Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Massive delivery of "just in time" videos; a way to change education and build useful AI

Today there was this quote from Mark Zuckerberg in Fast Company:

"Most of the content 10 years ago was text, and then photos, and now it’s quickly becoming videos," Zuckerberg said, justifying Facebook's aggressive push into the area. "I just think that we’re going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.”

I suspect he is right about this, but he has not mentioned what may well be the most important use of those videos. Before I explain what I mean here I would like to mention that a man whom I respect a great deal, Donald Clark, made a speech recently about the history of education, called 2500 years of learning theory.

In his presentation he talks about 101 people. I agree with him about nearly everything he says about each of them (especially since he says nice things about me.) But he says this about MOOCs:

“We have waited 20 or 30 years for people to deliver massive online education and all we want to do is kill it.”

Now let me put Zuckerberg and Clark together and make some points about video and education. In order for me to do that, I need to reiterate a point I have made before in this space. When you are trying to do something, and you need help or advice, what is your first course of action? Google it or read a book about it are possible answers to this question of course. But honestly, the first thing anyone does is ask someone who might know, assuming they are available to them.

Why is that? Because we learn, and have always learned, through conversation. When we ask our resident expert and they answer, what do we do next? We ask another question. We discuss. We engage. This is how we learn. This is how humans have always learned.  

Clark is wrong about MOOCs because the very concept of massive education is oxymoronic. Education is only massive because we have created a world of schools that include classrooms and not enough teachers to do one on one education. MOOCs are an extension of a vary bad educational idea called lecturing. We have come to accept lecturing because it is everywhere and we all had to endure it. But no one gives lectures to their children who have assembled together in a room. We deal with children as individuals when we “teach” them as children. What is wrong with MOOCs is the “massive” part. Education cannot be both massive and actual education. Learning starts with a goal followed by questions when you have trouble reaching your goal. We each have our own questions and our own goals.

Back to Zuckerberg. If people have answers to questions, or good stories to tell, or helpful hints, or specific advice, we should be delivering them through video.  Rather than consult my friend and ask him a question I would prefer to ask that question of many experts (maybe massive numbers of them) and hear and see their responses. The “massive" part is on the opposite end. It is the teachers who must be massive, not the students. Zuckerberg is right about videos being the medium of delivery, but short and to the point ones, not hour long ones.

To make this work right for learning, these videos need to be delivered just in time. That means, that they appear when we have a question but it also means that they appear when we are confused and don’t even know what question to ask. People give advice when you don’t ask for it as well. They know what you are thinking (or talking) about and offer their point of view. But we are limited to answers from people we know.

I envision a new computer world, a world that works on Artificial Intelligence principles that are sound and not the AI flavor of the month, that delivers just in time video to anyone who is trying to do anything because the computer is smart enough to know what you need to hear when, just like a good teacher would do or a good parent would do.

Can we build this? Yes, we can. Or to put this another way, Zuckerberg could afford to build it. Then, instead of MOOCs and friends posting videos randomly, we could have actively listening AI systems that are helpful anytime you need help. To accomplish this we need to record the best stories, advice, and answers, from the best and brightest in the world. We need to index those videos in order to link them to activities people are engaging in. Can this be done? Yes. But it would be a massive undertaking.

It would however change education and learning forever.


  1. Don't disagree Roger. In fact, I've been highly critical of the basic, linear, video-led, 'souped-up' PowerPoint design of many MOOCs. What will happen is that MOOCs, like many of the more vocational ones, will incorporate real 'learn by doing'. This is now common in MOOCs that teach coding and so on. The addition of AI in what I call 'adaptive MOOCs' will also emerge. Sometimes, to get to a great club you have walk down a rather long and dull corridor. All the best.

  2. Can you recommend ideal online courses where one really learns and engage in a community of learners and teachares? I live in the Dominican Republic where it is difficult to root out the actual way of teaching. I am collecting information and gathering them to present a proyect based in your ideas and some other I consider useful, but yours is the most outstanding for the time begin, Mr. Schank. Your ideas are inspirational and sometimes difficult to digest for many.

  3. Recently I saw that Coursera is launching "project-based MOOCs" such as "Write a TV Pilot episode" or "Build a simple website in a week". I believe it's a step in the right direction.

  4. Can we build this? Yes, we can. Or to put this another way, Zuckerberg could afford to build it.

    8th Class Result 2016