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Knowledge grazing must change way we educate

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The information revolution has shifted learning away from ordered hierarchies toward a much messier and self-directed learning paradigm. But has this disrupted education yet? ANGELA SCHAERER, Teacher Engagement Lead for Microsoft SA takes a look.

Look at the world we live in – the ways in which we access information has changed beyond all measure. If I think back to those awful events of September 11, 2001, we watched the unfolding drama on news channels, morbidly glued to our TV sets as the tragic events of that awful day unfolded across our screens. Fast forward a few short years to 2009 and we watched Captain Sullenberger land his Boeing 737 on the Hudson River on our screens, but the size had dramatically decreased.

These events were brought to the world first, not by 24-hour news channels, but by Twitter and YouTube, and we watched the first reports not on our TV screens but on our smart mobile devices. Of course the TV stations quickly caught up, but the story broke across social media first. And that’s the way it is now. We are used to hearing or reading about the big news stories of the day on Twitter rather than the morning papers or the TV. All the media businesses, be they television or newspaper have Twitter accounts. The Chinese government first learned about the 2008 Szechuan earthquake from Twitter rather than its own news agency. And remember the 2012 Arab spring when revolution raced across a continent broke via images from mobile phones and live conversations on social media?

‘Digital information can be altered, mashed, changed or trashed in minutes’

Our world is evolving. New ideas spread the whole way around the world in less than 24 hours. That’s the power of the YouTube video clip! It’s even quicker on Twitter.

Social media is global and ubiquitous. And today, in the middle of the second decade of this 21st century information age, we are now all reporters, sharing, creating, changing and critiquing the news as it happens.

This is evolution, but not as we’ve previously understood the word. Now the term is used to describe changes that occur much more rapidly than Darwin could ever have dreamed about. Digital information can be altered, mashed, changed or even trashed in minutes, in ways previously impossible. Digital textbooks will rarely be out of date in the way their printed versions are. And it seems our brains might be changing as well. Brain plasticity is a well-documented phenomenon.

Some people have written about the possible change in the way our brains have been made to work differently over the past few years, as information arrives at our consciousness via short, sharp simultaneous bursts. And media changes have come hand in hand with the ways in which we consume them. The biggest box-office successes nowadays all rely on the “flash, bang, wallop” effect. It seems we need instant gratification and fast-paced action full of dazzling special effects and noise which appear to trump the great narratives and plot lines of the past. Neural pathways do change. But is this change not to be embraced? After all, it’s how the brains of most of our learners work. In fact, their brains probably know no other way of working. The world has changed, and there is no going back.

‘It’s not what you know but what you do with what you know’

All educators need to do is set the parameters, then work individually with students, helping, providing advice, and yes, even teaching them that it’s not just OK to recycle and mash up knowledge. The real goal is to reboot it, make it work, and truly own it. By this I mean evaluating what is discovered and commenting on how relevant it might be to the project, benchmarking it against the set parameters.

The days of old-style factual regurgitation are long gone, left behind by the post-industrial information age. We should be in the business of helping learners to become consummate knowledge rebooters and problem-seekers. It’s not what you know, but how you use it and how you figure it can address global challenges. Bloom’s hierarchical, level-upon-level paradigm of learning is well and truly disrupted by this knowledge-grazing paradigm.

Educational institutions and governments all around the world are latching on to this knowledge grazing and are making their learning resources freely available online at an incredibly rapid rate. Some of these courses, known as Massive Online Open Courses or MOOCs, attract thousands of eager learners to each course, and many thousands more graze on these fantastic learning artefacts, using, recycling, mashing and rebooting them.

And so this self-directed learning leads to increased confidence to mess about with what we discover. John Seely-Brown calls it “Tinkering”. He believes that this tinkering brings thought and action together in a very magical way. It’s what we do when things won’t work and we get over the fear of getting it wrong. If we get in there and tinker – to try and sort it out – we generally manage to get things going. And yes, this is how our kids play computer games: where failure is just one step on the way to really powerful learning.

This “getting things going” strikes right to the heart of what learning really means. We learn when we engage with whatever we discover. It’s our level of engagement which leads to depth of retention and, therefore, true learning. The world-wide education establishment is waking up to this new paradigm. It can’t come a moment too soon.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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