Archive | August, 2012

Orville Wright Did Not Have A Pilot’s License

29 Aug

“Orville Wright Did Not Have A Pilot’s License”

This is the entire text of chapter 19 in the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball. The author, Gordon McKenzie, has conveyed a profound message in these eight words. The Wright brothers did not need anyone’s permission to invent the airplane. They had the passion, creativity, and persistence to follow their dreams. They inspired their friends and family members into helping them, and together they pursued their idea of helping man fly.

The book is about creativity in the workplace and how one can avoid getting tangled in the rules and systems of the bureaucracy (the hairball) by orbiting it tangentially (being creative while working within constraints).

Related readings
Orville Wright Did Not Have A Pilot’s License
Creativity and the Creative Paradox


Why Students Drop Out Of College

14 Aug

A large percentage of the world’s best universities are located in the US. Cutting edge research happens, a large number of master’s and doctorate degrees are awarded, patents are filed, students from all over the world come to study and work, huge amounts of money is invested in research and development, and innovative ideas germinate here in the US. The world is moving from a manufacturing-based to a knowledge-based economy. The manufacturing jobs have already moved to China and, in all probability, are not coming back. Data shows that the higher the education level, the higher is the income, and lower is the unemployment rate.

So why does the US have the best universities but also the highest dropout rates?

There are several reasons:

  1. Huge expenses: College has become too expensive while the income in real terms has stagnated or even gone down. This is the most common reason for students dropping out of colleges. The colleges are increasing the tuition and living expenses, mainly because they can. They don’t follow the laws of Economics 101 – the demand is more, supply is more, but the price is not going down.
  2. Work-study balance: For many students who work to support their college education or family, balancing work with studies doesn’t work out well.
  3. Lack of academic preparedness: Students who are graduating high school are not academically prepared to handle the rigors of college. The alleged failure of public education system and dropout rates is another cause of concern.
  4. Unable to handle the stress: College education is hard. There is too much reading, writing, group work, and thinking. And too many extra-curricular activities. Less time-on-task leads to poor grades, which further leads to low self-esteem and even less studying.
  5. Mismatch with the major: Some students major in subjects that they are not interested in, and they realize this fact too late.
  6. Atmosphere shock: Leaving home and residing in a college dorm is too shocking for some students who are not able to cope with this change.
  7. Social misfit: Leaving school friends and making new friends in college is too difficult for some students. The loneliness is difficult to overcome.
  8. Health problems: Bad health, life is difficult.
  9. Mental/emotional issues: It could happen because of any number of reasons.

What can we do to help at-risk students stay with the education system and not drop out?

Related readings
Colleges Are Failing in Graduation Rates
High College Dropout Rate Threatens U.S. Growth
College Completion: Who graduates from college, who doesn’t, and why it matters
College Dropouts: 10 Reasons Why Students Quit School

Is Content King?

2 Aug

“Content is king”. I’ve been hearing and reading this phrase ever since I started working in the e-learning industry more than a decade ago. It has been mostly true for most of the history of content. But is it true now? I think the answer is “it depends”.

Content is social
In the last few years, the free content on the Internet is killing the print industry. People recognized that they don’t need “experts” writing news stories, analyses, and reviews for which they have to pay. Content created by amateurs is good enough and most importantly, it’s free. Breaking news is available on Twitter, restaurant reviews are available on Yelp, content on any topic is available on Wikipedia. If I want to learn a programming language, I just go to W3Schools or Codecademy. If I have a question, I can ask my friends on Facebook or anyone on Yahoo Answers, Stack Exchange, or Quora. Most importantly, participation in a community increases engagement.

Experience economy
Design and user experience have always been important in every industry but good design is hard and not many people focus on it. Content has always been available in print or digital format. But it doesn’t always address our learning and development needs. It’s generic and is not tailored to anyone. It might be irrelevant. However, the main reason users do not trust a Web site is not content, it’s the Web site design. On the other hand, people trust content originating from authoritative sources.

Content, however good it is, will not be used if it doesn’t fit nicely into a satisfying experience. Reading a book doesn’t provide that experience, so a number of startups are developing interactive ebooks using rich media. Analytics tools are available, which, when integrated with ebooks and quizzing, might provide useful usage and performance data. Social media is being integrated with ebooks to help students interact with their peers and teachers.

Quality content is not enough. It should reach the target users. Marketing, especially social media marketing, is very important to make sure a large number of people are aware of the existence of the content. Good content is what gets shared, and that’s the best marketing for the content.

Content for students
Times are changing. Very soon, content creators will be competing  not only on the quality of content, but the experience they are providing to their users. Users will no longer learn by reading their books, they will get all kinds of current information delivered to their electronic devices. They will take an assessment and will instantly get feedback and recommendation on what they should study next and which resources they can use. They have a question, they just ask, and someone, somewhere around the globe will  answer it. They are on the move, and small chunks of information will be delivered to their smartphones based on spoken search queries. Content would never be stale again. Rapidly advancing technology is making things happen that were unimaginable a few years ago.

There are three elements of a great experience: Content, community, and technology.

So the answer to the question – Is content king? – is yes. Content will always be king. But the place for experts in today’s world is getting smaller and smaller. The wisdom of individuals and crowds is taking over content creation. The design of the experience is more important than ever.

Related Readings

Content Is No Longer King: Curation Is King

Why Content Quality Matters: The 7 Hallmarks of Compelling Content
Psychology of Trust on the Internet