Thursday, August 28, 2014

Must watch freakout: 10 reasons why Facebook is good for Oculus Rift

We’ve seen Tron, The Matrix and Minority Report. But nothing, absolutely nothing in the cinema matches the actual experience of virtual reality. When I first slipped the Oculus Rift over my head, even though it was a development kit it was such a blast, such a mind-altering experience. It blew my mind. I knew then, that it could shift consciousness sand that its potential in education, which is all about cognitive change, was immense.
Rarely do you come across a piece of tech that you try once and you know that it will create radical change. That’s what makes this different. VR is not a gadget it is a medium. It’s moving from 2D to 3D, literally and extra dimension to your mind. I showed it to everyone I could muster, at conferences, to companies, at home, at parties, at a nightclub. I even took it to Africa. Eventually I found funding for two educational simulations in social care and retail. But there’s a story to tell here.
Mr Luckey
VR goes back to the 50s and 60s and had a rollercoaster ride for several decades in adventurous, but expensive, applications in the military, health, gaming and the arts. So Palmer Luckey, Mr Oculus Rift, joined in at the end of a long journey by researchers and pioneers in VR. He’s honest about this. What he did was immerse himself in that stuff. He worked with explorers, like Skip Rizzo and Mark Bolas, just two of many people who experimented and pushed the technology forward bit by bit. But it was Palmer who had the focus, drive and foresight to make it happen technically and commercially.
Good timing
Technology leaps are rarely single pieces of technology. They use a number of past technologies to create a breakthrough. This happened with printing, where the screw press, new inks, casting techniques and moveable type, along with papare, became the print revolution. More recently, the smartphone is an assembly of technologies, screens, sensors, processors and batteries, that made them fly off the shelves. When the technologies all work and the prices are right, you have a volume product. They are ensembles of tech and it was Luckey who brought together a suit of smart sensors, cheap screens, optics, processing power and software to get the potential price down to a few hundred of dollars. To get to presence, the feeling that you really are in another place, you have to tick off a long list of technical and psychological problems. Then there’s the graphics cards, 3D graphics packages and skills in building 3D worlds that have emerged to feed the games, movies, TV and other worlds. This needs lots of smart people. Oculus assembled those people and had the money and focus to get it done. This was never possible in a research lab, this attitude – focus and speed.
What’s also new is that Palmer Luckey had Kickstarter at his fingertips. That meant quick money. Traditional investment cash suffers from lag. They often lack vision and the adventurous enthusiasm for tech that you need for a tech-driven project like this. After a $2.4 m cash pull from Kickstarter, came the smart move of distributing affordable and not half bad, developer kits. This created a shitstorm of YouTube, blogger, tech tester and social media splurge. Demand came from this network, not a corporate marketing team or professional launch. Almost every gamer or tech-savvy kid knows about Oculus, although most have never tried one. Demand is already massive.
Zuckerberg arrives
Then, out of the blue, I read that Facebook had bought Oculus Rift for a cool $2 billion. Remember, this device hadn’t been launched and has no user base. It’s a prototype. So why buy a piece of kit that has been around since the 1950s with not a single customer? Well, they saw what I saw and when a prototype changes your consciousness and literally allows you to see the future, it’s time to slap the cash on the table. Zuckerberg’s opening statement impressed me, “Imagine enjoying courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting goggles on in your home.” He gets it. This is not just a games’ peripheral, it’s a game changer; in education, health and entertainment.
Why Facebook is a good partner
1. Missing link
There’s a missing link in this story - Cory Ondrejka -  the guy behind Second Life. Guess what, he’s now Head of Engineering at Facebook. It was Cory who got Zuckerberg hooked. Remember, at Facebook it’s still a tech-obsessed guy who runs the company, not some MBA clone. They tried, it, loved it and they bought it. This was a tech to tech sale – no suits involved. It was that simple.
2. Shock & awesome
It’s not like buying a population of users. This is pure tech. Nobody has used it except a bunch of developers on the DK1. It’s driven by the pure ‘awe’ factor. Try this thing. For once the word ‘Awesome!’ is not hyperbolic. I’ve demoed this kit to hundreds of people in many countries, including Africa, and the reaction has been, well, awesome. This was a sale based on actual experience of the product.
3. Game changer not games peripheral
It won’t be funnelled into the pure ‘gaming’ world. Facebook are not a gaming company and have a wider field of view. They see education, health and social media as major markets. Sony, it’s main, and only real competitor (at present) is really aiming at the games’ market. They have the PS4 and future consoles in mind. In fact, Morpheus only works with a PS4. That’s their game. I’m not criticising that, just saying that Facebook are playing an entirely different game.
4. Brave new worlds
VR is about creating and entering new worlds, some will be closed but the real prize are more open worlds where you can meet others, new forms of world building. It’s this sort of vision we need, not the Microsoft vision for Kinect (basically low-level gaming) or Apple gadgetry. The only other company that could have been a contender here was Google. Bu they’re a platform company. In my view they missed the boat.
5. Head start
Facebook had the vision to create the largest alternative world we’ve ever seen, inhabited by over 1.5 billion people. That’s one hell of an existing market. If anyone can make this fly on this scale, it’s Zuckerberg. He has a head start – 1.5 billion eyeballs. Of course, it’s also a hedge against seepage, competitors, even disillusionment with Facebook itself. At some point it will be challenged and they need to move it to higher ground to defend itself.
6. $2 billion
$2 billion is a lot of cash. It will accelerate research, recruitment and production. This means getting to market quicker with a product that is cheap, as it has a greater chance of getting massive volume sales. When you can sell tens, even hundreds of millions of these things, then £2 billion looks reasonable.
7. Consumer company
This is a consumer company, driven by the user experience and the experience is mind blowing. It moves us on into visual and aural worlds not the world of text and 2D snaps. Facebook is driven by users and their created content. This is what the Oculus promises, worlds created by and shared by millions of people. It’s about the opportunity to create things that you will be gagging to experience. For some, who have never seen VR before, it’s almost a life changing experience, the idea that you can enter another world and feel as though you really are there and that it really can induce intense emotions and sensations. Presence is about being there, not just seeing something. There’s a world of difference between seeing and being. As a transformative experience, it is compelling.
8. Not traditional media
This is way beyond those media folks trapped in 2D. You can buy as many big screen TVs as you want, even a hokey 3D one. You can go to the cinema to get a pseudo-immersive experience on an even bigger screen. This is just upgrading through bigger and bigger screens. The Oculus leap is to wrap a screen around the back of your head, above and below, put you right inside any created world. That’s a breakthrough. Gamers get it, those that have tried the Oculus get it – traditional media companies don’t. It’s just another slot in their TV shows about gadgets. That’s why a traditional media company couldn’t handle an Oculus acquisition.
9. We live in a 3D world, not 2D
Education is a 2D affair. Teaching is 2D subjects taught using 2D materials, hence the focus on the academic, at the expense of the vocational. And we wonder why graduates and school leavers are ill-prepared for the real word – they haven’t been taught about the real world, only a 2D representation of that world. Education, at last, has an affordable medium in which any world can be represented and where we can, as the psychology of learning tells us we should, learn by doing. This leap from 2D to 3D is to literally add a new dimension to our experience.
10. More than mimicry
This is not mimicry. It’s not about copying the real world, although that is useful in itself. What really matters is the ability to go beyond the real. It started in flights sims, where you can repeatedly experience things you are unlikely to experience in real life, but need to know, for example repeatedly crashing the plane. It’s about doing the dangerous, even impossible. Going down to the molecular level, into space, into psychological realms, even different, induced brain states. It’s aesthetic and artistic experiences you’ve never had. It’s high-end training in surgery simulations. It’s prototyping almost anything you buy. It’s travel to places you’ve never seen and may never see for real. See yourself and experience what it’s like to be another gender, race or age. It’s just so damn different.
Before I get flooded with complaints about Facebook and privacy, let me anticipate an answer. I’m not one of those people who see Facebook as a totalitarian monster. I’ve spent years in their world, for free, and am OK with them knowing something about me. They’ve given me renewed friendships with people I knew decades ago, new friends around the world, tons of great content, work, rip-roaring debate, entertainment and a whole load of stuff that has widened my knowledge of the world and others. That, for me, is a fair trade. I ‘like’ Facebook and resent then sneering types, who have never used it but think they know what it is, or use it, then use it to constantly complain about it. If you don’t like the play – leave the theatre.

Leaving Facebook as evil totalitarian corporate aside, there are several predictable risks that may befall this deal. First, in catching this butterfly they may crush it. I don’t think this is likely as Cory Ondrejka is leading the show and it is not in Facebook’s interest to blow $2 billion on something they let be destroyed. Second, they may play the wrong game and force everyone through some dystopian route. This I doubt as we’re not in some David Eggers novel here. This is real cash and a real business. They want the Oculus to enhance their business not make people hate them or leave Facebook. 
Whatever the outcome, I hope it succeeds. It was a bold move and I like boldness. I also like the story, a long, hard trail of research and pioneering work, comes together through a visionary and crowdsourced investment, taken to the whole world through a social media company. I want us to escape from Disney, Time Warner, Murdoch and all the other media companies that try social media and tech, and usually fail. It’s time to move on and give the new kids on the media block a chance.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

10 counter-intuitive, researched tips on use of video in learning

When considering video what do key pieces of research say about impact on learning outcomes. As it turns out video may seem instinctively useful but that is not always the case. Our limitations in terms of working memory, episodic & semantic memory, attention and perceptual systems all play a role in limiting the effectiveness of video. Understand how the mind works and you can use video more effectively and cheaply. Here’s seven research-based facts that you should perhaps consider when using video in learning:
1. Media rich not always mind rich
Intuitively we may feel that rich, high quality, high production value video with animation, graphics, background sound, music and narration makes for great learning. But the evidence suggests otherwise. This approach can often result in ‘seductive but irrelevant distractions’. Meyer and Moreno have researched this area in detail and found that cognitive overload and dissonance can often occur when too much information is being presented. Controlling the load on working memory is an important consideration. Lesson: video is not always a good medium for learning. Lesson: Video can inhibit as well as enhance learning.
2. Attention maxes out at 6 mins
Philip Guo has tracked median engagement times versus video length, aggregated over several million EdX maths and science video sessions. He found that the average engagement time of any video maxes out markedly at 6 minutes, regardless of its length. An interesting side finding was that students who had enrolled for the certificate engaged more with the videos. Lesson: keep videos below 6 minutes.
3, No  to 1 hour lectures (even chopped)
The edX researchers, confirmed by the MOOC factory in Lausanne, have found that, in addition to avoiding the dreaded 1 hour lectures, one should also avoid simply chopping up the existing 1 hour lecture into 6 minute chunkes. Take time to rework and rehearse the chunks as small videos in themselves, not the result of meat-chopper editing.
4. Stay personal, informal & enthusiastic
An interesting research finding from MOOCs, where huge amounts of video have been used by millions of learners is that learners don’t like over-produced, TV quality presentation. They much prefer more informal, personal and, above all, enthusiastic performances by their teachers. Hesitations, a chatty relaxed style even corrected errors. Lesson: More YouTube than TV.
5. Image quality NOT key
Most video cameras these days produce good pictures. Even then you really have to know about ISO, depth of field, framing and so on to get the best results. However, on the basic issue of picture quality, it doesn’t matter that musch when it comes to retention.
6. Audio quality IS key
Poor quality video quality is rarely the problem when it comes to learning and retention. Bad audio can, however, cripple both. . are not necessarily damaging in terms of learning and retention, poor quality audio, however, is bad news. Nass & Reeves showed that poor audio, hissy, distant or robotic can seriously affect retention.
7. Do not mix video & text
Video and accompanying text is a no-no. Never put the script up at the same time as the video. It overloads working memory and damages learning.  Mayer (2001 suggests that both a visual and a narrative description increases the amount of time information about the process can be held and processed in working memory, leading to measurable, lower retention.
8. Worked examples
In research on 862 videos from four edX courses, for subjects that rely on symbolic, semantic reasoning, such as maths, physics and coding, worked examples (a la Khan Academy or Udacity) work far better.
9. Size matters
In an HCI course I took the talking head was postage size stamp size in the bottom right of the screen. Nass and Reeves showed that screen size does matter when it comes to reaction.  As my BBC film editor used to say – it’s all in the eyes.
10. Alternate heads & images
With talking heads, go full screen and alternate with slides. Use talking heads for conceptual explanation and slides for diagrams, images and pictures that really do explain a point and don’t merely illustrate the point.

There’s lots more to be said about the use of video in learning. I’ve been using it for over 30 years and all of the above are confirmed by that vast and wonderful experiment – YouTube. There’s lots of different types of video and when it comes to learning, it is vital that the optimal technique is used. TV and film, in that sense, are not the most useful guides as, for learning, you often have to break their rules.

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Leadership: the weasel word that led to bad management

‘Leader’ is an odd word when it comes to management. It’s a bit phoney, exaggerated but does it also lead to dysfunctional behaviour? What do you do for a living? I’m a ‘leader’. Cue laughter and ridicule. Have you ever heard anyone in an organisation say, “We need to ask out ‘Leader’?” - only if it was sneering sarcasm.
Weasel words
When I first started in the learning world over 30 years ago ‘Leader’ was not a word I heard at all. There was plenty of good management theory and training and most people who headed up companies were called Managing Directors. Then the tech bubble came along in the 90s and we all went gaga for snazzy, new US terms and everyone swapped out the sober and descriptive MD for CEO (Chief Executive Officer) (I’m guilty here). The word ‘Chief’ is an interesting choice. You were no longer someone who ‘managed’ others but the big chief, big cheese, a big shot.  It was then that another word rose like Godzilla from the depths of the cess pit that is HR lingo – ‘leader’. Suddenly, managers weren’t people with competences but top dogs who ‘Led’ people towards victory. Mike, senior manager in accounts, was now a dog of war.
The opposite of leader is follower. In a sense the word infers that the people you lead and manage are followers. It sets you apart from other people, not a great quality in management. Of course, leadership trainers will tell you that it’s not about creating followers, but in practice this is the effect the word creates and management trainers jump through hoops to reconcile this leader/follower dilemma. If you want to avoid this problem, simply don’t use the word ‘leader’.
Leadership courses
When the language changed so did the training. HR bods were suddenly the leading thinkers on leadership. HR and training departments saw an opportunity to big-up their status by breeding, not managers, but leaders. Middle managers went on ‘leadership’ courses run by people who had never led anything, except flipchart workshops, in their entire lives. In practice this meant cobbling together stuff from existing management courses and adding a veneer of specious content from books on leadership. Winging it became a new course design methodology and every management trainer in the land suddenly became a leadership trainer.
Middle managers went crazy for books they’d never dreamt of reading. I’ve seen everything from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius to Lao Tzu’s Art of War touted as serious management texts. I knew it had all gone seriously wrong when I saw a commuter, with a bad suit and combination lock briefcase, on the 7.15 from Brighton to London, reading ‘The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan’. What next? Hitler, Stalin… Pol Pot?
Led to the abyss
Managers loved their new found status as little generals, leading the troops. They responded to the training as narcissists respond to flattery, with gusto. I don’t think it’s an accident that this coincided with the megalomaniac behaviour in the banks where ‘leaders’ fed on a high-octane diet of ‘leadership’ training, ‘led’ us into the abyss of financial collapse. These ‘leaders’ adopted delusional strategies based on over-confidence and a lack of reality. There’s a price to pay for believing that you’re destined to ‘lead’ – realism. Managers who now saw themselves as ‘Leaders of the pack’ engaged in behaviours that flowed from the word. They became driven by their own goals and not the goals of the organisation or others. It also led to greater differentials between leader and follower salaries.

We have seen leaders in every area of human endeavour succumb to the tyranny of ‘leadership’, in business, politics, newspapers, sport, even the police. Rather than focus on competences and sound management; fuelled by greed, they focused on personal rewards and ‘go for broke’ strategies. So what happened to these ’leaders’? Did they lose their own money? No. Did any go to jail? No. Are they still around? Yes. Have we reflected on whether all of that ‘leadership’ malarkey was right? NO. Let’s get real and go back to realistic learning and realistic titles.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

MOOC points from a real learner

For the last 9 weeks I have been enrolled in a Coursera MOOC ‘An Introduction to Marketing’, run by Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. Here’s the question; was it worth it and have my marketing skills improved? YES & YES!
I have to admit, nine weeks ago, I was skeptical and slightly reluctant to set aside  time over nine weeks for this course, as I had looked at others that were not so good and weaker on content. Strangely, the thing that attracted me to this course was the nice certificate at the end that I could link to my LinkedIn profile. To do this I had to sign up for the ‘Signature track’. This cost £30, didn’t break the bank, but gave me a goal, made me care and kept me going.
Context matters
I had a quick look at some of the lectures and was hooked. They were not hour-long, boring videos of a dull Prof talking at me, they were 10 minute videos, well made in different consumer locations, with interesting people, explaining things in context. For example, I really appreciated the insights into the difference between product and customer-centric companies. It was this contextual approach that worked for me. I liked this real-world application side as that’s the world in which I have to apply my skills.
Quizzes kept me going
Every so often, the video would stop and I had to answer a question on what I had just seen, keeping me engaged and not allowing me to simply go with the flow, immersing me in theory until I drowned. The module quizzes also keep you on your marketing toes as it’s easy to just drift along without reflection.
Useful app
I quickly downloaded the app so I could dip in and out when I had a free 10 minutes. That is exactly what I did. Every night, before I went to bed, I watched one quick lecture, at my own pace, until I understood the concepts. This was the perfect amount of learning for me as I have a job, play the drums and all that stuff. Whenever I had a bit of free time, I’d do it – even at 3/4am - that suits me, as when I felt productive, I’d get a load done. I felt in control. 
The Prof got back to me!
I could interact with different students on the forums, reading what they had written from their experiences. I didn’t spend a huge amout of time on the forums but they were interesting. I did ask some questions, to which the professors promptly replied. It was cool to get a reply from the Prof on a question I asked about ‘Celebrity endorsements’. For once learning was a pleasant experience! 
Tests not tricks
Tests came frequently and I scored 100% in all of them (honestly!). These really made me focus on the content and commit to remembering what I had learnt. Now I look back on it, I realize that these first tests weren’t trying to trick me , judge me or confuse me (that’s what tests and exams have always felt like), but asking me if I really knew something. If I found it hard, I could flip to the lecture and seal up any gaps. Only the last and longest test was a struggle, asking me more in-depth questions and making me project what I had learnt onto different situations. This was challenging but that’s exactly what I needed, as I was doing this, not as a course, but as a way of improving my marketing skills for my job.
Overall, a good MOOC has a good set of people behind it, professors who are clearly excited by the fact they are teaching an unlimited amount of people and are passionate about that. I like the idea that I can shop around, find the MOOC that suits me, and the convenience of doing it when it suited me, usually late at night.
Final thoughts
Did I like the MOOC? Hell yeah. Did I learn much? Absolutely. Was it useful? My job is in social media marketing and this gave me some depth of understanding on mainstream marketing. Would I do another? Already started.
This is my LinkedIn profile with the certificate. I am a marketing person after all ;)

I missed something. My employer encouraged me to take this sort of course and the fact that I can take my certificate (with distinction!) back to him is a big plus.
    Carl Clark (20)

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

6 reasons why we don't need ‘mentors’

I’ve never had a mentor. I don’t want a mentor. I don’t like mentoring. I know this is swimming against the tide of liberal orthodoxy but I value liberal values more than I value fads, groupthink or orthodoxy. But there’s many reasons why I’m both suspicious of and reject mentoring.
1. Fictional constructs
Mentor was a character in Homer’s The Odyssey and it is often assumed that his role was one of a guiding, experienced hand for his son and family. This is false. Mentor was simply an old acquaintance, ill-qualified play a protective role to his family, and worse, turned out to be a patsy for a hidden force, the God Athena. A similar tale has unfolded in recent times, with mentoring being revived on the back of late 19th century psychoanalytic theory, where the original theory has been abandoned but the practice upon which it is based survives.
There is another later work of fiction that resurrected the classical model as a source for the word ‘mentor’ in education, Fenelon’s Les Adventures de Telemaque (1699). This is a tale about limiting the excesses of a king but it did reinforce the presence of the word ‘mentor’ in both French, then English. Yet Mentor in this ponderous novel is prone to didactic speeches about how a king should rule (aided by the aristocracy), hardly the egalitarian text one would expect to spark a revolution in education. Interestingly, it pops up again as one of two books given to Emile in the novel of the same name, by Rousseau.
2. Psychoanalytic veneer
Mentoring came out of the psychanalytic movement in education with Freud and Rogers. Nothing survives of Freud’s theories on the mind, education, dreams, humour or anything else for that matter. But Rogers is different. His legacy is more pernicious, like pollution seeping into the water table. His work has resulted in institutional practice that has hung around many decades after the core theories have been abandoned. We need to learn how to abandon practice when the theories are defunct.
3. Mentoring is a trap
As Homer actually showed, one person is not enough. To limit your path, in work or life, to one person is to be feeble when it comes to probability. Why choose one person (often that person is chosen for you) when there are lots of good people out there. It stands to reason that a range of advice on a range of diverse topics (surely work and life are diverse) needs a range of expertise. Spread your network, speak to a range and variety of people. Don’t get caught in one person’s spider’s web. Mentoring is a trap.
4.  People, social media, books etc. are better
You don’t need a single person, you need advice and expertise. That is to be found in a range of resources. Sure, a range of people can do the job and hey - the best write books. Books are cheap, so buy some of the best and get reading. You can do it where and when you want and they’re written by the world’s best, not just the person who has been chosen in your organisation or a local life coach. And if you yearn for that human face, try video – TED and YouTube – they’re free! I’d take a portion of the training budget and allow people to buy from a wide reading list, arther than institute expensive mentoring programmes. Then there's socil media a rich source of advice and guidance provided daily. This makes people more self-reliant, rather than being infantalised.
5. Absence of proof
Little (1990:297) warned us, on mentoring, that, “relative to the amount of pragmatic activity, the volume of empirical enquiry is small [and]... that rhetoric and action have outpaced both conceptual development and empirical warrant.”  This, I fear, is not unusual in the learning world.
Where such research is conducted the results are disappointing. Mentors are often seen as important learning resources in teacher education and in HE teaching development. Empirical research shows, however, that the potential is rarely realised (Edwards and Protheroe, 2003: 228; Boice, 1992: 107). The results often reveal low level "training" that simply instruct novices on the "correct" way to teach (Handal and Lauvas, 1988: 65; Hart-Landsberg et al., 1992: 31). Much mentoring has been found to be rather shallow and ineffective (Edwards, 1998: 55-56).
6. Fossilised practice
Practice gets amplified and proliferates through second-rate train the trainer and teacher training courses, pushing orthodoxies long after their sell-by, even retirement, date. Mentoring has become a lazy option and alternative for hard work, effort, real learning and reflection. By all means strive to acquire knowledge, skills and competences, but don’t imagine that any of this will come through mentoring.
Conclusion: get a life, not a coach
I know that many of you will feel uncomforted by these arguments but work and life are not playthings. It’s your life and career, so don’t for one minute imagine that the HR department has the solutions you need. Human resources is there to protect organisations from their employees, so is rarely either human or resourceful. Stay away from this stuff if you really want to remain independently human and resourceful.
English translation of Les Adventures de Telemaque
Little, J.W. (1990) ‘The Mentor Phenomenon and the Social Organisation of Teaching’, in: Review of Research in Education. Washington D.C: American Educational Research Association.
Warhurst R (2003)Learning to lecture Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

What does the learning game have to learn from the World Cup?

Most professional sports employ data to improve performance. Yet football (soccer), in data terms, is not so much the beautiful game as a rather messy and random affair. Unlike many sports, such as basketball, American football and baseball, in soccer the ball changes sides so often it is difficult to identify patterns in the numbers. That’s not to say they don’t exist. As usual, the data, although messy, reveals some surprising facts:
1. Corners don’t matter that much. Mourino was amazed when English supporters cheered corners, as he knew they rarely led to goals. The stats support this. There is no correlation between corners and goals – the correlation is essentially zero.
2. Then there’s the old myth that teams are at their most vulnerable after scoring a goal. Teams are not more vulnerable immediately after scoring goal. In fact the numbers show that this is the least likely time that a goal will be conceded.
3. Coin toss is the most significant factor in penalty-shootout success. 60% of all penalty shootouts have been won by coin toss winners. Goalkeepers who mess about on the line and hold their hands high to look bigger also have an effect, making a miss more likely. Standing 10 cms to one side also has a significant, almost unconscious effect on the goalscorer, making one side look more tempting.
4. It’s a game of turnovers. The vast amount of moves never go beyond four passes. This has huge consequences – ‘pressing’ matters, especially in final third of field. Avoiding turnovers is perhaps the most important tactic in football.
These are just a few of the secrets revealed by Chris Anderson and David Sally, two academics, from Cornell and Dartmouth, in their book The Numbers Game – Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong.
Seasoned managers, coaches, trainers, players often get it wrong because in football our cognitive biases exaggerate individual events. We exaggerate the positives and what is obvious and seen at the expense of the hidden, subtle and negative. A good example is defending. Mancini may have been the greatest defender ever because of what he never did – tackle. We prize tackling, yet it is often a weakness not a strength. We think that corners matter when they don’t. Similarly in education, we prize the opinions of seasoned practitioners over the data: exams, uniforms, one hour lectures, one hour lessons and all sorts of specious things just because they’re part of the traditional game.
Soccer and learning
If a sport like football, which is random and chaotic, can benefit from data and algorithms that guide action such as buying players, picking players, strategy, and tactics, then surely something far more predictable, such as learning will benefit from such an approach? What we can learn is that data about the ‘players’ is vital, what they do, when they do it and what leads to positive outcomes. It is this focus on the performance of the people who really count, learners, that is so often missing in learning.
Education gathers wrong data
Education has, perhaps, been gathering the wrong data – bums on seats, contact time, course completion, results of summative assessments, even happy sheets. What is missing is the more fine grained data about what works and doesn’t work. Data about the learner’s progress. Here. We can lever data, through algorithms to improve each student’s performance as they take a learning journey. We need the sort of data that a satnav uses to identify where they start, where they’re going and, when they go off-piste, how to get them back on track.

Just as the ‘nay-sayers’ in football claimed that the numbers would have no role to play in performance, as it was all down to good coaches, trainers and scouts, so education claims that it’s all down to good teachers. This is a stupid, silver-bullet response to a complex set of problems. It is partly down to good teachers but aided by good data, learners have the most to gain from other interventions. Education needs to take a far more critical look at pedagogic change and admit that critical analysis leads to better outcomes. This means using data, especially personal data, in real time to improve learner performance

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