Monthly Archives: August 2015

Transparent Personalized Learning

crowd

Personalized/adaptive learning applications can sometimes appear unpleasant or even scary. Teachers can feel threatened about suspicious AI-powered computers taking over their jobs. Students can experience ready-made learning paths as passivating and objectifying.

What to do to prevent this? Transparency and a sense of control are keywords here. Ideally students and teachers should both have:

  • visibility to the collection structures (what materials follow each other to compose the collection)
  • argumentation & reasoning on the collection structures (why these materials are provided to the student in this particular order/route)
  • capabilities to alter the structures (how to take another route than the one recommended by the engine)

For teachers, personalized learning engines are best seen as instruments to differentiate and that way better serve students. They are teachers’ tools, not replacements. They save teachers’ precious time, allowing them to interact more with the students.

Students should approach personalized learning applications as any recommendation engines on the web. Think of how you use TripAdvisor on vacation. When you spot a restaurant recommendation, you are interested not only in the rating, but also the open comments, type of cuisine, location, opening hours, etc. You want to know all the reasons why this particular restaurant gets recommended to you.

Depending on your context, these variables get different weights. Dead tired and without a car, you settle with the closest joint. On your last day on a holiday, you want to make it special and hike to the best restaurant up on the hills.

Similarly for learning: for each recommended learning resource, the student should have access to justifications (why) as well as capabilities to use another resource instead (how). Oftentimes the algorithm probably recommends something the student is happy with. However, there should always be transparency and control to have impact.

Note that what is good for you is not always what you want. It would be good for you to look up that healthy salad bar on TripAdvisor and have your lunch there. Instead, you crave for quattro formaggi and therefore want to go to the nice pizzeria down the street.

Again, ditto re: learning. Sometimes you should make the jump to cold water and struggle with the really difficult exercises, even if you wanted to continue with the easier ones. To learn a new concept, it might make sense to engage in a dialogue with your peers, even if you were an introvert who prefers to study alone.

The engine can propose what’s best for you but you should still make the final decision. As David Wiley writes, we should put the person back in personalization.

Flickr image CC credits: James Cridland

Familiar Tools to Learn Unfamiliar Things

When you are about to learn something new, anything familiar can push you in the right direction. Background in skateboarding is useful when you start snowboarding, ability to understand Spanish helps with your new Italian studies, and so on.

Familiar tool—or medium—can also help: if you are used to pen & paper for taking notes, you shouldn’t switch to a computer or tablet when you are trying to understand a cognitively heavy lecture.

This week we saw two cool things taking this approach. Both are to familiarize children with coding, but in a medium clearly outside coding and computers. First, Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas (of which I’ve blogged before) hit the stores. Then, another ace product was published by my colleagues at Sanoma Pro, more specifically the Oppi&ilo team: Robogem.

Robogem

Robogem is a physical board game for the whole family where players steer their robots trying to collect diamonds. They use simple commands found in cards that together form more complex movements around the board. The players can even put aside card sequences and call them when they enounter specific function cards. I tried Robogem with my family and also watched children play it by themselves. Very entertaining!

Hello Ruby and Robogem are both nice examples of teaching abstract constructs in familiar and approachable ways. For uninitiated people, coding and computer programs can sound technical, difficult, even scary. However, they are not scary at all when you learn about them while reading a storybook or playing a board game with your friends.