Future of FLOSSE: Interview with George Siemens

"We often have a myopic view when we talk about technology. We always seem to think about how does technology influence learning. Sometimes these roles actually have to be reversed. We have to think about how learning influeces technology because there are greater changes occuring in our society and not just within technology"

Listen (MP3) – 39min – 18Mb

This time we bring a great interview with George Siemens for your listening pleasure.

George Siemens works as an instructor at Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The main theme is common trade and the program functions as a laptop program. Through this work he has played around with a wide range of emerging technologies. George is also a regular blogger and a writer at his elearnspace.org website for about 3 years already. His writings focus on elearning, technology, knowledge management and social trends.

George emphasizes personalized learning and networked activity within that. Recently he wrote about a new learning theory of the digital age called connectivism and also released a new website focused on that topic. Learning is strongly a networked process where a learner aggregates external contents into a holistic representation. Previous theories of learning were created during a time when learning was not influenced by technology. Connectivism is a learning theory that takes into account the way how learning is influenced by the digital age. For a better overview of connectivism, see his article about it.

There is also a lot of interesting details about decentralizing interaction and how the profile of a learner has changed: the average learner is older and many are switching careers multiple times during a life-time. This requires a very dynamic approach to learning. New methods are required to deliver evidence of the knowledge one possesses.

The half-life of knowledge is shrinking and is affecting many of these issues. Informality of learning is breaking down the barriers of traditional learning. Learning is now a continuous process. We can’t only offer a four year learning experience but we have to support learning that lasts for the rest of the life-time. Learners aren’t just empty vessels to fill.

George considers open content less important compared to Open Source software (the pipe) as it
doesn’t directly provide us with means to keep our knowledge current. If the content becomes part of the pipe and gets combined with the added-value of the pipe, it sure becomes very important.

Some questions asked in the interview:

"The pipe (connection) is more important than what goes inside the pipe"

"Read more" to see the extracted future events and analysis.

Future events

Here is a list of
fictional future events extracted from the interview with George Siemens.
If you want to comment or have additional future events to present
based on the interview, please do so.

Disclaimer: The
future events were constructed from the ideas presented in the
interview and do not represent the ideas of the interviewee. No crystal
ball or time machines were used in the construction of these events.
Bear in mind, it’s the future and everything is possible.

Year 2005

Educators demand a move to basics

Usability and simplicity are the new focus areas of technology
development in the field of education. This is the result of the widening gap
between innovators and less tech-savvy users. There is demand on both
edges: new innovations in the first and simple practical solutions in
the latter. Technologically mainstream educators focus more on finding and implementing little changes that bring good benefits  instead of moving to a completely new working environment.

Year 2006

Blogs and wikis capture informal learning

A notable research journal featured an article just recently about the ability of
blogs and wikis to capture informal learning experiences more effectively
than LMS provided by their educational institutions. This is because
they have access to these systems for as long as they want their selves
and also because these systems build on top of informal conversations of their daily experiences. Social
software is now also called as informal media in contrary to LMS which is described as formal media.

Education struggles to support informal learning

The need to support students’ informal learning as a continual process
has been noticed as one of the highest priorities but educational institutions
still lack the resources and methods to support these needs. Informal
learning consists of 80% of all learning and is still far from the
context and influence of formal education.

Year 2007

Learning approached from the complexity point of view

As many natural sciences have tried to understand the world by first
atomizing a task into small pieces and then trying to understand it as
a whole, learning theorists have now noticed that the same approach  to understand learning as a process doesn’t work. Learning is simply just too complex to cut into pieces and make any sense out of that later on. Learning has to be
approached from some point of view that brings order into chaos. They
have found interesting new things about learning by using network
theories as a basis to understand the complex nature of learning.

Learners bring connections

Previously LMS systems were very centralized and closed. Now their
functionality is more open. As a result, teachers have noticed that
learners bring important and meaningful connections to a learning
environment when it supports interaction in an open environment. Simple
closed chat and forum discussions aren’t enough. We have realized that
the process of interaction cannot be centralized.

Connectiveness a core competency

Latest research found that those who spend most of their time on
focusing on what they know today are lacking behind in learning results
compared to those who actively build connections to make sure that they
stay up-to-date in their own field. Knowledge becomes obsolete faster than before and results in requirements to focus more on meta-cognitive skills of searching, analyzing and evaluating the available information-mass.

ASP service businesses use FLOSS

Application Service Providers who offer software as a service have
started to offer a wide variety of Open Source solutions and software
with value-added services. They are not necessarily
distributing the source code used in their internal ASP service
servers – a set of features remain closed to provide a
competitive advantage. These new services are especially important in regional development and speed up the adoption of Open Source as providers start to offer such solutions to their customers.

Year 2008

New boom of companies offering Open Source stacks

Educational institutions are receiving offerings from various new
service businesses which are offering complete Open Source stacks. These companies deliver a certain stack of an information infrastructure in a
customized manner. This saves a lot of time from institutions in their process of
gathering knowledge and plans on how to effectively deploy Open Source
software. As a result Open Source has become more financially driven through the diversity of different kind of service businesses.

Learners mad at losing access to past learning experiences

Students are furious and demand life-time access to knowledge they have
worked with, constructed and gathered in a centralized LMS.
Losing access to their LMS account is like losing access to knowledge
they say. After you have taken a course online and after you passed, you can’t
get in anymore. Disposing previous learning experiences as if they were
some kind of throwaway items is not accepted. As a result educational institutions demand better export features into their LMS solutions so that their students can move their learning history into a publicly available service.

Survey finds that people trust unknown online experts

A recent survey found that 85% of people trust certain online experts
they read in their decision to buy a product or a service. Trust in
online experts is highest in customer communities where people can read
third-party and independent commentary or issues and use Social
Reputation Systems (SRS) to sort out the most trusted experts. Least
trust was given to companies who present their ideas in a traditional third-person sales pitch.
More trust was given to companies which had employees blogging and
writing in first person about their daily work and products.

Year 2009

Teachers and students get tired of new technologies

The complexity of the LMS system has grown during the years. These
systems are growing in number of different tools and features on a
constant basis. Those who have used these tools right from the
beginning are able to handle the constant flood of new features. Others
feel alienated and just want something that does a certain job very
well. The demand for very focused and easy to use tools that are
easy to connect together in a customized fashion goes up.

Half-life of knowledge is shrinking even faster

Researchers have noticed that the knowledge you need in your daily
operations become obsolete more quickly than previously. This is
nothing new but they have compared the results of today to 5 years
earlier and it seems that the trend is not slowing down. As a result people
are getting more into informal learning and rely on expert communities,
where they can learn faster from those who know their topic very well
and are open in sharing their wisdom. Capturing their tacit knowledge
becomes important.

Connectivism as a method to develop learning environments

People have noticed the importance of networks and are reflecting on a
learning theory that makes more sense in a networked world.
Connectivism which views learning as more like a nervous system where
learning is a sequence of inputs and the network itself learns through
building better pipes, relations and connections to high-priority
resources proves to be interesting to many. This reflects on the latest
trend where the pipe is seen as more important than what is going
inside the pipe.

85% of online people rely of search engines

Most people with internet connections report search engines as their
core tools for filtering for information they happen to need at a
certain moment. The idea that such a pipe is not available at times
makes people feel uncomfortable and disabled – as if part of their
knowledge had disappeared. Many have dropped the personal requirement
to remember long and complex issues they come across because they are
able to access that information when they need it through their
intelligent data mining systems. Instead they focus on building
new connections.

ePortfolios focusing on capturing informal learning appear

ePortfolios were previously offered by their distinct organizations in
which the learner didn’t have the control and customization power of
their own ePortfolio. Open source software, cheap hosting and free
user-driven services provide new ways for learners to build their
personalized ePortfolio systems where they can put evidence of their
knowledge for everyone to see. Some people use more focused tools; others are satisfied with a simple blog.

Year 2010

Real-time data used for decision making

Top CIOs of various companies have almost real-time access to
information about their organization and markets. Instead of receiving
quarterly reports from various departments, they are able to follow
remotely in real time the work being done from customer satisfaction
surveys to closed sales. Real-time financial data proves to be
especially useful. Many organizations use aggregators that gather
information from various fields. There are service companies filtering
and providing the required information feeds.

Social software enters education

Centralized feature-driven collaboration products that use a lock-in
strategy start losing the game to more open social relationship-driven systems. In these systems the building of social relationships is more
important than the technical efficiency-driven features. A new mindset
that focuses on developing parts of interaction brings more value to
tools being used.

Mobile devices provide access from everywhere

Smart mobile devices help learners to access their collaborative
networks from everywhere. For example, a set of students may walk in
the nature taking pictures and describing the environment while in the
same time another team sits in a room connected to the internet
providing deeper analysis on the reportage received from the field.  Multimedia capabilities, location awareness and improved two-way communication interfaces enable a range of new possibilities.

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