Now, class, this is a moment of real liberation. You are now free to learn on your own or collaboratively using new methods of learning which are as old as the hills and which depend on the acknowledgement of two Lessons:
LESSON 1: all learning is narrative. Unless it is conveyed in a story form we have no way of relating odd facts to each other.
LESSON 2: all true learning is enjoyable, whether it is done alone, in groups of learners, or by learners grouped around an inspired teacher.
We are now watching the far from inspiring sight of the world’s educational publishers, at all levels, trying to breathe fresh breath into the calcified corpses of print textbooks by recreating them as eTextbooks. This will fail. While we cannot recreate learning itself in the digital environment we can provide an entirely new learning experience, and it is an insult to the intelligence of learners to give them a book-look-alike format that apes print without adding value from digital. And to say that notes and bookmarks are significant value is rubbish. Only if you build a textbook ab initio online (Nature’s Principles of Biology is a case in point) can you claim some credit from instant updating and lifelong ownership. I spent a year of my life – 1969 – 1970 – editing and structuring Biology: A Functional Approach, which became a bestseller at its level for a decade. The narrative created was around deserting the study of plants and animals as classifications and species, the rote learning of a previous generation, and building a storyline around the way life on earth functions – from respiration to reproduction. A narrative about how life works. But that was telling stories then, in the great age of print. This week, I have seen two glimpses of the future, one expressed as as business organization, and the other as highly innovative technology. Both of them undermine completely the idea that the future has anything to do with the reconstituted formats of print.
In the first instance I found myself this week in the prestigious Mayfair offices of Direct Learning Marketplace (www.DLMplc.com). This, in the jargon of the investor, is a “buy and build” vehicle for acquiring future-facing business assets in the field of business education. Driven by the entrepreneurial energies of Andy Hasoon, it has at its core an idea about learning which is one sustainable arm of the two-pronged approach to what I now believe are the only viable metodologies for recreating learning in a networked society. By his purchase of Pixelearning, a Coventry company long on my map as an ideas centre in serious gaming, Andy signals an intention to place games at the heart of the learning experiences that he is tackling across the hugely fragmented territory of training, development, in-servicing etc in the business and industrial context. And since scale is a vital component here, and he works in a country with a gaming design tradition to be proud about, the acquisition approach is very appropriate. So to those traditional book publishers who have always said to me “Gaming is interesting but you can never build a big business around it”, I can now say “watch this space”!
And alongside gaming lets place the other future development strategy. In the 1990s, as a external director at Dorling Kindersley before it was bought by Pearson, I revelled in the development of CD-ROM-based multimedia learning experiences. The fact that this year, with the arrival of ePub3, we are at last able to do online what we could then do on disc in 1995 is surely a signal for something to happen. And it has, in Boulder, Colorado. There, a team with huge experience in multiple media development for education, led by Jeff Larsen, Larry Pape and Kevin Johnson, have begun to create video-based narratives that to me exemplify where we are going with tablet-based experiences. Their focus has been the iPad, and their initial field of engagement has again been business education (says a lot for how stroppy businesses can be when served “same old, same old” by training companies?). If you have reached this point please go immediately to http://www.inthetelling.com/tellit.html and then play the demo video (also on YouTube, where we, as learners/students, download 4 billion videos a day!). Here you will see a narrative core in video on one side of the iPad screen, with chapters, references and linkage on the other. Here you will also see navigation to other related resources. This is a licensable technology, backed by Cloud-based storage and streaming, and surrounded with the developer tools needed to create narrative based video learning on the TellIt technology.
And I thank this team for something else as well. They have avoided the over-hyped, near-meaningless term “multimedia”, which lost its meaning and its way in the dotcom boom/bust, and settled for Transmedia to express what they are doing. This is a good term for a new age of narrative-led, video-based, learning experiences and I hope it catches on. And one last note: everything spoken of here fits wonderfully onto the infrastructure of LMS/VLE/digital repositories that we have oversold to schools and learning institutions, and which now comes into its own. Alongside and around the installation of that infrastructure we also failed to persuade teachers, as well as learners, that learning could be recreated in the network, and improve in the process. Here are two initiatives – in games and video narrative – which at last make good that promise.