On the Horizon Report 2012: The Wisdom of the Crowds We Help Perpetuate (Part 3 of 3)

June 8, 2012

One of the most fascinating stories embedded in any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is how the reports themselves are produced: in a highly collaborative, asynchronous fashion using a well-facilitated technology tool—a wikias I’ve noted elsewhere. The process draws together colleagues from a variety of walks of life to produce something that none of them could individually ever hope to achieve. And if that somehow sounds familiar, it’s because the underpinnings of these interactions—so important for trainer-teacher-learners and others—is all around us in a variety of printed and online resources.

There is, for example, Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect, that wonderful book describing how magic happens when people from different backgrounds briefly come together—a group of merchant marines, for example, who share ideas in a Greek tavern before parting and disseminating the results of their conversations with others all over the world. This is one of the major underpinnings of the Horizon process as nearly 50 of us from all over the world gather via a well-facilitated wiki to contribute to Horizon Higher Education reports. Or 9,000 people gather at an American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) annual conference for several days, then spend bits of pieces of the following weeks continuing to build upon and spread what resulted from the planned and chance encounters.

James Surowiecki’s fascinating The Wisdom of Crowds provides an additional book-length report that reminds us time and time that when we start with a diverse enough group of the right people—no groupthink here, mind you—any of us as trainer-teacher-learners produce more reliable results than any single member of a group consistently produces. The archetypal crowdsourcing story here is the one about Francis Galton going to a county fair in 1906, watching people try to guess the weight of an ox, combining the nearly 800 different guesses submitted, and documenting that the mean of all those guesses was far more accurate than any individual’s guess had been—just one pound away from the actual weight of 1,198 pounds.

If we continue down this exploration of why these broad collaborative gatherings are so effective, we find ourselves in Clay Skirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, which builds upon The Wisdom of Crowds by exploring how collaboration produces magnificent—and highly accurate—resources like Wikipedia. And that, of course, brings us nearly full circle back to the wikis that are an integral part of the Horizon process.

Jonah Lehrer’s recently-released book Imagine: How Creativity Works adds a final dimension to our exploration of the creative process that produces Horizon reports and other worthwhile and inspirational results. Lehrer, among other things, documents how creativity is fostered by online projects such as InnoCentive, where experts apply their expertise to areas in which they don’t normally work and, by bringing an outsider’s point of view, solve problems that don’t come from those well-versed in the field in which the problem is embedded. It’s exactly the same sort of process that supports the work of communities of practice and allows Horizon Report Advisory Board members to come together in an intensively creative way to see elements of the world of training-teaching-learning that few of us would ever notice if we weren’t immersed in this collaborative endeavor.

There’s a deliberate attempt to avoid inbred thinking in the sort of collaboration fostered through the Horizon process: our New Media Consortium colleagues attempt to replace at least a third of the composition of the Horizon Report Advisory Board each year so a new flow of ideas is an integral part of the process. And in providing that model, they leave us with a thought-provoking and effective approach that we can and should easily be incorporating into our workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts: one that mixes experience with infusions of fresh ideas. Takes advantage of our resources. And engages the wisdom of the crowd to help us better serve as the effective facilitators of learning that so many of us strive to be.


On the Horizon Report 2012: Technology in Learning Over the Next Five Years (Part 2 of 3)

May 30, 2012

The heart of any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is its list of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.” The 2012 Higher Education edition offers us a particularly healthy heart.

As noted in the first of these three articles, the near-term (one-year) horizon includes two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. And the far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and what the report refers to as “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

It takes little imagination for any of us to see that mobile apps and tablets are technologies no longer on a distant horizon; they are becoming mainstream in the best training-teaching-learning venues just as they have become common in day-to-day life for any of us with access to tech tools. The Horizon Report Higher Education edition, as always, itself serves as a first-rate learning object by leading us to tremendous examples of these tools in use. There is, for example, the Stanford University iPhone and iPad Apps coursefreely accessible online as an example of how a learning opportunity about iPhones and iPads is delivered on the very devices it helps learners master. There is also the story about Drew University’s “Wall Street Semester” program, which provides an innovative and adaptable example of how tablets become a central tool in creatively engaging learning opportunities. There is something wonderfully circular and cohesive in how these two technologies in this horizon intersect with others such as gesture-based computing—the technology we so comfortably use on our smartphones and our tablets—and the Internet of Things.

As we move a bit further out—into the two- to three-year horizon—we see how game-based learning continues to play an increasingly important role in learning, and how learning analytics—using “the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of students in order to assess…progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues” (p. 22 of the report)—puts technology to use in producing significant and enviable results for learners and those who fund learning opportunities. A University at Albany research team provides a game-based learning example—one that helps learners “overcome critical decision-making biases”—and helps all of us begin dreaming about how we can adapt that model into our own training-teaching-learning endeavors. An article through EDUCAUSE, a collaborative partner with NMC on the Horizon Report Higher Education  edition, offers a concise and enticing summary of where we may be headed through our use of learning analytics tools in ways that would assist instructors as well as learners.

And then there is that relatively distant—four- to five-year—horizon where the somewhat dreamy yet completely imaginable tech tools are continuing to develop: gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things. The report notes that “an extensive review was unable to uncover many current examples in higher education of gesture-based software or devices being applied to specific learning examples” (p. 27), but a few online samples show us what we may be seeing in the not-too-distant future.  And when we move into the Internet of Things—“shorthand for network-aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of information” (p. 30)—we’re looking at a world where simple tasks such as documenting learners’ attendance in a class or workshop and disseminating information including class schedules, announcements, and information about homework are handled technologically through tagging systems while trainer-teacher-learners spend more time on what they should be doing: engaging in learning-oriented endeavors.

Next: What the Horizon Report Process Reminds Us About Collaborative Learning


On the Horizon Report 2012: Conversation, Community, and Learning (Part 1 of 3)

May 25, 2012

It behooves us to pay attention when an online document with a limited print run becomes an integral element in creating, fostering, representing, and sustaining a dynamically innovative community of trainer-teacher-learners. Which is why I once again am spending time with the New Media Consortium (NMC) flagship Horizon Report—the Higher Education Edition—at a time when the 2012 K-12 Edition is about to be released.

NMC playfully and accurately describes itself, in an introductory video, as being about “leadership, community, technology, research, creativity, experimentation, imagination, optimism, community, imagination, and passion…We want to help our members stay at the leading edge of technology…[while engaged in] research on emerging technology”—a goal it continually fulfills by drawing in participants and hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world.

The process of producing those reports—to be reviewed again more thoroughly in the third of this three-part series of articles—creates its own ever-expanding community. Through documenting what is happening at the intersection of people, technology, and learning, the report actually extends the reach of that teaching-training-learning community—an an onsite-online community that keeps people in the forefront and sees technology as a tool supporting and enhancing successful learning.

NMC’s series of annual reports, including the Higher Education edition we are exploring here and others in the works, is an inspiring as well as thought- and world-changing tool no teacher-trainer-learner can afford to ignore. And it is amply augmented through its Navigator: “Part extensive library, part global project database, and part social network, Navigator allows users to easily search through the information, insights, and research of past NMC Horizon Projects, as well as the NMC’s expert analysis and extensive catalog of sharable rich media assets,” we read on the Horizon Report website.

The 2012 Higher Education edition of the report—part of a continuing collaboration between NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative–continues the tradition of identifying key trends and significant challenges faced by those involved in higher education—a process that received further attention and refinement during a Horizon Report Advisory Board retreat in January 2012. It doesn’t take much for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors to see how valuable and relevant this information is to us.

Our expectation that we will “be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever [we] want to” (p. 4 of the report) is true of anyone interested in not being left behind by the magnificent and seemingly endless changes that are occurring around every one of us in the contemporary workplace. The idea that “the world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured” (p. 4) is something we are seeing in the evolving ways we are approaching workplace learning; this is actually becoming increasingly important as today’s students quickly join us as workplace colleagues—and bring their expectations with them. The “new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning” (p. 6) is something we already are rightfully confronting and addressing in our onsite-online workplace learning offerings so that we aren’t left behind.

Furthermore, the challenges (that “individual organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt—or not to adopt—a given technology…”) are also far from unique to academic settings. It remains true, unfortunately, that companies struggling to compete in a competitively creative marketplace can (and often do) actually tie their own organizational hands behind their institutional backs by stifling rather than encouraging the use of social media tools in their workplace.

The focal point of each new Horizon Report edition is the listing of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry” (p. 6) The near-term (one-year) horizon this year includes the two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. The far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

To explore these topics through the Horizon Report is to treat ourselves to one of the most inspiring and rewarding learning experience we are likely to have this year.

Next: What the 2012 Higher Education Report Tells Us About Emerging Technologies


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