open questions’? Or are we just suckers for a little attention and a personal, challenging, but ultimately empty, chat? Discuss (without, of course, asking any closed or leading questions).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

BBC Jam axed

Content a jammy mess
My previous post on BBC jam slammed it as a waste of time and money. The content as appalling. It would seem that the Trustees have seen good sense and decided to pull it on 20 March. The arrangement between the BBC and suppliers was all too cosy with the wrong companies chosen to design and deliver the content. This was clear in the output (see my posts Jan and Feb 2006). Some of it was literally unusable.

Unfair competition
They have been flooded with complaints about both the content and its competition with private vendors. Ofcom obviously see it as flouting sensible rules of fair competition. The managers couldn’t handle the rules around consent and broke the rules, accelerating its downfall.

The good news is that the BBC Trustees appear to be doing their job – protecting the interests of the public. This is a victory for commons sense. So the BBC joins the UkeU and NHSU as expensive e-learning failures.

Web 2.0 bites business

Gave two talks over the last two weeks to one of the world’s largest travel companies and the military. It struck me how Web 2.0 is starting to bite on real businesses and organisations.

Web 2.0 and travel
The travel industry is now awash in user-generated content with 21% of online travel users accessing TripAdvisor. There’s loads of review sites and blogs galore on trips people have taken. I never book a hotel without looking at traveller reviews and have even written a few. Travel has been revolutionised by e-commerce, it is now being revolutionised by user-generated content. Some companies are now embracing this by using user-generated content to communicate with customers.

As for the question of trust – how do I know that the reviews are honest? Well I know that much of the professionally written marketing is dishonest, or at least over-polished. I also think that experienced readers can spot the phoney reviews a mile off – then again…..

Web 2.0 and military
Look at the recruitment websites for the army, navy and airforce. Recruitment website ( starts with a 60 degree panorama of army employees. Cick on one and you get a videoclip of them describing their job. The next website, due this year will use real blogs, microsites with content generated by users with live chat to army careers advisors. The web 2.0 influences of YouTube, blogs and messenger are obvious.

( has a similar panorama with video blogs of personnel, written blogs, downloadable ringtones, wallpapaer downloads and some excellent short games. The web 2.0 influences YouTube, blogs, messenger and mobiles are again on show.

( has the richest set of web 2.0 resources. There’s videoblogs of personnel, audioblogs, textblogs, TV ads, a personality quiz, practice aptitude tests, interactive job roles live web chats and SMS reminders. So, in addition to blogs we also see the importance of mobiles.

So the outward face of the services seems to have fully embraced the need for web 2.0 user-generated content to attract new people. Why? Because they understand that two-way communication is expected with this generation (see also America’s Army in the US). They are also less receptive to advertising that lacks realism. They want to hear from real people doing real jobs in their own words.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Multitasking mahem!

OMFG – they’re all multitasking (but so are we). Our kids, students and even us adults are doing it like crazy. But some of us are doing it more than others, and in very different ways.

Multitasking students
Naoimi Baron studied 158 students while messaging, and found that 98% were multitasking , with 70% web browsing, 48% other media, 39% writing a paper, 41% face-to-face conversation, 37% eating/drinking, 39% watching TV and 22% on the telephone. Always on, always connected? Not really. Multitaskers filter, block, ignore and bring activities and conversations to foreground and background.

Messaging and multitasking
Messaging conversations range from 1 to 12, with an average 2.67 simultaneously. Interestingly, few would message while doing nothing else. This was regarded as weird. Messaging was a ‘background’ activity.

Multitasking impairs learning
OK, so we know they’re all at it, but what about the effect this has on their learning. Most studies show that multitasking impairs performance, for example with homework (Koolstra, Van der Voort 2003). Even switching between tasks impairs performance (Rubenstein, Meyer and Evans 2001). In fact multitasking itself is a bit of a myth as we largely switch between tasks, rather than doing them truly in parallel. So don't imagine that all of this social networking is helping people learn in the way we think they should be learning. On the other hand they may be learning skills that are far more useful - handling information, communication and people skills.

Multitasking adds hours
The real advantage of all this technology is time saving, not learning. Time diaries (Keynon and Lyons 2005) have shown that people can add seven hours of activity to their day. They have shown that people can add seven hours of activity to their day. Multitasking is very common with people reporting 2 or more activities reported on 99% of days ,3 or more activities on 81% of days and 4 activities on 52% of days . Remarkably, multitasking ‘adds’ 48 hours to the average week and 46% more time to each waking day . Note that effects of multitasking are likely to be unequally distributed across society. Some of us multitask a lot more than others.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Constructivism – beware of big words

This is Tatlin's Tower, never built, a concoction of constructivist materials and forms, a monument to repudiate of traditional art and painting. It's actually a monument to folly. The idea that one could start anew - the blank slate. At the same time another constructivist, Vygotsky was doing the same for the mind, building theories of cogntive development.

But beware of big, abstract nouns. ‘Constructivism’ is one, used with abandon in education and training, yet the constructivist paradigm may be behind many of the current ills in education and training. It may have put more emphasis on the learner, but it has at the same time crippled effective learning by substituting sociology for the true science of learning.

Constructed confection
I often hear discussions of constructivism jump between cognitive theory to a theory of knowledge then educational theory or sociological theory, even philosophical theory. It’s a messy concoction, often at the level of pub-philosophy. Constructivist writing encourages this by making these giant theoretical leaps from simple observations of how knowledge is acquired to grand relativist philosophical theories. It’s a confusing confection.

Social constructivism
To say that one is a constructivist is not to say much as there are many schools making radically different claims. Social constructivism is one of the more extreme schools, where reality is constructed and therefore a function of social invention. Remember how extreme this view is – there is NO reality prior to our social construction. Even for thos who pull back into language mediated reality don't really know where the line is drawn. It is a debate that has little relevance in the practical world of teaching. Unfortunatley, it leads to the incredibly narrow assumption that learning is meaningful only when individuals are engaged in social activities, which results in an obsession with collaboration.

Is constructivism a construct?
The problem with these extreme forms of relativism, and theories of socially constructed reality, is that it is difficult to defend on the grounds of objective evidence. One cannot appeal to a ‘socially constructivist’ view as this, by its own reckoning is merely one among many. There’s no anchor.

Practice out

To get practical for a moment, one result of all this muddy thinking is the demonisation of ‘practice’, despite the fact that oodles of empirical evidence support the idea of practice as being the key to learning, it is dismissed as being of little value. The net result has been a driving out of practice and homework in schools to the detriment of some types of knowledge acquisition, especially in basic literacy and numeracy, but also in the acquisition of second languages and science.

Friday, March 09, 2007

NLP – No Longer Plausible

Bertrand Russell's famous dictum
"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing I true"

NLP nonsense
Sharpley’s 1984 literature review found "little research evidence supporting its usefulness as an effective counseling tool" no support for preferred representational systems (PRS) and predicate matching, then in a 1987 study states "there are conclusive data from the research on NLP, and the conclusion is that the principles and procedures of NLP have failed to be supported by those data".

Sharpley, C. F. (1984). Predicate matching in NLP: A review of research on the preferred representational system. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 31(2), 238-248.

Sharpley C.F. (1987). "Research Findings on Neuro-linguistic Programming: Non supportive Data or an Untestable Theory". Communication and Cognition Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1987 Vol. 34, No. 1: 103-107,105.
United States National Research Council
USNRC produced a report, overseen by a board fo 14 academic experts, stating that "individually, and as a group, these studies fail to provide an empirical base of support for NLP assumptions...or NLP effectiveness. The committee cannot recommend the employment of such an unvalidated technique". The whole edifice of influence and rapport techniques "instead of being grounded in contemporary, scientifically derived neurological theory, NLP is based on outdated metaphors of brain functioning and is laced with numerous factual errors".
Druckman and Swets (eds) (l988) Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories, and Techniques, National Academy Press.
Barry Beyerstein (1990) asserts that "though it claims neuroscience in its pedigree, NLP's outmoded view of the relationship between cognitive style and brain function ultimately boils down to crude analogies." With reference to all the 'neuromythologies' covered in his article, including NLP, he states "In the long run perhaps the heaviest cost extracted by neuromythologists is the one common to all pseudosciences—deterioration in the already low levels of scientific literacy and critical thinking in society. "
Beyerstein.B.L (1990). Brainscams: Neuromythologies of the New Age. International Journal of Mental Health 19(3): 27-36,27.
Efran and Lukens (1990) stated that the "original interest in NLP turned to disillusionment after the research and now it is rarely even mentioned in psychotherapy".
Efran, J S. Lukens M.D. (1990) Language, structure, and change: frameworks of meaning in psychotherapy, Published by W.W. Norton, New York. p.122
Mutual exchange of myths
In his book, The Death of Psychotherapy, Eisner couldn’t find ‘one iota of clinical research’ to support NLP. This is in direct contradiction to the claims made by NLP practitioners, who laud it as a great leap forward in understanding the mind. To be fair Eisner doesn’t just finger NLP he also demolishes; Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Cathartic Therapies, Recovered Memory Therapies, Humanistic Psychotherapy, Behavioural and Cognitive Therapy, Strategic Family Systems Therapy, NLP, EFT, CBT, BCBT, DHE, EMDR, Gestalt Therapy, Implosion Therapy, Palm Therapy, Person Centred Therapy, Primal Therapy, Reframing, Thought Field Therapy, Direct Exposure Therapy, Spiritual Therapy and many others. The sheer scale of clinically unproven therapies is astounding. The Myth of Psychotherapy: Mental Healing As Religion, Rhetoric, and Repression by Thomas Stephen Szasz is similarly damning. His claim is that almost anyone can sit down with anyone else, have a chat, and call it psychotherapy. The practitioners are unaccredited, or self-accredited, and the theories scientifically unsubstantiated. It is the mutual exchange of myths.
(Quick Fix + Pseudoscientific Gloss) x Credulous Public = High Income
This is the description of NLP by Lilienfield et al (2002) who conclude that NLP is "a scientifically unsubstantiated therapeutic method that purports to "program" brain functioning through a variety of techniques, including mirroring the postures and nonverbal behaviors of clients" and include it in their description "
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Jeffrey M. Lohr (eds) (2004) Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology
Grandfather of CBT dismissive
Even Albert Ellis, the grandfather of cognitive behavioral therapy, famous for developing REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) specifically identified NLP as one of those, “techniques that are avoided”. This was the one therapy he abhorred because of its “dubious validity” (Dryden & Ellis, in Dobson, 2001: 331). Then again, Ellis published a book in 1965 entitled Homosexuality: Its Causes and Cure. Psychotherapists have a habit of seeing everything as a pathological condition that can be cured by their methods.
Hanging around in HR
Von Bergen et al (1997) showed that NLP had been abandoned by researchers in experimental psychology and Devilly (2005) makes the point that NLP has disappeared from clinical psychology and academic research only surviving in the world of pseudo new-age fakery and, although no longer as prevalent as it was in the 1970s or 1980s… is still practiced in small pockets of the human resource community. The science has come and gone, yet the belief still remains"
Von Bergen, C W, Barlow Soper, Gary T Rosenthal, Lamar V Wilkinson (1997). "Selected alternative training techniques in HRD". Human Resource Development Quarterly 8(4): 281-294.
Grant J. Devilly (2005) Power Therapies and possible threats to the science of psychology and psychiatry Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry Vol.39 p.437

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Heard of Eric Kandel?

Education and training largely short-term
One towering piece of theory in learning, the distinction between short and long-term memory, should be applied to everything we do in education and training. In practice we do everything to AVOID taking the distinction seriously.

We teach and train to forget
Largely, we have sheep-dip courses, cognitive overload, poor encoding, too much emphasis on facts, little in the way of spaced practice and short-term summative assessment. Net result, little long-term retention and application. We teach and train to forget.

Eric Kandel?
Kandel's one of the most important learning theorists on the planet but barely known. With a Nobel Prize for his work on learning and memory, he’s a towering figure in the science of learning.

Learning is memory
Learning, for Kandel, is the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories (a simple fact often overlooked). His insight was to first recognise that the functional and biochemical features of nerves and synapses in snails, worms and flies are not substantially different from humans. His work on giant marine snails uncovered not only the physiological but molecular pathways in short and storage in long-term memory through spaced practice. As it turns out, he showed that all of the early gestalt psychologists and a great many other memory theorists got this hopelessly wrong.

His work initially focused on Implicit (Procedural) memories such as habituation, sensitisation and classical conditioning skills and habits, but then moved into Explicit (Declarative) facts and events, where he made further discoveries about the molecular mechanisms in memory.

Kandel has opened up the research pathway to knowing how memory works physiologically, thus opening up the possibility not only of enhancing and curing disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, but understanding how learning actually works, leading to significant improvements in practice.

Seems abstract but has immediate relevance
Even without Kandel's chemical and physiological confrimation, we have an abundance of psychological evidence showing that the distinction is clear. Why then is it so often ignored?

If this seems a little too abstract consider how hooked education and training is on short-term memory experiences and assessment. We know how deficient short-term memory is because there is no fundamental chemical and physiological change, whereas long-term memory does involve chemical and physiological change. This simple change in focus would radically alter almost everything we deliver.

Open simulations or page-turners?

Ever wondered if low, medium or high navigational freedom is better in e-learning? Are open games and simulations better than limited option structures or linear page turners?

Open structures lead to long-term retention
I always thought that more open, non-linear learning was better in terms of retention and had this somewhat confirmed in work by Dr Dror who, in a recent study at the University of Southampton, put students through an e-learning programme to compare all three. Although it takes more effort (cognitive load) to navigate the open structures, it resulted in higher levels of long-term retention. Interestingly, the linear group scored well in an immediate test but two weeks later t
he advantage of the linear group disappeared as the open students did better. So e-learning environments with high navigational freedom have better long-term retention.

Why higher retention?
Why does a
higher degree of freedom encourage long-term retention? It could be the higher degrees of motivation in the learner. Witness the extraordinary levels of motivation among open structure games’ players. It may also help encode memories as a direct result of more planned and meaningful personal exploration.

So freedom to navigate is a good thing (only, of course, if well designed). ).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Arch debunker – me!

Jay Cross made me think (he always does) when he commented on my last post:

Donald, I love your debunking series, but... Having recently come under the spell of Appreciative Inquiry, I'm trying to build on strengths rather than dwell on weaknesses. Who do you like these days? Who's genuine? Inspirational? Worth a damn?

I’ve been presented as the arch debunker. It’s true that I regard education and training as being stuck in old, unvalidated, and often false theory and practice. Some of it on a par with astrology and UFO theories. If true, this is worrying, as much of our time, and more importantly that of learners, is being wasted.

However, I have also been pumping out positive research and practice. I did a quick self-evaluation here. Out of my last 94 posts:

53 quoted recommended research and practice
38 were attacks on old/bad theory and practice
3 could be regarded as neutral

Here’s a quick comparison (not exhaustive):

Empirical research in memory and learning, informal learning, web 2.0 tools, blogging, Big Brother, digital reformation, podcasting, YouTube, Wikipedia, games in learning (10 posts), e-learning research showing increased grades (2), art and learning, viral learning, evolutionary psychology, texting, and stickiness.

Learning styles, control freak HR, BBC Jam, errors in BBC Bitesize, blended learning, ineffective compliance training, SMEs, Teachers’ TV, wasted time in classrooms, Socrates, Skinner, Bloom, Gagne, Kirkpatrick, Kolb, Vygotsky, Freud, Rogers, whole language literacy, new-age training fads, NLP, dumbness of crowds, libraries and Maslow.

Oh – I nearly forgot, also nude internet browsing and drinking champagne from shoes!

I suppose I’m a sucker for empirical research. I do think that education and training is sinking into a quagmire of faddish, non-empirical theory, more sociology than psychology. This dated and dodgy theory is mirrored in dull and dubious practice.

Sense of direction
If I have a sense of direction it's is on two fronts:

More focus on good empirical research, especially in experimental psychology and brain research. In the end we have brains which acquire, store and recall knowledge and skills. We have made huge leaps forward in the last 30 years, most of which is ignored by learning theorists.

Keeping the ‘e’ in e-learning. I do believe that the whirlwind of technology is our best hope in terms of improving the efficacy of education and training. The internet and consumer technology has given us brilliant bottom-up models of knowledge creation and sharing. Resistance is futile.

Psychology + technology = Progress

But mainly, I think that we need some serious debate around theory and practice, rather than just sleepwalking into the future with a handful of junk theory and practice.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Maslow – who needs him!

Trite training of trainers
‘Train the trainer’ courses love their dose of Maslow, who claimed to have found the secret of learning and training through his hierarchy of needs. yet it is hauled in without any reflection on it being correct, validated or even relevant. I never did find this theory remotely interesting but as it surfaced in recent conversation at a learning conference I delved a little further.

Trainers love these neat slides. I think it's the pyramid - it's easy to explain. Yet its actual relevance to learning is non-existant. Even as an explanation of human nature or behaviour it's trite.

Hierarchy of needs - let's take a look

Physiological needs
Thirst, food, sleep, warmth, activity, avoiding pain, and sex

Safety and security needs
Shelter, stability, protection, salary, pension.

Love and belonging needs
Friends, partner, children, relationships and community

Esteem needs
Respect, status, reputation, dignity. Self-respect, confidence and achievement.

Aspirational need, the desire to fulfil your potential.

The first four are all ‘deficit’ or ‘D-needs’. If not present, you’ll feel their absence and yearn for them. When each is satisfied you reach a state of homeostasis where the yearning stops. How’s that for stating the obvious?

The last, self-actualisation, does not involve homeostasis, but once felt is always there. Maslow saw this as applying to a tiny number of people, whose basic four levels are satisfied leaving them free to look beyond their deficit needs. He used a qualitative technique called ‘biographical analysis’, looked at high achievers and found that they enjoyed solitude, close relationships with a few rather than many, autonomy and resist social norms.

It ain’t a hierarchy, it wasn’t tested and it’s wrong
Although massively influential in training, his work was never tested experimentally and his ‘biographical analysis’ was armchair research. The self-actualisation theory is now regarded as of no real relevance. An ever weaker aspect of the theory is its hierarchy. It is not at all clear that the higher needs cannot be fulfilled until the lower needs are satisfied. There are many counter-examples and indeed, creativity can atrophy and die on the back of success. In short, subsequent research has shown that his hierarchy is bogus, as needs are pursued non-hierarchically. In other words his periodic table for human qualities is yet another dead and over-simplistic theory hanging around in dated training courses.

If you're still not convinced, read this entry from maslow's own journal in 1962, 'My motivation theory was published 20 years ago, & in all that time nobody repeated it, or tested it, or really analyzed it or criticized it. They just used it, swallowed it whole with only the most minor modifications'. Enough said.