Monday, 23 June 2008

Tagging Reality - Enkin has huge learning potential

Great submission for the upcoming Google Android mobile platform. The rather dense description is:

"Enkin" introduces a new handheld navigation concept. It displays location-based content in a unique way that bridges the gap between reality and classic map-like representations. It combines GPS, orientation sensors, 3D graphics, live video, several web services, and a novel user interface into an intuitive and light navigation system for mobile devices.

But watch this video summary to get a real feel for the possibilities of tagging the reality around you with a mobile device:

Enkin from Enkin on Vimeo.

Imagine being able to provide real-time embedded support that is contextual to what a learner sees in the world around them. Any mobile worker who moves into a physical space that is initially unfamiliar could now access real-time commentary from a valued peer group or expert panel. The potential for the utility, telecoms and construction industries who have large numbers of staff working on our streets is enormous.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Home schooling - the future?

The Financial Times has run a feature - A Class Apart (warning: you may need to register) - which reports on the continuing rise in families opting for home schooling. These statistics caught my eye:
  • 17%: The estimated annual increase in children who are home-schooled in the UK (presently 50,000)
  • 10%: The proportion of home-educating families in the UK who use textbooks on a frequent basis
  • 42%: The proportion of home-educating families in the UK that earn less than the national average wage. Despite perceptions that learning at home is a middle class phenomenon, 17 per cent of families live on incomes of under £10,000 per year
    Source: Mike Fortune-Wood
  • 1.1 million: The lowest estimate of the number of children being home-schooled in the US. (17 US presidents were educated at home.)
    Source: Fraser Institute
In the overall scheme of things 50,000 families may not be huge but given that The Guardian reported just last year (2007) that the figure was 16,000 (which represented a three fold increase since 1999) the growth is not linear. Something that was once regarded as fringe and alternative may rapidly become mainstream.

As the FT reports:
Since there is no legal duty on parents to inform local education authorities that they are home schooling their children, the government has no idea how many children are in this position. Only if a child starts school and is then withdrawn is there an official record. But this misses out the thousands of children who never start school in the first place.

School is not compulsory in the UK - which may come as a surprise to many parents.

Section 7 of The Education Act 1996 (England and Wales) states that: "The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable: (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

This "otherwise" gives us a surprising amount of freedom as the FT summarises:

They don’t have to follow the national curriculum, enter their children for exams, observe school hours, give formal lessons, or mark work. Local authority inspectors can ask annually for written information on how a child is being educated, but they have no right to meet the child or visit the home. Should a local authority decide a child is not receiving a “suitable” education it does have powers to send him or her back to school. In practice, though, courts rarely rule in the authority’s favour.

This, I feel, may open the flood gates. There is growing pressure and dissatisfaction in the education system from all sides - from parents, students, teachers and education professionals. Like the proverbial boiling frog, the temperature is at a level which is already causing real damage to the very foundations of the system.

Research conducted by the University of Durham looked at the motives for home schooling. Top of the list is disappointment with "education", schools, ideology, school bullying, lack of personal attention. But putting negativity aside, when asked what home education meant to them the breakdown of descriptors was as follows:

These descriptions reflect a lot of current thinking around effective learning strategies at all ages, in education and in the workplace. Technology now enables this model to work far more efficiently than ever before. We can have highly individual learning experiences, be geographically dispersed and yet actually maintain a larger, more diverse set of social connections while simultaneously reinforcing family bonds. Interhigh is just one example of an "internet based school" that provides some structure and support for home-schooled kids.

Of course the key to this working is the shape of the family unit, having parents/carers interested and motivated to support children in their learning experiences. Time and money are issues but with increased mobility and flexibility around how we work and learn, the increasing accessibility of technology, and harnessing of our innate desire to self-learn it starts to become practical to stop "schooling" and instead support learning as a constant activity throughout our lives.

The traditional school experience will inevitably undergo radical change - perhaps sooner than we all expect.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Movement and Memory

Well I'm back from vacation in sunny southern Spain. The majority of time was spent relaxing, gazing at the view above, a bit of swimming, reading and generally moving as little as possible. One day, my son Gus (aged nine) and I (a lot older) decided that the mountain needed climbing. So we did. Took us seven hours and required lots of moving...up and down rocky trails mainly. We were fortunate to bump into Ibex, numerous lizards of various sizes and shapes, and thousands of butterflies and, on arriving at the top, were rewarded with some tremendous views across the Spanish coast and even out to North Africa. We had a great day - it was hard work at times but were left with a real sense of achievement (especially for Gus as that was his first proper mountain). We will recall many memories of that journey for years to come.

So it was particularly resonant for Cognitive Daily to re-post an article citing how body position affects the memory of events.

According to the study:

Holding your body in the right position means you'll have faster, more accurate access to certain memories. If you stand as if holding a golf club, you're quicker to remember an event that happened while you were golfing than if you position your body in a non-golfing pose.

Regardless of their age, the study volunteers' memories were reported significantly sooner when the volunteers' body position matched the memory being asked for.

Dijkstra's team believes that the effect may be due to the way memories are stored in the brain: one theory of memory suggests that memories are composed of linked sensory fragments -- odors, sights, sounds, and even body positions. Simply activating one or more of those fragments makes the entire memory more likely to be retrieved. In any case, if you're trying to recall a particular incident in your life, putting your body in the right position might help you remember it faster and more accurately. The key appears to be your body position when the memory occurred.

The implications for effective learning transfer are significant. To speed memory recall the learning event should closely mimic the context and physicality of the environment in which that learning is put into actual practice. Learning through doing, that closely simulates a real situation means that the experience gained (the memory of the practice) can be readily and meaningfully recalled when a similar situation occurs.

It follows that the multisensory experience of games and virtual simulation are much more likely to achieve meaningfull recall if you are free to move about in the way that mimics the "real" environment you will perform these skills in. So until the Wii came along, sitting still in front of screen, in a largely sedentary and still position is not congruent with achieving effective recall of practice memories to use in real world situations. The military, aerospace and the world of sport all know the value of consistent, spaced, repetitive practice that closely simulates the real often highly stressful (and in some cases life threatening) situations in which they need perform.

A lot of face to face training and e-learning fails to take this into consideration. But that will change as we become less and less bound by walls and desktop PCs and become fully mobile learners. It will be intriguing to see how we then design learning experiences that effectively align our physical and cognitive performance.

Wii Fit may be leading the way...