Personalised lifelong learning and assessment: The future of training

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Continuing our futuristic theme of the month, David Wortley looks at how new technologies can impact on the  future of assessment.

Imagine a world in which you could learn what most suited your talents and interests and have a career which fully developed your potential through jobs that were ideally suited to your personality. It might sound like a fantasy but that could be the direction that immersive technologies such as video games, virtual worlds and social networks are taking us.

Adaptive learning and assessment

Screenshot from Neurosky Brainwave Visualiser
One of the skills of a good teacher is to develop a relationship with and understanding of his or her students and adapting the delivery of learning activities to suit their interests and capabilities. The larger the class size and the more diverse the students, the more difficult this kind of personalised attention to teaching becomes. Computer-assisted learning today has evolved from the simple digitised delivery of standard content in a 'one size fits all' mechanical process into something much more personalised and intelligent, with an increasing ability to adapt the content delivery to the individual student's needs.
David Wortley using Neurosky brainwave technology
Devices such as Neurosky's brainwave sensor headset, now developed as a consumer product for use with video games which train you mind to relax or concentrate, are representative of a new generation of sensors which can use data about our individual capabilities and preferences to adjust challenges to focus on the development of specific skills, building on strengths and tackling weaknesses.
These tools and technologies with the ability to develop and deliver this kind of adaptive and personalised learning are being developed and refined by the growing demand for immersive technologies across sectors outside of learning and development and being driven more by commercial interests than educational directives.

Crowdsourcing and personalisation

Amazon's personalised home page
Search engines such as Google and ecommerce sites such as Amazon are a prime example of the kind of artificial intelligence and crowdsourcing applications being constantly refined to develop and strengthen highly personal insights into our individual interests and preferences. Our purchasing and browsing histories are being aggregated and through the use of 'inference engines', the technology personalises the products, services and information displayed to us. The clear objective of these applications is to build personal relationships with us as consumers and combine the knowledge of our individual transactions and interactions with the collective trends of many thousands of other people to deliver 'intelligent' suggestions and ideas that bond us to a particular supplier or web site.
These same techniques are finding their way into education and training as a means of delivering adaptive learning based on a richer understanding of our own individual traits combined with the collective knowledge about individuals with similar profiles. This process is not dissimilar to that used by coaches or mentors who are highly skilled at spotting personal strengths and weaknesses and using their experience or working with others to tailor training programmes to the individual.

Video games and assessment

Microsoft Kinect Adventures screenshot
One of the most significant technology developments for the future of adaptive learning and assessment is video games which use intelligent interfaces such as the Microsoft Kinect. This device has the potential to recognise facial features, voice and body tracking, all of which not only act as a gateway to personalising applications to the individual, but also makes the access to and use of these games intuitive for all generations from cradle to grave.
Video games use formative and continuous assessment techniques to motivate players to continuously improve by offering incentives to master specific challenges. In this process, the games' applications are collecting data about where players are strong or weak and this knowledge could be used to deliver adaptive learning based on the combined intelligence about an individual's gameplay and crowdsourcing patterns that can build on strengths and address weaknesses.
An example of how this might work in a specific video game by way of illustration is my personal experience of Guitar Hero games such as Rock Band on the X-Box 360. I have most success and enjoyment with songs that have a particular type of bass guitar riff. It is both a strength and a preference that allows me to master even the most difficult of these types of tracks. Conversely, I struggle with tracks which use chords or require a lot of hand movement and rapid note sequences. The use of adaptive learning techniques within this game would suggest tracks which could help me to build on my strengths and simultaneously improve those problem areas which could become a barrier to ongoing development and motivation.
I envisage that because these types of interfaces and applications are easily and enthusiastically embraced by children from an early age, learning games for nursery and pre-school children that combine adaptive learning with intelligent assessment methodologies will be developed as a starting point for building an educational e-profile. This learning and assessment e-profile could inform parents and teachers about a child's abilities and preferences and be used to develop technology-enhanced learning which is far more personalised than is currently possible today. I am aware that there is collaboration between South Korea and Russia on student education programmes based on personalised learning informed by intelligent formative assessment.
Motionworks open innovation platform – signpost to the future ?
Microsoft have already explored the potential of embedding games into work processes with the Windows Vista Security development team. Employees working on software to improve security for the Vista operating system have the quality and value of their work assessed continuously in the background and the data used to develop both individual and team 'leaderboards' similar to those found in games platforms. The use of these assessment tools is transparent to the employees and the improvements in productivity have been impressive. If the adaptive learning and assessment and e-profiling techniques can be combined in the workplace in this way, then the vision of careers which are personalised and adaptive may one day be realised and embodied in exciting new initiatives like the Motionworks open innovation platform being developed in Malaysia.
David Wortley is founder and CEO of Immersive Technology Strategies. He is a freelance consultant on the strategic use of immersive and emerging technologies such as serious games, virtual worlds and social networks. David is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) with a career which has embraced the converging and emerging technologies of telecommunications (Post Office Telecommunications), computing (IBM), digital media and community informatics (Mass Mitec, a rural SME) and the creative industries (De Montfort University Leicester, UK)

About David Wortley

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