Innovative e-learning content authoring service

Cerego

Cerego provides content authoring tools and templates. They have created a product that exemplifies the notion of putting research into practice – Cerego have developed highly intelligent software that understands key aspects of deep-learning and works towards developing and strengthening a learner’s working memory.

“Cerego activates your memory just as it’s about to fade by tracking your performance on a memory-by-memory level, measuring pace, speed of response, and accuracy to predict the best time to review. The result is an experience optimized for each individual that leads to long-term retention – and a learning engine that gets more effective the more you use it.”

Cerego blend proven learning materials (such as scientific journal content) with web technology. Focusing particularly on neuroscience and cognitive science to enable learners to learn quicker and for longer. Cerego states that spaced rehearsal is key to retaining data and that lots of information over a short space of time doesn’t work. The Ebbinghaus curve shows that an optimal point of review does exist and that Cerego is programmed to take advantage of this. The program measures the memory of learners and predicts performance. This theory is reminiscent of the work conveyed by Dr John J. Medina in my recent post on working memory and solidify’s the concept of repetition being necessary to successfully retain data long-term.

Cerego A

I did test out one of the trial courses on offer and I didn’t actually get on with it. It was a music course with an aim to try and get me to remember different scales. The quality of visuals used was poor and hindered my comprehension. So whilst the surround tool was good, the actual content didn’t live up to expectation and was poor. This is reminiscent of a discussion had in my post that discussed whether a designer should be an actor or a pre-constructor. This example solidifies my belief that a designer should be a pre-constructor only.

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Working designs

So I have started to experiment with designs towards my Practice 1 work. I thought i’d start with some designs for an e-textbook as this was my original brief. Going forward I will look to work on some e-learning platform designs as well because I am greatly interested in this area and I feel that there is work to be done on designing for deep learning in both digital publications and e-learning programs. I am also interested in making comparisons between printed textbooks and e-textbooks.

So I am struggling to create and upload a video in time for this project submission that shows the interactivity that my design offers so for now I will simply describe it and upload a video later. The design will also have evolved by then.

Below you can see the sample pages that I have created:

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I have created a design using real-life content that exists in a commercially available textbook (Note: This is not a live design project and is a mock-up for personal use only). I felt it important to use real-world content as I could manipulate imagined content to fit my purposes of conveying
design ease for deep learning. In this context I have to make real-life content fit a cognitively friendly layout.

In response to my research in this blog post on colour, I have not used too much colour throughout – just enough to differentiate between types of information and to either bring diagrams to life or act as a tool by which to ease the eye through multiple blocks of similar content (see figure D below).  I have reserved the use of orange as discussed in this blog post for an area of the book where content could be monotonous and difficult to maintain the readers attention. I may add more orange throughout this design going forward.

Figures A and B below show my use of different colours and also icons to help readers identify content types quickly on a page. I will look at using icons further going forward and seek research as to their effectiveness in guiding users through content. The web link is of course clickable in the etextbook and opens content in a new tab.

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Figure A: Coloured ‘Additional research’ box
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Figure B: Coloured ‘Supporting info’ box

A feature that I added in response to some thoughts I had whilst researching the subject seen in this blog post regarding the Prototype O System is that of a notes feature. Although not a tool to facilitate context-enabled web searches, I am keen on designing content that allows users to make their own comments. Within my sample design, a user can add typed notes in the left margin. Going forward I will look at changing this to a handwritten note function (e.g. with a stylus) to ease note taking and make the process of annotation more intuitive and less clunky. See my blog post here regarding my research on using devices that emulate the paper-metaphor (the latter part of the post).

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Figure C: Interactive note area to the side of the content

A final area to highlight within this initial design is that of the timeline feature. The original text for this content was a couple of pages of bullet points. I became bored of reading the content very quickly and also lost my point within the bullet point hierarchy very quickly. Within my design I used alternating colour to aide navigation and the text block on the right on appear once you click on a year – helping learners to consume data at their own pace (a theme that has arisen in much research that I have undertaken).

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Figure D: Timeline of data that expands as you click on the dates

IB students attitudes towards on-screen learning: Observations made at work

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So my full-time occupation is a Graphic Design Manager for an academic publisher who also runs revision and summer courses for students who are studying, or about to study the International Baccalaureate. A part of my role with the company is to take stock photographs on-course to use in marketing collateral for the company. As such I get a unique insight into the behaviour of students towards their learning.

On the most recent course programme I entered many classrooms and interacted with the students. All aged between 15-18, the students are a perfect sample of the next generation of further and higher education students.

It was interesting to note that a large percentage of the students used iPads or laptops to carry out their studies. Indeed I walked into one classroom and every single student in a class of about 15-20 were working on a laptop! It is interesting to note that a large number of students had tablets but chose to use a laptop instead for the course. I wonder if the progression to learning via tablets is still a slow transition – perhaps software developed for tablets does not yet offer the flexibility of that designed for laptops and desktops. There is a mixed consensus on this, but in general, there is a trend towards developing site versions specific to mobile devices, which tend to limit functionality compared to that offered on the desktop site version. Something to research further going forwards.

It would be very interesting also to design a short e-learning course that complemented the in-classroom programme and was in synch with the teaching on offer. I may look undertaking this as a practical project going forward. There might be scope for me to actually test the programme on-course and measure results. I will investigate this further and re-post on my progress.

 

Tablets v.s. eBook readers – a personal reflection

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I walked into a popular high street electronics store this afternoon and had a good look at the wide range of tablets and eBook readers on offer. A few things occurred to me as looked through them that I thought worthy of mentioning in the course of my research.

There appears to be a somewhat unneccesary discontinuity between tablet devices and eBook readers. It would appear that eBook readers have a huge advantage over tablets in one particular area, that of screen-glare. Which, as I highlighted in my recent post on the health concerns over backlit screens, is a highly important quality for any screen to demonstrate.

I wonder if the future could see a change in direction where tablets have two screen modes, one for book reading/web browsing and another for videos/games etc? Negating the need for a separate dedicated book reader. As technology evolves and the human race becomes more dependant on screen technology, I feel that health concerns over using e-devices will have to come to the forefront.

Additionally, when thinking about the paper-metaphor during my studies (see my blog), I picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab with a 4.7″ screen and it felt so natural to hold. I could very comfortably hold the device in one hand which left my other hand free for searching and annotating content etc. Many of the larger tablets would not enable this as they are too large to hold one handed – so if sat on a bus or train without a table seat you couldn’t comfortably use the device unless you rested it upon your lap. The Galaxy also felt like a traditional paper notepad whilst holding it – I wanted to get stylus and start annotating research papers on it which made it feel very mobile-learning friendly. Another final point to note is that the device was white – when thinking about the paper metaphor it almost felt like I was holding a piece of paper – the same device with a black screen surround didn’t have the same feeling of ease of use.

Some things to bear in mind when considering target devices my e-learning practical design work …

 

 

Schema & repetition: a helping hand for our working memories

This is great video that gives some really useful tips on assisting working memory in learners’ through schema and repetition. As a designer interested in designing for e-learning, I need to think about how well I guide the cognitive process in students through design and that included activities are consistent with how students learn and most importantly, they support learning retention and knowledge transfer. I need to take a learner-centric approach – not technology-centric.

Published on 13 Mar 13, 2013 by SPND423

One of the most interesting parts of this video is the section by Dr John J. Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, Affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Author of ‘Brain Rules’ www.brainrules.net.

He makes important points that I need to bear in mind during my practical work regarding schema. Schema is prior knowledge based upon peoples life experiences such as their favourite things, their lifestyle, behaviour, culture and learning style (how they process information) etc. In short, using prior knowledge to construct long-term memory. Schema helps to determine whether information being perceived is also being learnt. Schema offers a mental framework that gives order to thoughts on aspects of everyday life and the world. A successful blend between schema and working memory will ensure that learning is more permanent.

Which leads me on to the second most interesting part of this video:  repetition. There are limits to how much the working memory can hold and a designer of e-Learning needs to help prevent cognitive overload. As well as segmentation of data assisting with working memory (learn in bite-size chunks – break key data up), it is clear that repetition is key to data retention. It is interesting to note that humans can hold up to 7 items in the working memory for up to 30 seconds, if repeated within this 30 seconds then the learner will hold on to the data for a further 2 hours and needs to be repeated for a 2nd time within this time period. The data will disappear permanently if not repeated within the 2 hours.

Singing facts to aid data retention is another simple tool that could be employed using simple rhythms. We are all familiar with this technique – any one of us can recall the colours of the rainbow through the repetitive verse taught to us at infant school ‘The Colours of the Rainbow’. Whilst this might only apply to simple verses, I think it would be worth exploring this further in my design work. I will look at adding music along with repetitive simple songs to assist with data retention.

An additional thought that I had here is that I could also design a short e-learning program that assessed schema by constructing questions that assess individual prior knowledge before a student embarked upon a learning program and then the program could adapt it’s presentation style etc. to match.

Going forward I will incorporate these learning points into my designs.

 

 

 

Infographic: eLearning trends to follow in 2015

I wanted to re-post this highly interesting and relevant blog post from John Laskaris, an eLearning specialist.

“I think that the next big trends in e-learning and corporate training are definitely gamification, mLearning and Big Data but there are also others. Since this question is really popular, I decided to make some research and ask people for their opinions to create an infographic about e-learning trends in 2015”
Here it is:
eLearning Trends to Follow in 2015
Courtesy of: TalentLMS

 

My learning points include:

  • The comments made regarding Big Data are potentially worth investigating further. Useful in assessing the successfulness of a course and improving for the next set of users.
  • The stats highlighted in re’ gamification are very useful – I will bear these in mind when creating my designs, being careful to include audio, videos with demonstrations and possible gameplay even. gamification is something that I will be researching further with a mind to enhance deep learning through my designs. See my separate blog post here.
  • Personalization is something that I will look to incorporate in my design work. It has long been known that learners have different learner styles so a programme that could be adapted to these could be very productive. There is some work to do here on colours – people react differently to different colours based on various cultural and learnt reactions. See my separate colour blog here.
  • Mobile learning has a lot to offer. In particular I am keen to segment content so that it is more digest be, which we are forced to do on the limited screen size of a mobile device.
  • In addition augmented reality is a fascinating subject and one which I will look to build into my design work where possible. I am very keen on designing a program to be used on-site (e.g. in historical locations being taught about) that all utilises real-time data such as weather and location of peers etc. The incorporation of separate paired devices is also interesting (such as i-watches and google glasses). I will bear these in mind throughout my design work.
  • Automation brings exciting opportunities to the table but also concerns. On the one hand it would be great to develop guidelines for the creation of programs that could automate the creation of quizzes or featured boxes, multimedia containers and presentation styles etc. that were based upon solid deep learning research. On the flip side, this could lead to the individually designed elements being placed into programs that as a whole didn’t work and were muddled together incoherently. A problem regularly seen by graphic designers for example when clients take your templates and modify them or place them out of context …
  • Corporate MOOCs could benefit from interactive tabletop systems.
  • The rise of cloud-based LMS is discussed further in my additional blog here.

Currently available 11+ & k-12 Revision Guides

So today I walked into my local book shop and went and had a rummage around the revision guide area searching for inspiration for my own design work and to also assess what is currently available in the retail high-street marketplace. In addition I wanted to compare the products that i’ve been researching with the reality of consumable revision aides.

Whilst there is much research that focuses on the translation of content from print to digital – it would appear that there might be a gap in the field for research regarding the opposite – how digital content and website characteristics have influenced print! By reviewing some of the revision guides on offer it became apparent that the designer aimed to ease transition through the book by incorporating guidance icons that one might expect to see in an e-learning course or as part of a website. See below for examples:

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Cover: Example A I
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Icon guide for included DVD: Example A II
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Close-up of icons: Example A III
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Contents showing limited colour scheme: Example A IV

This guide came with a DVD that had some audio and video content within it and also an electronic copy of the book. In addition you could go online for interactive tests and more. One thing that did strike me about this guide was that the colour schemes used within the contents were very limited and, in my opinion based on my research so far, wouldn’t necessarily assist with student progression and cognition. For example ‘Exam tip’ and ‘Remember’ are the same colour but should be distinguishable I feel to aid quicker identification of specific pieces of information. It also seems odd that almost all of the copy on this page is a ‘Key fact’ – this could create cognitive overload in the reader as there are too many so called ‘key facts’ to absorb and retain.

Below is an example of another guide I reviewed that used colour more succinctly in differentiating between topic and content types:

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Example B

The contents are also better laid out than Example A in that copy flows easier and key points are pulled out in orange feature boxes. (See my separate blog on the use of orange.) Or indeed alternative coloured feature boxes that are colour coded according to their revision format type.

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Contents: Example B

Another interesting feature to note here is the use of recognisable features such as faces in conveying concepts and encouraging readers to adopt in their own graphical representations of data analysis. There is much research in the area of recognisable shapes assisting with data-transfer (e.g.: PLASS, J. L. et al. (2014))

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Close-up of contents: Example B

In my research regarding the use of colour and shapes to enhance learning there is all much research that confirms that over use of colour and graphics can actually be detrimental to students, particularly those with learning or communication disabilities. (e.g.: HETZRONI, O. E. and NE’EMAN, A. (2013)). The example seen below would fall into this category – the pages are far too busy and confusing with no structure:

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Example C

Below are two further layouts that I found which I believe to be the best of those that I reviewed. They are both cleaner in their layouts and offer a more consistent use of colour. Example E in particular has a great layout that reads easily on the eye, content is blocked into lengths that are not too difficult to digest and key learning points and tips are puled out of the main content and colour-coded accordingly. The use of icons also assists with easy recognition of key data and data types and will aide data retention.

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Example D
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Example E

 

Going forward in my practice work I will refer to these guides when considering the layout of my work. It is clear to see here that layouts available in the commercial market vary wildly and that consistency is required if I am to successfully achieve deep-learning within my work.

References:

HETZRONI, O. E. and NE’EMAN, A. (2013) Influence of colour on acquisition and generalization of graphic symbols. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 57 (7). p.669-680.

PLASS, J. L. et al. (2014) Emotional design in multimedia learning: Effects of shape and color on affect and learning. Learning and Instruction. 29. p.128-140.