Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Diversity, Curiosity and Creativity in Learning

If you haven't seen Sir Ken Robinson's Ted Talks, you must see them now! In his talk titled, "How to escape education's death valley", he talks about three principles on which human life flourishes:
1. The first is that human beings are naturally different and diverse.
2. The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity.
3. And the third principle is that human life is inherently creative.

Inspired by his talk, I reflected about some of the key instructional strategies that can help apply these three principles to improve the effectiveness of learning.

  • Provide different ways and methods to engage with learners. Use Universal Design for Learning principles to allow for and to support individuality.
  • Provide individual and tailored feedback and guidance whenever possible.
  • Provide multiple ways or options to complete assignments, projects or in-class activities.
  • Provide basic information and then encourage learners to ask questions. Focus on helping learners ask the right questions about the subject matter and not so much on giving all the information about the subject. 
  • Provide time and space for learners to explore, think and reflect about what they are learning. Interweave learning with reflection.
  • Provide opportunities for social learning, group collaboration and activities. Engaging with other learners can peak our curiosity about things that we didn’t think about.
  • Use case-studies, role-plays and stories that allow learners to engage with the content and imagine alternatives and possibilities.
  • Use real-life problems and keep the focus on tasks learners need to perform. Build opportunities for learners to practice and apply what they have learnt.
  • Provide diverse content and views that help break filter bubbles and allow for contradictions.

What are some of the strategies that you use to support diversity, curiosity and creativity in learning?

“Nobody else can make anybody else learn anything. You cannot make them. Anymore than if you are a gardener you can make flowers grow, you don’t make the flowers grow. You don’t sit there and stick the petals on and put the leaves on and paint it. You don’t so that. The flower grows itself. Your job if you are any good at it is to provide the optimum conditions for it to do that, to allow it to grow itself.” - Ken Robinson (Keynote Speech to the Music Manifesto State of Play conference)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Factors to Consider When Planning to Use E-learning

I am currently attending a program from The University of Victoria. One of the assignments asked the participants to think about factors to consider when planning to use an e-learning approach.

Here are some factors that I would consider when deciding whether to use an e-learning approach:

  1. What is the reason for choosing e-learning (as opposed to classroom training or other learning modalities)? 

    E-learning can be more expensive to develop than traditional classroom training but it is cheaper to deliver to a geographically disperse audience over a longer period of time. When choosing to develop e-learning, am I capitalizing on the strengths of the learning modality?

  2. What is the key learning outcome? What kind of skills do the learners need to develop? 

    E-learning is generally suited for cognitive skills. So knowledge, comprehension, application of procedures and processes are good candidates for e-learning. Soft skills like communication, sales, negotiation, etc. cannot rely on e-learning as the only learning modality. Similarly, hands-on skills such as singing, learning to play golf or flying an aircraft are poor choices for e-learning.

  3. What is the learners'/facilitators' motivation and attitude towards e-learning? 

    Are the learners ready for self-paced learning? Do they have the technical skills and learning maturity to stay motivated and engaged within the e-learning environment?
    Are the facilitators ready for e-learning? Do they have the skills to deliver learning online and leverage specific instructional strategies and tools?

  4. What is the existing technology infrastructure and what kind of tools can be used to develop e-learning? 

    E-learning requires specific equipment, software and hardware infrastructure both for development and delivery. Tools for synchronous delivery are very different from asynchronous delivery of e-learning. Technology decisions need to be made on the basis of the learners’ level of technical expertise, learning environment, interactivity, budgets, timelines, required technical support, etc.

  5. Who will develop the e-learning? 

    Creating e-learning requires collaborative work within many different areas/departments including Instructional Design, Course Administration, Course Facilitation, Graphic and Media design, User Interface Design, Project Management, Quality Assurance, etc. If a skilled team does not exist in-house then e-learning development needs to be outsourced. That poses several other questions that need to be answered.

  6. What will make the e-learning effective? 

    The nature of content, desired learning outcome, technology infrastructure and available budget will guide the types of activities and the level of interactivity in the e-learning. The content needs to be interesting and matched to the entry profile of the learners. The course duration and structure must address the learner’s availability (in terms of time and effort required). E-learning must provide opportunities for practice, feedback, assessment and evaluation.

  7. What will be the maintenance plan for e-learning?

    As compared to classroom training, updating and maintaining e-learning can be costly both in terms of time and money. E-learning tools and technology will frequently require content updates, system updates, version upgrades and general online site maintenance. All of this will need an e-learning maintenance plan that ensures regular updates so that content remains relevant and easily accessible for learners on an ongoing basis. The need for maintenance and updates may also have an impact on some of the instructional design decisions.

    What did I miss? What are some factors that you would consider when deciding to use an e-learning approach?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Metaphors as Instruments of Knowledge

 Taruna Goel Photos

Midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace, it is a metaphor which most produces knowledge. – Aristotle, Rhetoric III

Back in 2013, I completed the 'Elearning and Digital Cultures' MOOC course by Coursera (#edcmooc). Week 2 of the course was all about metaphors and their significance to learning and other areas of our life. At the end of the week, students used metaphors to describe the MOOC learning experience. A couple of weeks ago, in the weekly #lrnchat, I got another opportunity to discuss the use of metaphors in learning and it triggered some more reading. 

The Oxford dictionary defines a metaphor as "a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract." The origins of the word are from late 15th century, from French métaphore, via Latin from Greek metaphora, from metaphere in 'to transfer'.

In the book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson say: The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. As a learning experience designer, I like this aspect of a metaphor as something that helps transfer and carry the meaning and connects what we know with what we don’t know. I find that metaphors are an important link between knowledge and cognition.

Metaphors are a part of our everyday language. 
In the last one hour, I read emails, blog posts, twitter feed and work documents and consciously identified metaphors I came across:

-          Warm welcome
-          Summer is around the corner
-          Hole in the theory
-          Drop in the ocean
-          Economy in motion
-          Scattered thoughts
-          Elephant in the room
-          Raining cats and dogs
-          In a nutshell
-          Deadline approaching
-          Working in the cloud
-          Brainstorming

Metaphors surround us yet they remain largely invisible. That’s how they add value. Good metaphors convey the meaning by staying transparent. In that sense, metaphors are not always poetic or extraordinary; they are plain and ordinary.

Metaphors are useful in many ways. 
They help make sense of the world and can simplify and make abstract more concrete. Icons on the web and within software applications are an example of metaphors for abstract concepts – a wrench for Tools, a star for Bookmark, a scissor for Cut, a thumps up for FB Like, etc. These icons have become the visual metaphors of our culture.

Metaphors are powerful.
They can quickly create common and shared understanding of complex concepts, systems and processes. They can help us imagine and visualize our thoughts and feel different emotions. But they can also create perceptions or alter existing meanings and structure the new understanding in different ways. Depending on the choice of words and existing meanings, metaphors can impact the imagery, thoughts and feelings and affect how we create new knowledge and meaning.

How can you describe ‘learning’ as a metaphor? Do these metaphors affect how you feel about learning?
Learning is:
-          A journey with plenty of milestones
-          A maze where one can easily get lost
-          An onion with layers upon layers
-          A walk in the dark
-          A spider web where everything is connected
-          A puzzle where some pieces fit perfectly and others don’t
-          A flowing river that never stops
-          A roller coaster ride with ups and downs

How about a metaphor for an ‘organization’? Is an organization like a machine, an organism, a brain, a prison, a family? Do different metaphors create different feelings? Changing our metaphors changes everything.

Metaphors change and evolve or... don't. 
The icon for a rotary dial telephone was quite common in many software applications. But slowly, the icon is changing to a handset. This evolution is continuous as the boundaries between a desk phone and a mobile phone continue to disappear. Sometimes, metaphors don’t evolve even though the meanings have evolved. The metaphor for Internet as an information superhighway does not offer the same meaning to us today as it offered 20 years ago. The Save button is MS Word uses an icon for a floppy drive. It was relevant at some point but not anymore. Such metaphors are ready to be replaced.

Metaphors also die.
When metaphors die, they are unable to generate the visual imagery or meaning they were created to do so perhaps because they have been overused. I didn’t catch your name or she grasped the concept are dead metaphors where we don’t visualize this physical action of catching something anymore. Or think of something like writing the body an essaywhich helped invoke the metaphorical image of human anatomy but now simply means the main part. Some metaphors die because we don’t quite know how they originated such as to understand meaning to stand underneath a concept. Such metaphors have become literalized into everyday language and have died as metaphors.

Metaphors can be confusing. 
Depending on the context and the culture, metaphors can be difficult to understand and can sometimes limit or block our understanding of the concept completely. Eastern cultures don’t fight the cold as much as the western cultures do. These metaphors that are embedded within a particular context can easily break communication and leave us confused. Phrases like rise to the bait, sell like hot cakes, wild goose chase, his eyes is on the sparrow, dead cat bounce, the camel's nose, turkeys voting for Christmas, being an albatross may not always ring a bell!

As Keith Basso (1976) said:  
For it is in metaphor, perhaps more dramatically than in any other form of symbolic expression, that language and culture come together and display their fundamental inseparability. A theory of one that excludes the other will inevitably do damage to both.

Metaphors are not universal even when they appear to be.
Metaphors may appear to have universal appeal but they are deeply embedded in our social constructs and are affected by our religion, beliefs and values.  'Life is a journey’, even though is a universal metaphor, conjures very different pictures in our mind depending on where we come from and what everyday life looks like. Do you see your life journey as a continuous cycle or do you see the journey as an arrow leading from one point to another?

What I have learned is that metaphors are not right or wrong but they can be good or bad depending on how they are used. Creating good metaphors is an art but there is some science behind it too.

“The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man” 
― José Ortega y Gasset


  • Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980)
  • The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes The Way We See the World, by James Cleary (NY: HarperCollins, 2011)
  • The art of the metaphor by Jane Hirshfield
  • Metaphor by Dr Rosamund Moon
  • Metaphor and Meaning by William Grey