Monday, April 10, 2006

Navigating the Cyber-Learning Environment

New movements in consumer behavior sometimes sneak up on us. Consumers want to do things their way, and if they can find an easier, cheaper way to get what they want - They'll go after it. Take MP3s for example. There was nothing wrong with CD's in terms of ease of use and sound quality. But consumers, at times, wanted to download one or two tracks and not the whole album. They wanted to mix their own CDs and the freedom to instantaneously download and then play music. It took a while, but the music industry caught up to them. Proving this phenomenon was real, Apple's iTunes music store has already passed the billionth download of a song and the system they are primarily played on, iPods, have completely restored Apple to being a hugely profitable company.

Technology and the bottom-up revolution

MP3 players are not the only technology to make a bottom-up revolution possible. People can choose where they get their news and information or write their own on easy-to-use blogs. Companies like Technorati make it possible to syndicate a blog, or pick up news phenomena even if it is not being handled by one of the major news organizations.

Effect on Education

Will technology bring this type of bottom-up consumerism to education? Leaders in education have been quick to follow technological innovations. If teachers aren't driving it, then technically literate and game savvy students will. Adopting new technologies is unavoidable, but is also complex. Imagine being a teacher or administrator and trying to come up with plans that take into consideration podcasting, blogging, blog-portfolios, video-casts or even instant messaging. All the indicators show growth in these areas, which is why it is imperative to begin discussing creative and effective combinations. Thomas Friedman and Daniel Pink have been making the argument for more conceptual thinkers and generalists to help guide the way. In fact, in a recent article Friedman says that India and China will need more of these types of thinkers if their engineers, software developers and other technically trained people are to succeed.

Growth in Private Instruction

Growth in the tutoring markets also points to, what I think will be the next great combination, that of private instruction and instant messaging, AV technology. Imagine a system that will allow for expert opinion, coaching, assistance and teaching in real time, from anyone to anywhere. Given enough choices in this market, students and adults will be able to locate instruction and help from people who more closely match their needs and learning styles, creating an adaptable, catered learning environment. Watch for news from a company called Facebridge Research. They are developing a system which will help to monetize cyber-tutoring. The real creativity in all of this will come in the potential applications and combinations of this technology.

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