Blended learning is about combining real world experiences with virtual ones. When done well, it takes the best of both experiences and creates something that offers benefits greater than can be achieved in isolation.
An example of this in action is a new Lego App called ‘Life of George’. There are two elements to it: an App on the iPhone and a box of Lego. The premise is that ‘George’ has been travelling and has taken an album of photos. You look through the album and see a range of two dimensional images that he has taken, for example, a lego crab or house. Your challenge is to build whatever is in the photo.
Once you’ve build it, you place it onto a mat that has a grid printed on it and take a photo with your phone. The App then scores what you’ve done, both for accuracy and the amount of time that you’ve taken. You lose points for having the wrong coloured bricks in the wrong place, or for misaligning bricks, or for taking too long. Your score then goes onto the leader-board to compare against other players.
Technically, it’s quite neat, combining shape recognition with colour matching and providing you with real time feedback. In educational terms, it’s giving you highly contextual feedback in real time, something that a teacher would do.
Whilst not particularly powerful in it’s own right, it does exemplify some very interesting and powerful principles in it’s design. The App provides the narrative and the structure to the learning, progressing from the simple to complex designs. The lego provides the experiential and play elements, allowing you to try different designs. The App provides the scoring mechanism and contextual feedback, which would be missing from solo play. Essentially, we are introducing an element of feedback that would not exist otherwise.
Now, whilst the App only deals with two dimensional models (one brick thick!), it’s only a matter of time before you will be able to ‘score’ three dimensional ones. Image recognition is something that computers are getting better at, and as this happens, we will see more powerful learning applications emerging. For example, imagine if we could integrate diagnostic testing and scoring for students working to build an engine, or painting a picture. Imagine what we can achieve as your phone starts to be able to recognise individual items within it’s view, and to recognise collections of images, such as a window display or elements of interior design.
It’s not that far fetched. Even your mobile phone can now recognise people’s faces, something that was science fiction ten years ago. I can take a photo at a party and Facebook will tell me who is in the picture. It can already use geolocation to tell me that the party was in Bournemouth, but imagine when it can recognise the house where it took place, and date the photo from the clothes you are wearing, and tell you when you last wore them.
As Apps and devices become more spatially aware, and grow their ability to recognise and classify their surroundings, the potential educational applications grow enormously. Medical Apps that can diagnose conditions or assess your ability to diagnose them. Already your mobile phone can tell you the name of a star that you point it at. It’s not that far away that it will be able to tell you the name of a tree or bird that you photograph.
Knowledge is becoming more accessible. Expertise is changing from something that you build and own to something that you access on demand. Looking at the very best educational Apps available today will allow us to think about what we can achieve in the very near future.