How The Web Is Transforming Learning, Instruction and Education

August 19, 2011


None of us would be where we are today without learning, whether it was in the form of instruction, reading, observing or doing. Thanks to the web, conventional learning models are shifting. In fact, they’re being turned upside down.

We’re discovering that knowledge and instruction can be embedded in web apps, empowering students to learn and experience at their own pace. In addition, we know that everyone is passionate about something. And just as blogging transformed individuals into publishers, the web is allowing all of us to become professional instructors. If we want to be.

Your Classroom in Your Neighborhood

Companies in this space include Skillshare (“Learn anything from anyone”) and CommuniTeach (“Teach, learn, connect”). Their services are a mashup of Meetup, eBay and Eventbrite. They turn anyone into an instructor, who can create a class on any topic.  The role of their web sites, then, is to publish courses and instructor profiles and enable students to sign up for classes – and then attend them in person.

The beauty of this model is two-fold: it can make anyone an instructor and, it creates a nearly unlimited inventory of course content – well beyond what you could find in your local community college’s adult education catalog. As CommuniTeach writes on their home page, “Can you cook? Paint? Throw a frisbee? Write? Then people want to learn from you!”

Important: Rating & Reputation Systems

There will undoubtedly be a wide variation in instructor expertise and quality, which means a key component of making these systems effective and sustainable is a rating and reputation system for instructors. eBay wouldn’t be where it is today without its detailed seller ratings. Their reputation system allowed for enforcement by the community, which is a model that scales well.

Your Classroom, Online

The “neighborhood classroom” model involves “face to face” instruction in a physical classroom. Naturally, this model requires instruction to be regionalized (i.e. the current services are being rolled out in specific cities) and synchronized (at a specific day and time). Another emerging model is the online classroom, provided by companies like Udemy and Learnable.

The online model is interesting because it enables a global audience. And, it enables instructors to leverage a combination of self-paced (on-demand) and scheduled (live) instruction. While some of us are inclined to meet local learners (in person), others may be more comfortable teaching via webcam (online).

With Udemy, for example, instructors can make their course content available to learners on-demand and they can also create a Live Virtual Classroom that supports up to 10 video participants, thousands of viewers and interactive tools (e.g. whiteboard, chat and file sharing).

Video: Overview of Udemy

Your Children’s Classroom, Online

The Khan Academy is leading the way with a learning model that may just transform primary and secondary education. This quote on their FAQ page sums it up neatly: “With just a computer and a pen-tablet-mouse, one can educate the world!” The idea behind Khan Academy started when founder Salman Khan provided math instruction to his cousins. He placed his modules on YouTube and discovered that his cousins “preferred me on YouTube than in person.”

The feedback from his cousins provided an interesting insight into the power of self-paced learning – the students could fast-forward and rewind their cousin, learning at their own pace. They could complete exercises until they became proficient, without someone at their side asking, “do you understand it now?”

Teachers who have adopted the Khan Academy model in their classrooms have inverted the model: instruction can now be done at home (via the web and YouTube), while the homework (hands-on exercises) takes place in the classroom, with more time for the teacher to provide quality instruction (one-on-one care, if needed).

With its videos, exercises, knowledge map, instructor dashboards and game mechanics, Khan Academy has built a model that led Bill Gates to say, “it’s amazing, I think you just got a glimpse at the future of education.”

Video: Salman Khan at TED 2011

Note: The quote from Bill Gates occurs at the conclusion of this video.


Blogging enabled any individual to become a publisher. While some individuals blog as a labor of love, others have left their jobs, leveraging blogging as their primary source of income. Teaching is the new blogging. While I don’t expect blogging to go away any time soon, I do believe that a revolution is underway in learning and instruction.

Just as TechCrunch and Huffington Post grew from individual blogs into publishing empires, new instructional brands will emerge, empowered by individuals. The TechCrunch of tomorrow may still have a blog, but they’ll also have a physical and digital classroom to go along with it.

Related Links

  1. Blog Posting: A Look at The Future of Online Instruction


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What Virtual Events Really Do

September 9, 2010

In the book “Duct Tape Marketing” by John Jantsch (subtitle: “The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide”), there’s a paragraph in Chapter 2 titled “What You Really Sell.”  Here’s an excerpt of that paragraph:

“Here’s the funny thing about business. You don’t sell what it is you claim to offer.  You sell what the eventual buyers think they are going to get from your product. For instance, insurance sales folks don’t sell insurance; they sell peace of mind.  Chiropractors don’t sell neck adjustments; they sell some form of relief.”

Virtual event platforms sell a lot of things.  To some degree, the term “virtual events” is an injustice (or misnomer), based on the wide variety of applications supported by today’s platforms.  In fact, I wrote previously in a “virtual events futures column” that the term “virtual events” would disappear by 2011.

I don’t know whether my 2011 prediction will come true, but I do expect that by later this year, the “virtual” qualifier will start to be dropped, in favor of broader names.  With that being said, and in the spirit of Duct Tape Marketing, here’s my Top 10 List of what virtual “events” really do:

  1. Sales Pipeline Fueler
  2. Learning Platform
  3. Analyst Relations Venue
  4. Product Launch System
  5. HR Recruitment Engine
  6. Partner Community Enabler
  7. Corporate Training System
  8. Content Distribution Platform
  9. Revenue Generator
  10. A Marketer’s Ultimate Dream

Each of these terms better describes “what the eventual buyers think they are going to get from your product” than the term “virtual event.”

Share with us your thoughts – when you “purchase” a virtual event, what is it you’re really getting?

The Business Benefits Of Second Life

March 23, 2010

Veronica Butler-Borrer

The following is a guest post by Veronica Butler-Borrer, known in-world as Pooky Amsterdam (@PookyMedia).

AVATAR started off being the word of the new decade, and for good reason.  The blockbuster movie, which allows a man to take on a completely new form through a kind of mental transfer, has made hundreds of millions of dollars. It also speaks to the new decade in terms of new possibilities.

While Second Life has been part of the Internet for a while, recent changes and upgrades have made it more compelling as a business and media platform.  Recent economic conditions have also required new strategy to save money on travel costs.  And increased attention to environmental changes has required us to look more closely at green alternatives to business.  Facts and figures plus improved opportunities are now encouraging us as a business community to re-examine Second Life.

Pooky Amsterdam's Second Life avatar

What makes doing business as an avatar in Second Life a good choice?

  1. You can virtually meet people from anywhere in the world easily and inexpensively
  2. Your Avatar can be an extension of yourself and increase personal investment for you and the business community you are addressing
  3. VoIP puts you in the same room with those you need to speak with
  4. You can share any documents you need to
  5. You can work in real time on those shared documents
  6. Any 3D product or place can be re-created cost-effectively and to scale for business decision making
  7. You save on time and travel expense by just logging in from your computer
  8. You can establish a secure environment by restricting access to your location
  9. Training and Education done in virtual worlds returns great results
  10. Video created in Virtual Worlds (known as Machinima) or cinema done on machine will get your message to the public through regular distribution channels (e.g. YouTube).  In addition, it will be available as video content on your web site, plus be something you can include in your video emails

These are the main reasons to think about doing business virtually.  Let’s look into this a bit further.

Analysis: Benefits of Doing Business Virtually

That’s right, once you download the free client which is Second Life, you can enter a 3D world where you can meet by prearrangement, those whom you would like to, from anywhere in the world.  Of course this will take some organization, but that is easy to facilitate.

Your Avatar is an identity that you construct to carry out your work in a virtual world.  Allowing this creation to personify you means you invest yourself in it, and interact as well.  This is also not a bad thing, as in creating an other self which is “better, faster, stronger” will also result in your being able to transfer some of those properties to your real world person.  If you saw a digital image of yourself running on a virtual treadmill, would you feel like going to the gym? Probably so, according to a Stanford study showing that personalized avatars can motivate people to exercise and eat right.

It doesn’t yet beat Skype for number of chat minutes a month, but the VoIP technology in Second Life is excellent, and has served over a billion minutes of voice chat a month.  That means you can speak to people anywhere in the world, in the same virtual room, sharing important documents or any 3D representation for absolutely free.

Second Life Viewer 2

The latest viewer for Second Life (Viewer 2) also allows for shared media within this Virtual World and that means you can view ANY content on the web in real time with people from (or outside of) your organization.

This includes of course, Google Docs and Etherpad.  So you can make decisions together from your office, or home, without having to fly anywhere.  This is a remarkable opportunity that is afforded people who are on this site.  Plus, being able to recreate objects in 3 Dimensions means you can build anything to scale, whether it be a building or an engine, and have your people discuss this matter, again in real time and vocally.

When you have your own location, you can also set permissions to that landing point and area so you are the only ones who have access to it. This will not compromise your security at all, when you are discussing matters of confidentiality.

Second Life Case Study

Consider the case study entitled, “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life,”

The executive summary reads:

Before September 11, 2001, Customs and Immigration students at Loyalist College spent three weeks closely tailing professional border guards to experience the daily routine of their future job. In a post-911 environment however, this was no longer allowed. Training suffered until the Director of Educational Technology at Loyalist College catalyzed a virtual border crossing simulation in Second Life for Loyalist students.

The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56% success in 2007, to 95% at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted.

This is proof positive that training in a Virtual World environment has documented benefits.

I present a video which my company made to show you some of the amazing opportunities that the Virtual World of Second Life can afford.  Video is a hallmark of professionalism, and being able to have content on your website, and/or through video email is an important way to integrate your customer base.

Before embarking on a Second Life journey, you may want to seek expert help; it will save you time and ultimately money if you begin your investment with those who are knowledgeable about the world you are about to enter for business.  Just of course if you wanted to have a meeting in Paris, you would need concierge services there.  Pookymedia can help you get started.

Please feel free to contact Pooky Amsterdam at

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