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


Did you enjoy this blog posting? If so, you can subscribe to the feed here:

Jack Dorsey’s Awesome Town Square Speech

June 9, 2011


TechCrunch published an article about a “TownSquare” speech that Jack Dorsey (@jack), CEO of Square, gave to the company back in November 2010.  The article, “Jack Dorsey & The Golden Gate Bridge (Exclusive Video)” provides a video of the speech, along with the full transcript. As I read the transcript, I drew some parallels to virtual events.

Design is as Much Functional as Visual

To quote Dorsey’s speech, “Design is not just visual, design is efficiency. Design is making something simple. Design is epic. Design is making it easy for a user to get from point A to point B.”

Love it.

Dorsey’s point reminds me of a great book I read, “Design Is How It Works” by Jay Greene. Design can be “visually beautiful,” in the same way the Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful (as Dorsey describes in his speech). But the Golden Gate is also functional – it’s a bridge that Dorsey wants to cross and it’s an experience to do so (unlike other bridges, which are neither cross-able nor great experiences).

This is where we stand today with virtual events. In the beginning, we “designed” virtual events around a visual experience. We tried to make things look like a trade show, with a 2.5D lobby, lounge, auditorium and exhibit hall. These environments were not easy to navigate. We often failed to get the user from point A to point B with ease.

If early stage virtual events were a search engine, we created bells and whistles on top of your search, whereas users just wanted a Google experience, delivering them directly from search query to results page.

Everyone is a Designer

To quote Dorsey, “Every engineer in this room, every operator in this room, every customer service agent in this room, is a designer.”

Everyone involved in a virtual event (e.g. producers, speakers, exhibitors, support staff, AV staff, web developers, graphics designers, etc.) is a designer, because each person plays a part (some more than others) in the resulting attendee experience.

Another quote from Dorsey, which he relayed from colleague “Brian” – “support and feedback is what our customers are telling us, and product is what we’re telling our customers.”

In a virtual event, the attendee experience is the product.  Virtual event designers need to think of attendees as a form of customer – we must build such a good “product” that customers would part with their money for – and, we must create happy customers who will return and “purchase” again.

Building the Brand

Dorsey likes to read The Economist. To quote Dorsey, “The other thing to notice about this is that there are no bylines at all, there are no names in here, not event the editor has a name. It’s The Economist, they’re building The Economist, they’re writing articles for The Economist.”

As I read this quote, I wondered whether an event could take the route of The Economist. I’d find it odd if an event did not list the speakers, their titles and company affiliations. But then I considered that if an event were to do this, the event brand would truly rule the roost. The event that comes closest to this today are the TED conferences.


Dorsey’s speech was both fascinating and inspiring. While Dorsey’s speech focused on building a great product, many parallels can be drawn between great products and great events.

Related Links

  1. TechCrunch article, “Jack Dorsey & The Golden Gate Bridge (Exclusive Video)”
  2. Video of Dorsey’s speech on TechCrunch TV

Virtual Event Email Promotions and Hotmail Active Views

January 14, 2011

Note: Image sourced from a Hotmail YouTube video.


The Hotmail Team has introduced an interactive email technology called Active Views.  The technology allows recipients of Active Views emails (within Hotmail) to interact with the email itself.

Hotmail showed examples of two of their early partners, Orbitz and Monster.  Recipients of the emails could search a flight (in the Orbitz email) or search for jobs (in the Monster email).

Interactive Emails and Virtual Event Promotions

Interactive email technologies present interesting possibilities for virtual event email promotions – and, more broadly, for any email promotion that seeks to elicit a response.  Imagine the following for virtual event email promotions:

  1. Register for the virtual event
  2. Enter your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. identity and see which of your followers, friends, connections, etc. have already registered
  3. Navigate through the session schedule and indicate which sessions you’re interested in attending
  4. Complete your attendee profile – upload your image/photo and add a short bio
  5. Social sharing – let your social networks know that you’re interested in the event – or, that you’ve just registered

The possibilities are endless.


  1. Only Hotmail “trusted parties” can utilize Active Views
  2. The technology is platform-specific (it’s limited to Hotmail)
  3. The technology is new and largely untested (at a large scale)
  4. It remains to be seen how well the technology functions across platforms (e.g. email clients, operating systems, tablet devices, etc.)
  5. While security provisions are in place, it may open a window for providers of phishing and malware

Related Links

  1. Active Views introduction on the Inside Windows Live blog
  2. TechCrunch: “Hotmail Active Views Look To Make Email Interactive
  3. ClickZ: “Hotmail Active Views Revives E-mail Innovation in 2011

There’s A Sparkle (IM) In My Virtual Eye

March 31, 2009

Source: Genkii

Source: Genkii

Related coverage: TechCrunch – “Sparkle: The iPhone Gets Its First Virtual World (And It’s Completely 3D)”

There’s a sparkle in my eye – it’s from a Tokyo-based company named Genkii and the product is, of course, Sparkle.  Genkii announced two products – Sparkle IM and Sparkle 3D.

Sparkle IM is an app available in the iPhone App Store (for $4.99) and supported on both the iPhone and iPod Touch.  In essence, Sparkle IM is a lightweight gateway to Second Life and OpenSim.  So you get to send and receive IM’s with your Second Life or OpenSim avatar, but without the download of the thick client.  Instead, you do it all from your iPhone.  You can find a short YouTube video on the Sparkle web page:

Why is this exciting to me?

  1. This is the first step in the placeshifting of virtual worlds experiences – analogous to what podcasts and portable MP3 players did for music consumption.  Now, you no longer need to be tethered to a laptop or PC to experience a virtual world – you go in-world from wherever your iPhone takes you (assuming adequate cell coverage).
  2. This could foreshadow virtual event support on PDA’s (see my prior blog posting on the notion of virtual events in a wireless world).  I’ve participated in many virtual events where exhibitors told me they were on the go – but, able to check in from their BlackBerry.  And today, what’s the most critical “application” in a virtual event?  Most would say it’s the chat application.  So apply the Sparkle IM “gateway” principal to virtual events – and presto! – virtual event chat on BlackBerry’s and iPhones.  Exhibitors would love it.

On to Sparkle 3D.  The TechCrunch post provides full details (with images).  Essentially, Genkii has developed their own 3D virtual world – for use on the iPhone and iPod Touch.  The support on the iPhone is interesting enough – but what might be the game changer here is Genkii’s vision of integration – they’re considering an integration with Sony’s Playstation Home virtual world and there’s speculation concerning integration with browser-based clients, the Nintento Wii and non-Apple phones, such as those running the Android OS.

Sparkle 3D can be quite powerful and pervasive if they’re able to integrate their platform this broadly.  No other virtual world is supported across this spectrum of devices and platforms (e.g. gaming systems, PDA’s, browsers), which could make Sparkle 3D the de-facto, cross-platform standard.  What other platform has been able to gain a footprint across an equally broad ecosystem?   Adobe’s Flash.

%d bloggers like this: