Monday, September 08, 2003

Industrial Model

This philosophy page from Critical Mass shows the power of a great graphic. They're using the industrial metaphor in the context of individualized marketing messages, but this visual could certainly be applied to the personalization of learning. There's no question that the current education system was built around an industrial model -- envision the graphic going the other way, with varied individuals going into the machine and coming out the other side standardized.

Jay Cross wrote about personalizing learning this week:
"The industrial revolution succeeded because of the specialization of labor and the substitution of machines for labor; it took most of the people out of the equation. eLearning attempted to do the same thing. In the early days, eLearning was justified by the savings in instructor salaries and airplane tickets when learning migrated from the classroom to the desktop. Of course, people aren't bales of cotton and learning is social, so most of the early eLearning programs went down in flames."
So why don't producers of educational materials, sites and software use effective personalization? Because it's more expensive and complex. Standardizing creates cost benefits because there are fewer variables to control and single versions of each piece of content. But people aren't standardized, so they tend to detest being treated as if they were. It's easy to design a bunch of pages or tasks that are connected by a fixed or sequential navigation system -- creating systems that reflect and infer a user's choices is hard because they introduce variables that increase exponentially as the number of decision points grow.

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