Innovate e-Learning through the use of neural networks?

One of my sons studies artificial intelligence, he is in his second year now. Recently they organized a parent’s day. We got a tour of the university grounds and we got some colleges they normally give to freshman. I really enjoyed it. One of the things I picked up was a better understanding of ‘Neural networks’ and how you can teach them to recognize patterns.

I believe we have to make e-Learning smarter, we need to move away from the ‘page turners’ and move more and more to learning that adapts to the learners needs. Neural networks might be able to help us in that direction.

The basis is simple. You have software that works like a human neural network. It contains a number of neurons that can calculate outcomes (such as recognition of patterns). By telling the network which outcome was the best you ‘award’ that outcome. By doing this over and over you train the software in recognizing the patterns. It’s a bit like the ‘survival of the fittest.

For those interested in more detail, click the image for more information on neural networks.

If we can put this in practice for learning it would be very exiting. By analyzing profile data and the learning path information we can offer learning paths to the learner that were followed by people like you and we can connect you to them.

The biggest challenge as I understand it, is that you need a lot of data to come to a useful outcome, this limits the application of this technique. I don’t know if anybody is already working in this direction, please contact me. I’m very interested. We (easygenerator) will certainly do some research in this direction. I don’t know if there are any chances of success, but we will learn a lot, that’s for sure.

I’m dreaming of an open learning content landscape

I’m still all fired up by the learning solution conference of last week. During one session we had to answer the question: “Where will you be in 5 years from now”. I will answer it in this post: so it is time for some daydreams.

For me personally I hope and expect that I will still be working at easygenerator. By then we are recognized as the best learning content platform in the world, we will have an active network of partners in 121 countries and we will have more end users than we can count. But probably you couldn’t care less.

What might be interesting to you is where our learning content will be and what will happen with it. Inspired by the learning landscape of Will Tallheimer I created a content landscape. This is how I dream that that landscape will look like in five years’ time.

Content landscapeOk, instead of easygenerator in the middle, it should have said ‘any content management or authoring system’, but it’s my dream so I can do what I want. Here are the details.

From the authoring tool (easygenerator) perspective
Content management and authoring tools are completely open, allowing authors to pull in information from anywhere and to publish to all kinds of systems. Easygenerator has no functionality to create images, flash or any other type of media content. There are great tools available that do just that. Easygenerator is the content integrator, enabling authors to gather, organize and publish all kinds of learning content and to create and maintain text in multiple languages. It supports open standards that enable you to connect to all kind of media on the web and any type of content that you have produced in any other tool. You can freely pull that information in, our push it out and it will work flawless in all systems on all platforms. Learning content is tagged for context, so it knows what is it about, for whom it is and when to show itself. Learning content is published in all kind of systems: Learning Managements Systems, Knowledge Management Systems, Social networks, internet, intranet and Electronic Performance systems. They closely work together in presenting relevant information in an active way to the learner precisely when he needs it.

From the author’s perspective
Authors will create learning material, harvesting all source materials from the web, gathering it from SME’s through social media, working together with designers, managers, SME’s, project managers. Content is re-used a lot and the structure of  courses is languages independent, so you can maintain courses in many languages with that one structure. Context is added in the form of meta data, most of the tags are generated automatically, some of them added by authors or by end users of the content. Authors have reports on the usage of courses and topics and the will get loads of user feed back (like/dislike and comments) they adjust the content based on this input. If they change anything, it is available to users within seconds.

From the learners perspective
A learner who has an question or a problem is supported because there is a lot of information available about him that creates a user context. Based on location, preferences, previous issues, education, function, current usage of systems a context is automatically defined. The content is also context aware. Whenever a user activates a help or learning system relevant information is automatically presented using filters that apply both contexts. Users can add to content or comment on content (based on rights and type of content) and indicate whether they like content or not.

Probably I can come up with a lot more, but you will hopefully get my drift.

My E-learning predictions and plans for 2011 #LCBQ

Tony Karrer is the guy behind a community where he gathers all kinds of blogs about e-Learning, He also is the blogmeister of the Learning Circuits community. On that community he runs a series of post regarding ‘The big question’. The question of the month is: What are your Predictions and Plans for 2011? He asked me to write a blog with my view, so here it is.

My predictions

I see some important changes developing in the world of e-Learning. I don’t think that 2011 will be a year of great transformations but these changes will slowly gain importance.

2011 Moving from the LMS to the workplace

I believe that in the long-term we will move from formal learning (courses in a LMS or classroom) more and more towards just-in-time workplace learning that supports the informal learning processes. Formal learning will always be there, but now it is the main or only focus of e-Learning. I believe that focus will shift.

Form courses to nuggets and collaboration

In order to make this shift we need to change we our approach to e-Learning. In stead of well designed complete courses with a beginning and a end, you will see more and more smaller ‘nuggets’ of training, best practices and knowledge. These nuggets will often be made by learners and subject matter experts. This will (over time) change the role of the professional e-Learning author. In stead of creating complete courses he will be coaching learners and Sme’s and his writing role will become more an editorial role. The courses that remain will (should) become more and more adaptive.

Disclosure of content: capturing context

A lot of the learning content will no longer be published through a LMS, but through portals, help functions and knowledge systems. Form the context of the work a query will be made into our content database, we have to deliver the appropriate answer to that query. This is a challenge, it means we have to focus on adding keywords in a structural way to pieces of content; we need to get involved in metadata and taxonomies.


2011 will be a crucial year for easygenerator. We want to make the step from a regional player (The Netherlands, Germany and the UK) to a global player. We will drastically increase our partner network and start selling in as many countries as possible. (Interested? Drop me an email!).

We will focus on facilitating collaboration better, we will make the first step at capturing user-generated content and feed that back to the author and we will create a Publication platform, that can deliver content to the LMS (SCORM) and to all kind of other systems. In order to do that metadata will be an important attention point.

This means a lot of innovative thinking and developing. We do not want to do that on our own and we don’t want to invent the wheel all over again. Therefore I created a LinkedIn group called the ‘e-learning piranhas‘. This group is aimed at collaborating on those ideas to make them more concrete, sharing our knowledge and insights, and creating partnerships that can convert these ideas into tools. Please join, if you want more details, please read my blogpost on this subject or contact me.

Improving the world through innovations in e-Learning?

Last week we where working on a USP document about easygenerator. At first we came up with a list of functionalities, it was correct but not inspiring or even really convincing. In the end we called it highlights instead of USP’s, because we realized that our bullets with text where not that unique. I did add some text about our vision and mission to it to make it more convincing, but I wasn’t really happy with it.

This morning I remembered that some time ago a colleague  pointed me to a TED presentation of Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action. I watched it again and he does have an important point.

He centers his idea around the golden circle.

“The Why is the purpose, cause or belief. The why is your driving motivation for action. The How are guiding principles. They are the specific actions that are taken to realize your Why. The What is the tangible proof, the results. The Whats are the tangible ways in which you bring your Why to life”. (from

He states that most people and companies start from the what (our list of great functionalities) and then try to convince people. It’s outside in, from what to how and then why. He says that if you want to innovate and really convince and capture people you have to go inside out: Start with the why. He has great examples from Apple, to the Wright brothers and even Marting Luther King. The greatest line for me was: “Martin Luther King gave the ‘I have  a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech.”

It’s funny, I knew this, but I never realized it. I think he is correct, it works that way. The only precondition he leaves out, is that the Why should address a real problem that people seek a solution for. Otherwise people will not buy into your Why.

I think I am somebody who is driven by the why. I also think that I am more of a leader than a true manager. My greatest assets are that I can give direction, inspire and motivate people. My personal why is easy, it’s my love for my family (sounds a bit corny, but is true). Recently one of my sons became ill and that made very clear to me what motivates me and what my priorities are.

But my professional why is more complex. I already wrote my vision blog on e-learning, I thought it had a lot of why elements in it: I believe that we should bring the learning to the workplace, I believe in making learning a two way street, I believe in integrating EPSS systems, Knowledge management systems and e-Learning, I believe that we should integrate the formal learning with the informal learning, I believe in capturing insights, experiences and knowledge and making them available to others. But in retrospect all this sounds a lot more what then why.

Maybe my why is more that I feel that we don’t really benefit from the possibilities our technology offers us. Often we are hindered and not supported by all the software and hardware we have to our disposal. Another thing is my passion for learning. One of my former companies made on-line help systems and authoring software for them. I he back of my head I was always thinking: If the programmer does a better job, we wouldn’t need all this. When I got involved in e-Learning I found it an activity that can contribute to improve learning, and learning is something significant, it really does mean something. Clearly I need to work on my why, for the time being I will stick with: “Improving the world through innovations in e-Learning?”. The question mark is the indicator that it needs some more work.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,096 other followers

%d bloggers like this: