Paul Phillips of Touch Clarity (now VP of Behavioral Targeting at Omniture) spoke yesterday on Decision Automation

Machines really are able to act more intelligently due recent discoveries in mathematics!

Paul Phillips’ presentation was fascinating to me as I could instantly see so many connections in how the application of decision automation can significantly improve multiple areas of e-business and online learning.

Much of the history of communication has been finding ways to do the same things we have done in the past – but more efficiently. For example, the focus is usually on how to get information to humans more quickly and efficiently. But the problem is humans only have a certain “bandwidth” – and we now face information overload (e.g. Paul estimated that 70% of his work day is spent responding to emails).

Paul pointed out how certain domains allow for the computer to receive information/data and make decisions more effectively and quickly than if a human needed to receive, interpret, and execute action on the data. Obviously certain decisions won’t and should never be made by a machine, but with certain things it just makes sense to let the computer do it faster and more effectively than any human could.

The domain he picked for this lecture is online advertising, although it could apply in a number of areas. It is true that if you go into a store or restaurant multiple times, most likely the employees there will remember you and customize their service to your needs. Most web sites do not…yet.

The mathematical algorithm (much of which has been invented in the last 7 years) which makes this possible allows the computer to take into account huge amounts of data (6 “buckets” of variables) which are used to predict and display the most likely messages or creatives to lead to conversion (in the case of online advertising) while at the same time constantly testing (and making alterations based on the) risk that something else might be better. In other words, the computer is constantly using the what it predicts will be the best thing in the immediate situation (specific person at a specific time in a specific place with a specific known history) while simultaneously measuring and monitoring the risk that it might be wrong and something else might be better.

The results are measurable too. There have been astounding uplifts in conversion rates of certain sites that have already employed this method (sometimes over 100% uplift) when compared to random selection of messages/creatives.

I’m currently in the process of studying the mathematics and methods behind decision automation and will continue to post what I am learning…

David Wiley on a False Dichotomy in Online Education (Scalability vs. Expensive Human Interaction) and on Localization

Laws, Howell & Lindsay (2003) contributed a thoughtful article called: Scalability in Distance Education: Can We Have Our Cake and Eat it Too? In this article they provide justification for the view that in online education there are trade-offs. For example, if you want to focus learning on the higher-level thinking skills (e.g. creating and evaluation) then you are going to need a greater degree of interaction with faculty, and it will be less scalable and less affordable.

In contrast, David Wiley spoke last week to a group of faculty, students and administration at BYU about “Openess, Localization and the Future of Learning Objects.” I can’t capture the whole presentation here, but he did make a distinction between what currently happens in “education” vs. what happens in “everyday” life for most students.















Even with most of the ways in which classrooms are becoming blended and online, they simply have made the transition from analog to digital – and tethered to mobile. They remain quite isolating (sometimes more than a normal class even), generic, consuming (as in simply taking in information and spitting it back out for assignments and tests), and closed (you can not see much about what the course covers before you take it, and after you are done with the course you can not go back to review the information you covered).

My synthesis of the valuable info from Laws, Howell & Lindsay (2003) in comparison to that of Wiley is that the dichotomy between scalability and interaction seems to exist simply when we have the old paradigm of education (where the knowledge comes mainly in a one-way flow from the teacher). In a new paradigm, where everyone is a teacher/learner, and knowledge exists in communities and connections – scalability is possible simultaneously with creativity and interactions.

The example that Wiley gave was the phenomenon of family history. Huge online communities of all different skill levels participate in learning about their own genealogy. There are premium services that allow formal “courses” for a fee, but most of the time you can learn what you need to from others who might be one or twenty steps ahead of you. It is very digital, mobile, connected, personalized, creating and open.

These types of communities seem to better represent the way that people learn and work in the connected, “flat” world. Outlet for creativity and connections (e.g. YouTube) allow people to pour energy into creating, sharing, and adapting. The keys to developing tools and platforms that people actually adopt and use – from Wiley’s perspective – are the following: Free, Simple and Easy. He argued that DRM (digital rights management) is an arms race and futile – and that we should rely on other incentives than strictly market incentives. (e.g. Red Hat,, and Universities themselves – all just add value around the commodity of content.)

I also found his following comments about adaptability (localization) particularly interesting, as they are tied to some of my key interests:

“Adaptability is even more critical an issue in the developing world than it is here” (although it is a big issue here too)

“Learning Objects [that are not adaptable] are a Trojan horse for Western imperialization.”

“Just as important as OERs (Open Educational Resources) is thinking about tools and local capacity for adapting OERs to the local context. And mechanisms for locally produced or adapted OERs to be shared back [so the original creators can learn from the adaptations]”

“Having a degree in Instructiona Design is not equivalent with cultural omniscience. (We quite often do now know what examples are meaningful to their lives, what language, what stories, etc.) – recognizing this will create some humility in us hopefully.”

“Principles in classroom are not necessarily the same principles that work online.”

The upcoming conference looks promising – Open Learning 2007: Localizing and Learning



The global aspect of harnessing collective intelligence (a.k.a. Wikinomics) in a Web 2.0 world

The global aspect of harnessing collective intelligence (a.k.a. Wikinomics) in a Web 2.0 world


I’m currently reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

This blog entry contains: (1) key insights/quotes from the book, that I follow up with (2) key questions of my own and (3) a request for participation in an upcoming research initiative.

Light BulbInsights:

“Due to deep changes in technology, demographics, business, the economy, and the world, we are entering a new age where people participate in the economy like never before. This new participation has reached a tipping point where new forms of mass collaboration are changing how goods and services are invented, produced, marketed, and distributed on a global basis. This change represents far-reaching opportunities for every company and for every person who gets connected.” (p. 10)

“In an age where mass collaboration can reshape an industry overnight, the old hierarchical ways of organizing work and innovations do not afford the level of agility, creativity, and connectivity that companies require to remain competitive in today’s environment.” (p. 31)

Tapscott & Williams articulated four defining principles that they feel define how 21st century companies will compete, which are (in some instances) drastically different from old models. These four principles are: (1) openness, (2) peering, (3) sharing, and (4) acting globally.

Regarding the last principle, “acting globally” —

Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat brought the significance of the new globalization to many. But the quickening pace and deep consequences of globalization for innovation and wealth creation are not yet fully understood.” (p. 28)

“The new globalization is both causing and caused by changes in collaboration and the way firms orchestrate capability to innovate and produce things. Staying globally competitive means monitoring business developments internationally and tapping a much larger global talent pool. Global alliances, human capital marketplaces, and peer production communities will provide access to new markets, ideas, and technologies. People and intellectual assets will need to be managed across cultures, disciplines, and organizational boundaries.” (p. 28-29)

“Winning companies will need to know the world, including its markets, technologies, and peoples. Those that don’t will find themselves handicapped, unable to compete in a business world that is unrecognizable by today’s standards.” (p. 29)

Question MarkQuestions:

When orchestrating people and intellectual assets “across cultures, disciplines, and organizational boundaries” — what difficulties will arise?

I assume mis-communication, ethnocentrism, and a lack of trust will be just as alive and frustrating as they frequently have been throughout time. Even with a relative absence of malicious motivations, cultural differences alone often make effective communication, trust, and understanding difficult — and generally do so in ways that are initially invisible to ourselves (because of how easy it is to assume that others either are or should think/work/feel/see/be like us).

The truth is that these technological infrastructures will connect people who are coming from very different world-views and expectations regarding relationships and rules around things as simple as when to communicate, to whom to communicate with, what to communicate about, and how long to continue the communications.

Lauzon (1999) made the argument “that one of the main challenges as we enter the new millennium will be ‘learning to live with difference’ (p. 274)” (quoted in Wang and Reeves, 2007, p. 14). Wang and Reeves (2007) further argue that, “both history and the current state of the world affairs indicate that living with difference is easier said than done” (p. 14).

So how can new collaborative technologies and ideologies be framed in a way that mitigates the negatives and maximizes the positives?

How can people from different cultures and disciplines come together in a way that they (1) trust, (2) understand, and (3) collaboratively create with each other?


I will be in Finland at the University of Joensuu this September coordinating a cross-cultural multidisciplinary research project that aims to help get more answers to these and related questions. I will be coordinating a team of PhD students (from China, Africa, Europe, etc…) on an educational technology initiative, where we will study: (a) the dynamics of the multinational multidisciplinary team itself, and (b) cross-cultural implementation issues and implications.

If you either know of a PhD student – or are one yourself – who is interested in participating (either for credit or simply for the experience), please read the attached description of the research and send me the required information.

Request for Participation in Cross-cultural Educational Technology Research

Web analytics for beginners – Ten of the top ways web analytics can improve your website’s business (in making data-driven decisions)

I had a friend ask me how to use web analytics to improve the website for his business. Here are some very rough thoughts I had this morning. Keep in mind that certain web analytics vendors provide more on some of these features than others.

I am posting these ideas to my blog so that I can get feedback from other web-analytics users or professionals on their thoughts. Again these are rough thoughts…some might be more obvious than others.

Ten of the top ways web analytics can improve your website’s business (in making data-driven decisions):

  • Significantly increase knowledge of who visits the site and improve understanding of when they come and what they do while they are there (time spent on page, pathing traveled, etc.)
  • Distinguish between first time and returning customer behavior
  • Utilize exit page and fall-out reports to identify what parts of your conversion process are difficult or uninviting
  • Increase knowledge of where visitors are coming from (what search term, web-site, bookmarked, etc) – as an indication of what they are looking for and how to increase the relevance of your messaging
  • Maximize available data on marketing ROI – conversion rates from different referral strategies (natural and paid search engine key-words, affiliate marketing, viral marketing, banner adds, email campaigns, etc..)
  • Easily find broken links – increase usability
  • Increase sophistication of segmentation and targeted messages – increase relevance
  • Use A/B and Multivariate Testing to derive data on hypotheses of how to improve any aspect of your site
  • When using Flash – gauge other usability issues through more nuanced data (e.g. how many times did users scroll over an item with their mouse before clicking it, how much of the video did they listen to, how long did they wait before realizing they needed to click on something, etc…)
  • Leverage the power of the computer algorithms in taking into account wide variety of information about the user and predicting what is the best “creative” to serve (e.g. see Touch Clarity’s services – now acquired by Omniture)

Those are the first ten that I thought of.

What other ideas do anyone have from their own research/experiences?

My first book! – “Understanding the Whole Student: Holistic Multicultural Education”

I’m excited that a book I am co-authoring with Cliff Mayes, Ramona Cutri, and Fidel Montero has been accepted for publication with Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group –Understanding the Whole Student: Holistic Multicultural Education.

Forgive me for a little bit of indulging, but I was pleasantly surprised (to say the least) at these very complimentary reviews:

“This may be the most important book on teaching and learning to have emerged in years. The authors have masterfully crafted an in-depth analysis of holistic education, while humanizing the multicultural experience as a pedagogical imperative. The text is well organized, clearly written, and meticulously researched. Faculty and students in teacher preparation programs, in graduate education programs, and those parents, administrators, and teachers working with children in today’s classrooms will find this book timely, insightful, highly engaging, and critically essential. I applaud the authors for this most significant contribution to the field of education.” Thomas Nelson, Professor of Education, University of the Pacific, Editor, Teacher Education Quarterly

“In Holistic Multicultural Education, Mayes and his associates emphasize how we are all culturally embedded beings. Taking a holistic perspective of cultural embeddedness (asserting that multicultural education isn’t all about power relations), the book provocatively lays the groundwork for asking some questions that multicultural education may too often ignore: How does culture interact with the sensori-motor, psycho-social, cognitive, and ethico-spiritual dimensions of human nature? And what does it mean for education to be both holistic and multicultural? In a world where cultures are violently colliding, these are fundamental questions.” Robert Boostrom, Professor and Chair, Teacher Education, University of Southern Indiana, Editor, Journal of Curriculum Studies

Although those are great reviews and I am happy about the book – please don’t expect me to know much 🙂 I still have a lot more questions than answers! If you want someone with answers – contact Cliff 🙂

Nothing inspirational – just some funny signs

Nothing inspirational – just some funny signs

Well, I am finishing up my last night of another round-the-world tour. I ended this trip in Turkey and now China. Since I don’t seem to have anything inspirational to say, I think I’ll simply post one of the funniest signs from the trip.

It is a tough choice deciding the winner. For example, on a cable car ride in GuangZhou, there is a warning that: “People with hypertension, cardiac, psychopath or bibulosity may not be allowed to ride the ropeway.

Phew – I’m glad people “with psychopath” are banned. Any ideas what “bibulosity” means?

On that same ride there was a rule that “splitting and lettering are forbidden” – it took me about a half hour before I realized they probably meant “spitting and littering are forbidden.” 🙂

On a beach in Turkey, there is a sign that says: “Parents responsible from their children.” Perhaps it was more a statement of the state of how things are rather than a request.

My friend John got a gift from a Chinese boy named “Forrest Gump” (guess what movie he watched over and over in order to learn English?). He was actually very hospitable in showing us his university, and afterward we gave him a thank you gift. Later that night we found a gift waiting at the hotel for us. It was crickets encapsulated in a heart shaped plastic mounting that said “Congratulotion.” That might be a great new name for a Johnson & Johnson product.

But I think the winner is the sign for the toilets on the way out of the historical ruins at Ephesus. Although most likely intentionally funny, I have never seen a sign like this in the world. Some young marketing genius in Turkey not only charges for the use of toilets here at this opportune spot, but does it in an add-value way that makes it hard to pass up:

Funny Picture