Textbooks for the digital age

Liz TrussWhy Liz Truss was right to call for more professionally produced learning resources; and why the profession misunderstood her when she talked about “textbooks”

Liz Truss, Minister in the UK DfE for Education and Healthcare, has been calling for a return to textbooks. The headline story masks a more complex argument that bundles together several different strands. Instead of dismissing Truss’ call as regressive, it should be brought together with Matt Hancock’s ETAG initiative to stimulate a serious debate about how teachers can be given better tools of the trade, which exploit the opportunities provided by digital technology.

Background

Liz Truss, Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, has been arguing for some time for more use of textbooks in schools. Her most recent contribution was an article in the Telegraph on 26 June.

This post started as a reply to Tricia Kelleher, who blogs for the Stephen Pearse Foundation and who starts her post on textbooks by summarising Liz Truss’s position as follows:

Go back to traditional textbooks, says Education Minister Elizabeth Truss, because all that differentiation is a waste of time!

I think this rather caricatures the position of Liz Truss, who suggests at least three reasons to return to textbooks. One of them is indeed about differentiation—and I shall come to this point later—but the main argument is about the efficient use of teacher time.

Not reinventing the wheel

Liz Truss’ main argument is that international comparisons (notably PISA) show that:

Our teachers… spend more time than almost everyone else planning their lessons. Yet given that our 15-year-olds are up to three years behind their peers in the top-performing countries in reading and mathematics… it is clear that longer working hours are not translating into results.

Surely this is an extremely strong argument. It is no good teachers objecting that they are the experts and Truss is not and that she should therefore not teach grandmothers to suck eggs. Expertise is nothing if it is not based on the evidence and the evidence clearly supports Truss. So does OFSTED, whose Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly complained about “death by a thousand worksheets”, a large proportion of which are of poor quality. So, surely, does common sense.

The same argument was made in 1970 by the Director of Learning Resources at the Nuffield Institute, Kim Taylor, who observed that we were never likely to have enough well qualified teachers to staff a universal education system without shifting the balance of funding from staffing to producing effective “resources for learning”. I reviewed his argument in a long article, Education’s coming revolution. Taylor’s arguments led to the pre-digital attempts in the 1970s of both Nuffield Science and SMP Maths to create high quality instructional resources. But by the 1990s, the attempt was being abandoned. Publishers were producing textbooks that were increasingly glossy and increasingly thin, leaving the heavy instructional lifting to serried ranks of filing cabinets, stuffed with dog-eared, home-made worksheets.

What Truss, Wilshaw (and, for what it is worth, I) argue that this development was mistaken. Tim Oates, Director of Assessment at Cambridge Assessment, recently said that he still regarded the Nuffield Science materials, produced under Kim Taylor in the 1970s, as the best quality learning resources that are available today. Is this not an extraordinary indictment of our handling of the digital revolution, that ought to have given us such promising opportunities to better Nuffield’s achievement forty years ago?

As Truss comments, the expectation that teachers will develop their own resources not only results in poor quality resources but loads extra and unnecessary work onto teachers’ shoulders. Apart from dealing with poor discipline, one of the most stressful aspects of a teacher’s workload is continually having to come up with new answers to the question, “what am I going to do with 12B tomorrow?”.

Differentiation

It is easy to knock Truss’ call for less differentiation—but the uncomfortable fact for UK teachers is that the PISA evidence again supports Truss’ position, not theirs. PISA not only shows a correlation between extensive differentiation and low achievement: it also provides an explanation for what must strike many UK teachers as its counter-intuitive findings. One of the key cultural differences between Western and Asian education systems is that in the West, poor performance is excused as being a function of innate ability (or lack of it), while in Asia, poor performance is seen as a function of a lack of effort. Who has not heard people say “I’m just not very good at Maths”, or “I am not musical”, or “I don’t have a scientific mind”. It is not as if the West does not understand the point: it was the American inventor Thomas Edison who coined the aphorism

Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

But this is a lesson that Western education systems appear too often to have forgotten. Explicit differentiation supports the corrosive view that some people can’t do it, and leads to an indulgent attitude on the part of the teacher that is nervous of putting pressure on poor performers. Clearly there is a balance to be stuck here: we should not draw the conclusion that there is no place for differentiation. We just need to be careful to get the balance right.

I would argue that it is not just about the amount of differentiation that we apply but its type. I think that there is great scope in applying differentiation as a form of real-time feedback to particular performances produced by the student—and for automating such “progression management” through digital learning systems. This type of differentiation does not say “you are not very bright so I am giving you easier work to do”. Rather, it says that “given your most recent performance, this is what you need to do next”. It is a sort of micro-differentiation as a spin-off of individualised feedback, not a sort of macro-differentiation by the classification of learners.

This approach to differentiation, that responds to what the student does, rather than classifying what sort of person the learner is, requires advanced pedagogy that manages the process of teaching. We need to understand what instructional pathways are best suited to the different cognitive states that students will commonly find themselves in as they tackle a new body of learning. To map those pathways, to provide the different learning activities to populate those pathways, to validate the effectiveness of the different learning activities in their various positions on the pathways, to optimize our learning designs, and to deploy and manage such personalised learning in a manner that encourages hard work in the quickest and the slowest of the group: these are challenges that teacher-developed learning materials are completely unable to meet.

Truss is right to use the PISA data to criticize differentiation as it is currently understood and implemented. This does not mean that we should not prioritise the development of the next generation of adaptive, personalised learning resources, that will depend on digital activities that are integrated with digital learning management and analytics systems.

A focus on exposition

A third argument that is being attributed to Truss is in placing an emphasis on expositive teaching—i.e. talk and chalk. Tricia Kelleher points out that the Asian cultures that Truss alludes to:

are cultures of instruction where young people sit passively in lessons in large teaching groups working hard to understand the content being delivered to them.

This is again a slightly cheap point. We can surely reference the startling success of the Asian cultures in the PISA tables, without saying that we necessarily want to adopt every aspect of their education system.

The Telegraph news story that reports Truss’ article also says that Truss is criticising the fact that British teachers to not spend enough time:

on the basic task of teaching children from standard texts

with the phrase “standard texts” suggesting to my mind an expositive approach. But both Kelleher and the Telegraph itself attribute to Truss and argument that she never made. On the contrary, she argues that:

we need to deepen such collaborative practices and encourage joint activities across different classes and age groups.

Truss does not use the words “content”, often used (in my view misused) as code for “information”, or “texts” other than as the word is embedded in the word “textbook”.

When I did my PGCE in 1990, we were told always to use the word “coursebook” rather than “textbook”, to avoid making the implication that we were talking about a sort of reader, a collection of texts. But the word “textbook” still has more currency than “coursebook” and is often used in that wider context, particularly when addressing (as is Truss) the general public.

Over the past eighteen months, I have been an editor of a Technical Report being produced in ISO/IEC on a set of recommendations for “e-Textbooks”. The report is led by China, which is in the process of mounting a major initiative to introduce all-digital learning materials for the Shanhai district. Other jurisdictions (notably California) are considering similar initiatives. Foremost among our recommendations is that e-Textbooks must support activity-based learning and not just exposition. What impact this work will have may be questioned and I have become less active in the project recently. I think that the connotations of expositive learning are too deeply associated with the term “textbook”, which suffers at the same time from much commercial jockying for position between big players, for whom the education market is of little significance. Nor is it easy to introduce activity-based learning to emerging e-Textbook formats, when there is not yet any robust evidence of digitally mediated activity-based learning occurring outside the e-book format. For all these reasons, I no longer think that e-Textbook formats will play a significant role in introducing activity-based digital learning content to schools. I suspect that digital textbooks will be little more than a brief, transitional, and largely inconsequential phase in the development of more effective forms of education technology.

Wth regard to Liz Truss’ statements, I think the argument about expositive teaching is a red herring. Truss never meant to imply that we should return to a staple diet of chalk and talk. Nor do I think it a fair riposte to denigrate the evidence of PISA by saying that we would not want to become more like China and Korea. There are undoubtedly aspects of the Chinese and Korean systems that we would not want to copy—but that does not mean that we cannot at the same time learn from the fact that these systems are so much better performing in international comparisons than our own.

Homework

A third argument used by Truss is that good textbooks that can be taken home, where they will support homework. Too many schools keep the few textbooks they do have for use only in class, both in order to reduce costs by sharing resources and to avoid wear and tear.

The decision taken by so many schools not to fund one-textbook-per-child is a symptom of the low esteem in which textbooks are held. In many cases, this may be justified by the quality of textbooks currently in circulation.

With respect to managing wear and tear, this will be addressed by the introduction of digital learning resources that can be taken home on a tablet or accessed on the cloud.

It is worth noting that Truss’ argument for more emphasis on homework parallels the argument made by many in the ed-tech community, that digital technology will support “informal learning”. The two arguments both address the relationship between learning in school and learning out of school. Although most would assume that they come up with very different answers to what the nature of that relationship should be, they both recognise the importance of bridging the gap. I think it would be useful if these two different camps did more to discuss their different perspectives; to explore what common ground they might have; and to define more clearly in exactly what respects their approaches to learning out of school were opposed.

Conclusion

My previous post but one called on Matt Hancock to “rescue ETAG” by following my advice to “say no to “FELTAG”. As I explain in my later article in Terry Freedman’s Digital Education, From FELTAG to ETAG, the DfE response to FELTAG did indeed reject most of its recommendations. But even though this has concentrated minds on the ETAG committee, I do not think that ETAG has the time or the will to turn itself around in the few short weeks before it is scheduled to produce its final report.

What we are looking at now is not rescue but salvage: not an expectation that ETAG will deliver the answer but that the search for that answer should be allowed to continue after ETAG has been wound up. And in that continuing search, I hope that Liz Truss’ call for more professional learning resources will play a significant part.

There is much good sense in Liz Truss’ call but the language is perhaps prone to misinterpretation. The future for professionally produced learning resources is digital. This means that, having mapped out a general direction of travel, Liz Truss and Matt Hancock need to sit down together and discuss how they can together plot a detailed course that will both:

  • exploit the opportunities for digital education technology, and
  • professionalise the production of educational resources.

10 thoughts on “Textbooks for the digital age

  1. Dear Crispin,

    I’m a first time commenter, long time reader of your blog. I generally find your views to be very well informed and am disappointed to see that they are sometimes not taken on board (or indeed even considered it would seem in some cases) by the educational powers that be. However, having read your most recent post I’d be interested to know how you see the ‘detail’ of the ‘detailed course’ that messrs Truss and Hancock are encouraged to sit down and talk about?

    I ask because in past lives I have worked for companies set up purely and soley around education and have developed products accordingly, both hardware and software. These companies were often inflated and expanded massively by BSF and ended up over committing themselves and delivering solutions that ultimately fell far short of what was promised, due to the ‘one size fits all’ approach that over committed companies have to take.

    Now in your conclusion above you suggest that two government ministers need to sit down and plot a way forward for producing educational specific hardware and software. This approach seems like a repeat of BSF and it’s partner in crime, BECTA; surely anything coming from top down Government initiatives ends up this way? I’m not blaming the Government per se, more the fact that anything started at that level is simply too large and unwieldy to implement whilst keeping the individual ‘client’ needs at the forefront. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a new initiative from ‘head office’ that’s meant to improve a process but usually makes it worse and in the end people go back to what there was before.

    Interestingly, the company from my past life that I alluded to above, ended up ditching their bespoke, home brew, educational solutions and instead buying more generic devices from established manufacturers, the like of which anyone could buy for their own home; they basically got everyone to use MS Office as it was easier and cheaper.

    So my question is (and can I just say that I often roll my eyes when I see the length of some of your posts but doing one myself for the first time I can see how easy it is to ‘get in the zone’!) how does a government initiative in education work in practice? Or rather how should they translate into real change? My concern is that we’ll end up going round in circles of repeated failed education initiatives. I think that private industry needs to lead on this but how is this to be encouraged without creating another BSF and/or BECTA with all their associated frameworks and inefficiency? I appreciate these are not easily answerable questions but I think they need to be asked, otherwise it’s just ideas without application.

    Thank you for your continued work, it genuinely does open the eyes of many out there trying to make a difference in education.

    Best regards

    Cluderay.

    • Dear Cluderay,

      Thank you very much for your kind comments. And I take on board your implied criticism about the length of some of my posts. This one, you may have noticed, was a bit shorter – and I am trying to resolve to write more frequently and more briefly.

      I completely, 100% agree about your comments about top-down government initiatives and the folly of BSF and BECTA. My own biggest run-in with Becta was when I referred their 2006 Learning Services framework procurement to the European Commission, a dispute in which I count myself as having won a points victory, contributing my bit to getting them closed. I describe the event at https://edtechnow.net/2013/11/10/wheel/#slide_37.

      With respect to what government should do now, my proposals are contained in what I have tried to express as a pithy 3 page paper at https://edtechnowdotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/stimulating-innovation-in-education-technology.pdf. As you can see, I am NOT proposing that government should specify what this education-specific technology should comprise and I see the *withdrawal* of supply-side funding as a key prerequisite for progress. What they should do is to set the conditions under which effective ed-specific tech can be produced, focusing on market infrastructure and demand-side stimulants.

      I think your description of your company’s experience encapsulates the experience of the whole sector. At last year’s BETT, someone working for a large, multi-national IT company said to me, “you see all the big IT companies on the big IT stands – and then the small educational software publishers around the edges, with no-one visiting them. They won’t be coming back again next year”. But without a healthy market in the courseware, there is no sustainable demand for the sort of infrastructure being provided by the big multinationals. It is the unsustainability of the market that ought to be a real worry for everyone, not least for the teaching profession which is stuck in a medieval craft economy, unable to meet the demands that society is making of it and which will only become more and more acute as we face global competition in the knowledge economy.

      I’m getting into the zone again, so I’ll stop there – but look forward to hearing your comments on my 3-page paper. Depending on the report that is produced by ETAG, I am thinking of expanding this paper to a “Not the ETAG” report. If you support the general approach and have experiences that might like to contribute, do let me know.

      Best, Crispin.

  2. Hi Crispin,

    I’m forming a bit of an interest in adaptive learning. However, I’m struggling with one aspect of your general argument – that the machine/algorithm will be able to determine where the learner should be going next or that this is a generally healthy way for a learner to interact with a resource.

    As a former classroom practitioner, it seems pretty apparent to me that there will be all sorts of strategies employed by learners when interacting with a resource that will confound attempts to adapt appropriately. Some will answer with support, others will race and make mistakes more frequently when under-challenged, some will copy answers. The result is many individuals will be consistently over-challenged, others consistently under-challenged – their progression opportunities determined by algorithm rather than judgement.

    If we develop materials that are adaptive, we lessen the ability of the teacher/mentor to correct for this and we also dis-empower learners by concealing the steps to success. Whilst it is reasonably apparent that teachers and pupils are not always the best determinants of appropriate challenge, I also doubt that we will help the situation by removing their opinion from the equation entirely.

    • Hi Nic,

      I completely agree and don’t mean to suggest that everything will be done by machine algorithm, with the learner harnessed to a robotic.

      When we discussed this issue at considerable length (for about 2 years) in a US group called LETSI, we came up with two models from the technical angle. One was sequencing scripts (with branching logic) – this was not so popular; the second was AI recommender systems, using training data of what similar students had done next and how useful that had proved, as demonstrated by learning outcome data. The “recommendation” may be compulsory or advisory only, like Amazon.

      In my view, these two approaches have different places in a sequencing grammar. I would see short sequences of activities being scripted together because they work together like the words in a sentence: first acquire some factual information, then play around that information in a structured way, then use the information in an open-ended task). The script creates a composite activity out of separate components, often delivered by completely different software platforms.

      And although the script might have an algorythmic element at its branching points (if you score less than 5 / 10, do this remedial unit) – it would really just be a sequential set of assignments, created by the teacher or some other intermediary.

      The recommender approach is suitable at a higher granularity, like moving from one chapter of a book to the next.

      But both these algorithmic approaches can be complemented by student choice, teacher assignment, peer recommendation, random selection, something else that none of us has thought of yet.

      I made a short talking-head video of the conclusions of this discussion at http://www.saltis.org/videos/letsi_sequencing.htm.

      The model that I am proposing is pedagogically agnostic: do it how you like but within a framework which allows the learning design to be replicated and evaluated. And all that framework says is that you have a digital process that automatically:
      1. launches a digitally-mediated activity (any activity);
      2. reports the results digitally;
      3. chooses the next activity (however you like).

      By “digitally mediated” I mean that the activity does not have to be digital – it could be running around the woods collecting oak leaves – but in this case it should interface to the digital management system (e.g. through an instructions page and reporting page).

      In your final paragraph, I suspect you are thinking about reflective e-portfolios. The reason, IMO, that these have never worked is that is much too much work uploading & organising digital artefacts manually. My model would support this process by counting creative product as a sort of learning outcome data, that would be sent automatically back to a specialised portfolio tool from the creative tool in which it was made. The portfolio could then handle reflective comments, evidencing attainment of learning objectives, show-casing and sharing in collaborative environments etc. Once you start decoupling different aspects of the instructional process and allowing them to work together through open interoperability standards, the potential for the development of creative pedagogy is huge and so far completely untapped.

      I’d be interested to know if this addresses some of your doubts!

      Thanks again for the question, Crispin.

      • Hi Crispin,

        I think we are talking at different levels of implementation here. I was reflecting on the experience within the classroom and how adaptive learning resources might replace differentiated activities within a session. Your response seems more relevant to a broader implementation (course, unit).

        I am most interested in what might be done now to introduce technology in a way that is useful and retained. What you suggest requires that a significant portion of the learning management process is digital, whereas the reality is that very little learning in UK schools is digitally mediated.

        At either level, we still face the question: Is an adaptive system better than a linear sequence (within which teachers and learners use judgement) in order that an appropriate level of challenge is in place and progress is made? There are reasons to suppose it might be, but also reasons (both practical and ethical) why it might not be. For me, it feels like we should explore these questions though discrete interventions before designing how it works for systems that are barely used.

        • Nic,

          The substance of my reply above is that the abstract model is agnostic with respect to linear sequence, adaptive branching, or student choice. These are just different sequencing models. Perhaps better to call them “progression” models to avoid the implication that by sequencing we are talking about something linear.

          I agree that the notion of a digital management system is central. In my view, this is the fundamental requirement and until that is in place, ed-tech is 99% hot air. But you question how this might fit in with the reality of the classroom environment. Again, the model is abstract as to how the basic launch mechanism would work. Assume that, in the class, the teacher has a control screen e.g. on a tablet or built into their desk/ podium/classroom wall.

          You log in to the system and up pops your lesson plan for this lesson – the system knows who you are, where you are and who you are teaching. The lesson plan interface might share some aspects of a traditional lesson plan, like timings. It also has a bunch of resources that you may or may not wish to use. You see that you are scheduled to talk for 10 minutes so you ignore the digital stuff for a bit and crack on, once or twice touching an icon to flash up a display graphic (pre-selected for this lesson) on one of several display surfaces around the classroom.

          You are beginning to bore them so you set them a 5 minute individual task, using a third-party digital activity which is sitting in your activities stack. You perform a drag-and-drop assignment on your platform control screen and – bang – it is launched on every student’s digital device. Its a five minute exercise (as determined at lesson-planning stage but this can be overridden of course) and the timer is already running on the whiteboard. You wander round the class, looking over shoulders, screen sharing with students, and checking the real-time evaluation data that the activity platform is sending back to your platform interface all the time. At the end of the five minutes, the counter counts down, the buzzer sounds and – bang – everyone’s digital device locks into read-only mode. The class looks at the teacher, who already has a very good idea of how everyone has got on and has decided which of the scripted options to do next.

          “You did really well there Jane”, you say, as you click a button and Jane’s work is displayed on the whiteboard. You run a plenary activity analysing some of the best answers.

          “Now, in your groups” (everyone’s device tells them which table they need to move to, and who they are working with, and what their role is within the group – default allocations have been made algorithmically by a plug-in grouping service, which also knows who works well with whom based on previous outcome data as well as teacher input – and the default recommendations of the grouping service has already been reviewed and adjusted by the teacher as the students were finishing their work.,

          You introduce the next activity, delivered by a completely different software platform. It is a group activity which allows the students to see the answers being entered by other members of the group and to respond to those, either orally across the table or digitally in their own work. The activity software assesses the contributions being made by each member of the group and, as before, you can monitor what is going on both digitally and physically.

          By the end of the lesson, the computer has analysed feedback data from both exercises, individual and group, and suggests a differentiation plan for the multi-activity workplan that you are going to set for homework. You look at the defaults suggested by the computer and make some adjustments, dragging one or two students – metaphorically – into different groups. “OK – I want you to practice this for homework – you will find it in your assignment list for this subject. Next lesson we will be sharing the work we have done around the class and help each other to improve what we have done before it is posted to your portfolio.

          That evening, students log onto the platform and up pops the homework assignment. It comprises a scripted sequence of third-party activities, mainly linear but with one or two tweaks depending on which stream you have been assigned to. Feedback is also customised appropriately. Some of the activities are individual, one of which puts them into an on-the-fly discussion forum, from which data about their contributions and outcomes are returned to the sequence manager.

          In this scenario you have lots of different software systems working together:
          * one launch platform, which offers two launch modes: one appropriate to a teacher running a class, one appropriate to a student doing work largely alone at home;
          * a sequence manager;
          * a grouping manager;
          * several activity platforms, some of which are individual, some of which are grouped, but all of which share data;
          * probably some analytics and data visualisation components;
          * e-portfolio management platform etc.

          Sorry if I have bored you with such a lengthy use case – but given the existence of the digital platform (which is what Becta’s learning platforms of 2006 OUGHT to have been but weren’t) – this general approach to adaptive sequencing seems to me to be completely appropriate to a blended, classroom environment. Digital automation and teacher control works hand-in-hand, sometime in a plenary setting, sometimes in an individual assignment setting, sometimes in an individual exploratory setting.

          But given that this assumes that a large amount of work will be digitally managed – and at the moment, it isn’t – what about the transition?

          Once you have the platform and the open interoperability specs which allow third parties to plug into the platform, then your ecosystem will start to grow. There will be a bit of chicken-and-egg, I agree, but teachers only need use the digital platform as much as they want to, which will depend on how much content there is to plug into it.

          I got involved in a BESA interoperability project in the 1990s called OILS (Open Integrated Learning System) and in response developed my own platform, which I took to BETT for a couple of years. There are still two Flash walk-throughs up on the internet, one covering assignment (http://alphalearning.co.uk/demonstrations/assignment.htm) and one covering reporting (http://alphalearning.co.uk/demonstrations/tracking.htm). The third major component was its sequence editor, which worked on the same principle as Authorware. I was quite pleased with it at the time (it’s dead and buried now) but its flaw was the lack of interoperable content to run on it. The Crocodile Clips content displayed in the video was specially adapted by myself, using the SCORM interface. So to get this sort of ecosystem going, you need new specs and an industry team effort, which is unlikely to happen unless the government provides the right sort of leadership.

          Crispin

          • It’s a nice vision. There’s many aspects of it that are long overdue – it kills me to see lesson planning done in Word and often not reused.

            It’s the part where we expect this central system to hold the pupil data and process it that I think might be an aspiration that turns out to be a blocker. It seems like unnecessary complexity to support an unproven model of learning. It’s absence doesn’t prevent teachers doing the grouping themselves nor activity platforms from recognising the user and adapting accordingly. I quite like the system components you describe, but I think the interdependency needs to be kept to a minimum (i.e. to allow an entrepreneur to develop sequencing software that doesn’t require grouping software between it and an activity platform).

            If we look at where project tin-can has gone – with separation of activity platform and record system – I think we might be closer to an environment that is sufficiently simple and versatile that the overhead of including it will not be a hindrance to innovation.

            Realistically, inter-platform adaptation would probably need not just technical interoperability but also common standards/milestones for pupil progress (which seems like an even more distant possibility right now).

            • Nic,

              I agree with pretty much all of that.

              Once we are in an interoperable world, the market will decide where to draw the boundaries between different components. I have no strong feelings whether there are separate grouping / sequencing / analytics components or whether these functions are bundled. Though I think the disaggregated model will allow more innovation and competition in the market.

              I agree about TinCan – I was involved in the prototype, which was run by LETSI. But I think it is early days. TinCan doesn’t really provide very much definition of the data that is to be reported – you don’t get very far with an “I did this” model.

              Second (and relatedly) it is not much use squirrelling data away into Learning Record Stores if no one is taking that data out and using it the other end. Which they are not going to do unless it measures something useful.

              This is the thinking behind my proposals for a “technical specifications incubator” – its a 3 page proposal at http://bit.ly/1lYA6EP. You would probably take the transport layer from TinCan but add extensible definitions of the data that you would send – and that leads you into the questions you raise about measuring pupil progress, which I agree becomes important, although it is probably not the first thing that you have to fix. I have views on that, which I will save for a future post. Although it is really important, I suspect that only about 3 people are interested at the moment.

              I agree that dependency is a problem when you are trying to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem. But once you are over that hump, I think the infrastructure-content relationship is a powerful spur to innovation. Its like bringing out a new CD or app format – create the platform and you open the door to innovative implementations. It is not a problem that software is dependent on a computer to play it on etc. In the case of education, the generic format is the “learning activity” and the infrastructure is the “launch platform”. Adaptive sequencing is just one sort of specialisation of the launch platform – the classroom management platform is another.

              I’d be interested to know more about your involvement and interest in all of this. Have you been participating in the TinCan groups at all? Plans?

              Crispin.

              • Hi Crispin,

                It’s been good to talk today – a pleasant diversion from the day-job (producing learning media – mainly for corporates). Education-sector technology is my side-interest – somewhere I’d like to be if the market existed – maybe.

                I’ve been watching Tin Can for quite a while and I have technical colleagues with a more active interest.

                I’m sure we’ll cross paths online again some time.

                Nic

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