Going Horizontal

vertical horizontalIn microeconomics and management, going vertical or vertical integration occurs when the supply chain of a company is owned by that company. For example, if a car manufacturer also produces its own steel, tires and batteries.

This is in contrast with horizontal integration, wherein a company produces several items which are related to one another.

Higher education has been a vertical enterprise for centuries. We keep knowledge creation, teaching, testing, and credentialing all under one company/college banner.

These are terms from economics and business. Are they applicable to discussions about education?

Horizontal integration often occurs in the business world by internal expansion, acquisition or merger. Of course, that might happen in education too, but there are also signs that it is happening in other ways.

When MOOCs were the big news five years ago, some people saw this as a shift from a vertically integrated model to a horizontally integrated one by decoupling teaching and learning from the campus testing and credentialing.

In looking for further examples of vertical and horizontal integration in education, the examples I found were mostly in medical education. 

"Vertical and horizontal integration of knowledge and skills - a working model" (Snyman WD, Kroon J.) looks at an integrated outcomes-based curriculum for dentistry at the University of Pretoria in 1997.

In "Horizontal and vertical integration of academic disciplines in the medical school curriculum (Vidic B, Weitlauf HM) looks at pedagogical shifts caused by the rapid expansion of new scientific information and the introduction of new technology in operative and diagnostic medicine.

In more general terms, assessment alignment is often the reason for both horizontal and vertical alignment in education. Alignment is typically understood as the agreement between a set of content standards and an assessment used to measure those standards. By establishing content standards, stakeholders in an education system determine what students are expected to know and be able to do at each grade level.

Probably, it is best when education goes both vertically and horizontally. 

Horizontal information exchange can be teachers sharing methodology, students sharing information, students helping each other learn.

When a curriculum is truly vertically aligned or vertically coherent, what students learn in one lesson, course, or grade level prepares them for the next lesson, course, or grade level. I know teaching is supposed to be structured and logically sequenced so that learning progressively prepares them for more challenging, higher-level work. I saw that structured sequencing more in my K-12 teaching than I do in higher education which is more siloed. 

Let's work on going more horizontal, higher ed.

Bleeding Edgy Deep Learning

Deep learning is a hot topic right now, but it is not lightweight or something I would imagine learners who are not in the computer science world to take very seriously. But I stumbled upon this video introduction that certainly goes for an edgier presentation of this serious subject and obviously is trying to appeal to a non-traditional audience.

That audience would be part of what I refer to as both Education 2.0 and also that segment of learners who are The Disconnected.  I see these disconnected learners as a wider age group than "Millennials." They are the potential students in our undergraduate and graduate programs, but also older people already in the workplace looking to move or advance their careers. The younger ones have never been connected to traditional forms of media consumption and services and have no plan to ever be connected to them. And that is also how they feel about education. You learn where and when you can learn with little concern for credits and degrees.

The video I found (below) is an "Intro to Deep Learning" billed as being "for anyone who wants to become a deep learning engineer." It is supposed to take you from "the very basics of deep learning to the bleeding edge over the course of 4 months." That is quite a trip. 

The sample video is on how to predict an animal’s body weight given it’s brain weight using linear regression via 10 lines of Python.

Though the YouTube content (created by and starring Siraj Raval) is totally free, he also has a partnership with Udacity in order to offer a new Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation program. Udacity will also be providing guaranteed admission to their Artificial Intelligence and Self-Driving Car Nanodegree programs to all graduates. 


Is this a good marketing effort bu Udacity? Will it reach new and disconnected learners? Will they simply use the videos and resources to learn or make that connection to some kind of degree/certification that might tell an employer that they know something about deep learning? I don't have the deep learning program that can predict that. I'm not sure it exists. Yet.

RESOURCES

This is the code via GitHub for "How to Make a Prediction - Intro to Deep Learning #1' by Siraj Raval on YouTube

This lesson uses simple linear regression. "Simple" is a relative term here, as many people would not find it simple, as in "easy." It is a statistical method that allows us to summarize and study relationships between two continuous (quantitative) variables. This lesson via Penn State introduces the concept and basic procedures of simple linear regression.

You might also want to look at this tutorial on the topic via machinelearningmastery.com.

The UX of Course Design

UXI stumbled upon a post on Medium by John Spencer called "8 Ways UX Design Theory Transformed My Approach to Course Design - How a Small Side Project Changed the Way I Teach."  As someone who has taught for a quartet of decades and done UX design and even taught UX, I was intrigued by what he might have learned about "how to build community, communicate clearly, and set up effective systems as we design our courses."

A few basics to start: User experience design theory is confusingly abbreviated as XD, UX, UXD or UED, But it is about focusing on the user experience of a device, tool, platform or web application. In doing this, a designer considers accessibility, usability and the easy to overlook pleasure someone might get from the interaction. Do you think Facebook would be as popular if people didn't get pleasure from using it?

Spencer says he first embraced UX design when he worked on creating a blogging platform for students called Write About.

As with any design, you make the best that you can, add features you think users will want - but then you have to deal with how users react and use it.

Is there a connection to teaching?

Every lesson has a design and teachers learn to design based on what works with a course or even with a specific group of students. Even larger in the design scheme is our current use of classroom systems and course architecture.

Building tools and systems that can be used intuitively understand with a minimum of additional instruction or training is key to UX. If you as a teacher spend a lot of time teaching procedures and methods rather than teaching your content and concepts.

Some of Spencer's takeaways make a lot of sense to me. For example, embrace onboarding. Onboarding is the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members. When you sign into a website or register for a service, you might get virtual tour and buttons have pop-ups or rollover text. The designers want you to feel comfortable as you navigate that first experience. Do we offer that to students when they enter a course?

Read Spencer's post, but maybe think about course design as a system that should seem invisible. I don't know that you need to be a UX designer to teach, or that we can all create a course that when you enter it you immediately know where to go and what to do, but we can certainly put the learner at the center of the design.

MOOCs are the Zombies of Online Education

The death of the MOOC has been declared since 2013 (the year after it was the "year of the MOOC") but they seem to come back to life again.

Udacity vice president Clarissa Shen said recently “they are dead.. a failed product, at least for the goals we had set for ourselves, Our mission is to bring relevant education which advances people in careers and socio-economic activities, and MOOCs aren't the way.”

Back in 2013 after only a year, Udacity’s co-founder, Sebastian Thrun, announced a “pivot” away from MOOCs. But Udacity still offers  a form of the MOOC in its paid sequences of courses called “nanodegrees” that it produces in cooperation with large tech employers and still offers free versions of its course videos for those who don’t want or need a certificate of completion.

 

And the next generation of learning management systems will be...

LMS

Earlier, I wrote about Google Classroom developing as a nontraditional learning management system (LMS). Now, I want to consider what the next-gen LMS might include.

One thing I have read is that rather than being just an eLearning portal, this next-gen LMS must be an "engagement engine." That is a buzzworthy term because not only in education but in the social media marketing world "engagement" is considered to be very importent. 

In the U.S., we don't hear much about LMS products from other part of the world. Growth Engineering is a UK  Learning Technologies company, and they see their mission as making learning fun with gamification and engaging content. Their LMS (Academy) and their authoring tool (Genie) are both new to me. They appear to me to be intended for corporate training rather than school use, but I suspect the next-gen LMS will be able to operate in both domains.

Juliette Denny, of Growth Engineering when writing on elearningindustry.com, notes 9 Characteristics Of The NextGen LMS. I could come up with other characteristics and I'm sure a group of faculty or instructional designers could come up with others. With a focus on corporate training, her list probably won't agree with one from academia but, again, I think that next-gen LMS will work in both places.

I agree with her that the earlier Learning Management Systems were very much portals and content depositories for learning units. In the late 1990s, we sometimes called them a CMS which could mean course management system or content management system and institutions used them both ways.

I worked for a few years designing corporate training and clients definitely want a way to manage content - documentation, help files etc. - as well as a way to track employee uses of that content. The ability to monitor employee progress and mastery of training was the next thing that was a concern. This is not unlike academic use of an LMS.

The LMS of 2017 is much more sophisticated than the ones I used at the end of the 20th century. They are easier to do authoring. They are not beautiful, but they are less ugly. They take into account user experience much more and their use is much more intuitive.

In corporate use (and perhaps in some free and non-credit use) "informal learning" is a definite consideration. One key element of that is a system's ability to track and predict in order to direct the learner toward the next piece of content. This individualized learning path is something being developed more recently but will certainly be built into the next-gen LMS.

Connected to this informal learning is social learning. The current LMS you use probably has ways to interact with social networks. It might even have its own social tools. Most of these do not have the appeal of the most popular networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al). The next-gen LMS will include the qualities of a social network and will "help organizations capture and retain intellectual capital."

Some social features appear in LMS, but many companies use separate application (such as Sharepoint) for social collaboration, and in schools outside social network still rule. Combining the two successfully means learners have a reason to return to the LMS and complete more training or coursework. We are not there yet.

The next-gen LMS will be mobile. I still have not seen a really well done mobile version of an enterprise LMS, though vendors will tout that their LMS is "optimized for mobile use."

What about this engagement engine concept? As the aforementioned article points out for the corporate world, "It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that employee engagement is a big problem. Training aside, poor engagement is responsible for low productivity, high employee turnover and lifeless company cultures. The sad thing is that these consequences exacerbate the issue of engagement, locking organizations in a downward spiral." In education, these translate to poor grades, dropped courses and lower enrollments.

Things you will see being developed more now are improved vectors for feedback and communication from facilitator to learner and from learner to learner. Learners want to know how they are progressing and want to be "rewarded" for progress. Whether those rewards will be most engaging as grades/salary, status/advancement, badges, rankings or some other system is yet to be decided. 

Gamification is currently one of the ways to let learners see progress and become engaged. But "gamification" still carries with it the incorrectly applied impression (especially in higher education) of playing games and "making learning fun." Learning, at its best, is fun, but don't tell professors that is the goal for them to strive for.

I realized early on in doing corporate training design work that tracking employees’ "key performance indicators" was surprisingly much more important to companies than it was to educators. Our corporate courses were actually more concerned with formative assessments (frequent checks for learning), than our academic courses that more commonly used summative assessments (quizzes and tests).

That future ideal LMS will include "performance management suites that tie together objectives, competencies, reviews and training in one streamlined process."

Are these unrealistic goals for a future LMS. No. In fact, I know that all of these items are being studied and tested by developers. It is just a question of how long it will take for them to be ready in one LMS.