Machine Learning :: Human Learning

AI - “artificial intelligence” - was introduced at a science conference at Dartmouth University in 1956. Back then it was a theory, but in the past few decade it has become something beyond theoretical. been less theory and more in practice than decades before.

The role of AI in education is still more theory than practice.

A goal in AI is to get machines to learn. I hesitate to say "think" but that is certainly a goal too. I am reading The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution currently and in that history there is a lot of discussion of the people trying to get machines to do more than just compute (calculate) but to learn from its experiences without requiring a human to program those changes. The classic example is the chess playing computer that gets better every time it wins or loses. Is that "learning?"

But has it had an impact on how you teach or how your students learn?

It may have been a mistake in the early days of AI and computers that we viewed the machine as being like the human brain. It is - and it isn't.

But neuroscientists are now finding that they can also discover more about human learning as a result of machine learning. An article on points to several interesting insights from the machine and human learning research that may play a role in AI in education.

One thing that became clear is that physical environment is something humans learn easier than machines. After a child has started walking or opened a few doors or drawers or climbed a few stairs, she learns how to do it. Show her a different door, drawer, or a spiral staircase and it doesn't make much of a difference. A robot equipped with some AI will have a much steeper learning curve to learn these simple things. It also has a poor sense of its "body." Just watch any videos online of humanoid robots trying to do those things and you'll see how difficult it is for a machine.

Then again, it takes a lot longer for humans to learn how to drive a car on a highway safely. And even when it is learned, our attention, or lack thereof, is a huge problem. AI in vehicles is learning how to drive fairly rapidly, and its attention is superior to human attention. Currently, it is still a fall back human error in mist cases, but that will certainly change in a decade or two. I learned to parallel park a car many years ago and I am still lousy at doing it. A car can do it better than me.

Although computers can do tasks they are programmed to do without any learning curve, for AI to work they need to learn by doing - much like humans. The article points out that AI systems that traced letters with robotic arms had an easier time recognizing diverse styles of handwriting and letters than visual-only systems. 

AI means a machine gets better at a task the more it does it, and it can also apply that learning to similar but not identical situations. You can program a computer to play notes and play a series of notes as a song, but getting it to compose real music requires AI.

Humans also learn from shared experiences. A lot of the learning in a classroom comes from interactions between the teacher and students and student to student. This makes me feel pretty confident in the continued need for teachers in the learning process.

One day, I am sure that machines will communicate with each other and learn from each other. This may be part of the reason that some tech and learning luminaries like Elon Musk have fears about AI

I would prefer my smart or autonomous vehicle to "talk" to other vehicles on the roads nearby and share information on traffic, obstructions and vehicles nearby with those quirky human drivers only.

AI built into learning systems, such as an online course, could guide the learning path and even anticipate problems and offer corrections to avoid them. Is that an AI "teacher" or the often-promoted "guide on the side?"

This year on the TV show Humans, one of the human couples goes for marriage counseling with a "synth" (robot). She may be a forerunner of a synth teacher.

Humans TV
The counselor (back to us) can read the husband's body language and knows he does not like talking to a synth marriage counselor.


What Is a Modern Learning Experience?

social on mobile

Jane Hart, who I have been following online for many years, is the Director of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, which she set up to help organizations and learning professionals modernize their approaches to workplace learning. Reading her online Modern Workplace Learning Magazine has alerted me to trends outside academia and outside the United States.  

She recently posted an article titled "Designing, delivering and managing modern learning experiences" and that made me consider how I would define "modern learning." It would include school experiences for some of us, but for most people today it is more likely an experience that occurs in the workplace and on our own. That itself seems like a big shift from the past. Or is it?

If in 1917, someone had wanted to become a journalist, he could go to college, but he could also get a job without a degree - if he could show he was a good writer. He could do some freelance writing with or without pay to get some experience and samples. Move 50 years to 1967, and the path was more likely to be a school of journalism. What about today?

As Jane points out, the modern learning experience path for the workplace probably includes using: 

  • Google and YouTube to solve their own learning and performance problems
  • social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to build their own professional network (aka personal learning network)
  • messaging apps on their smartphones to connect with colleagues and groups
  • Twitter to participate in conference backchannels and live chats
  • participating in online courses (or MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn

The modern learning experience is on demand and continuous, not intermittent, and takes place in minutes rather than hours. It occurs on mobile devices more than on desktop computers.

Jane Hart believes it is also more social with more interacting with people, and that it is more of a personally-designed experience. I don't know if that is true for educational learning. Is it true for the workplace on this side of the pond? Does the individual design the learning rather than an experience designed by someone "in charge."

Modernizing classroom learning has often been about making learning more autonomous (self-directed, self-organized and self-managed) but that model does not easily fit into the model used for the past few hundred years in classrooms.

Defining Personalized Learning

mazeThe term "personalized learning" came up recently in several articles about Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife Priscilla Chan investing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in a new vision of “whole-child personalized learning.”

Their recently established Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) intends to support the development of software that might help teachers better recognize and respond to each student’s academic needs. But they also intend to use a holistic approach to nurturing children’s social, emotional, and physical development. That's a tall order. And not one that has not been attempted before.

In the 40 years I have been an educator, I have heard about personalized learning under terms like individualized instruction, personal learning environment, direct instruction differentiation and even adaptive learning. All refer to efforts to tailor education to meet the different needs of students.

The use of the term "personalized learning" dates back to at least the early 1960s, but definitions still vary and it is still an evolving term. In 2005, Dan Buckley defined two ends of the personalized learning spectrum: "personalization for the learner", in which the teacher tailors the learning, and "personalization by the learner", in which the learner develops skills to tailor his own learning. This spectrum was adopted by the (2006) Microsoft's Practical Guide to Envisioning and Transforming Education and has been updated by Microsoft in other publications.

CZI now has former Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education James H. Shelton as the initiative’s president of education. It is encouraging to me that he said “We’ve got to dispel this notion that personalized learning is just about technology. In fact, it is about understanding students, giving them agency, and letting them do work that is engaging and exciting... Many people have a preconceived notion that ‘personalized learning’ is a kid in the corner alone with a computer. Forget about that.”

CZI will direct 99 percent of their Facebook shares (an $45 billion) to causes related to education and science, through a combination of charitable giving and investment.

Being in technology, you would expect Zuckerberg to want to put a lot of the money and efforts into that area. That's what happened with many of the efforts that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have made in education.

Adaptive learning - which I don't see as the same thing as personalized learning but some people do -  is an educational method which uses computers as interactive teaching devices. The technology allocates both the human (teachers, tutors, counselors)  and mediated resources according to the unique needs of each learner. Computers adapt the presentation of educational material according to students' learning needs. A lot of computer-aided assessment and responses to questions, tasks and experiences direct the next step for the learner.

Adaptive learning technology encompasses aspects derived from various fields of study including computer science, education, psychology, and brain science. Although this approach is not teacher- or student-centered, it does attempt to transform the learner from passive receptor of information to collaborator in the educational process. Adaptive learning systems have been used in education and also in business training. 

CZI realize this personalized learning will extend over decades. They began in December 2015, shortly after the birth of their first child.

The Initiative has invested in BYJU’S, an India-based startup behind a popular online-learning app, and Enlearn, a Seattle-based nonprofit that has developed a new adaptive-learning platform. CZI has also partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a $12 million “venture philanthropy” grant award. 

When I was starting my teaching career in the mid-1970s, the personalization was mostly driven by teachers and rarely used technology. 

But how does this fit into the newest version of the main federal K-12 education law, Every Student Succeeds Act. Unfortunately, our national plans usually only last for only 4 or 8 years (based on administrations), so we never see a cohort of students go through an educational lifetime. The new law does seem to push states and schools to think about more than standardized-test scores when determining what it means to help students thrive.

Do we need a clear and set definition of personalized learning in order to move forward? How does the CZI idea of educating the "whole child" fit into personalizing learning? 

Virtual Reality Education and Flying Cars


The Holodeck

People love to use the prediction that we would all be using flying cars by the 21st century as an example of a future technology that never happened. Remember how virtual reality and the augmented reality was going to change everything? So far, it's not.

Last summer, Pokemon Go was huge and even though many people would dismiss it as a silly game, it was AR and seemed like it might change gaming and who knows what else. The promise, or perhaps more accurately the potential, of VR in education is also a popular topic. 

We know that the Internet enabled students to access materials from other institutions and to travel to distant places for their research. Virtual reality may one day change the ways in which we teach and learn. That has me thinking about "virtual reality education" - something I imagine to be unbound by physical spaces like classrooms or campuses and time.That sounds like online learning, but it would be beyond the online learning.

Remember the "holodeck?" Originally, it was a set from the television series Star Trek where the crew could engage with different virtual reality environments. It came back into my view with Janet Murray's book Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. She considered whether the computer might provide the basis for an expressive narrative form in the way that print technology supported the development of the novel. In the 20th century, film technology supported the development of movies. 

And remember virtual worlds like Second Life and Active Worlds? I knew a number of educators and schools that made a real commitment to its use in education. I don't know of any of them that are still using virtual worlds.

I'm hopeful that VR, AR, or some version of a holodeck or virtual world will some day enhance education, but so far, I'm still operating in Reality Reality.

The Internet As Café

caféI was quite charmed last year when I made my first visit to Prague in the Czech Republic. I had in my mind a Romanticized version of the city and its famed café culture. In my imagination, it was people sipping coffee on sidewalk table and talking about art and literature. When my wife and I went for coffee and dessert at the Café Imperial, it was certainly much grander than anything I had imagined.

We did find those little cafés too, so I was able to embrace my Romantic version of the city. There is also the well-documented role of  the coffeehouse in the Age of Enlightenment. These informal gatherings of people played an important role in innovation in politics, science, literature and religion.

Next year, I hope to visit the Café de Flore which is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris. Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, it is known for its history of serving intellectual clientele. At one time, those tables overheard conversations from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,  writer Albert Camus and artist Pablo Picasso.

In science, breakthroughs seem to rarely come from just one person working alone. Innovation and collaboration usually sit at the table together. We are currently in a time when, at least in American politics, collaboration seems nonexistent.

This notion is what caught my attention in an interview I heard with Steven Johnson who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From.
He writes about how “stacked platforms” of ideas that allow other people to build on them.  This way of ideas coming together from pieces borrowed from another field or another person and remixing feels very much like what has arisen in our digital age.

One example he gives is the 1981 record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. It is an innovative album for that time in its use of samples well before the practice became mainstream. Eno was inspired by the varied voices and music and advertising on New York AM radio which was so different from the straightforward BBC radio he grew up with in England. He thought about repurposing all that talk into music.

We call that “decontextualizing” now – in this case a sound or words taken out of context and put in a new place. But this borrowing and remixing also occurs with ideas in culture, science and technology.

Unfortunately, ideas are not always free to connect with each other. Things like copyright and intellectual property law get in the way. We often silo innovators in proprietary labs or departments and discourage the exchange of ideas.

I didn’t know that Ben Franklin had a Club of Honest Whigs that would meet at the London Coffeehouse, when he was in England and they would hang out and exchange ideas.

Johnson describes these as “liquid networks” – not so much for the coffee, but for the fluidity in the conversation. These informal networks work because they are made up of different kinds of people from different backgrounds and experiences. Diversity is not just necessary as a biological concept but as an intellectual one.

The Internet was built on ideas stacked on top of ideas. A whole lot of code and ideas are underneath this post. At its best, when I write online I am connecting, if only virtually, with other writers, artists and thinkers, and connecting literally through hyperlinks to those ideas.

I know there are “Internet cafés,” but what about Internet as a café?

Exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality in Learning

Virtual reality, like rock n’ roll, is not something that can be described well. It must be experienced in order to be fully appreciated and understood.

Interestingly, it has been catching on among educators.

Since 2013, Emory Craig, Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle, and Maya Georgieva, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Digital Bodies, have been presenting workshops on the topic. They’re working with developers, researchers and educators who are embracing the immersive learning technology, which seems to be on the cusp of widespread well as being on the receiving end of a lot of hype.

Around the time Craig and Georgieva began exploring this emergent medium, the arrival of Google Glass seemed to have ushered in greater popularity. Georgieva was one of the educators to experiment with Google Glass. People suddenly had a wearable ideal of what could be tapped to create an augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). The much-heralded yet now all-but-defunct product left its mark, as several key technological developments have sprung up to satisfy a new market.

One key development also came from the Internet giant: Google Cardboard. An accessible solution that was ‘easy to get into the hands of educators,’ Georgieva noted, it has helped to generate interest in the use of VR in the learning environment. With only a smartphone app and the inexpensive piece of cardboard, students can be transported to other worlds...

continue reading... "Outside the Boundaries: Exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality in Learning" by Kristi DePaul