It was a week. In the corridors of power, media tycoons planned post-imperial escape routes. And we who were content to play in a corner with, in the Yeatsian line, a looking glass and some beads, found revealed wonders in the very simplest of things. So Rupert Murdoch did a McGrawHill and divided his imperium into Good bank/Bad bank, and the latter got all the stricken print, from the Times to Harper Collins. The image which stuck with me, with the hacking debacle  somewhat in mind, was the US exit from Saigon. I tweeted that I could hear the helicopter’s whirling rotors above the embassy roof. The tycoon’s change of heart displayed just that sense of panic – “…OK , lets burn the papers and go …!” – leaving in the air the question of who can be persuaded to invest in the Bad bank, and at what price?

Back down at street level, two very encouraging developments took place in educational activities that I have been tracking for a very long time. While Mr Murdoch bundled Joel Klein’s educational division into the Bad bank category, I think we are pulling back round towards a very clear and obvious progressional framework for new service development. At the beginning of the month, in “After the Textbook is over” I tried to track the way in which narrative, especially in video base format, will change our approach – or, rather, allow it to revert to the ways in which learners have always learnt. And I looked at buy and build strategies aimed at creating real weight in the serious educational gaming markets. So now, at the end of the month, let me add two more elements to the mix. The platforms on which the new learning will be presented will be mobile, tablet and post-tablet, and their mobility will need support for teachers as narrative creators, learning journey planners, learning games implementors. The resources and assessments are even now being developed. And it will be critical to the success of all of this that teachers at all levels support each other, that successful learning journies can be adopted, amended and replicated, and that the behavioural tracking which we can do so much more effectively in these digital contexts is re-applied all the time to help get these environments grow responsively. (It remains an interesting question: why do we aspire so strongly to apply behavioural feedback to target advertising, yet use it so relatively sparingly to improve interfaces, online interactions, and, above all, the learning experience!).

Three news stories this week illustrate these matters for me. In the first instance I was very taken by the news (and it has been a long wait) that Global Grid for Learning ( is now an accredited part of the Microsoft Education Suite. Global Grid for Learning was developed by Cambridge University Press as the neutral storehouse and trusted broker for copyright-cleared information, allowing a teacher-facing aggregation of learning objects with good metadata connectivity to act as a quarry for lesson planning and narrative assembly. The service is now owned by EduTone in California, though why on earth Cambridge sold it last year when it was so  close to success still beats me. The fact that it is now the supply point in the Microsoft Education Suite in the very week when Microsoft announced its entry into the tablet market via its Surface strategy speaks volumes for the importance of this type of work (and also perhaps says something sad about the inability of some ancient University presses to change gear – Cambridge has now effectively left its domestic education market and removed its bridge to global markets).

But not all teachers will plan lessons or make journies or write narratives. Many or even most will borrow, imitate or adapt. This means that good practise has to be available and exposed, and that teachers have to respond to it. So it was hugely encouraging this week to read the announcement  from the American Federation of Teachers that their Share my Lesson site will become available in August. This is as a result of their collaboration with the UK’s TSL Education (the owner of the Times Educational Supplement, another Rupert Murdoch company dumped on the road to the Bad bank, but doing very well in private equity hands). TSL Education created TES Connect in 2008 as a way of creating a sharing environment for British teachers. The service currently has some 2 million members in 197 countries  and they download about 2.5 million lessons per month ( So gradually a global architecture moves into place to fuel the resource provision requirements of an education world which now has the other infrastructure environments it needs (networks, VLEs and LMS technology for storing, serving, collating results and communicating with parents, employers etc.). It is often said, and I have sometimes said it, that the system is now dominated by assessment: in truth, we are moving not just towards continuous assessment, but to the point where every learner knows when they have learnt something, and so does the systems around them. In order to make that vision sustainable we have to up the quality of the game in terms of the learning journey itself, and no one is doing more for that than TLS Education. The US is currently, in the bundle of 34 measured countries taking part in the Program for International Student Assessment (Associated Press 19 June 2012), 14th in reading, 17th in Science, and 25th in Mathematics. Whatever this means, it also means that  teething pains in re-engineering the teaching workforce should not be a deterrent when there is so much opportunity for improvement.

And the last story? It has nothing formally to do with educational, but it certainly demonstrates the feedback loop I was talking about earlier. Thomson Reuters launched its MarketPsych Indices (TRMIs) last week “in order to give real time psychological analysis of news and social media”. Here we are trying to “model the impact of investor psychology” and eventually develop “under the radar investment hypotheses”. In The whole field of learning more about what we know through analysis of how we talk about it, we are still in the nursery. Apply this in education and our learning journies may emerge in an interesting new light!

Ever since I wrote a piece in February called the Point of Utility ( I have been plagued and victimized by my own invention. I thought, as we all do, that I would invent something clever by way of a yardstick or a definition, and then my name would be made for all time – “Utility? Anything to do with Worlock’s Law on the Point of Utility?” and more in that vein. Instead, I have created a definition that I now see manifesting itself everywhere I look, almost as if I cannot look out upon the world except through Utility – coloured spectacles. My original definition suggested that network intensity and commercial inventiveness would concentrate and proliferate at points where the network application cut corners in real world workflow and enabled you to be more productive on the network – mobile and internet – than you were in non-virtual life (Yes, I really was that inventive!) and that these points of utility would be the take-off points for new network service growth.

Don’t try this at home, and heed my warnings. Having invented my definition I now see it everywhere. In fact, I see nothing else. As an example, look at route planning. Sat Nav is the old world of maps made digital, slowly adding value through associated events (where can we stop for lunch? etc). And all roads have the same value, since from the map, or even Google earth, it is hard to tell those things which only other users of those roads could tell you. My friend who runs Elgin, the database of UK roadworks could add a bit, and his service is vital to a composite view of travel. But you, my friend, can tell me about the tree branch that blew over the road, or the fact that you cannot turn right at the end any longer, or that this is a far quicker route across town than the signposted one. So the point of utility is reached when our GPS is on and mapping every road for us, and we ourselves provide user-generated advice for others. Point of Utility Bingo! Please turn now to and start mapping a street near you, and when you reach your destination turn to to share these experiences socially. See what I mean?

So I have stopped looking, for a moment, to the endless roll-call of utility points which is Salesforce (and Jive and Yammer), though I was delighted to note Docusign ( – at last, a real point of utility around document signatures that does not involve 30 minutes of scanning and attaching. Instead I have decided to look in places where the workflow is as alien to me as the service values – shopping, designing household products, decorating. Many people will testify to my inadequacies here. And I started out on the task of finding things just because of the rapid decline in local newspaper and directory classifieds. There is a beta called which is interesting in this regard, and I also looked at and the optimistic attempt at to persuade us that we can still buy something meaningful in terms of tasks that people will do for a fiver – £ or $. Here is a massive onward search for localized points of utility which can be used in the local context to create service values which will, in turn, replace and upgrade some aspects of what the newspaper and yellow pages once meant to us. I would say that, from this sample, the work is ongoing, but once several aspects of utility emerge by trial and error, we shall have the virtual utility we seek to replace the lesser print usefulness which we have now lost.

Much the same could be written about the world’s 190,000 health information services. Sometimes, however, you just need to speak or video skype a doctor. In the UK we have a long history of this, now replete with NHS services designed not for the utility of the patient but to relieve an overloaded health system. In the US they order things differently, so I was pleased to see and emerging. ZocDoc (backed by Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs), is a system for locating and making quick appointments. Doctors pay $250 to join, patients get the app free, and use the service to get into gaps/cancellations in the physicians schedule. Works best with a paid-for medical service I would say, but it demonstrates that the point of real utility can be on the service side of the equation as well as the user side.

Then came the shopping. I was impressed by but it was a bit too much like a discount departmental store for me  to find utility beyond catalogue. But when you engage buyers at a different point – as does when it enables me to run through the whole ghastly choice of customizable items for the home. Point of utility – all types of customization in one place, and no sniggers and public denigration when I customized an apron with “Dave and ‘Beks Country Suppers Served Here”. Then look at, and get into design at The point is not to emulate shopping but to extend it in ways that would be hard in a shop.

One final note. When I wrote here about 3D printing I was told that I would not see real applications in my lifetime. So go to and have a look at ways you can make your own designs and print them through additive manufacturing. OK, its keyrings and things, but this is a visible tip of what will eventually emerge as the new manufacturing mountain. And when you can print it for yourself on a small $200 gizmo (now available in prototype) the point of utility will have landed in your own front room: “I designed what I wanted, downloded it from the design site , and printed it in my own front room!” Bet they still don’t call it Worlock’s Law, though.

keep looking »