Chairman Ed

Connecting people, ideas and processes

Tag Archives: adult learning

Telepresence Tourist

Telepresence robot

I have become fascinated by the possibilities of telepresence robots. There are a bevy of new companies that are making these machines.

You might imagine one as a Segway scooter with an iPad on top, except in this case instead of riding the scooter you are driving it from 100 or thousand miles away over the Internet. And, the iPad projects your image, or presence, in addition to bringing you sight and sound.

Actually there are a number of configurations of these devices that range in price from about $3000-$15,000 each. You can see some examples here.

A number of years ago I had the experience while talking with someone over a Skype video connection of having them carry their portable computer around and introducing me to people and showing me the convention facility where the person was working. Some years afterward I remember visually remembering this experience and feeling a certain amount of confusion, because I knew I had never been in that place with this person. Yet, in my visual memory it felt as if I had actually been there until I recognized it was this person acting as my telepresence robot and moving through this space to show me things.

I realized from this experience that when I eventually use one of these telepresence robots I’m going to have to create a new set of mental file folders for visual experiences at a distance. And, I also realized how interesting those experiences might be.

I’ve been to Paris, but I’ve never toured the Louvre Museum. I wonder what it would be like to tour it as a telepresence tourist? Could I wander down the halls with my remotely controlled presence and stop and enjoy artworks of particular interest? How would others react to my presence? How comfortable would the museum authorities be knowing that the person controlling this device was well beyond their physical, or perhaps even legal, reach?

Are there business opportunities for telepresence tourist agencies? Could the museum itself organize a fleet of these 21st century avatars and offer special tours at times when the museum might otherwise be closed, but that would be prime time for tourist many time zones away? With a globally aging population that might have strength or agility limitations, might these folks represent a new, untapped market for the museum? People could tour from the safety of their lounge chair, yet have much to talk about with others over dinner in the evening.

So, keep your eye out for telepresence robots. They may let us expand our world in new ways.

Where do you think the opportunities will emerge? What issues and concerns can you envision?

Depressed Robots and Workers?

At a Ben Franklin Technology Partners events last year I heard futurist Jack Uldrich explain how the field of robotics will grow 1000-fold in the coming decade. Hearing this presentation made me start to ponder the implications of this type of change and pay more attention to articles that related to the growth of robotics.

Several months later a flurry of news articles occurred when Foxconn, the company that does the actual manufacturing for companies like Apple Computer and produces its iPhone and iPad products, announced that it would be deploying 1 million robots by 2013. This article gave some reality to Uldrich’s prediction.

As I recall Uldrich did not offer any particular definition of a robot. My own imagination tends to think of a robot as something that has physical form and mechanical motion involved. I began to stretch the definition when the IBM Watson computer competed on the Jeopardy television program and successfully outperformed the two previous most successful contestants on that show. As I might imagine a mechanical robot having implications on the manufacturing floor, I began to imagine Watson’s successors having potential impact in the office.

Watson’s success helped it (and IBM) get a new job in the healthcare field. It is now in training to become a very powerful assistant to oncology doctors at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. A health insurance company, WellPoint, is the client for the project.

Although Watson sounds like a person, it does not have a physical and mechanical form like a robot. It is simply a voice that we hear from an invisible and distant computer system. It is generally placed in the category of artificial intelligence or AI.

In that same category Apple introduced for its newest iPhone the AI assistant Siri. While Siri is not in the same league as Watson in terms of the questions that it can answer, I find it interesting because it introduces this type of tool to a broad consumer audience and stirs the competitive pot for other major companies like Google and Microsoft.

In a previous post I mentioned the Stanford University AI course that was offered for free and that attracted something like 160,000 online students. This certainly shows the level of interest in AI and now there are a substantial number of people who know more about it from two of the top people in the field.

Related to that course two business entities, Udacity and Coursera, have been formed, and Cousera has received $16 million in venture funding. In addition, MIT and Harvard have formed an entity, perhaps in response, to similarly offer online courses. All of this means there is a lot more learning possible on a global basis.

“Everything will be automated, and all we will have to do is learn and learn how to take care of each other.” My one friend says this to me frequently. Although we are a long way from that, the blips on the radar screen that I mentioned above all seem to point in that direction.

But how will we handle all of this as individuals, and as a society. One of my clients in its manufacturing facility has three or four robots and several hundred employees. What will that facility look like in 10 years if the number of robots increases by a factor of 1000? This is a company that values its employees highly and did not have any layoffs during the recent great recession. How will it accommodate competitive pressures if others in its industry, without the same value system, use robots extensively to their advantage?

If we are all going to have to learn – new skills – new opportunities for learning certainly are emerging rapidly with a very different cost structure, but still the requirement of a lot of effort on the learner’s part. Will we be able to provide the government, business and social support necessary for people to move through these transitions and feel optimistic about their lives and the future? Or, will we, as the workers, feel as bad as Marvin the robots does in the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” movie?

Demonstration, Not Certification

In my last posting I talked about “designing a seed” and here I would like to add some first strand of DNA to that seed.

The seed I am talking about is the conceptual design of a learning model for adults that can take advantage of the new infrastructure of the Internet and help spread knowledge around the globe. It is a seed in the sense that it must contain the essentials that will let it grow into something much larger.

The definition of andragogy (more focused on adults) versus pedagogy (more focused on children) emphasizes that adults want to learn things that they can put to use in their life. Children are often learning things that will have potential future value, but may not immediately be put to use. Andragogy is also more about self-directed learning and learning that draws from sharing adult life experiences. So, the design of this seed will draw on the concepts of andragogy. You can find definitions here and here.

Most traditional educational institutions provide some type of certification in the form of a high school diploma or college degree or a professional certification. These certifications are part of the function of the institutions that provide the courses or training and they are part of the financial structure for those institutions. My sense is that to address global learning needs certification may be more a barrier than an enabler. For this reason, I suggest exploring the idea “demonstration, not certification” as part of the DNA of the seed.

By making demonstration a part of the process it reinforces the idea of learning that can be put to use. A demonstration can show how the learning is, or can be, used. With the increasing availability of video a demonstration of new knowledge can also be documented.

The idea that part of the process is sharing adult life experiences means there needs to be a group of adults as part of the effort. Since the learning is self directed, each adult in the group may be looking to learn something different versus the structure of a traditional course where everyone is looking to be taught the same thing. The group in this case acts as supporters, enablers and documenters.

The idea of individualized learning, not only in style but also in content, is a challenge that many people in education are considering today. Individualization is a major design criteria for this seed.

There is certainly a huge amount of content on the Internet and a growing amount of that content is intended to help people learn versus selling services or products. The challenge is finding the appropriate content, or putting it together in a way that can be most helpful for someone who is interested in using it for learning. Sometimes I think of this as someone putting together a playlist, like grouping a series of musical recordings around a theme. In this case linking instructional, or informational items, that someone can use as part of an individualized, group supported learning program. I have begun to think of the person who puts this playlist together as a “curator”, like someone who organizes an art exhibition for others to enjoy and learn from.

So, here are some of the design criteria that I think need to be part of this seed that might grow into a harvest of newly educated people:

1. Individualized learning for adults;
2. Self-directed learning that the individual finds of value and use;
3. Supported by a group of individuals similarly engaged in learning;
4. Curated playlists of Internet content as learning modules; and,
5. Demonstration, not certification, of the knowledge and skills that have been learned.

DESIGNING A SEED

How many adults around the globe do you think could benefit from new knowledge that could help them improve their lives and living standards? Could it easily be several billion people?

How many people do you think could afford to pay for that learning at the rates that are charged for college courses or continuing education programs or business workshops? Probably not very many.

What new tools and social factors might help us reduce the cost and deliver new knowledge broadly? The Internet is certainly one of the tools. Research about how we learn and the differences in learning styles offer other tools. Social factors like new organizational forms that produce results like Wikipedia and the Linux operating system offered new ideas about organizing and getting people involved in such activities.

Another major social factor is that we have more people living longer who have immense amounts of life experience and expertise that they could share. Also, many of these people have enough “retirement” income to give them greater flexibility in terms of how they spend their time. And, some may want additional purpose in their lives and enjoy connecting with people in other places and other cultures.

If you can accept these premises – and please feel free to challenge them – how could we design a different educational approach that would be much less expensive and that could be replicated and scaled to meet global needs?

I see that challenge as “designing a seed“, because it has to start very small but have within its core the necessary DNA blueprint to grow into something much, much larger.

I want to explore some ideas about that design in subsequent posts. I am also wondering about the soil that will be necessary to germinate this seed and to nourish it as it grows.

So, what factors do you think fit into this design? Does the Stanford University course with 140,000 registrants mentioned in my last post suggest any factors that should be considered in this design? What else is happening in education that you might know about that is changing the model for adult learning in terms of cost and scale?

Hybrid Organizations – Part Hierarch, Part Network

It has been my observation that when society transitions from one set of concepts to another we often use hybrid, or bridging, concepts to help us in that transition. For example, we currently are talking about e-books, which are a hybrid of something old, “books”, and something new, “electronic”. We know we’re inventing something new here, but we don’t know what it is going to look like yet.

 

What I’m calling a hybrid organization is a similar bridging concept, like my hybrid car. My hybrid car is a step toward an electric/electronic vehicle – an e-vehicle. How, and if, we get to fully electric vehicles and the  infrastructure necessary to support them is still undefined, but many people are bringing forth their ideas and products as steps to create a more concrete definition.

 

I believe we are in a similar process in terms of creating network organizations. Many people are working on the Internet tools that can become the infrastructure for supporting network relationships and organizations. Social networks are a part of this process.

 

One of my beliefs about the value of a network organization over a hierarchy is that it can scale to larger size. In an era of increasing globalization we will need organizations of sufficient size to span the globe and potentially have millions of people involved in the organization. Hierarchies with their need to add additional levels as they increase in size become less responsive, because things have to move through channels or chain of command, which continues to lengthen.  Go back to my Shaky Pyramid post and think about what that diagram looks like as you keep on adding more layers.

 

In terms of scaling think about Facebook. It currently handles something in excess of 750 million users. To support all those users it has about 2000 staff members, or one staff member for each 375,000 users. Now imagine that every one of those users was part of the same organization and not simply using the system for chitchat. What if instead of Facebook it was “No Book University” with a global learning community of 750 million people?

 

Perhaps in that light, we could see Facebook as a hybrid organization, a small hierarchy that creates and manages the infrastructure and a very large network organization of learners, facilitators and teachers. Can you imagine that scale of a learning organization with these tools? Now try imagining what the organization chart would look like for a hierarchical organization that might have that same scale. Do you think it’s possible for a hierarchy to function at that scale?

Opening Thoughts from Chairman Ed

First some thoughts about writing this blog and then about topics to be explored –

I approach this with a series of trepidations. Will anyone ever read any of this? How can I attract people to read, and perhaps more importantly, to comment? How much effort and energy will this take? Can I find that energy among the other demands of my life? And, can it help me generate new personal energy through connections with other people and with opportunities to create concepts, connections and concrete actions that are socially beneficial.

As a former debater in high school and college, I enjoy exploring possibilities from multiple angles to see which holds the most truth and opportunity. As an entrepreneur, I enjoy the process of moving from an idea to action. When I have done these things previously, it was in a much more confined space than the breath of the Internet. Writing here feels like talking into the darkness, while wondering if someone will turn on the lights and how my thoughts will look in the brightness of daylight.

So, with my trepidations laid out in front of you, here are some of the topics I plan to write about now and potentially much further into the future.

Network Organizations, including the characteristics of this form of organization and the infrastructure that the Internet continues to evolve to support this type of organizational process.

Hybrid Organizations, as interim steps to network forms, as hybrid cars are interim steps toward electric vehicles.

Adult Learning, and new opportunities to connect people around the globe so that they can learn with, and from, each other.

Intentional Family, as social supports when government safety nets are being challenged in terms of their sustainability.

Intimacy, sexuality and personal growth, as the spice to attract an audience, and because they are important parts of our humanity.

And, there is even the possibility some threads will weave these topics together.

I hope I have piqued your curiosity enough to have you bookmark this link or click on an RSS feed. And, I would sincerely appreciate it, if you take a moment to make a comment or ask a question.

Thanks – Chairman Ed