Perspectives

Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Episode 6: The power of immersive learning

What is immersive learning and how are immersive experiences enabled and delivered? Our expert speakers discuss the significance of this learning method, how it can be used to develop skills of the future and what it is we need future generations to learn.

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Ed Greig
Chief Disruptor
Deloitte

Ed Greig is the Chief Disruptor at Deloitte. The Disruption Team he leads works with new technologies to deliver tangible benefits as quickly as possible to Deloitte’s clients and within the firm itself.

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Daisy Christodoulou
Director of Education
No More Marking

Daisy is the Director of Education at No More Marking, a provider of online Comparative Judgement software for schools. She is also the author of three books about education: Teachers vs Tech, Making Good Progress, and Seven Myths about Education.

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Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte

Speakers: Ed Grieg, Chief Disruptor at Deloitte and Daisy Christodoulou Director of Education at No More Marking and author of Teachers vs Tech

DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation, or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work Podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.

In each episode, we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. And while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.

In this episode we explore how learning technologies can support the learning sciences both in institutions and organisations of the future. In today’s episode I’m delighted to invite Daily Christodoulou Director of Education at No More Marking and author of Teachers vs Tech? And Ed Grieg Chief Disruptor from Deloitte, welcome.

EG: Thanks for having us.

DH: So, learning in the flow of life has been identified as a key trend and you could almost argue it’s now business as usual. Ed, with yourself, why are people talking about this, what’s the importance within the corporate setting?

EG: I think what we’re seeing is that the skills that people are using in their job and the work that they’re doing is changing quite fast and that’s specifically the type of thing that they’re doing. And so, there is this is kind of need to be learning continuously and I think the flow of life thing I think is that when you are having to do this kind of continuous learning it’s no longer really possible to take a couple of years out to update your skills or even a couple of months or something like that.

You need to be learning much more regularly and you kind of want to move away from this kind of big switch between modes. I know that for myself, we’ll come onto it in a bit but just as an example, we do stuff with virtual reality and 360 video.

And there was a whole set of skills that we learned around stitching 360 video together that was just rendered obsolete basically within a year. It was just like, we learned all these skills and then suddenly the technology had just got to the stage where we didn’t need to do it anymore. I think that’s the fastest I’ve seen that kind of change happen, but I think that’s where the driver is coming from.

DH: Daisy from your perspective learning in the flow of life could be quite a business focused tagline, but how do you see this panning out within the education environment?

DC: As I’d said, we are seeing more and more people are realising the importance and the value of lifelong learning. And I think what we’re seeing both in schools and in the workplace is more of an interest in the learning sciences. I think as both younger students and adults realise that if you do want to keep learning you have to have some idea about how your brain works. And I find it really interesting that the world’s most popular online course is called Learning How to Learn.

And it’s about the learning sciences, it’s about what are the most effective ways of learning and there’s a version for adults and a version for younger students too. So, I think that’s a sign that people are realising more and more that we do have to keep learning. I think also it’s a sign that perhaps a lot of the traditional narrative around education and how we learn is maybe not always that helpful. I think there have been problems within education in the past that it’s susceptible a bit to fads, susceptible a bit of pseudoscience.

So, I think the really important thing is we do need to be always learning. We do need a better understanding of how our minds work and what’s really important is both in the workplace and in schools, that we avoid some of the fads that’s are out there and ground our educational studies in real research. And I think there’s some room for optimism there and the online course I talked about, Learning How to Learn is a great example of that.

There’s other examples where you can look at more faddish ideas, more pseudoscience, so for me that’s a really important thing that a lot of this information about how we learn is better known and is used in both schools and in the corporate learning environment.

EG: And I think that’s the thing that the pace of technological change is driving both the change in skills, but it’s also meaning that people are I think for prone to faddishness and more prone to falling in love with solutions. And kind of looking for magic bullets because all this new stuff that’s coming along and obviously companies are investing in developing it really fast and so they’re trying to push it really hard and sell this stuff.

It’s one of the reasons why the motto, my team is fall in love with the problem not in love with the solution. Because particularly when you’re at the cutting edge of tech you will see people pushing these solutions really, really hard and pushing them as a magic bullet that will solve all of your problems.

And I think we’ve seen that both in kind of corporate learning. But obviously the examples that Daisy talks about in her book as well show that in a school context as well you’re also seeing examples of this kind of technology being pushed as a cure all solution. And without kind of understanding really the problem that it is that you’re trying to solve, i.e., how do we actually learn?

Ian Stewart our chief economist is always looking at what the reasons for the kind of productivity puzzle; why given all of this kind of new tech do we not see the advances that you would be expecting. In terms of, we’ve got all of this new stuff, why is it not leading to the changes in productivity that we would expect. And to be honest, it’s definitely not the only problem, but I would say that there’s a compelling argument that this is definitely part of it. Because we don’t understand how we’re learning we’re not getting the full benefit from this stuff.

DC: Absolutely and I think there’s a really interesting parallel between what you say about the productivity puzzle and some of what’s been happening in schools as well. And that line about we’re in love with the problem not the solution is so apt too, there’s just a real history of examples of investing large sums of money in big hardware investments in schools.

And no-one is really thinking about what you’re going to do with that hardware, how it’s going to be used, and what software or content? So, there’s so many examples of big, big investments in laptops, tablets, what have you, the interactive whiteboards that don’t really have the learning benefits that people hoped for.

And I think Bill Gates himself has come up with a line where he says, we know that just throwing computers at the problem is not a great solution. So, I think there’s definitely something similar there in schools where people are throwing the new technology at it without thinking what problem do we want to solve. How do we learn? How will this particular piece of technology enhance the way that students learn?

DH: We touched on earlier, I think the phrase was learning sciences or the science of learning, I just wondered if we could give some examples of that. And then maybe Ed from your perspective about how you see what may be deemed faddish technology, but actually the reality of how it can help with the science of learning.

DC: For me the science of learning, a really important part of it is looking how our mind’s work and particularly looking at the relationship between working memory and long-term memory. So, I think that’s a really important sort of basic understanding that’s important. And essentially all of us, we have limited working memory and a vast long-term memory.

And working memory you can kind of equate with consciousness, so everything you’re thinking about right now in your mind that’s happening in working memory and that’s why it’s limited. So, if I say, what’s the capital of France? Paris will pop into your working memory, it wasn’t there a couple of seconds ago, but you get a cue in your environment and it pops into working memory.

And then long-term memory is that vast store of information that you have that you’re not thinking about at any one moment, but as I say, if you get the cue in the environment you can summon something up from long-term memory. And what we know is is that working memory is really limited and quite weak and that long-term memory is vast and I think just that basic understanding of that relationship has really important implications for lots of things.

This idea that we no longer have to look things up because we’ve all got Google and that’s such a plausible idea, it sounds like it must be intuitively true. But again, when you understand how the human mind works you realise it isn’t, because we need information in long-term memory to be able to think. We can’t reason everything out in working memory because it’s so limited and just a really obvious example of that is if you’re reading a book and imagine you don’t understand every other word in the book.

Sure, you can go away and look it up, but how much meaning are you going to extract from the book if you have to be looking up every other word? So, for me one of the big fads in the narrative around, you can always just look it up, and that’s something where I think if there was a better understanding of the learning sciences and of how our minds work we would avoid fads like that.

EG: I think that when people have got to a certain level of understand then that is true, that then having that knowledge on hand is absolutely brilliant. But it’s just realising about where that level of understanding is and not just assuming that it’s there right from the start.

DC: Absolutely, and you make a good point about when experts do look things up, there’s a slight paradox here, in order to be able to look things up affectively you have to know something about what it is you’re looking up. So, the paradox is that when you know something a lot about an area you can look things up quite affectively.

So, whereas when you don’t know anything about it you would think, that’s when looking up is valuable, when actually it’s not. Because as I said you need to know something to be able know what to type in to look up and how to interpret the responses you get.

EG: We’re focusing on kind of immersive learning and using virtual and augmented reality as a learning tool and 100% super it’s at risk of being a gimmick, at massive risk of being a gimmick. When you approach it as a way of practicing something that you’ve got kind of a strong framework for I think then it makes sense.

But if you just hand it to someone and say, here’s a scenario, it won’t be as helpful. It will be good because they’ll be getting a chance to practice, but it won’t be as helpful as if they know what to focus on when they’re practicing.

DC: Yes, and I think all the things you’re saying there about breaking it down, that’s another big insight from the learning sciences, which is again because we’ve got limited working memory. That often if you want to learn a complex skill you do have to break it down and focus on the little bits. And then as you are getting all of those little bits, getting better and better at those then the challenge I putting them all together.

So, one of the things I talk about in Teachers vs Tech and in other writings as well, it’s about we need to think of learning as a sequence. So, your end goal is often a complex skill and you can think of this as being a teacher teaching a class as a complex skill. And then what you’re doing is you’re taking that complex skill, you’re isolating the component parts, you’re learning about each of them, you’re practicing each of them individually and then you’re putting the pieces together.

And there are definitely analogies with sports if you look at the way sports people practice, that even elite sports people are doing drills when they’re training. Footballers are doing passing drills; cricketers are doing fielding drills, so you are isolating those individual component parts and practicing those. And then the challenge is how do you put them together, how do you put them together so that you’re not just doing the passing drill that it’s then going to make you better in the gameplay situation?

And that’s where I think the challenge in sport and in all education is about those learning sequences. What’s the right sequence that takes you from practicing those small pieces to putting them all together as a whole? And that’s why I think it is interesting to look at in what ways can VR be useful there. Obviously there’s areas like flight simulation where you would say that’s a great way of when you’ve got some of the theory and you’ve practiced some of the really individual component parts you can start to put them together.

But again, you could potentially see examples perhaps with teaching, where teachers before they got into a classroom or if they want to practice a new technique they’ve got, might there be an opportunity for them to do that? So, I think the VR could potentially have a role to play in helping people put in the component parts together and practice those and becoming fluent with them.

DH: I can’t remember which particular study it was, but there was a learning using VR, and the ability, they had 30 unique data points from this learning through the headset. That they could then go back to the individual and help them focus on particular areas as opposed to looking at the holistic. It’s, right, so this is where you’re actually being marked down currently and really focus on those areas and then go on to the other aspects of the learning.

And that for me is a really powerful opportunity through being able to collect those quite unique data points that maybe just from a classroom environment aren’t immediately obviously there or take a lot more time to get there.

EG: And I think you do need those data points. Again, it’s very easy to slip into falling in love with them as a solution and starting to view them as an end themselves rather than a means to an end. You need to have those data points and I think in a corporate environment there is a real risk that whereas in a school environment by the time you get to your next set of exams you realise, wait. I’m actually not as knowledgeable as I thought I was.

In a corporate environment, with the VR sometimes having a quantitative analogy for a skill, again, breaking it down a bit, having something quantitative that you can focus on and again, not getting lost into it. But just something that you can kind of see improvement in, because that allows you to reflect, that allows you to say that you’ve improved and I think that’s really important.

To be honest, one of the things that’s interesting is there are some soft skills that we do teach in terms of lifelong learning. I think there’s quite a lot of stuff though within a corporate context that is kind of core skills that we don’t even really spend the time focusing on how to break them down or anything like that. One of the classic ones I think is email, email’s a nightmare, it is a little nightmare. I sometimes literally wake up having nightmares about it.

But there’s no time dedicated in all our courses, we do courses on PowerPoint and we do stuff on giving affective presentations and things like that. But something that occupies a massive component of what you do, we don’t necessarily try and do that exercise that Daisy was just describing, of kind of breaking it down into how do you actually do this affectively.

So, I think there’s actually quite a lot of aspects of corporate life that if we took the time to reflect on them we could actually break them down and then start to get people to do better and be able to improve. It’s definitely not to take the analogy from software development, it’s not saying, this is top down, this is what you must do. I think it is very much about people being able to reflect, but having a framework in which to reflect.

So, it’s not saying that it’s all going to be micromanaged, but it’s about giving people the time and it’s about giving people the framework in which they can understand their own performance better.

DC: Yes, absolutely and I think there’s a really interesting analogy over teaching as well, I remember when I started teaching there’s a real feeling that perhaps there’s certain things about being a good teacher that you just have to pick up over time. And I think what’s really interesting is there’s other approaches that are just trying to be more systematic and look at a good teacher and say, what is it that they’re doing? What are the things that they’re doing in the classroom that mean the class is settled?

And just trying to be a bit more systematic and forensic about that and then saying are there ways that we could then teach some of those techniques to trainees? Rather than just assuming you’ll pick these things up and I think email’s a very good thing to think about and I think about email a lot. Because it’s one of those things that’s just happened, isn’t it? And suddenly you’ve got people spending a third or a half of their working life on email and it’s evolved that that’s natural, that that’s what you do, but I think if we stop and be systematic.

Not just about how an individual deals with email, but how does email work within an organisation? What is the role of email? And I know from going to work at an organisation that used a lot of email to work in an organisation where everything is on work chat, that you realise the enormous difference. And yet that’s not something that I think a lot of organisations think about systematically, that that’s where an enormous amount of your workers time is going.

But exactly what does is involve and what is happening there and are there ways that you can make that more efficient and even if you don’t get rid of email, how you make processing and dealing with it more efficient. So, things like that I think would really reward, as I say, a bit more of a systematic focus.

DH: Thinking about that immersive experience and VR, I know we were kind of touching on this before we started recording the podcast. But one of the powers of immersive experience has been being able to put people in situations that historically would be quite expensive or quite resource heavy to actually recreate.

So, I’m thinking about big plant engineering and creating situations where the plant’s going to blow up and you put somebody into that environment. And just picking up on your point earlier Daisy about actually letting teachers experience quite a hostile classroom early on instead of just throwing them into that environment. And have we got any other areas that we see maybe the immersive experience being able to really help either educators or organisations in the future?

EG: I think when we initially started looking at virtual reality particularly for training; we were looking at those technical use cases where it was something that was dangerous. Or would be like a flight simulator where it’s not appropriate to put an untrained person into that situation. Or a very rare scenario that you wouldn’t get a chance to practice, so being able to kind of practice that more. And I think as you say, what’s interesting is then realising that that didn’t just apply to big pieces of machinery and being underwater and stuff like that.

Actually it could apply to scenarios that were difficult to recreate, for example, a classroom context or when you’re dealing with a customer. And I think that realisation that this could be useful for practicing those soft skills as well, I think that was something that was really key, but it’s still something that’s not being used as effectively as it could have.

There is a good example which was being used for psychiatric nurses and so, there in one Daisy’s earlier books she talks about this idea of the knowing doing gap. And I think this is one of the things about learning in the flow of life, if your learning is going to flow into doing then you need to reduce that gap as much as possible, because otherwise that gap can be a chasm down which people can fall.

We did some studies with a mining client and found that actually a large proportion of accidents were happening just after people were coming back from training. Because they’d basically only just got back from training, they were being given the additional responsibilities, but they didn’t actually fully have the skills that they needed to cope with that.

DH: And the experience.

EG: They didn’t have the skills and the experience, so basically the knowing doing gap was too wide because the theory had not fully prepared them for the actual situation that they found themselves in, the learning was effectively deficient. And I think that that’s another place where VR can narrow that knowing doing gap by allowing you to practice scenarios, but I think what’s interesting is reflecting on what Daisy said about breaking it down, is saying you’re not just practicing the whole scenario.

Actually you start to practice the scenario part by part or focus on a particular aspect for that practice run and again, because you can do it over and over again, it allows you to do that. If it’s a training session and you’ve paid a whole load of actors and stuff like that and you’re doing that kind of immersive training session the way that we’ve done that in the past, you can’t really run it over and over again because it’s too costly.

Whereas the exciting thing potentially with VR is that you can run it over and over again. There is a scene is one of my favourite programmes recently, The Good Place, which looks to teach philosophy through the medium of sitcom in a way that as far as I know has never been done before. So, they have a scene in The Good Place where someone practices a break up over and over and over again in like a version of VR.

It’s funny because they use the ocular sensor, but then he’s just got a headset, he’s just got a little thing attached to his forehead in order to simulate it, but it was an actual ocular sensor. Yes, he practices the breakup over and over again and that’s exactly the same thing, that’s a really difficult scenario. I’ve just described exactly what I described before, but I’m basically just saying watch The Good Place.

DH: And I think Netflix will thank you for it.

DC: I think what you said about the knowing doing gap is really interesting, so I’ve written about the knowing doing gap in the classroom a lot, but I borrowed the phrase from a business writer Jeffrey Pfeffer. And he’s written a whole book about the knowing doing gap in business. My go to example of it in the classroom is always that if you ask a class of 11 years old’s what should you use after a full stop or what should you being a sentence with?

They’ll all say a capital letter, so 100% of 11 year old’s pretty much will say you start a sentence with a capital letter. If you then look at their writing, how many of them routinely, reliably always begin every sentence with a capital letter, it’s nothing like 100%. So, that’s a good example of the knowing doing gap, when you know something, but you’re not reliably doing it.

And Pfeffer gives loads of examples of this in the business world, of how much knowledge there is about how to run a company effectively, about how much information there is about strategy and businesses and how it isn’t reliably employed. So, for me, the knowing doing gap is not just in business actually, it’s in life. How many things do we know we should be doing and we don’t do them reliably?

EG: Washing our hands is a topical example.

DC: Washing your hands is a fantastic example of it, of these are the things that are so simple, that are so basic, but for some reason it’s very hard to do them. The interesting thing there is, part of the solution I think is a lot of behavioural science things about how do you create environments that make the desired behaviour more likely. Part of it is about the way you practice and the way you train and the way you educate.

So, for example, in the case of education it’s about to address that issue that I just talked about, the capital letter at the start of the sentence. It’s that what you really want to practice on is not getting everybody to be able to repeat the sentence starts with a capital letter you want to get students writing lots of sentences that are always beginning with a capital letter.

So, you want to make that a habit and the same with the hand washing, rather than actually nagging people all the time and saying, wash your hands, wash your hands. You want to make washing your hands a habit; you want to design examples where it’s something that’s natural that you do all the time. So, a lot of it is about learning design and about how you structure environments, how you make things a habit and all those I think cut against perhaps a lot of the traditional ways that we learnt both in schools and in the workplace.

DH: So, what do you see preventing institutions or organisations shifting to new ways of learning? I know you touched on fads earlier, Daisy, from your own perspective, but are there any other obstacles that you see shifting as moving towards the right direction?

DC: As I say, I think the key thing for me is this understanding of the learning sciences, the understanding of how we learn and how we think. For me, the really key thing is that both within schools and within the workplace so that’s better understood, getting those messages out there and getting both institutions and individuals be more aware of that. That’s going to be a big way of making sure that people can focus on lifelong learning and they can adapt to the changes they need.

We have a new technique called comparative judgement, actually, I say it’s new, it was developed in the 1920s, but we’ve put it into a piece of software so it can now work very quickly and it’s much, much easier to use in real time. And comparative judgement, schools use it basically to assess essays, but we have organisations who use it as well, you can use it if you want to sift personal statements or CVs.

So, you can use it for any task you have that involves making open ended judgements of open ended tasks. So, it’s tasks you want to judge where you’re not saying something’s right or wrong, but you want give a gradation of quality. So, we work with lots of schools, we work with about 1000 schools in the UK and globally that use it to assess children’s writing and also organisations using it internally.

And we use it internally in our own organisation when we wanted to make a judgement about a new logo and new branding we set up a comparative judgement. And it’s interesting, all the things you were talking about what prevents the shift and new ways of learning is that we do find that this is a tool that when schools start to use it it actually starts to change the way they think about assessment and it often starts to change their workflow.

So, it’s something that gives them a new perspective on thinking about things, it’s something that will often change institutional ways of working. So, for me, certainly it’s been a real learning curve of realising how new technologies can change your assumptions and change the way that you work. And I think often the blocks to introducing any new technology often it’s inertia.

That even when something is more efficient and more effective than what it replaces it’s change and all change does involve some kind of loss, I guess, if you want to be philosophical about it. So, I think it’s also even when a change is positive how you manage that change is important.

EG: I think that’s absolutely right, one of the biggest realisations that I had, I joined Deloitte in the tech department because I was, everything’s going to be a tech project and actually what I’ve realised is everything’s a cultural change project. Most of them are now enabled by tech, but at the end of the day it’s about cultural change. What we see in terms of the barrier to it and overcoming that inertia we have this idea of think big, start small and test often.

So, come up with that end-to-end vision of the learning journey. What often happens is the learning journey just becomes a series of point solutions rather than something that’s kind of coherent, like a coherent end-to-end journey with a clear sort of goal in mind. So, we have that kind of think big idea and then start small is then about identifying those chunks along the way and looking at what interventions you can do to deliver that.

You might introduce a piece of immersive learning, for example, as something that’s replacing a fairly traditional, you might introduce it as a replacement. But actually what we then find is that once people see that and start to see the possibilities of that if you’ve done it in the right way you do actually start to change their mind sets.

There is no doubt at the start though often it’s easier to do a like-for-like where you can say, just to start with let’s do something where you know what the outcome is with your current system and you can then prove that it does better with the new technique.

DH: Thinking about the immersive experience and obviously with the current pandemic going globally and conferences being stopped, how do we see the immersive experience working with virtual conferencing, virtual classrooms, Daisy? Do you have an opinion on how effective this could be?

DC: Yes, I think this is obviously going to spark a lot of rapid changes and it’s going to really force people to think about things that have otherwise been on the backburner. For me, what’s really interesting though is to think of ways to think at maybe a deeper level about what teaching involves. So, I think at the minute we’re kind of thinking about well, in a normal classroom a teach stands at the front and teaches, how do we replicate that if we’re not all in the same room?

And that’s one way of thinking of it and I think certainly there’s interesting things to be thinking about video conferencing and potentially immersive learning. But a deeper way of thinking about it is to think about what is learning, what is going on and what are we trying to achieve. And again, to go back to everything I said about the learning sciences that we’re trying to achieve, if you like, a change in long-term memory that’s one of the aims and what are the ways we can achieve that?

We can use technology to help achieve that and so I think there’s some really interesting things which are not particularly cutting edge technology. But which goes back to what we were saying before about how sometimes it isn’t necessarily about cutting edge technology it’s about institutional change or reworking the way you work. So, one of the techniques I’m really keen on and talk about a lot is technology solutions that you use spaced repetition algorithms.

And spaced repetition algorithms, again, they’re not that new, the original ones date back to the 1890s, but it’s just a way of saying this is how you can present material that makes it more likely you’ll remember it for the long-term. And you could do them before the technology existed, you could do it basically with a shoebox. You could have a shoebox full of index cards and you would have to sequence them and make sure you were remembering the flashcards in the right order.

But technology makes it much easier that you can have a database of your flashcards and the algorithm is being used to present them to you in the right way. Now, a number of these flashcard apps exist, space repetition algorithms are in the heart of a lot of online learning approaches. So, things like that are not immediately one you think of when you think of online learning.

Maybe your first thought is it to think about video conferencing, but as I say, I think there’s a role for thinking a bit more deeply about what exactly it is learning involves, what it is we’re trying to promote and how we can use technology to help achieve that. So, I think all of these things obviously are going to be hugely on the agenda in the coming months and it will be really interesting to see how that plays out.

DH: In that scenario, using that sort of hybrid approach, what role would see the classroom setting playing if you were going to use a spaced repetition algorithm? I guess that would be something that the students would potentially be doing individually?

DC: Yes, so I think before this pandemic, my thinking was I felt the best way of using this was to have a traditional in person classroom and to set students homework or independent study that would make the most of the spaced repetition. If you’re thinking then about now, maybe we won’t have the traditional in person classroom or that’s going to be more challenging.

For me it’s then about how a teacher can implement, how can a teacher make the most of the data this coming from an online learning platform? So, if they’re not regularly seeing their students, how can they make the most of the data that they’re getting from the independent study that the students are doing when the teacher isn’t there? So, I think there’s also going to be a big role here for data analysis and for learning programmes that offer quite intuitive analysis of that for a teacher.

And I think there’s probably, and again, a lot of this is really thinking on the fly, is going to be that maybe there are moments in the day or moments in the week where classes or individual students are checking in with teachers. Checking in remotely and then where the teacher is able to monitor the independent study they’re doing in such a way that they can then be responding to them when they’re having the check ins.

So, in lots of ways it’s about, as I say, trying to think more deeply about what is happening in a typical class. And in a typical class in person it is all about feedback, it is all about a teacher responding to the student’s learning needs. And so, then it’s about thinking, how can we do that if we’re not all in the same room together?

How can we use those processes or feedback and those questioning and that responsivity? How do you get that if we’re not all in a class together? And I think there certainly are ways we can make it work remotely. I do think though there is a challenge with younger students and another thing I write about in the book is I talk a little bit about embodied cognition. And I talk about how we’re not brains in a jar and particularly with younger children I think that is an issue.

And there are all kinds of things around how younger children will automatically pay attention to words they hear from a human adult when that human adult is in person, if they hear the same words on a video they just don’t pay as much attention. So, I think that there are things we do have to be aware of about the importance of the physical presence and as I say, I think those things are going just be more and more salient obviously over the next few months.

EG: I think there are potentially, and again, I think it’s this thing of taking a step back and evaluating what makes sense and what in the new distributed kind of learning environment what makes the most sense. But there are aspects of that in person experience that we can recreate. Interestingly, Dan and I were in a meeting on Friday and it was a virtual meeting and so there were avatars in the space and sort of to what you were saying about embodied cognition.

The fact that the avatars were standing up and they had the option to walk around and do stuff like that, they were not focused. And then we sat them down and obviously they were only virtually sat down, but actually it got a lot relatively senior people in our organisation to stop dancing, which was good. But I think that was interesting, again, psychologically and not exactly the same as that, but the fact that their avatar was sitting down made them feel more formal than when their avatar was standing up and could just wander around anywhere.

So, I thought that was fascinating and so potentially there’s going to be the option to do that either via video conferencing or something like that. But it’s interesting that idea of the one-to-one check ins as well, so combining the spaced recognition algorithm with the one-to-one check ins. You could see that being a model that could potentially work really well.

DH: It got me thinking about an effective piece of AI that really understands the learner’s need to allow a teacher to check in with many people, but they are actually relying on a piece of AI to support them in that process so it can speed them up.

EG: I think as Daisy said, it’s about presenting that information back in a way that you can quickly then see what the need is. But I think, again, it highlights the importance of that ability to reflect, because if you’re doing that spaced repetition learning without that reflection it doesn’t really work.

Interestingly I guess the spaced repetition algorithm that is a type of personalisation because you do touch on personalisation. That’s a type of personalisation that does kind of make sense because it’s tied directly into performance rather than any sort of preference.

DC: Yes, so, I write a lot about personalisation and personalisation is a word that has many, many different interpretations, it just means so many different things.

EG: Personalised meanings of the word personalisation?

DC: Absolutely, it means whatever a person wants it to mean. But the interpretation of it that I think has most value and is most useful is really the adaptive learning platforms. And adaptive learning platforms are those that are essentially responding to your questions, responding to your understanding of the material and then adapting what you see next. So, if you get a bunch of questions right on a particular topic it will adjust and give you some harder questions on the same topic or move you to a new topic.

If you’re getting lots wrong it will present them again, it will give you a different video to watch, a different text to read before it follows up with maybe some easier questions. So, adaptive learning platforms have quite a long history, but again, developing more and more. And I think those adaptive learning platforms are the ones both for children and for adults that are most powerful and where I think we’re going to see the most potential.

EG: Because it’s quite easy that you hear that described and think it sounds very similar to self-directed learning and yet it’s very different.

DC: Absolutely, it’s very different because, if you think of it as personalised medicine is a good analogy, with personalised medicine it’s all about richer data sources to help a clinician make a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that you operate on yourself. And it’s the same with personalised education, what we need are richer data sources to help a system and a teacher make decisions about learning.

DH: New technologies moving away from the faddy, quite often it’s not about replacing. We find this in other areas of automation, it’s about complimenting, it’s a way of bringing in a new way of delivering something that works alongside existing methods. So, you redesign the whole learning process on the back of the technology, but actually it’s not a headset is going to replace me talking to you Daisy. It’s a way of complimenting an existing or traditional way of delivery.

EG: Yes, I think that’s a really good point actually, because we’ve definitely seen that. And that’s potentially an even better start small, because when it’s just an enhancement of something existing in terms of trying the cultural change. If it’s an enhancement and people aren’t thinking, we’ve got to throw it all out and start again, then actually I think people are much more comfortable with that.

An example is and this is something that a lot of universities and schools are starting to look at the moment with switching to online curriculums, but using a virtual online learning environment like a virtual classroom. For example, what we saw was a lot of people initially were, let’s put a virtual teacher in there and then they’ll just have to put a headset on and then that will be it.

And it’s like, why would you put a virtual teacher in there, you’ve still got the teacher, the benefit of this is that now everyone’s not having to all travel down to a single location to a classroom that they can actually do this remotely. But don’t throw out the ability of that teacher to be able to adapt and to be able to speak to people individually and stuff like that. Yes, too often it was, brilliant we can do everything in virtual reality and actually, as you say, your approach of complimenting and enhancing is much more effective.

DH: I think that’s going to bring us to the end this week, so I would like to thank you both for joining us and hopefully we’ll get to explore this discussion a little further in the future, thank you. That’s it for this week, if you do like the podcast please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic please contact our future of work team, details are listed on the podcast channel, thank you.

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