New Learning metaphors: presentation on learning maps at #LSCON12

Next week is the Learning Solution conference organized by the E-learning guild in Orlando. I will present concurrent session 311, Wednesday at 14.30 in the International Center Room. I will present my ideas about new learning metaphors and will show some examples of possible solutions. A great opportunity to get feed back on this ideas and I hope to get some new ideas from the audience too. The organization told me they are expecting 140 people to attend this session, which would be really great, I’m looking forward to it.

I will do two other presentations as well. On Wednesday at 4 and Thursday at 3 I will present on the ‘Learning Technology Showcase’ stage. We will show how easygenerator enables the ‘Next generation of e-Learning’. Easygenerator is also present with a booth (#409) at the Expo. I hope to meet a lot of you in Orlando. For those who will not attend the conference I include my presentation and I will report through this blog about the conference and my findings on Learning metaphors.

Previous posts on Learning metaphors:

(New) e-Learning metaphors: cased based learning

In my quest for new learning metaphors I have to pay attention to cased based learning (CBL) or Scenario based learning (SBL). It is not new, but it is very powerful. The great thing about it is that it approaches learning for the learners perspective, based on real world problems. It is great to use it in combination with the principles of action mapping, because these cases are always about a situation where you have to do things. It’s not about learning but it is about applying what you have learned and about learning while doing that.

It is not used as much as it should be. And I believe the reason is that it is a lot of work to create a good scenario and implement this in an attractive way. This difficulty is partly due to lack of good support by the authoring tools and it is more difficult to create a good scenario than ‘plain content’ e-learning’. As a developer you actually have to translate your learning objectives into real world problems. Problems and situations the learner can relate to. And that is difficult. But if you as a developer fail to create that connection to the workplace, the learner must do it by himself. I would say it is better to make that connection in the e-Learning, it will improve the quality and effectiveness.

But there is more to scenario based learning than just an other form of representation. Scenario based learning offers possibilities to not only transfer knowledge, but you can transfer and measure insight and skills. A much more valuable form of learning just than knowledge transfer. On top of this CBL is the most ‘game like’ form of e-Learning I know, that you can create without going into complex programming and expensive projects. All you have to do (from a technical point of view) is to connect a situation to a choice, which is simple branching that most authoring tools support.

I looked at a few examples of cased based learning. One of them is made by a Dutch company called Inbrain, and they have won an innovative e-learning award with it. It is a nice example to illustrate the power of CBL. It features a medical case where a doctor will see a patient and has to find out what is wrong and come up with the proper treatment. The learner can select some questions (see below) to ask the patient in order to find out what is wrong. After selecting a question the learner will get a video with the answer from the patient. In the right hand corner there is a button that gives you access to extra information. You can consult this when you want.

After questioning the patient you can select some medical test. You will see the price of every test and later on you will get the results.

As you can imagine this is only the start of the case, but for me it shows how powerful this is. It’s about doing and learning in the context of a real problem. I believe this really adds value and we should use this more often.

One way of promoting this is to have better support for CBL in the authoring tools. The foundation of CBL is branching: a learner selects an option at a certain situation and automatically navigates to the next situation based on that choice. A lot of tools have branching facilities, but this is not enough. My short research led to the following crucial functions that are usually missing:

  • A graphical representation of the branched scenario in order to keep the overview of the scenario as a developer
  • A facility to record the path the learner follows,you need this for proper feedback after the scenario has finished.
  • A sort of inventory where you can put items (or results in) and that builds up during the course.

Easygenerator only supports this partly, so we decided to put this on our development road map for this year. If you have any other suggestions for features that would facilitate CBL in a better way, please let me know! We are always looking for a way to improve our product.

This is the third post about metaphors, see also:

How to keep formal e-Learning relevant

We all know that e-learning is changing, we all know that our learners have changed. The rise of the internet, social media and mobile devices have changed our world. It turned out that it is much easier for a learner to adapt to these changes than for a e-Learning manager or developer. Over the past 16 months I have written all kind of post researching this change. I was recently asked to present on this subject in a webinar. In my preparation I went through all the posts and was for the first time able to merge them in a coherent way. I wanted to share this presentation with you.

Additional information on a lot of the subjects that are in the presentation I wrote about earlier. These post contain a lot of links to other resources on the internet on these subjects:

•Output management
•Agile development for Software, and for e-Learning
•Learning metaphors, learning maps
•Outcome learning (series of posts)

You can attend the webinar if you like (Wednesday February 15th 2012 10.00 am and 2.00 pm EST). See for details the site of Interactive Advantage.

A new metaphor for e-Learning: learning maps

Yesterday I visited the Fraunhofer institute in Karlsruhe, Germany. They have been investigating a learning map metaphor for the past few years. Interesting visit. So what did I learn from it?

The Fraunhofer institute is an impressive organization 18.000 employees working in applied science. So they approached this research in a scientific way. They use web didactics as a didactical framework and build a very complete solution around that. If we take a closer look at their solutions there are some things that I like, but also some things that need improvement.

Image of the prototype from the Fraunhofer solutions for learning maps

Image of the prototype from the Fraunhofer solutions for learning maps

If you look at the image you will see a course that has several learning paths. Based upon the results they use a branching mechanism to steer you in a certain direction and they will choose the proper path for you. This I don’t like. The purpose of a map is to give insight to the learner in the content and the possible learning paths. There is no point in presenting alternative paths if you can’t take them. What I do like is the fact that you can see the route you have already taken (dark on the image) and that they give feedback on the branching. At the first intersection you can see in the map that you will navigate to the top of the map if you score over 50% and that you will take the bottom route if you score lower. The biggest problem is the amount of information. You can zoom in and out of a map. On a high level it is OK, it shows the routes and it presents the learning content as a smaller or larger town. When you zoom in (like in the picture above), there is way to much information. Each symbol is a combination of media type, content type and level. This combination makes it very too complex. As always the hardest part is leaving things out in order to make it simple and intuitive. An other problem is the representation of learning objectives. They are presented on the top of the screen in a sequence. The selected learning objective is indicated with a red square. This way you don’t have an overview of all objectives and you can’t see the relations between the objectives.

It is easy to have comments on the work of somebody else, but it is way harder to come up with suggestions that make it better. I tried to come up with them in the form of requirements for a new metaphor. Here they are:

  • The new metaphor should give the learner an overview of all learning objectives and their inter relations in one simple overview.
  • Information must be shown to suggest to best learning path, but the learner should be able to decide which path to take.
  • The metaphor should show the followed learning path.
  • Information should be dosed carefully, so we don’t want to present all information at once. You should be able to zoom in to one specific area only.
  • We need to have simplified icons to inform the learner about the content that is available.
  • Creating a learning presentation based on a metaphor should be as easy as building a course with a book metaphor, It should be automatically generated, no scripting required.

I do believe that maps are a potential candidate for a new metaphor, the challenge will be to make it simple, intuitive on the one hand but rich on the other. The first post on a new learning metaphor was very well read (it is already my best read post ever) and I got a lot of comments. Thanks for that, I got great input that really helps me. Apparently this subject is of interest to many people and I will definitely follow-up with more posts.

See also:

Webinar: Didactics, Management theory, Agile and new learning metaphors equals Outcome learning

Last year I wrote a series of post on outcome learning. I have continued to work on this and now I have a new version. In the earlier version I combined didactic principles with a management theory. I order to make it more complete I now added principles from Agile (Scrum) software development and my ideas about a new learning metaphor.

I presented on this subject at the DevLearn conference in Las Vegas last November. The US partner of easygenerator (Interactive Advantage) organizes webinars on a regular basis and they have asked me to present on this approach. The webinar will be February 15 on 10.00 am EST and a second one at 02.00 pm EST. You are welcome to attend (see details here).

If you want to read some background info on me, you can best look at my LinkedIn profile. Although I will present new material you might want to read some relevant post from past year:

I will post my presentation after the webinar.

A new methaphor for e-Learning

I’m convinced that we have to find a new metaphor for e-Learning in order to bring e-Learning to the next level. The old book-metaphor with chapters and pages is well suited for linear courses, but it doesn’t work for more flexible individual approaches of e-Learning. I made it my and easygenerators goal for this year to find and implement a new metaphor in such a way that it is as easy to use as the book metaphor, while offering the learner much more flexibility in finding her way through the course.

At the moment I’m looking at a lot of different examples in order to learn from them. In this post I will share some of them with you.

I want to start outside the world of e-Learning with Flipboard, one of the most valuable apps for the Ipad. It uses the metaphor of a newspaper to present blogs, Twitter Facebook and a lot of other stuff.

The 'paper' metaphor of Flipboard

The 'paper' metaphor of Flipboard

It works brilliant, especially for blogs and tweets. The beginning of a post or a tweet is presented, so you can quickly scan them. If something attracts your attention you can open the complete post with one touch. This way of presenting this information really adds value. It enables you to scan all this post in a faster and more attractive way.

Another cool application of a metaphor is the music app Planetary. It uses the Galaxy as a metaphor to present your music library. Your artist are start, their albums are planets, and the tracks are presented as moons. A great way to present this mass of information to you in a whole new way.

The music aPP GALAXYAs you can see I’m a David Bowie fan, this images zooms in on the ‘star’ David Bowie.

E-learning metaphors
Looking at e-Learning courses I found a lot of metaphors. They either offer the learner a certain context or they will represent the content in a graphical way.

Context: Floorplan

Using a ground plan to give context to the learner.This example is created by one of easygenerators Dutch partners (Atrivision). It’s a medical course where nurses have to learn how to solve certain cases. The floor-plan gives them context, but also makes it possible to make a selection for the place where you want to perform your next action. By selecting a certain room, you also limit the possible options that you have.

Content: Tube map
Another example I liked a lot was the tube map. It is used to represent the content of a course.

The subjects are represented by the lines, stations are certain topics. I like the stations that are connected to more than one line, you can switch from subject there, because they are connected. This example is made by an other Dutch partner (ISM Learning). Both of these examples are custom made for a specific course. This is a lot of work when you create them, but even more work to maintain them. This gives me two  requirements for the new metaphor. First it must be as generic as the book metaphor. The second one is that it must be easy to create and maintain.

Learning maps
One of the metaphors I’m very interested in are the ‘learning maps’; a geographical map as a representation of e-Learning content. If you combine such a map with a navigation tool, you would get a very rich environment to present learning content, giving overview and control to the learner and providing information on possible learning routes. The ‘Fraunhofer Institute’ in Karlsruhe has done extensive research at this metaphor. I will visit them in February. I hope to learn from them and I hope that we can work together at the new metaphor.

I will present on learning metaphors and learning maps at the ‘Learning solutions’ conference in Orlando in a concurrent session (#311, Wednesday, March 21, 2:30 – 3:30). I hope to share my ideas in more detail and get feedback on them and hopefully will receive some suggestions on the direction to take. In the meantime I will keep my eyes open for other possibilities. If you have examples or ideas you want to share with me, that would be great. You can contact me through this blog or at I will keep you updated on my findings about metaphors in future posts.

See also:


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