Tagged: Conference

Warning sign at a construction site in London.

Full STEAM ahead at BETT 2017

“Creativity is the new Productivity”

I visited the BETT (British Education Technology) exhibition in London Jan 25 to Jan 27. The main theme seemed to be creativity, especially in its visual form. I observed how the exhibited hardware, software, services, methods and presenters’ experiences reflected the increasing role of creativity in learning. I wanted to see how these lessons apply to learning not just at school but also in the working life.

London underground on the way to BETT. Mind the gap between the real world and the future.

London underground on the way to BETT. Mind the gap between the real world and the future.

STEM has been the favorite acronym of any responsible education oriented organization or business for years. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Those have been the building blocks of our industrial society, and mastering STEM has ensured most students a good job and salary. In the current global post-industrial turmoil, where robots and artificial intelligence seem to challenge our STEM-based society, the need for any extraordinary and unpredictable abilities has increased.

Thus the concept called STEAM has emerged just recently. The A stands for Art (+ Design, ie. “Creativity”, visit the website www.stemtosteam.org for more information). It sounds somewhat as if Divination, the vague subject practised at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had finally been promoted to equal status with the Defence against Dark Arts.

At BETT 2017, STEAM was everywhere. Here creativity seemed to mean especially new and easier ways to express ideas visually and interactively, in other ways than good old written text. Creativity has been often credited to Apple‘s ecosystem, but now Microsoft has coined the new direction well with their slogan “Creativity is the new Productivity“, with some good new tools to support that. “Creativity is the most important leadership quality“, according to 1,541 CEOs interviewed by IBM for their report “Capitalizing on Complexity” (recommended to me by Lego Education).

With Harry Potter and Doctor Who to stir imagination, the British do not need to import science fiction. A life-sized Dalek patrolled the BETT floor ready to exterminate.

With Harry Potter and Doctor Who to stir imagination, the British do not need to import science fiction. A life-sized Dalek patrolled the BETT floor ready to exterminate.

Software and application vendors demonstrated many innovative ways to do “speculative design”, ie. to easily visualize and modify ideas, concepts and data. Many tools offer templates to build visual presentations, such as Adobe Spark and Microsoft Sway. APIs in Google and Excel make it possible to connect to sensors and visualize measurements in real time with little or no programming skills (g.co/sciencejournalapp and Excel: Project Cordoba). My favorite was the example where Adobe After Effects was used to embed 3D designs in real video with its green screen motion tracking feature.

Video in general was very prominent at the BETT floor. Video is widely used in flipped learning, for student exercises and feedback. In one case it was shown that short video introductions of MOOC course modules increased the number of people opening the modules and completing them. Making a video requires that you really know what you are talking about and can express it concisely. By now all phones, tablets and networks support making and viewing video. Video also appeals to emotional intelligence and is a natural medium to children (not so for adults yet).

AVR, Augmented and Virtual Reality is the next step up from plain video. Last year it just was not at BETT yet. Since then Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and other tools have built on the example set by the Google Cardboard. Now several companies offered extensive sets of VR learning content with lesson plans. It is interesting to see how VR develops from here. Its immersive nature is certainly a powerful motivator for learning. Today VR worlds are still quite passive. It takes time to develop natural ways to move and interact in a virtual world. Pokémon GO did a good job in bringing AVR closer to everyday use.

My son learning the planets and moons in our solar system using Google Cardboard and Titans of Space VR app.

My son learning the planets and moons in our solar system using Google Cardboard and Titans of Space VR app.

The A in STEAM is based on play and imagination. Like last year, Lego Education, Minecraft Education (Microsoft bought and merged the Swedish Minecraft game and Finnish MinecraftEdu mod) and many robotic playsets and lessons about digital storytelling gave good examples of the power of free play and imagination.

Storytelling, digital or not, is pop.

Storytelling, digital or not, is pop.

You can be like Newton and innovate with just a pen and paper, but the killer feature for STEAMing will be the digital pen, that allows you to truly draw and write on screen. I have been using Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet computer and its pen for a year and there’s no turning back.

At BETT I still didn’t find a pen-equipped computer that matches the Surface. iPad Pro has a good pen too, but these are both still too expensive for regular students’ parents, not to mention schools. I tested one high-end Chromebook with a pen, but it was honestly enough advertised to be used for “doodling” only – it was too slow when drawing or writing by hand. While proper typing skills remain highly valuable, the digital pen will truly be a STEAM weapon of choice when it becomes more available and affordable. It will be similar to the effect that touchscreens had for mobile phones.


Creativity is the new Productivity – tools like the digital pen and handwriting recognition are great, but not yet mainstream.

To present those STEAMing ideas, a hot item this year seemed to be huge touch screens either on the wall or as a table. They are certainly more practical than smartboards that require a projector. Still I don’t think they are big enough to compete with the big picture that a proper video projector offers. With a slightly aging eyesight I have recently missed many points in meeting rooms with too small big screens. Make them three meter wide and we may be talking – maybe with OLED screens soon!

When there are 20+ students in a class or a big team in a meeting room, you’d be STEAMing more efficienly if anybody could share their visions on the big screen without the cable hassle. This is closer than ever with several wireless projection techniques shown at BETT, such as Miracast, Google cast for education, Apple TV and the likes. But we’re still waiting for an ecosystem-independent, dongle-free cheap and functional solution that is supported by any device and operating system and projects the whole screen and not just a specific browser.

Storytelling, learning, technology, morals, creativity, media - so much I've learned from these guys over the years!

Storytelling, learning, technology, morals, creativity, media – so much I’ve learned from these guys over the years!

The many different Learning Management Systems (LMS) shown at BETT have lately been challenged by GAFE (Google Apps for Education) followed closely by Microsoft’s Office 365 and its killer app OneNote (my memory extension). These business giants have turned their cloud based productivity suites to learning platfoms, both innovatively called “Classroom“. It is great that their mutual competition speeds the development for the benefit of the learners. Both claim to be the king of the hill in modern dead-tree-free learning. Both companies’ BETT presentations concentrated on educating the audience on how to use the cloud for virtual collaboration and to forget email attachments – older people do not know what the cloud is and younger don’t know what email attachments are. Tough!

Google & MS Classrooms - using cloud to bridge two worlds of computer users.

Google & MS Classrooms – using cloud to bridge two worlds of computer users.

Friday night’s top presenter was the legendary Sir Ken Robinson, author of the most ever viewed TED talk. Sir Ken’s good talk about enabling the A in STEAM and lessons he’d learned in over half a century were peppered with fun British humor – in my mind’s eye I saw him in Pink Floyd’s “We don’t need no education“.

He also used Finland as a positive example of a modern learning environment. We should remember our reputation abroad as a superpower in education – this was not used at BETT, where only oil countries such as Norway had their country stands. You may watch Sir Ken’s presentation below.

What was not at BETT? I did not notice much AI, artificial intelligence solutions for learning. There were no robot tutors or genies-in-a-laptop to replace the teacher. But AI is there. It is in the search engines, in the way computers now understand speech and handwriting, how they help students in creative writing, how they learn to recognise things they “see” and can interpret people’s emotions via their webcams. There is AI in the way computers connect with real world and act on it via their robotic extensions. Will computers be able to overtake us in the A of STEAM – innovation, design and creativity? Let’s return to London next year to see what has happened!

British design stimulates curiosity and innovation. Armed with two hands, how are you expected to operate this?

British design stimulates curiosity and innovation. Armed with two hands, how are you expected to operate this?

(This blog is also published at my employer Edita Publishing’s blog / Tämä juttu on julkaistu myös työnantajani Edita Publishingin blogissa)

Back to the Future – Nordefco ADL seminar in Gol, Norway

I had the chance to attend the Nordefco ADL seminar in Norway, May 20th to 22nd as an invited speaker. Nordefco is short for Nordic Defence Co-operation. ADL means Advanced Distance Learning. This was the 10th time the seminar was arranged, always in this Norwegian Twin Peaks town and hotel between snow-capped mountains. Present were some 150 Nordic military and related people, plus some Canadians, Americans, Britons etc.

The main topics that grabbed my attention were

  1. Motivation in ADL
  2. Analytics to enhance learning
  3. MOOCs and learning content
  4. Hands-on workshops about practical content tools and methods
The Nordefco ADL seminar poster

The Nordefco ADL seminar poster


Motivation is the key to good learning results, especially in ADL where most of the time the learner is on his own. Many speakers pointed to the distributed collaboration using virtual tools as a means of bringing people together and learn in spite of being geographically apart. MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) is today’s learning forum and method that was mentioned by many. It has even been proven that physical separation improves co-operation skills (both technical and social), and that written responses make students reflect more actively and academically better than face-to-face. I wonder how this relates to using recorded video presentations that are popular in the flipped learning concept. As Sören Lundsgård put it, “teachers have to be very aware to keep the screen warm“. I.e. feedback and interaction are needed.

Professor John M Keller presented the ARCS-V model for integrating motivational design into ADL. ARCS-V stands for Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction and Volition. Volition, i.e. the will to continue despite external temptations, keep focused, (Finnish “sisu”?) is decisive in self-learning, I have also noticed when studying MOOC courses. “The instructor’s motivation is just as important as the learner’s, maybe more so” said the professor, and that motivation should also be reflected in the learning material.

Siren Elise talked about storytelling as a way to build motivating learning content. I agree with her and have also used stories and humor whenever possible. She used an IKEA manual as an example of breaking content in pieces and making a story out of it – with a happier ending than what we sometimes get with the Swedish furniture!

Professor Jarmo Viteli from the University of Tampere, Finland, talked about cyber learning, gamification and learning analytics. He used the currently famous Finnish Defence Forces’ letter to the reservists as an example of motivational idea. He also quoted the wise Marshall McLuhan: “Anyone who makes a distinction between games and learning, doesn’t know first thing about either“.

Through the story of a boy in Bhutan, he described the Stanford university online strategy, that I think applies to e.g. Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) and the reservists:
1. University’s own students at campus – flipped classrooms: FDF cadets
2. University’s students outside campus (ADL, MOOCs): FDF staff/officers
3. Any student globally – social responsibility (MOOCs): FDF reserve army

Finally, Dr. Tom Archibald demoed a game made to motivate and teach US Army reserve soldiers (the reserve approach being different from the Finnish reservists). Wisely enough, the game was written and illustrated in the language of the target group, young reserve army soldiers attending service a weekend/month. The game is about decision making in tough situations, with “plenty of opportunities to get drunk and in trouble”. Its idea had of course been heavily criticized, but as I have also noticed, such unorthodox approach often hits home with the real learners. “In the army we hate the Next button“, summed Dr. Archibald the motivation for the game design. The game also goes to show that a good story does not need high quality 3D to work. The game was done with the (free) Unity game development engine and Twine, an open-source tool for telling interactive, non-linear stories.


It is high time to get data analytics tools to improve learning and its design. Marketing, business, the game industry and other fields already rely on analytics and big data. In my 20 years in eLearning, I have rarely seen even an attempt at interest in how learners are actually performing in detail. The LMSs haven’t been very helpful in that sense either. Most importantly, the concept of following the learners’ progress on some kind of radar to react to it and guide it to better results, has been missing. This is about to change.

Analytics was mentioned in many presentations. Jonathan Poltrack told about the xAPI. It is a way to track learning experiences achieved even with something else than a computer. One use case for xAPI is “How do I get a centralized view of my learning data?” The topic was somewhat challenging and technical, but a quote may help summarize xAPI:

The xAPI is a specification that describes an interface and the storage / retrieval rules that developers can implement to create a learning experience tracking service. The service works by allowing statements of experience (typically learning experiences, but could be any experience) to be delivered to and stored securely in a Learning Record Store (LRS). The format of these statements is based on Activity Streams (Actor, Verb, Object; e.g.,“I did this.”). In this format, the Actor is the agent the statement is about, like a learner, mentor, teacher, or group. The verb describes the action of the statement, such as read, passed, or taught. And the object is what the Actor interacted with, like a book, a test, or a class.

Analytics, learner tracking and feedback were mentioned in many other presentations too, often together with gamification examples.

MOOCs and learning content

Massive Online Open Courses were described as a disruptive innovation (rather than “same shit in a new wrapping”). I have completed one very good MOOC course (Gamification in Coursera by Kevin Werbach) and was impressed by the method. A MOOC typically mixes short video lessons with additional material, links, exercises with peer review and discussion groups. They are either self-study or scheduled, with an online tutor responsible for even thousands of participants. Good MOOC platforms provide the courses in a very usable format.

But completing a MOOC successfully also requires a lot of effort – maybe even more than just dozing in a lecture hall. It calls for motivation, especially the volition that professor Keller mentioned. Producing and running a MOOC course also takes more effort than putting together an “old style” online course. Currently the need for learning video production capacity is needed. In the seminar this need was answered in many of the hands-on-workshops.

Learning content in general was also discussed in many presentations. Now years after the advent of eLearning, we have a lot of legacy content made with big effort. That effort is about to get wasted unless we look back and make use of some of that content. This topic I touched in my presentation.

My presentation “Different Levels of Digital Learning Content”

I have worked on eLearning content and methods with the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) since 2005. In my presentation I described the case of abrupt need for eLearning. I was called for reserve training that takes places in two parts. After the first days many were willing to prepare for the next part by studying online. For security etc. reasons there was no material in the FDF Moodle.

Based on my background, I could identify existing learning material that might help in preparing for the reserve training. I also know Moodle. It was agreed that I put up voluntarily an eLearning course with useful content. It took me about one day over two weeks’ time and the course was deployed in time before the exercise. The basic idea for the course came from MOOCs although it currently is more a proof of concept with limited content.

In building the course I realized that the content I used and created could be divided in three levels. For this military audience, I chose to call them

  1. Strategic content – big stuff you either already have or cannot create in time
  2. Tactical content – lighter, modular content that can be made in weeks/months to a specific purpose
  3. Auxiliary content – links, files etc. that are available at once but need to be verified to be suitable for your needs

Most importantly, I realized there needs to be a person (for there is no database and metadata enough) who can by human logic find the required pieces of content and produce the “glue” – the (Moodle) course structure with additional pics, text, tests and procedures needed to deliver the content just in time to those who need it.

From this follows that you need to know your strategic content, and make sure there will be more of it up-to-date. You need to ensure you are capable of producing tactical content when needed. And you need to know what auxiliary content there is and how to use it.

The three content types and "someone" who knows and can.

The three content types and “someone” who knows and can.

There was no strategic material years ago. There was no real LMSs years ago. No-one knew how to learn online. There was no online video. There was no social media, interaction and sharing in the virtual world. All this is here now. The time is right for online learning.

The workshops

I liked the idea of devoting late afternoons for 4-5 runs of hands-on workshops. The setup was well organized. Unfortunately I think not everybody attended the workshops, some of them could have taken more people.

Topics covered in the workshops were mostly about different content production tools such as Office Mix (my workshop), Camtasia, Captivate, Adobe ConnectPro, Skype for Business, interactive PDFs, using Kahoot quizzes etc (a link to the workshops in the end of this blog).

The Future

We are now in the future. I feel that way all the time. Maybe because it is exactly 20 years since I started with eLearning, and now the visions of that time are becoming reality (some of our visions at Valmet are actually online). Everything I saw in the scifi movies in the 80’s is here – KITT, Robocop, Terminator, TRON et al. Fortunately not The Day After (it wasn’t scifi).

FDF media specialist Mikko Tontti about to fly an inexpensive quadcopter drone with GPS guidance, stabilized 4K video and live connection to two controllers on the ground.

FDF media specialist Mikko Tontti about to fly an inexpensive quadcopter drone with GPS guidance, stabilized 4K video, a laser gun and a live video connection to two controllers on the ground.

So where’s the future now? There was not much talk or visions of that in Gol. It’s good that we have achieved something that works, but where to next? What would Marty McFly do?

Teemu Eskola gave an inspiring talk about almost-future, in which we become more and more integrated with our hardware, software, data and connected with each other (read IoT (Internet of Things) + AI). The world of today is about “Me, myself and I” – hopefully not so much in the bad, selfish way it sounds to an old-timer, but in the sense that makes life better for individuals living together.

This approach was also in the heart of the workshop by the Finnish Defence Forces conscript Esa-Pekka Pirhonen. His smart presentation described the work of a Social Media Agent, a type of Community Manager.

The agents are conscripts that moderate closed groups in Facebook. They connect with new conscripts about to enter the service, help them prepare for it and succeed in their time in the Army. Through a mobile phone and a familiar interface, the Facebook agent provides an easy and quickly accessible interface to the support organization that the Army offers.

This is also about a change in how we live with each other. It’s no more about yelling “stick your smile where the sun don’t shine!“. We are not here anymore on a need-to-know basis only, but to achieve more together with others, in the real and virtual worlds. This I call a future where I want to live, and a Nordic way of life I want to defend.

FDF conscript Esa-Pekka Pirhonen presenting the social media agent concept.

FDF conscript Esa-Pekka Pirhonen presenting the social media agent concept. Three real agents are on standby in the Facebook chat in the laptop in front of him, ready to answer questions typed in by the audience.

Thanks to the organizers, colleagues, audience and Pers hotell for a great conference and to Tuomas “Tumppi” Tihula for the invitation! See you next year in Finland.

Seminar program and workshops

Speakers and topics: http://www.fels.dk/adlforum/confirmed-speaker-2015/
Workshop abstracts: http://www.fels.dk/adlforum/workshops/

Twitter feed

Twitter feed from the seminar (hashtag #nordicadl): https://twitter.com/search?q=%23nordicadl&src=typd&vertical=default&f=tweets

Useful quotes

  • From “the saint on stage” to a “guide on the side” – Elisabeth Engum
  • “Foil and toil” – traditional classroom information overflow by John M Keller
  • “The instructor’s motivation is just as important as the learner’s, maybe more so” – John M Keller
  • “As teachers we have to be very aware to keep the screen warm” – Sören Lundsgård
  • “Anyone who makes a distinction between games and learning, doesn’t know first thing about either” (Marshall McLuhan / Jarmo Viteli)
  • “In the army we hate the Next button” – Dr. Tom Archibald
  • “Same shit in a new wrapping” – June Breivik
  • “Don’t take content so seriously!” – Lasse Hamre
  • “In marketing, the most important thing is the word “new”” – Teemu Eskola
  • “You need to make it all about me – it’s a Me culture” – Teemu Eskola
  • “How do I get a centralized view of my learning data?” – Jonathan Poltrack
  • “Teacher monologue is a barrier for learning” – Elisabeth Engum
  • “You can innovate as much as you like, as long as you don’t change anything” – June Breivik

Links to software and sites