When the telescope was first invented it first gave us a better view of the universe, then it gave rise to a complete new science and completely changed the way we think. The same will probably be said of software for learning. Like the telescope, the first generation of learning software was about representing the world in ever clearer ways. Like the new science that followed the telescope, we are now beginning to see a second generation of learning software which enables learners to construct their own models of the universe.
The clear trend is that learning content is moving from the book paradigm to that of social construct. New hardware and software developments, along with new understandings about learning itself, are opening up some wonderful creative options for learning software. So what then are the principles that we should consider when thinking about new learning software?
1. Make Learning Immersive
The first principle of making learning immersive, therefore, is that Creation Trumps Consumption. Let’s illustrate this with some examples:
Imagine you were learning about the Elements in Chemistry. What do you think would lead to you learn more – 1. Using a software package that illustrates the Elements, and shows what the content provider knows or 2. developing content to explain what you know about the Elements to other people?
Most would agree that you would learn more from 2. because this pushes you to do much more than merely consume what someone else has done for you.
New possibilities for content creation are rapidly evolving. Take drawing and painting, for example. Exploiting large multitouch screen technology to create pictures using Corel Paint it touch or Art rage – or using a pen to work with Photoshop on a Tablet PC – are examples of extending traditional creative skills.
Mind-mapping, considered by many as a core creative technique, is made a lot more productive when you can manipulate the components easily – something that’s difficult to do on paper. MindV not only enables virtual brainstorming but brings in elements such as video, which takes the technique way beyond what was previously possible. For more technically orientated mind-mapping, Visio enables mind-maps to be converted into a range of technical and business objects.
And how can new development extend writing? Here’s a great example of how a student doctor has transformed hand written notes into text using OneNote, and then developed a mindmap. The Tablet PC offers a terrific ‘sandbox’ for ideation, and creative sketching and inking is great for developing thoughts. InkSeine, for example, is a prototype that can be used as an ink-based search and multimedia notebook tool.
“Surface” applications open up a vast range of creative possibilities for music making – e.g. take a look at Touch Tones.
Digital games can improve learning through co-construction, collaboration, communication and creativity. Again, creation trumps consumption though. Imagine you were given the task of learning about random numbers – you could play this random number generator game, but you’d learn much more through building a game that generated random numbers, using Excel perhaps. For entry level game creation, take a look at this wonderful collection of games which were built using just PowerPoint. A good example of a game building environment for children is Scratch, and Kodu takes gaming to the next level, enabling children to design games that can be run on the X-Box.
Learning Software 2.0 will have increasingly natural interfaces. Voice, pen, touch, gesture, physical movement etc. are all becoming common ways to work with ICT.
We experience the world in high definition sound and vision, so when building models of the world, learners expect high degrees of realism, including 3D graphics. Texas Instrument’s 3D projection DLP chip and 3D content from the likes of Designmate is bringing affordable 3D learning experiences into the classroom. 3D visualisation tools make complex analysis easier – this example, shows how 3D movements can be tracked and visualised.
Simulation is another area where progress is happening quickly. For example, look at this “Animated Laws of Physics” application. One company specialising in simulation software is Crocodile Clips, and their Yenka product range fully exploits 3D modelling, as does the Microsoft Math.
Another key feature of Learning Software 2.0 is that it engages all learning styles – Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic.
Logo has long been used to connect computers to “floor robots”, so its great to see Focus Educational’s award winning “BeeBot” breathing new life into this area, and engaging all learning styles in the process. BeeBot supports the teaching of literacy, numeracy and sequencing skills through on-screen simulation and uses child friendly 3D software and fun-to-use robots.
Award winning Mantra Lingua not only has a wonderful set of bilingual audio books – like this one – that combine rich graphics with spoken word for foreign language learning, but they have also combined traditional print media with a “talking pen”, combining visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles.
Addressing auditory learning styles is Speech Recognition in Windows 7. Whilst voice can be recorded directly into OneNote and PowerPoint, the latter now enables users to turn a slide deck into a narrated video.
So how can we use learning software to help develop children’s motor skills or their spatial intelligence? In this example, Bing Maps is being used with Kinect to combine kinaesthic and auditory learning styles.
The use of, and ability to create and customise, virtual characters – avatars – will be a key ingredient in the next generation of learning software. An award winning application for foreign language learning is EMAS UK’s Talking Tutor which uses avatars to translate and speak back written text. Another award winning web service that exploits avatars is Mylo.
Also expect to see more software solutions that exploit gyroscopic motion and location aware computing.
2. Collaborative Learning Experiences
Learning is a social construct and children already widely exploit social networking, mobile telephony, Instant Messaging and multi-user gaming outside school.
Within the classroom context IWBs such as the The ActivBoard 500 Pro series are enabling some great learning experiences.
Interactive Classroom extends the traditional teacher to student model, and opens up possibilities for students to lead the learning too. Churchend and Torfaen Schools provide good examples of how Surface can be exploited for classroom based collaborative learning.
However, the promise of virtual collaborative learning beyond the classroom is rapidly taking off too.
A great example of an online learning community is this community generated music tuition.
Another simple but powerful idea is this online shared-note software from Clever Software. Taking this a step further, OneNote enables collaboration on pages that can contain a full range of media from hand-written text to video – OneNote now also synchronises to SkyDrive opening up a world of possibilities for collaboration beyond the classroom.
Cloud technologies will accelerate the growth of solutions in this area. For example, Office 365 for Education – with tools such as Lync – will greatly extend the collaboration capabilities of Office.
3. Intelligent Intervention
So innovation is flourishing in two of our three dimensions – making learning immersive and collaborative. The less sexy, but vital ingredient, which is yet to be integrated fully into Learning Software 2.0 is Intelligent Intervention – decision support, or automated learning guidance.
Learning software tends to get developed in isolation by competing companies. There are great tools out there for analysing how students are learning, but not much innovation and development in the area of bringing these things together to monitor and report on learning across multiple pieces of learning software. Imagine the following scenario – a child in any one day, plays a game, constructs some e-learning content, gets that content reviewed, uses productivity tools, and collaborates with others outside the school. A lot of learning may have happened, but there isn’t a way yet to automatically track all this learning activity.
The reason this is important is because formal learning should be managed. In schools, it’s not sufficient to just give children access to learning software and hope that learning will happen. Whilst VLEs and MLEs have been around for years, they don’t yet join all the dots.
Therefore, a requirement for Learning Software 2.0 is that it isn’t just implemented in individual packets, but rather as a part of a larger, connected ecosystem. Learning Software 2.0 will need to plug into other systems that enable teachers and/or other software to guide and make decisions about what children need to learn next. For now, though, teachers and children themselves will have to use a mix of methods to capture what has been learned, and make decisions about what needs to be learned next.
There are, however, some interesting developments in this space that are worth exploring. Eportfolios have been around for a very long time, but new developments by the likes of elearningforce are extending what can be done with them. And there’s SRM – CRM for “Student Relationship Management” – take a look at the new lookred video on their homepage to get a good example of CRM enabled data drive decision making.
Parental engagement is proven to have a big positive impact on children’s learning, and schools need to get VLEs and MIS to work together for effective parental engagement. A good example of this is SIMS Learning Gateway. Also, take a look at this example of how software can be used to make regular academic reviews at West Hatch school more effective.
Finally, its great to see one of the biggest challenges in introducing ICT in schooling being tackled – examinations! For years, sceptics have argued that whilst examinations are paper-based, ICT in schooling is a pointless investment. In answer to that, about 6,000 students in Norway recently took exams on their laptops in a trial that could soon be rolled out across the country.
How do You Want to Learn Tomorrow?
We are getting some glimpses of how far we can push learning technology, e.g. 4d learning which uses an immersive environment with 3D content, children can walk through the human body in full 3D. In a realisation of the 4th wall – a science fiction concept – we’re seeing “wall” solutions appear – eg Adobe Interactive Installation and this Music Wall. Other developments, such as this ball-bearing sequencer show how combining two or more simple techniques can produce completely new types of learning experience.
Thankfully, human beings are capable of more thoughts than there are particles in the universe, so the development of new ways of learning are increasingly limited only by what we can imagine.