Companies & Universities, Students & Careers

From cave walls to computers: a brief history of learning

Old picture of filming of students watching someone teach

Since the mass adoption of formal education in schools across society, understanding around items such as class size, curriculum development, and teaching tools have advanced significantly, but the format in which content is delivered to students has barely evolved for thousands of years. The lecture-based approach to education has spread across civilizations, continents, and cultures. Let’s take a trip back in time and I’ll show you how we arrived where we are now.

Forty thousand years ago, carvings of rock walls were used as a vehicle for teaching, however it is not until 3100BC that with the rise of trade, government, and religion came the invention of writing, which brought both schooling and education as we know them today to the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations. A few hundred years later, Plato founded The Academy in Athens, where the Socratic method dominated teaching. This method involved argumentative dialogue between individuals and was led by a teacher who was trusted with the responsibilities of guiding the conversation and instructing students about new concepts.

Fast forward into the Middle ages: monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church were the centers of education and professors were master lecturers. This eduction style permeated through subsequent ages and was slowly combined with different mechanisms and tools; in colonial times, students had to recite what the teacher preached aided by a Horn-Book (a wooden flat board with parchment on top that laid out a lesson). A few hundred years later, the Magic Lantern, one of the first projectors, was created and then two decades later, our beloved chalkboard!

Now let’s stop and think, what do all these lecture methods have in common? They’re boring! Have you ever been on the verge of falling asleep during a class? That’s because most lessons you’ve taken have probably been lecture-based where you’ve sat and listened passively to a teacher “preaching.” You’ve probably interacted through some sort of Socratic discussion, performed some rote-memorization, or have energetically taken notes of what a professor is writing. However, there seems to be a persistent problem, one that technology hasn’t managed to solve in centuries: lectures still predominate the way we learn.

One aspect of education that technology has revolutionized is the expansion of education beyond the elite few and to the masses. With commercial radio broadcasting in the 1920s also came on-air radio education, then television for education in the 1950s and videotapes in the 1970s. Finally, with the advent of the Internet, online education took off and by 2008, web technology was being used to create the first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which taught learners through videos.

So if you think about it, the format of learning has not really changed, students still sit and watch or listen to a lecture, and still fall asleep, not actually learning as much as they possibly could. And let’s not even mention the lack of individualized attention that a pupil might need to actually improve through instant feedback. What if we combine both technology that allows for open access of quality education and change passive learning into active learning that is self-paced, adaptive, and provides instant feedback? That would be the real revolution! And that’s what we are doing here at Smartly.

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Students & Careers

I Turned Down a Top Business School

Business man holding a puppy

For years, I was convinced that gaining an MBA from a top business school would lead to guaranteed success and happiness.

After all, they take in ambitious, creative, entrepreneurial types and spit out brand new Masters of the Universe at the other end, all guaranteed to progress on to business success, right?! Cue the all too familiar gauntlet of GMAT tests, poring over school brochures and websites, campus visits, ‘meet-and-greets’, and the endless hours of application preparation and submission, each costing on average about $150. In total, I have easily spent in excess of $4,000 simply getting to the stage of hitting the ‘submit’ button on various applications.

I am a small animal veterinarian and I’m at the stage in my career, and life, where I am acutely aware of the question, “Where am I going next?” Not completely enamoured of the usual, predictable and ‘safe’ options, and, to be perfectly honest, somewhat disillusioned with much of my current profession, I looked towards an MBA as being the answer. I have entrepreneurial ambitions, specifically within the tech sector, and so it seemed logical that formal business training, with the plethora of additional advantages that attending a top school offers, was exactly what was called for. I know for a fact that I would find the experience of spending 1-2 years in a major seat of learning and culture with equally ambitious sorts from all corners of the globe a wonderful one indeed. And so it was that my journey to business school began.

Coming from a non-traditional ‘quantitative’ career such as veterinary medicine, I was keen to bolster my familiarity with the core MBA curriculum and came across the Smartly app. Instantly drawn into the simple, immersive, bite-sized, and beautifully presented lessons that had a fun, game-like feel I found myself a dedicated user, powering through all of the available lessons and eagerly awaiting any new material developed by the Pedago team. It was, therefore, an easy decision to put my hand in my pocket and pay for the service* when the full version went live. It was that good!

Fast forward to earlier this year: I finally had that which I had been fixated on for so long: an offer from a top school! So what I did next took a lot of thought…

I turned my acceptance down!

The principle reason for this huge decision was simply the prohibitively inflated cost of studying for an MBA, with my projected expense easily looking to be in the region of $120,000 once the $90,000 of tuition was added to reasonable living expenses. Whilst it is no secret what the cost of an MBA is when students apply, such numbers seem unreal until such time that you are staring at a loan agreement. ROI uncertainty and the realities of staggering debt to pursue my dream aside, I had to really ask myself if there was another way to obtain the same level of top MBA knowledge without bankrupting myself. Smartly once again came onto the scene offering a full MBA degree, with its clear curriculum, simple and intuitive interface and impressive catalogue of ever-expanding content. Oh, and it’s significantly more attractive price tag! With my application submitted I now eagerly await their decision on whether I shall be one of those admitted to their new online MBA.

*The Smartly MBA is now free for consumers, so feel free to apply today!

Author Info: Chris Queen is a small animal veterinarian living and working in Dubai and also a massive nerd, interested in the power of technology, including virtual and augmented reality, to revolutionize education. When he isn’t caring for pets or writing, he can be found running, swimming and cycling towards his next Ironman race or jumping from a perfectly good plane in the name of skydiving. Chris’ blog can be found at www.thenerdyvet.com and he can be found on Twitter at @thenerdyvet

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Companies & Universities

Corporate Training Programs: What Are They Really Worth?

Young man surfing in waves

Companies in the US spend over $160Bn a year training their employees, but, are they really getting their money’s worth? Probably not!

More often than not, corporate training involves disengaged minds. Throughout a typical absurdly long training video, employees often text, read the news or catch up on work, but rarely give the training their full undivided attention. You probably know it by now… your required compliance training material is profoundly boring and really doesn’t influence the workplace environment or improve employee productivity. As a learning or training manager you are looking to justify the thousands of dollars assigned to your attempts to educate your employees.

What about those skills that you actually want to see in action? How do you keep your employees from hampering their coworker’s productivity with questions they should know the answer to? Or avoid having your managers improvise trainings unsuccessfully? In order to increase your employees’ productivity and intellectual growth, you should encourage ongoing learning. It’s your duty to enable this through the right methods and channels. Here are a couple tips that will make education in the workplace more effective:

  1. Make ongoing learning part of your company culture. As an employee, it’s hard to keep up with work, exercise, family, and on top of that, education and skills development. When you make learning a priority for the company, employees will make it a priority too.
  2. Articulate to your employees that training is for their own personal development, not for the company. These are skills that will be with them going forward in your company or at any other.
  3. Allow them to learn on their own terms, be flexible about their time, schedules and preferences. Some people would rather learn on their commute to work, or in bed right before going to sleep. Let employees fit training into their schedules by setting expectations and deadlines, but not mandating how and when training should be consumed.
  4. Reward success. Track your employee’s performance and acknowledge their achievements.
  5. Make it quick, short and sweet. Employees can’t handle hours-long lectures or videos, especially when they can’t stop thinking about their to-do list.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong… 46% of training hours were delivered by an instructor in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, and 90% of new skills are lost within the year. Maybe it’s time to start investing some of that $160Bn in better learning solutions. And yes, a lot of training is being done online nowadays, particularly compliance, but does online actually mean effective? Not necessarily, sitting back and watching a video online might as well be the same as sitting in a classroom and watching a lecture passively. The effectivity of learning both on and offline comes from the interaction with the material and concepts. So, if you want a combination of flexibility and effective learning, try an online, interactive tool!

1,2 Training Magazine, 2015 Training Industry Report. 2 Wall Street Journal, “So much training, so little show for it.”

 

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Companies & Universities, Learning, Smartly

The Brave New (Wired) World of Online Education

iphone on table

It is a brave new world, indeed, in which milk, cars, and spouses can all be acquired via the Internet. But for all our advances, the jury is still out regarding the most effective ways to teach online.

Many online learning platforms consist of passive video lectures and podcasts, or universities repackaging classes for the web. To illustrate, imagine you have students who have never seen a pizza before and want to learn how to make one. Working with current online teaching methods, they’d likely not throw the dough, choose the toppings, or get feedback on their work. They would probably have to sit quietly through written descriptions and video lectures online.

The prevalence of this passive approach demonstrates a key challenge in the pursuit of engaging, effective web-based education: the issue of interactivity. While more studies are showing that interactivity breeds engagement and information retention, instructors and platforms are still struggling to employ effective levels and modes of interactivity.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center examined 23 entry-level online courses at two separate community colleges and made some interesting discoveries on this phenomenon. Their assessment was that most of the course material was “text-heavy” and that it “generally consisted of readings and lecture notes. Few courses incorporated auditory or visual stimuli and well-designed instructional software.” While technology that supported feelings of interpersonal interaction was found to be helpful, mere incorporation of technology was insufficient—and recognized as such by the students. The research noted that, “Simply incorporating technology into a course does not necessarily improve interpersonal connections or student learning outcomes.”

The research specifically called out message boards (where instructor presence and guidance was minimal) to be insufficiently interactive to engage students in a way that they found clear and useful. The consensus of their research was that “effective integration of interactive technologies is difficult to achieve, and as a result, few online courses use technology to its fullest potential.”

Another interesting look at web-based learning and interactivity is a 2013 study conducted by Dr. Kenneth J. Longmuir of UC Irvine. Motivated by the fact that most “computerized resources for medical education are passive learning activities,” Professor Longmuir created his own online modules designed for iPad (and other mobile devices). These three online modules replaced three of his classroom lectures on acid-base physiology for first-year medical students. Using a Department of Defense handbook as his guide for incorporating different levels of activity, Longmuir utilized text and images side-by-side and had an embedded question and answer format. From student comments, “The most frequent statement was that students appreciated the interactive nature of the online instruction.” In fact, 97% of surveyed students said it improved the learning experience. They reported that not only did the online material take a shorter time to master than in-person lectures, but the interactivity of the modules was the “most important aspect of the presentation.”

While Dr. Longmuir was reluctant to draw hard conclusions about this particular online course’s efficacy (due to variables in student procrastination, students skipping important material, etc.), there are a few clear points to be taken from both studies. For one, engaging, interactive content is the exception, not the rule, in today’s online learning environment. Both studies suggest the importance of interactivity in online learning—if not definitively in test results (though that’s a possibility), certainly in how students feel about their engagement with the material. This isn’t surprising since research is showing that lack of interactivity in traditional classrooms is detrimental, as well.

While the science behind producing effective online learning courses is still in development, the need for meaningful interactivity in new educational technology seems like a no-brainer. If we hope to teach our students to make that pizza, the most effective way is not to drown them in video clips and PDF files; we should create online learning experiences that mimic—or even improve upon—the interactivity and satisfaction that pounding the dough themselves would provide.

 

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Companies & Universities, Company, Smartly

Pedago Announces Partnership with Top Business School INSEAD

Today we’re very excited to announce a new partnership with INSEAD, one of the leading business schools globally.

INSEAD, the pioneer institution to offer MBA programs in Europe over fifty years ago, is given superior rankings by Forbes, Financial Times, and Business Insider, and is ranked number one in Europe and Asia-Pacific by the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report (registration required to view), which ranks institutions according to the preferences of over 4,000 actively hiring MBA employers across the world. INSEAD faculty created Blue Ocean Strategy, a revolutionary and highly-celebrated approach to business modeling, and the founder of INSEAD, Georges Doriot, is dubbed the “father of venture capitalism.” In short, they’re kind of a big deal, and we’re honored to be working with them!

INSEAD holds cutting-edge research and innovation in teaching as foundational pillars of their institution, and in line with these core values, they’ve offered us the opportunity to work closely with them and their incoming students to explore the ever-expanding and changing world of online education and educational technology. At Pedago, we believe that technology can accelerate learning outcomes by enabling education wherever the learner may be. We strive to create a more fulfilling and effective online experience.

We’d like to take this opportunity to welcome INSEAD students of the class of 2015 to our program. We thank in advance all participants for being a part of this milestone in our development.


Questions, comments? You should follow Pedago on Twitter.

Learn about interactive educational technology on Pedago.com.

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Inspiration, Smartly

Today’s Inspiration from Jiddu Krishnamurti

children with teacher

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born till the moment you die is a process of learning.”

~Jiddu Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti on Education, Conversation 43

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