Author Archives: Bruce Guile

The New Advisory Group, Inc.

Course Gateway has changed its name to The New Advisory Group.

The New Advisory Group works on behalf of companies, universities, and governments to create and leverage global networks for research and professional education. 

Look for the renamed company’s website at www.newadvisorygroup.com in May 2016.

 

 

 

 

Identifying Educational Revolutionaries

The ASU/edX creation of the Global Freshman Academy and LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com are landmark events in very different segments of the post-secondary education market. They both reflect a major technology-enabled transition in post-secondary education but which event represents a revolution in post-secondary education?

Competency – The long-standing agreement between students and teachers is that the process of post-secondary education is about developing a learner’s competence. This was true of Socrates and his students and is equally true of modern post-secondary vocational education of the type delivered by, for example, Lynda.com or Code Academy.  The raging debate over competency-oriented post-secondary education is not about the core principle (that increased competency of students is a central goal of education) but rather about who defines competence, in particular the role of employers, and how it is measured and certified.

The Global Freshman Academy has committed to developing students competent to enter their sophomore year at a major US university. LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com is a bet that employment markets work better when learners and employers have a shared understanding of occupation-specific competencies.

Certification – The medieval guild system, where apprentices became journeymen and then were certified by the guild as masters, is a good starting point to think about the process and purposes of certification. As a college degree has become a minimum requirement for many jobs, educational institutions have largely replaced organizations of professionals and practitioners in certifying competence. Academic degrees, educational certificates, and transcripts – rather than a masterwork judged by already-certified masters – are offered as evidence that an individual has certain knowledge and capabilities. For some students and some employers this system works perfectly but for others a credit-hour-based four-year degree is frustratingly opaque indicator of an individual’s competency or potential.   The growth of employment-oriented education, ranging from Lynda.com to Code Academy, where student projects become part of a personal portfolio directly demonstrating competence, reflect the frustration of both employers and learners in some fields with the traditional higher education.

While the online nature of the Global Freshman Academy is new, the enterprise takes a traditional approach to certification.  Lynda.com and LinkedIn (with its mission of matching opportunity with talent) are integrating education, certification, and employment in a way that could bring about fundamental change in local and global labor markets.

Curricula – A curriculum is an assemblage of courses (or sub-course modules), often sequenced, associated with the development of a particular competence. Curricula are usually designed by expert educators with goals that range from the very general (“to develop global citizens and leaders of tomorrow”) to the very specific (“theory, operation, and maintenance of a high-throughput MRI”). Students take, and faculty teach, courses but academic institutions offer curricula.

The Global Freshman Academy, by making the freshman year available online, is changing the approach to delivering a traditional curriculum, albeit with some powerful and useful pedagogical innovation.  The LinkedIn acquisition of Lynda.com is, however, in inventing new links between employers and learners focused on short-form, online, occupational curricula.

While traditional approaches to competency, certification, and curriculum do not diminish the pioneering value of the ASU/edX initiative, LinkedIn and Lynda.com are the revolutionaries.

The New Calculus of Investment in Post-Secondary Educational Services

In most of the world demand for affordable employment-relevant post-secondary education greatly exceeds supply.   While experts will quibble, this is arguably the case in the United States and Europe and obviously the situation in developing and emerging economies around the world.

This long-standing fact is, however, only one-half of an investment thesis.  There is no doubt the demand exists but, historically, it has been difficult or impossible to supply affordable, employment-relevant post-secondary education.   Now, we are seeing the emergence of a complete investment thesis for both public and private investment in employment-relevant higher education.

An article published in EDUCAUSE Review (Got Skills? Why Online Competency-Based Education Is the Disruptive Innovation for Higher Education by Michelle Weise) is a recent example of the new investment calculus.   Ms. Weise focuses on how modularized, online, competency-based programs can and will change equality of access and higher education outcomes in the United States.  In doing so, she completes the investment thesis for new public and private investment in employment-relevant post-secondary education:

The new wave of online competency-based pathways will be especially attractive to students seeking that direct link to the workforce. Online competency-based education can provide learning opportunities that drive down costs, accelerate degree completion, and produce a variety of convenient, customizable, and timely programs for the emergent needs of the labor market.

A company or not-for-profit educational enterprise can now develop and deliver affordable, high-quality post-secondary programs that provide direct pathways to employment. This creates tremendous new opportunities for private and public sector investors in post-secondary education.   These opportunities are material in the United States (Ms. Weise identifies a number of them) but they are larger and even more evident in developing and emerging economies.

Convergence of Continuing Education and Decision Support Systems

With regard to professional and occupational knowledge and practice, education and decision support have always been close cousins.  You may learn your profession as a pharmacist, structural engineer, or urban planner at a university but you will turn to various decision support tools (reference works, manuals, short online tutorials) to deal, in the workplace, with the newest class of drugs, the stress and strength properties of specific materials, or how to implement a geographic information system.

As online, collection-based educational approaches evolve they are converging with systems for professional and occupational decision support.  To illustrate the point, I have altered the “ten important concepts” from last week’s post to reflect ten similar (or identical) concepts in collection-based decision support:

  1. Digital Object – A special purpose calculator, video tutorial, text file, graphic or picture, game, simulation, or other item designed for presentation and often interaction as tutorial or just-in-time learning activity.   A good example of a digital object for decision support is this New York Times app for comparing, and learning about, rent vs. buy economics in residential real estate.
  2. Repositories and Collections – A repository is a location where digital learning objects are stored.   A repository may be indexed, like a library or an archive, but is not necessarily structured for a purpose.  A collection is a set of digital  objects that is structured for decision support purposes.   A collection may reside in a single repository, consist entirely of a set of links to digital objects not resident in a single repository, or a blend of both.  UpToDate.com is a decision support collection that provides clinicians with “medical knowledge at the point of care.”
  3. Curator – The person, persons or organization responsible for determining what is included, and what is excluded, in a collection.   Like the editor and publisher of a reference work, textbook, or manual the curator of a collection bears responsibility for the scope, currency, veracity, and functional performance of the items in a collection.  For example, UpToDate “combines an advanced publishing platform with the rigor of a sophisticated editorial process managed by a faculty of accomplished physician authors and editors, renowned leaders [a.k.a. curators] in their specialties.”
  4. Content and Media Management Systems – As digital content has exploded, many enterprises have adopted systems to manage the content used in their work.  For basic content management, a very common system is Sharepoint from Microsoft but new cloud based models from the likes of Dropbox, Box.net, and Google are increasingly popular.  In content management, vendors abound as do open source options.  Media management has some similarities to content management but was pioneered by organizations whose product was content.  Now also widely used in marketing departments, media management systems are able to gracefully deal with the large file sizes of rich media, their complex intellectual property, the need to track derivative works, and include many other features specifically for managing rich media such as transcoding among formats and packaging multi-part products.
  5. Decision Support Systems (analogous to Learning Management Systems) – Specialized content management systems with search, recommendation, and cognitive assistance features (see below).  Decision support systems organize and present selected digital content as usable knowledge.
  6. Knowledge Community (similar to a Learning Community)– An online community that enables both peer-to-peer exchange and expert-to-learner exchanges. These are common in customer support, open source software, and corporate knowledge management activities.
  7. Search and Recommendation Engines (similar to Adaptive Learning Technology) – Increasingly sophisticated search approaches allow an individual to access usable information in digital repositories or collections.   A recommendation engine mines search and use data to adapt, customize or personalize the decision support experience for a group or individual.  Includes collaborative filtering: “others who bought this item also bought items x, y and z.” 
  8. Gamification – Gamification is the use of techniques and platforms from computer and online gaming for purposes of education or problem solving. It is based on the recognition that computer gaming in all its forms (e.g. online, PC, consoles, casual, etc.) have tremendous reach in terms of usage, and the concomitant technologies of simulation, communication, shared objects, and data can be used to enhance just-in-time learning and decision making.
  9. Knowledge Representation – Based on a long history as a research field in Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge Representation (KR) focuses on machine readable representation of knowledge such as facts, definitions, relationships, causal factors, and implications. Typically KR systems are able to use a set of facts and knowledge to derive new relationships or knowledge via a reasoning or inference system.  In an decision support context, knowledge representation underlies the ability to create question answering capability, derive summaries of material, and form the basis for automated just-in-time learning systems (see Recommendation Engines above and Cognitive Assistance below).
  10. Cognitive Assistance – Decision support provided by computer-based reasoning, usually manifest as personalized guidance for users in the form of responses to individual queries.

This convergence of the systems for online education and decision support has created a gold rush among publishers, professional societies and industry associations, and professional schools.   Just as importantly, as these systems converge and the volume of successful applications grows, the dropping cost and difficulty of system development and deployment opens entirely new areas (smaller markets or those with less ability to pay) to cost-effective application of this technology.

Ten Important Concepts in Online Education

In 2012 most of us learned that MOOC was an acronym for a Massive Open Online Course, an online course format designed for widespread access and consisting of online video lectures, assessments, and discussions.  The recent the shift toward modularization of content, highlighted by the recent report from MIT’s Task Force on the Future of Education, is bringing a new set of concepts, and their descriptors to the fore.   Ten of the most important new concepts, and their new or or re-purposed descriptors, include:

  1. Learning Object – A video lecture, text file, graphic or picture, game, simulation, or other item designed for presentation and often interaction as tutorial or learning activity.   This Khan Academy video calculating the take-off distance of an Airbus 380 is hand drawn with voice over and is part of a lesson on “acceleration.”  Another example of a digital learning object as is this New York Times app for comparing, and learning about, rent vs. buy economics in residential real estate.
  2. Repositories and Collections – A repository is a location where digital learning objects are stored.   A repository may be indexed, like a library or an archive, but is not necessarily structured for a purpose.   As modularization is recognized as important, the focus on MOOCs and scalable online education has been transformed into the push to develop repositories of digital learning objects.  A prominent example is Merlot II.  Another illustrative example is RIT’s Digital Media Library which captures, distributes and preserves RIT’s digital products for research and teaching.  A collection is a set of digital learning objects that is structured for teaching and learning purposes.   A collection may reside in a single repository, consist entirely of a set of links to digital objects not resident in a single repository, or a blend of both.   An example of a collection is the  Afghanistan Digital Library, a project of New York University Libraries, which is collecting, cataloging, digitizing, and making available over the Internet Afghan publications from the period 1871–1930.
  3. Curator – The person, persons or organization responsible for determining what is included, and what is excluded, in a collection.   Like the editor and publisher of a reference work, textbook, or manual the curator of a collection bears responsibility for the scope, currency, veracity, and functional performance of the items in a collection.   For example the curator of the Afghanistan Digital Library mentioned above are the NYU Libraries and a named advisory board.  The curators of MIT Open Courseware collections are the MIT faculty and named members of advisory boards.
  4. Content and Media Management Systems – As digital content has exploded, many enterprises have adopted systems to manage the content used in their work.  For basic content management, a very common system is Sharepoint from Microsoft but new cloud based models from the likes of Dropbox, Box.net, and Google are increasingly popular.  In content management, vendors abound as do open source options.  Media management has some similarities to content management but was pioneered by organizations whose product was content.  Now also widely used in marketing departments, media management systems are able to gracefully deal with the large file sizes of rich media, their complex intellectual property, the need to track derivative works, and include many other features specifically for managing rich media such as transcoding among formats and packaging multi-part products.
  5. Learning Management Systems – About 15 years ago academia began to adopt specialized content management systems that helped automate a many administrative processes.  These Learning Management Systems are now pervasive at many universities and are based on both open source platforms and a wide variety of commercial vendors.  While not without critics, these platforms have in many respects laid the digital foundation for today’s rapid pace of digital innovation in higher education.
  6. Learning Community – This term was coined (or re-purposed) to describe an online community of learners, especially those that emerged as an aspect of a MOOC, or were created by online class discussion forums supported by a Learning Management System. Some digital learning communities have fairly traditional boundaries (students in a course on a single campus) while others are something entirely new, such as the learning community that surrounds and supports the Animal Diversity Web.
  7. Adaptive Learning Technology – Adaptive learning refers to the use of educational engagement and performance data to adapt, customize or personalize the learning experience for a group or individual. Typically this involves a data collection, a map or outline of the educational topic areas (possibly a Knowledge Representation — see number 9 below) and a set of mechanisms to modify and adapt the learning output, such as a recommendation engine.  A prominent example of adaptive learning technology is delivered by Knewton, which has partnerships with a wide range of academic publishers to incorporate adaptive learning technology into collections of published works.  Other good examples include an IBM – Skillsoft collaboration and the language learning app Duolingo.
  8. Gamification – Gamification is the use of techniques and platforms from computer and online gaming for purposes of education or problem solving. It is based on the recognition that computer gaming in all its forms (e.g. online, PC, consoles, casual, etc.) have tremendous reach in terms of usage, and the concomitant technologies of simulation, communication, shared objects, and data can be used to enhance learning.   Duolingo’s home page, mentioned above, proudly announces “Gamification poured into every lesson.”
  9. Knowledge Representation – Based on a long history as a research field in Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge Representation (KR) focuses on machine readable representation of knowledge such as facts, definitions, relationships, causal factors, and implications. Typically KR systems are able to use a set of facts and knowledge to derive new relationships or knowledge via a reasoning or inference system.  In an educational context, KR has been used to create question answering capability, derive summaries of material, and form the basis for automated tutoring systems.
  10. Cognitive Assistance – Learning support provided by computer-based reasoning, usually manifest as personalized guidance for learners in the form of responses to individual queries.   Cognitive assistance is nicely illustrated in higher education by Inquire, an intelligent textbook app developed and demonstrated by SRI International.

New and re-purposed language are common in times of rapid innovation.   We’ve addressed these before (see an earlier post on “platforming”) and in the next week we’ll post our top new ten terms for collections-based decision support and digital knowledge management, such as we are seeing in UpToDate.com or from publishers such as Reed Elsevier or O’Reilly Media.

Please Don’t Disturb Dr. Jones, She is Platforming Her Course

The convergence of digital publishing, online communities, and online education continues at a rapid pace and those of us in the business have to adopt new language to describe processes and outcomes that did not exist years or even months ago.   An August 1, 2014 article in the media section of the New York Times, titled “More Online Publishers Let Readers Fill the Space” captures this very nicely:

For publishers, the new meaning of “to platform” is something akin to: Take a traditional media company and add technology that allows readers to upload digital content as varied as links, text, video and other media. The result is a “publish first” model in which a lightly filtered, or unfiltered, stream of material moves from reader to reader, with the publication acting as a host and directing conversation but not controlling it.

The same logic and process applies to online courses, digital “textbooks,” and curated educational collections.  Students/learners can and do make tremendous contributions to learning resources through online learning communities.   The Animal Diversity Web (ADW) hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology is a great example:

An essential feature of the ADW is student authorship of species accounts. Students learn considerable detail about the biology of a species, then share their work with users worldwide by making it part of our permanent database. Our web-based template ensures a consistent format for accounts. Help pages suggest content and sources. The system checks that no one else is writing about the student’s chosen species, checks spelling of scientific names, and fills in the scientific classification. Instructors and ADW staff review and edit accounts before they are added to the site. Classes at dozens of universities and colleges contribute to the ADW project. The resulting growth of the database makes us even better for inquiry learning.

Most educational educational enterprises — from universities and colleges to corporate universities and continuing education enterprises — are not prepared for a world where learners contribute substantial content as participants in a learning community.   In addition to requiring that educators and administrators learn new skills, educational institutions face a host of new questions about quality and reputation.  The New York Times article, focusing on news publications, raises the issue which many long-time educators fear:

[E]stablished publications, particularly those specializing in news, have flinched at making it possible for outsiders to upload raw content for fear that the publications’ reputations for reliability — which took decades to build — could be undermined easily.

This is, however, an unstoppable transition.   The challenge for educational enterprises will be to take full advantage of learner engagement in content production and contribution while maintaining quality in educational collections, materials, and services.

 

Disruptive Innovation in Professional Education and Decision Support

Communities and services built on curated digital collections of tutorial-format information are disrupting several “industries” including higher education, continuing education, and professional and occupational publishing (textbooks, reference works, and manuals).

A great example is UpToDate.com, which has replaced printed textbooks, reference works, and journal articles in many U.S. teaching hospitals and medical practices. Quoting from UpToDate’s web site:

UpToDate® is an evidence-based, physician-authored clinical decision support resource which clinicians trust to make the right point-of-care decisions. More than 5,700 world-renowned physician authors, editors and peer reviewers use a rigorous editorial process to synthesize the most recent medical information into trusted, evidence-based recommendations that are proven to improve patient care and quality.

UpToDate is available, by subscription, to working medical professionals, residents, interns, and students. UpToDate also provides a free “lite” version for caregivers and patients. As such, UpToDate is a great example of a collection-based community and service offering that is certain to be replicated in dozens, if not hundreds, of other fields of knowledge, education and practice.

Generalizing from UpToDate to other fields, a curated collection can provide community and services for at least four major professional and occupational use cases:

  • Instructors/faculty at educational institutions worldwide;
  • Students at educational institutions worldwide;
  • Continuing or executive education enterprises; and
  • Learners and working professionals in enterprises worldwide.

The 22-year-old UpToDate is well known in health sciences but the model of valuable services built on a curated collection is only now starting to come into use (and disrupting industry and practices) in other professional or occupational fields such as architectural programming and construction management; water resource engineering; and design, planning, and operation of logistics systems.

I’ve shared more thoughts on the trajectory and implications of this disruptive innovation in another post.

Accumulating Evidence of the Value of Collection-Based Services

In a June 12 post I described the digital gold rush in occupational education and services. The evidence continues to accumulate that the most promising approaches are built on:

  1. Curated digital collections
  2. Online communities of learning and practice; and
  3. Incorporating adaptive-learning or search-and-recommend technologies.

Traditional information services companies and publishers are leading many of these ventures. For example, UpToDate, described in an another earlier post, is part of Wolters Kluwer and Elsevier has partnered with the adaptive learning company, Knewton, to build “products” for nursing, health professions and medical students in the coming years.

While experience in information services and publishing may be useful, the revolution in digital publishing (think of user-generated content on YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn) means that universities, companies, and individuals can produce and deliver digital content at low cost. The Veritas offering in veterinary medicine from Cornell, Texas A&M, and Pfizer illustrates this nicely, as does the fact that the venerable Merck Manual (a diagnosis and therapy “collection” for health care professionals, the first edition of which was printed in 1899 and the 19th edition printed in 2011) is available online.

The promise of these approaches comes from the fact that thousands of faculty members (content experts) worldwide teach almost any topic you can think of, from big data analytics to construction management to managerial accounting. In theory the simple sum of lectures, resource materials, problem-sets, and quizzes that these individuals create in their day-to-day work could be a useful collection. Indeed, YouTube, Google, and collections like iTunes U mean that many of these materials are already accessible as part of unstructured and un-curated collections.

It is entirely a different matter, however, to create, maintain, and make accessible a curated collection for professional and educational uses. Enterprises such as those named above, and including enterprises such as the Khan Academy or Lynda.com, are pioneering these approaches. While we can be certain that services and communities built on curated collections will disrupt education and publishing, there are certain to be plenty of failures.

More on what seem to be the recipes for failure and success in another post.

Six Significant Hurdles (to building value from curated collections)

It seems as though any university, publisher, or professional society should be able create a robust curated collection for education and decision support.  These types of enterprises have most of the right assets and experience. They employ, or have access to, many individuals with directly relevant content knowledge.  They have commercial and organizational experience in knowledge-intensive services such as education, testing and certifying an individual’s competence, or codifying and disseminating knowledge.

Further, the core technological capabilities, from digital authoring and asset management to online communities and adaptive-learning or search-and-recommend technologies, are now inexpensive and easy to access.

As it turns out, however, enterprises considering the development of a commercially viable set of services built on a curated collection face at least six significant hurdles.

The first hurdle is selecting an enterprise model for the collection-based services that meets the needs of a) compensating content authors; b) generating revenue from subscriptions or per-use; and c) engaging both transient and long-lived online communities. This will knock out all but the most innovative and flexible universities and many professional societies.

Publishers have a leg up with regard to the first hurdle as they have a working business model that is similar to what is needed but they come up short (compared to universities) when it comes to the second hurdle: establishing and updating a knowledge map for the field and creating various “paths” through the collection (curricula) that can guide self-paced learners or instructors who want to use the material.

The third hurdle is setting up an editorial/curatorial process to assure the veracity and currency of the content, both initial (solicited) content and user-generated (unsolicited) content. For truly dynamic content, this is as much like traditional editing and curating as speed dating is like a 30-year-long marriage. There are not many organizations outside the new generation of digital publishers who understand how to bring a out a new edition of curated content every few minutes, 365 days a year.

A fourth hurdle is that robust online communities, an integral aspect of virtually every collection-based service offering, need to be programmed, either by a leading expert or by a paid professional (or both).  Simply put, a community programming professional is responsible for creating or orchestrating reasons for users to return to, and engage with the community.  Programming can make or break a community, perhaps even more so than the quality of the content.

Fifth, every collection-based service offering runs the risk of being money-losing vanity press for the organizing entity. Creating a collection, and experimenting with services built on the collection, are only viable strategies if you can attract users in volumes that justify the effort and investment. The branding, marketing, and sales channels for traditional educational offerings, and for professional society or trade association membership, are well understood.  But can entities that are good at these activities mount an effective approach to find, recruit, and retain thousands or tens of thousands users?

Finally, as if to add insult to injury for those who want to dabble or experiment, this is a race where early leaders get a tremendous push forward from users. Adaptive learning technologies and search-and-recommend engines improve the paths through a collection with use and they allow the curator to quickly target needed improvements or refinements to the collection. I am reluctant to say that an early lead in use is unassailable, but it certainly conveys a tremendous advantage in rapid, iterative improvement of a collection and services.

In sum, curated collection-based services innovation is more about establishing an operating entity with the right capability than about technology or content. An effective platform technology and quality content are the ante in this game. The creativity needed is mostly in business and operational processes that that can make a collection and related community activities dynamic and useful to target users.

Many will try and few will succeed.   We’ll see a lot more failures than successes as curated collections disrupt education and decision support worldwide.