Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ARG! TV infected by web

The BBC have bought US TV hit Heroes and in one episode there's a three second clip with a 0800 number on a business card. Phone the number and you’re sucked into an Alternate Reality game (ARG).
ARGs are like treasure hunts, where a phone call leads to a TXT message which leads to a website and so on. They go back to the movie AI, and have become part of the viral marketing movement. And don’t think they’re small beer, Halo 2’s ‘ilovebees’ had nearly 2 million players. Pirates of The Caribbean and Dead Man’s Chest also have ARGs. They extend the storyline of the film or TV programme and are likely to become serious extensions to many future films and TV programmes.

Heroes 360
An automated answering service
directed viewers who called Primatech to apply for a job. Applicants received emails from other employees that, along with text messages, sent them to Web-based puzzles. Once solved, these revealed background details about Mr. Benett's decision to turn against his employer.

Viewers of the online series are asked directly by the show's characters to aid in puzzle-based tasks. (They can also pick up on subtler clues within each episode.) Players who assist the cast are acknowledged on the show; those who publicly reveal clues and answers sometimes end up aiding the show's villains.

The Lost Experience
During the final episodes of season two, Lost creators ran ads for the Hanso Foundation. Viewers who called the onscreen number were routed to a Web site to find a possible Hanso conspiracy. Those who solved the puzzle learned the origin of the Dharma Initiative and other secrets (no, we're not going to reveal them).

Puzzles and productivity

Casual gaming The mass market, family or casual gaming market delivered through MSN Games, WorldWinner, Pogo and Yahoo Games is often ignored when discussed by the Serious games crowd, but it may be just as interesting in the long term than full blown immersive games. This whole market is widening out to include immersive (such as Caspian Learning), casual, puzzles, gambling, PC and console.

Puzzles reduce stress, increase focus, improve productivity
34% of 500 people polled by puzzle game provider Worldwinner said they play during working hours and 52% of these play periodically across the day. Bad news surely? Maybe not:

72% thought it reduced workplace stress
76% thought that it improved their productivity
80% felt they ‘feel better focused’

Of the games played, more than 60% of workers who play games during their day use brain teasers, including puzzle and strategy games. “When I need a break during the workday, I often turn to online skill games to recharge my brain,” stated WorldWinner player Jeff R. “I’ve found that taking a few minutes and challenging myself with a word game, puzzle or card game can really boost my productivity; I return to work with a fresh perspective and improved creativity. Playing games also gets me revved up before starting a big project – especially when I win.”

Casual gamers mainstream
Casual gaming is mainstream and tends to reflect a more general demographic. The mass market, family or casual gaming market has many more adults and women. Specifically, 61 percent of players are over the age of 35, 35 percent are over 45, and almost 9 percent are over 55.

MSN Games has a high proportion of female gamers, and is constantly adding content to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Specifically, 2 of 3 players on MSN Zone and RealArcade are women, 55% of Pogo players are women and 70% of AOL game players are women (publicly quoted statistics). Published data supports the core demographic to be 60% females, ages 24-54. It's known that females tend to like puzzle games, which comprise a lot of the "casual" game market. Why older people and women? They are less intimidating, short, less violent, easy to learn (you don’t need a manual), low cost barrier to entry; free trials, and a different form of marketing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Video test

1. Watch this video.

2. Count separately the ‘IN THE AIR’ and ‘BOUNCE’ passes made by the WHITE team.

It’s hard. Try it.


Now click on comments.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Does Futuremedia have a future?

This month three Directors resigned (10 May) attracting a delisting notice from NASDAQ as their audit committee needs at least three independent Directors.

The share price has also plunged to 64 cents this week, which will attract a further notice, as it's below the one dollar NASDAQ mark.

This is on top of the 1:50 share split that recently, massively devalued the shares.

Futuremedia were a real force in the industry in the days of the excellent Peter Copeland. Recently they seem to have survived by the skin of their teeth (all credit to them for this alone), but things are not looking good. They are worth far less than the price of any one of their acquisitions and the 'poundshop' share price is hardly an incentive for those who took paper in deals , or who have options. Redundancy notices are also being circulated. This is not looking good.

Bogus training graphs

Ever seen this graph, or one like it? It’s bogus.

I saw this graph resurface at a BBC event on learning recently (by someone who had written a book on adult learning). I thought this graph had been put to bed some time ago. Clearly not.

Units of ten!
A quick glance is enough to be suspicious. Any study that produces a series of figures bang on units of ten would seem highly suspicious to someone with the most basic knowledge of statistics, and even a passing acquaintance with learning theory is enough to dismiss the comparisons outright. Learning what? Learning to read? Riding a bike? Understanding a written passage in Aristotle? Learning is a complex business. This is simplistic nonsense.

Good detective work
You can read the whole strange tale on Will Thalmheimer's site:


The lead author of the cited study, Dr. Chi of the University of Pittsburgh, a leading expert on ‘expertise’ when contacted by Thalheimer said, "I don't recognize this graph at all. So the citation is definitely wrong; since it's not my graph." What’s worse is that this image and variations of the data have been circulating in thousands of PowerPoints, articles and books since the 60s.

Further bogus additions
Further investigations of these graphs by Kinnamon ((2002). Personal communication, October 25.) found dozens of references to these numbers in reports and promotional material. Michael Molenda ( (2003). Personal communications, February and March.) did a similar job. Their investigations found that the percentages have even been modified to suit the presenter’s needs. The one here is from Bersin. Categories have even been added to make a point (e.g. that teaching is the most effective method of learning).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stuff and stuffiness

Flood from bottom up
At a dinner last night, I heard of some wonderful stuff happening around the whole web 2.0 thing with blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums, FAQs, games rising like a flood from the bottom up. Eveyone agreed that this was a major force in learning and that it is irreversible. Orgnisations are up to their ankes, sometimes knees, even their waists in this stuff. It's not a rising tide, as tides go out - it's a flood.

These were senior learning folk from a major oil and gas company, travel company, consultancy, institute, police and large public provider of e-learning. They were all of one avoice about the power and now teh evience that this stuff has taken route and bubbling up in organisations.

Clive Shepherd has written a funny and informative post showing how far off the mark the CIPD is in terms of seeing what is happening within companies on learning, mainly because its members can't see past their own narrow delivery of 'courses'. They don't so much have their finger on the pulse as their fingers on their own pulses - and there's little sign of life. Everywhere I go I see traditional training being pushed back into the corner of compliance while people get on with the task of sharing in order to 'get the job done'.

Stuff and stuffiness
All of this social networking, blogging, wikis etc has become a way of life, and young employees simply expect this stuff. Recruitment sites are full of blogs and web 2.0 inspired ideas and content. We heard an interesting tale of a young high flier literally walk out of the door on day one as he encountered the training department's stuffy and uninspiring induction dump.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Everything is Miscellaneous

READ this NOW. Famous for being one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto (still a good read 7/8 years later) Weinberger digs deep into one of the most important issues of the day - the inherent messiness of data.

One of the few people in IT who really does understand the post-Wittgenstinian, post-Quine world of language and the corrigibility of knowledge. This is the deep root behind all of this web 2.0 stuff - the mess is the message.

Metacrap – the metadata myth

The mess is the message
I have long be;lieved that the standards police have been wasting millions (usually flying to long meetings in exotic locations) while the world ignores their blinkered schemas. Wonderful article from Doctorow (thanks again to Seb Schmoller) on why metadata has turned out to be a top-down, hopelessly utopian, mythical solution.


People lie
Metadata won’t stop people doing their own thing and undermining your metadata or using it to sell porn or any other damn thing that comes into their head – metadata is a spammers’ paradise.

People are lazy
People forget to send attachments, miss subject fields in emails and generally don’t tagand can’t spell – most folk are far too lazy to metatag.

People are stupid
Metadata standards rely on more basic standards in spelling, punctuation and grammar. These have been abandoned by most web users.

Mission: Impossible - know thyself
People are bad at describing their own behaviour. Nielsen’s log books showed families watching documentaries and Sesame Street. The set-top box data showed they were really watching naked midget wrestling and car-chase programmes.

Schemas aren't neutral
Classifications are fuzzy and hierarchies do not describe the real world. Try doing this for any concept and you’ll run into disputes and blurred boundaries.

Metrics influence results
Standards people want to promote their stuff through their metrics and think that everyone else is wrong. They’re usually wrong. Everybody else is also wrong. It’s all very messy.

There's more than one way to describe something
"This isn't smut, it's art." Language use is inherently vague.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Google blog search

Google's blog search is blisteringly fast and effective. I've started using it rather than my bookmarks to favourite blogs or other links.



Coaching costs
Averse as I am to the idea of Life Coaches, I do see how focus on a person’s goals can help motivate and direct action. The problem with coaching is quite simply the cost. It’s an expensive non-scalable resource that won’t fly in any other context than the higher ends of the management spectrum.

I therefore rather like the eCoach idea under development by the Fraunhofer Institute for Communications Systems in Munich. It uses mobile phone TXT messages to keep you on track with whatever goals are selected. This could be study for a course, weight loss, exercise…whatever. It sounds to me as if this gets round the ‘pay through the nose for a friend’ accusation with Life Coaches.

The system is adaptive, pushing out more motivational messages if you start to slack. It does rely on the honesty of the participant to provide data on progress, but then again, you’re only fooling yourself if you cheat. I do think there’s a future for this type of motivational PUSH using technology.

Spaced practice
I have always believed in the spaced practice model of e-learning using reinforcement techniques across time to shunt acquired knowledge and skills into long-term memory. Everything in the psychology of learning says this should work. The only problem is one of habituation, where you start to ignore what’s delivered.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Click and learn

Better than whiteboards
‘Clickers’ get students to respond to questions by the teacher/lecturer/trainer. The results are shown via a laptop and projector. They’re not new but cheap, easy to set-up and easy to use. I rate these above whiteboards in a classroom. Attention is the BIG problem in large classes. Clickers keep students on their mental toes. Not only do teachers make their lessons more question-led, encouraging critical thinking, the students are also made to think and respond through regular formative feedback. This directly addresses the ‘attention-deficit’ issue in large classes.

There are dozens of example of clicker-use in schools and higher education. "It's a way of presenting material that provokes questions and discussions, as opposed to simply teaching or lecturing," says Tom Haffie from the University of Western Ontario. "More questions lead to more critical thinking and community building. A single question can tailor what I'm going to say for the next 15 minutes."

Teachable moments
Haffie says clickers tend to create "teachable moments" when the class is engaged with the material, curious about the diversity of responses, perhaps willing to discuss issues with peers and ripe for their understanding to be refined.

Broadcollecting, not broadcasting
"I like to refer to it as broadcollecting as opposed to broadcasting," says Haffie. "It raises the quality of thinking in the classroom on the fly. It creates a great opportunity for interaction with peers, not just instructors."

Students think it improves learning
An overwhelming 87 per cent said clickers facilitate learning while 65 per cent said they influence how they prepare for class and for the mid-term tests (62 per cent).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Online Communities Map

Nice take on online communities from Mark Oelerts blog (always worth reading). See link on right.

Milblog wins Blooker Prize

Blooks are books from blogs and this year's Lulu Blooker Prize was won by military blogger (milblogger) Colby Buzell. His 'My War: Killing Time in Iraq' was the best of 110 entries from 15 countries. It's been translated into seven languages.

At the same time the US military are stamping down on the use of blogs and the internet by insisting on all entries being submitted to senior staff before publishing. They're also blocking some big websites such as YouTube and MySpace. Millions read these blogs and they perform, in my opinion, a better job than most of the lacklustre journalism that passes for war comment in our newspapers and on TV. What makes it work is the realism and the spirit of 'New Journalism' that came from the likes of Hunter S Thomson and Tom Wolfe. They live it, take part and have strong personal voices.

In my view the US military:
1. don't understand it
2. shouldn't stop it (except breaches of security)
3. can't stop it

Having given talks on this subject to the UK military I'm pleased to report that there's growing interest in blogs and other web 2.0 stuff being used here. They're surprisingly open to these ideas and keen to see how it can be used in learning. Just look at the three 'services' recruitment sites. They're full of blogs and web 2.0 stuff. If you want to recruit good candidates you've got to see the world through their eyes. There are serious recruitment and retention problems in the military which can be solved by modernising the recruitment and training culture.

PS But what about porn?
Whenever I give a talk on web 2.0 there's always the spectre of downloaded porn. This is hugely exaggerated. In the military if one were to dismiss people for having 'magazines' in their locker we'd have no army, navy or airforce!

Judith Harris - parents matter less than you think

The Nurture Assumption
Judith Harris is a real heroine of mine. Battling a chronic illness and being outside of any formal University, she did some devastatingly effective research resulting in the magnificent book The Nurture Assumption.

She all but snuffed out conventional wisdom about childrearing, with her crushing, and brilliantly researched, critique of prevailing theories, and was awarded the prestigious George A Miller Award in 1998 (ironically he was also the person who turned her down for research at Harvard) Harris has truly changed the face of developmental psychology.

Parents Matter Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More
It’s neatly summed up in her subtitle ‘Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do; Parents Matter Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More.’ Finally destroying the last vestiges of Freud’s theories about infant development and many other developmentalist myths, most notably the influence of parents on the personality of their children, she thinks that most research fails to identify controls for heredity. Children behave like their parents because they are genetically related and not because parents treated them in any special way or because of some childhood trauma. In fact growing up in any particular household doesn’t seem to have any significant affect on one’s intellect or personality.

No Two Alike
Her new book is another scorcher. In ‘No Two Alike’ she tackles another big issue – individuality, asking why people are so ‘different’. Her attacks on the significance of birth order (it makes no difference to personality) along with many other plausible hypotheses are devastating. But it’s her ideas around a ‘status’ system that is fascinating. This seems like a good candidate for explaining why even identical twins are different.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

More Dark Deeds at Learning Light

Another LL resignation. This time it's consultant Wendy Weller-Davies. This organisation has seen its entire board and most of its hired guns resign. It was a hoot seeing the excellent Jay Cross flown over business class to sit around on the LL stand for a bit, then fly back. He was as bamboozled as the rest of us. Meanwhile the guys are flying off around the world, and off on cruise ships, on dubious attempts to improve Yorkshire's e-learning lot.

I know the detail is tedious but it was the ousted Chair and myself who had to point out to the CEO the illegal nature of the AGM. He promptly hired lawyers to confirm his position, only to receive advice that we were right. He was then 'forced' to declare his first AGM null and void. After desperately trying to get us back as Board members (we all refused), for a second AGM, he failed. and has had to recruit a board from scratch. In short, he hadn't a clue what he was doing and had to pay lawyers to confirm that we were right and he was wrong. By this time the board members (all doing this for free) were disgusted and had resigned for good.

Millions are being spent on an organisation that is clearly dysfunctional and not achieving its aims. Why doesn't Yorkshire Forward (or maybe it takes the Yorkshire Post) stop this madness?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Get a Life, not a Coach

You said it! What a great title. Almost as good as 'NLP for dummies'. On Amazon you can buy both for £2.99. Someone was introduced to me, not surprisingly at the BBC, as a Life Coach. I was uncharacteristically speechless, as I still can’t get my head around the idea of Life Coaches (can’t believe I’ve capitalised those two words - twice). Who, while maintaining any sense of personal dignity, could treat their own life as some sort of training programme, subjecting themselves to this nonsense?

Life coaches as like low life astrologers
Is there anything more nauseating or narcissistic than the very idea, never mind the type of person, who sets themselves up in such a role? Are life coaches any better than low life astrologers, feeding a narcissistic desire to sell people the idea that you need them to shape your future? Who are these people? Who has the arrogance to describe themselves as being able to cajole another person into believing they need them to help direct their ENTIRE life?

A 'paid friend'
Paying for a friend is undignified. Sure get advice on tax, the law, finance, but LIFE! It smacks of a deep seated need for a religious substitute, a higher power, who has the moral authority to give you a 'sense of direction'. I suppose it does act as a sort of dating agency to match up those who feel the urge to pay for a friend with those with no concrete skills, other being paid to listen and ask reflective questions, a sort of escort agency for lonely minds.

Whatever happened to friends, family or even self-reflection as providing advice? Get a life not a coach.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gladwell - abolish school staff rooms

Poll shows teachers worst gossips
When Malcolm Gladwell was asked what one thing would most improve education he replied, ’Abolishing teacher staff rooms’. He may have been right – a survey published today shows that teachers top the worst ‘gossips at work’ poll, with 79% talking about their colleagues behind their back. Financial services staff were second and those who worked in catering third. The survey of 2000 workers was conducted by ICBI.

Panic room
No other professions have a ‘panic room’ just for managers to chill out, so why have school staff rooms? Surely that’s exactly the time when students are at their most vulnerable in terms of bullying? I have similar problems with the entire student body having to stand up every hour and march off to another location in the school. Imagine a company asking its employees to move to another department on the hour, every hour.

Computer Games reduce obesity!

Paradox? Can video games be used to reduce weight?

Dance Revolution (Xbox, Playstaion and soon the Wii) uses a 3x3 tiled mat on which you danced to choreographed screen instructions. It’s an exhausting experience, and great fun. It’s also a big hit among young game players, both boys and girls. Try playing tennis, boxing or anything on the Wii – you’ll be dripping in aerobic induced sweat in minutes.

Games and obesity

Research from West Virginia University looked at the impact of such games on obesity. The initial clinical study was astounding. 50 children with a body mass index over the 85th percentile (threshold for obesity) showed better arterial response to increased blood flow, an increase in aerobic capacity, and no weight gain. In addition, all the participants were more willing to try new activities and invite friends over to play, and were more confident in participating in physical education classes. So far, so good.

DDR mandated in schools
So they upped the size of the trial across 20 schools. So successful was this trial that they have mandated the use of DDR across the school system, making it part of PE. Konami weighed in with a $75k grant.

FIT programme
Another scheme has seen the marvellous Guitar Hero (old rockers will LOVE this), Groove and a dance version of Tetris being used in 200 US schools. It’s called the generation FIT programme.

We’re only starting to see how this technology can be used in education, but who would have thought that preventing obesity would have been possible?


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

LearningLight spontaneously combusts

Board resigned en mass
Strange happenings at LearningLight. At the AGM, a clumsy and totally illegal manoeuvre by some local unknown from the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, another Sheffield character and the CEO, Mark Pittaway, led to the mass resignation of the board.

Without any prior warning or information, they stupidly tried to illegally oust the Chair. She was not only an excellent Chair, but an experienced business woman and a real find for this half-baked organisation. As a result the entire Board, all unpaid (including myself), resigned. The Chief Executive clearly has no idea what he is doing, and had no real knowledge of the Articles of Association.

AGM null and void
Their own lawyers had to tell them that what they did was quite simply illegal, so the AGM was declared null and void, but by that time the board had had enough. There was no way they wanted anything to do with the CEO and the shambles that was left.

Waste of public money
It’s a tragic waste of public money. After spending huge sums of money on consultancy with PA internal consultancy, recruitment fees, offices and salaries it has met none of its targets and has collapsed in a heap of stinking incompetence. Jane Knight and Vaughan Waller had wisely left the organisation before any of this happened. The hapless CEO (who lives in Ipswich!) likes to swan off to the US (on the pretence that US companies are going to relocate to Sheffield), pay lots of consultants on scatty projects and have meaningless meetings in the RITZ when he’s in London! Yorkshire Forward should be pulled up by the regulatory authorities for allowing this to happen.

How do I get to Carnegie Hall?

A clever study from Arizona State University took several elements of instruction and eliminated them one by one from an e-learning programme on 'computer literacy', using 256 students. they wanted to see what instructional components really mattered in e-learning.

They removed:

1. Objectives

2. Information

3. Examples

4. Review

5. Practice

Removing any of the first four made little significant difference to the learning outcome and attitudes of the tested students. It would seem, therefore, that Gagne. Mager et al were on shaky ground in recommending objectives at the start of every programme. Similarly with other supplementary elements.

Practice is the essential component
Removing ‘practice’, however, had a significant lowing effect on learning and attitudes. This snappy piece confirms my suspicions about most courses suffering from cognitive overload through the additive effect of too many supposedly beneficial, instructional elements. This cacophony of elements can confuse rather than clarify content.

So how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice.

The impact of instructional elements in computer-based instruction, Martin. Klein and Sullivan (British Journal of Educational Technology). Thanks to Nick Rushby for a glimpse at this research in its pre-published form.