The Top Eight Things You Need To Know About Online Education

01/08/15 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

by Tom Lindsay

There is a variety of opinions in the media these days regarding online learning. Depending on what you read, online education can appear to be either a cure-all or cancer. In an effort to cut through the smoke, here are the top eight established facts you need to know.

1) Online learning is here to stay. Since 1986, when the first online degree program from an accredited institution was offered (by John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California), growth has been exponential. Today, one-third of America’s 21 million enrolled students are taking some or all of their instruction online. The eleven-year study by the Babson Survey Research Group shows over seven million online enrollments in the fall semester of 2013.

2) There is no significant difference in learning outcomes. Some 30 years of research, including that of the U.S. Department of Education, has found no evidence that online learning is qualitatively inferior to that obtained in a traditional classroom. Unfortunately, those who have preached online learning’s “convenience” for so long have led many to believe that this means “easy,” which is not true. Online courses can be more or less rigorous depending on the instructor who develops the course and the academic department that reviews it.

At the same time, advances in information technology now make it possible to offer significantly more rigorous courses that don’t “feel” as difficult because of the design of the course and the support features that can be directly integrated. For example, one online provider, Excelsior College, sought to address the fact that its students, like most students, live in fear of anything quantitative. In response, Excelsior built access to the Khan Academy‘s tutorials into the lessons for its required courses. The result? Both grades and completion rates went up, with no dumbing-down required.

It also is important to note that, given the “anytime, anywhere” nature of online instruction, it allows for maximum student readiness to learn, as opposed to fixed-time-and-place classroom formats. Employing new adaptive technologies, it is possible to incorporate a student’s learning style in the organization and delivery of instruction. With such features, there is increasing reason to believe that online learning can surpass that of the typical classroom, for certain students.

3) Online learning is widespread. Eighty percent of regionally accredited institutions of higher education are now offering online access. This includes elite institutions, among them, Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Chicago.

4) There is no single form of online learning. Learning formats range from text-only “electronic correspondence courses” to multimedia-rich offerings featuring a high degree of interactivity, access to external links, animations, and high-quality simulations.

However, most of what is currently offered, especially by public institutions, is at the less-sophisticated end of the spectrum. For schools that can afford the more-sophisticated versions, the current generation of courses is producing superior completion rates and better learning outcomes. Excelsior College again provides an illustration. It has spent over $100,000 per course to support the online version of its associate degree nursing program. Its completion rates are 96 percent, with demand growing. But the amount budgeted by most institutions for a single three-credit-hour course is typically $10-$20 thousand, resulting in a product that is less interactive, less eye-appealing, and less engaging. These drawbacks likely hike student dropout rates.

5) MOOCs are not an example of high-quality online learning. Contrary to perceptions created by the media, Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs’) principal benefit to students is not their learning outcomes, but their price. The fact that such “mega courses” can issue from elite brands, such as MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, has led some to suppose that they have invented a new form of online learning. They have not.

Moreover, the notion—“If it comes from the elite schools, it must be good”—is an error. What MOOC has implemented a psychometrically prepared, nationally-normed assessment as part of its outcome measurement? None of which I’m aware. (Perhaps this is in the works.) Absent such metrics, it is difficult to know if anyone has learned very much. This may explain MOOCs’ typical, 90-plus-percent attrition rate, along with the fact that “traditional” online courses offer considerable faculty-student interaction, personalized attention, flexibility, and attention to outcomes.

6) Online learning is well-suited to adult learners, but not necessarily traditional-aged students. Recent studies by Columbia’s Teachers College conflate these groups and hence come to some questionable conclusions regarding online education outcomes. For older, self-motivated, adults, online programs produce superior results to those of the classroom. For less-focused, less-sure, 18-24 year olds, there are often issues of persistence and completion. Moreover, there is reason for concern over our sons and daughters “going to college” in their bedrooms at home. Although younger students can indeed benefit from the much-publicized “blended model” (combining online learning with brick-and-mortar classrooms), they still need the experience of practicing to become an adult—living with others, reconciling differences, being held accountable for what they do and don’t do, etc.

7) “Institutional” cost savings from going online are less than is often acknowledged. The only area of great savings for schools is the decreased need for classroom facilities. For adult students, there also is no need for recreation and extracurricular support services.

However, whether physical or virtual, there remains the need for the entire spectrum of enrollment management services, as well as an enhanced need for IT support. Student-savings is where we find the real difference. Those studying online can be anywhere in the world, have no commuting costs, no childcare costs, and no lost income from the need to study on campus fulltime. Here, the savings can be considerable.

8) Online learning could soon become the norm for “post-traditional” and graduate students who cannot afford the opportunity cost of traditional programs. That said, while online learning is here to stay, neither the residential campus nor the flagship research university is going to go away. Society always will need the campus-based option to help our youth become adults and citizens. Society also will always need the research-intensive institutions to continue the quest for new discoveries, and to provide the content that online learning distributes so well.

Digital Delivery and Open Source Websites

12/08/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

No longer shackled to books as their only source of content, educators and students are going online to find reliable, valuable, and up-to-the-minute information. Sites like Shmoop’s fun-focused content on everything from SAT prep to the Civil War; Google’s Education apps and sources that teachers can use as teaching tools, such as the SketchUp design software and Google Earth are just a few of the free, easily accessible sources available online.

Add to that sites like the Khan Academy, a collection of thousands of YouTube videos that teach everything from calculus to the French Revolution, TeacherTube’s collection of content, books that have been turned into YouTube videos, as well as sites from museums and art institutions, sites like NASA and the Smithsonian, TED Talks and the thousands of other educational resources available, and you can start to see how online content will be used as a primary resource.

The open-source movement has further pushed online content to include learners and educators in the actual content-creating process. Wikipedia was one of the first open-source sites, and though many still question the accuracy of Wikipedia entries (note the 2005 study showed that the popular website is as reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica), there’s a movement afoot to make it a more trusted source. Revered institutions like Harvard and Georgetown are creating coursework for students out of editing Wikipedia entries.

Following in the steps of Wikipedia - and the collaborative world of Web 2.0 — a growing proliferation of open-source sites aimed at education have sprouted up over the past few years. For both K-12 schools and higher education, sites like MIT Open SourceWare that publishes almost all the university’s content for students, Open Educational Resources, Curriki, Merlot, Connexions, CK12, Scitable, and Hippocampus offer their own expert-written, vetted content. But more importantly, they allow educators and students to add, edit, and change the order of all the information on those sites according to their own needs.

Entire school districts are starting to go open-source, too, such as the Bering Strait School District in Alaska, which is using a Wiki-style format for its curriculum. CK12 is part of California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative, and school districts in Pennsylvania are also considering using its materials once the curricula has met state standards.

Information taken from an article entitled "Three Trends That Will Shape the Future of Curriculum" by Tina Barseghian

We Can Now Send Thoughts Directly between Brains

12/08/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

brain to brainThe dawn of human brain-to-brain communication has arrived

Oct 16, 2014 - By Rajesh P. N. Rao and Andrea Stocco

Note from TGI: This is an excerpt from an article that recently appeared in the Oct. edition of Scientific American Mind Magazine, a great publication for articles such as this one! (

Two humans have transmitted thoughts directly between their brains in a recent experiment.

Scientists used electroencephalography to decode the neural chatter in a sender's brain and transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce neurons to fire in a recipient's brain.

Direct brain-to-brain communication may one day offer a fundamentally different way for people to share and transfer knowledge.

“Mr. Watson, come here!” Alexander Graham Bell uttered these first words over a telephone 138 years ago. With that statement he ushered in the telecommunications revolution that would ultimately bring us mobile phones, the Internet, and near-instantaneous exchanges of speech, text and video across continents.

Yet speech can be limiting. Some abstract concepts and emotions can be difficult to convey with words. And certain disabilities rob people of their full communicative powers even as their minds remain otherwise intact.

Neural engineers have spent several decades developing ways to overcome such impairments. Technologies known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are now beginning to allow paralyzed individuals to control, say, a computer cursor or a prosthetic limb with their brain signals. BCIs rely on data-processing techniques to extract a person's intention to move and then relay that information to the device he or she wishes to control.

In 2010 one of us (Rao) had a realization: perhaps we could use this same principle to beam thoughts from one human brain to another. Imagine if a teacher could convey a mathematical proof directly to your brain, nonverbally. Or perhaps a medical student could learn a complex surgical skill straight from a mentor's mind. Such ideas have been a staple of science fiction, from the Vulcan mind meld of Star Trek to the control of an avatar by a paraplegic human in the movie Avatar. In conversations at the University of Washington, where we both work, we realized that we had all the equipment we needed to build a rudimentary version of this technology. Along with other scientists, we are now learning to bypass traditional modes of communication and swap thoughts directly between brains.

Mind Melds Made Real

The gist of our strategy was to use electrodes arranged on one person's scalp to pick up brain waves, a technique known as electroencephalography. Hidden in that neural hubbub are signals that indicate what a person is thinking. We would focus on extracting one such pattern and then send it over the Internet to a second person. The signal would dictate how to electrically stimulate the recipient's brain. Because neurons communicate electrically, we can strategically influence their messaging by applying electric current or a magnetic field, among other tricks. In short, we would use one person's brain data to produce a specific pattern of neural activity in another individual.

By the time we finally tried out our design, two other teams of neuroscientists had also transmitted signals directly between brains, though not between two humans. The experiments so far, including ours, have been simple proofs of concept: one participant is designated the sender, and the other subject is the receiver. Ultimately we want to send and receive information in both directions, but we believe the challenges of that next step will be surmountable.

Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and his team were the first to demonstrate brain-to-brain messaging. In early 2013 they published an experiment in which simple communiqués were transmitted between two rats on different continents. Later that year another experiment was published that involved humans as the senders. In it, six people wearing an EEG headset were each paired with an anesthetized rat. Seung-Schik Yoo of Harvard Medical School and his collaborators made use of an emerging technique that delivers highly focused ultrasonic energy through the skull to specific regions of the brain. When a participant decided to move the rat's tail, that person's corresponding brain activity triggered an ultrasonic pulse that entered the rodent's brain. The 350-kilohertz burst of acoustic pressure was aimed at the rat's motor cortex, which controls movement. About two seconds later the rodent's tail lifted and then fell.

Firing Cannons with Neurons

Similar to Yoo's effort, our experiment also used EEG to identify the control signal. The Rao laboratory has many years of experience extracting intentions from EEG signals, so it was a natural place to start. Once a computer decodes a neural message, the main question becomes how to deliver it. Somewhat serendipitously, one of us (Stocco) and our colleague Chantel Prat were investigating transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technology approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of major depression. This method relies on pulses of a magnetic field to induce neurons in a specific area of the recipient's brain to fire.

To deliver the pulses, you place an insulated metal coil next to a person's head. When electricity discharges into the coil, a magnetic field forms around the neurons in the area near the coil. When the electricity stops running, the magnetic field disappears. The sudden rise and fall of the magnetic field induces a tiny electric current in the neurons that had been engulfed by that field, making them more likely to fire. When they do, a chain of connected neurons also activates.

Depending on how you position the coil and configure the magnetic field, you can also induce involuntary movements. We realized we could use this generally unwanted aspect of the technology to generate crude motions in a recipient. In our setup, Stocco would sit with a TMS coil over his left motor cortex, the brain area that controls the movement of his right hand. After some fiddling with parameters, we found the arrangement needed to stimulate the neurons that control Stocco's wrist, making his hand twitch.

We decided to test our brain-to-brain interface by seeing if we could play a simple two-player video game. After students in our labs spent months writing computer code and integrating the technologies, on August 12 of last year we finally tried out our setup. Rao took on the role of the sender of information, and Stocco assumed the part of the receiver.

In the game, a pirate ship is shooting rockets at a city. The goal is to fire a cannon to intercept each rocket. Rao alone could see the screen displaying the game. But only Stocco could press the button to fire the cannon. At just the right moment, Rao had to form the intention to shoot, and a few seconds later Stocco would receive the intention and press the button.

Rao donned a tight-fitting cap studded with 32 electrodes, which measure fluctuations in electrical activity at different locations across the head. At any given time, distinct populations of neurons may be oscillating at many different frequencies. When he imagined moving a hand, the EEG electrodes registered a telltale signature that our software could detect. The giveaway was a drop in the low-frequency oscillations in Rao's brain. We used that signature as our cue to send a command over the Internet to stimulate Stocco's brain.

Stocco did not register the impulse consciously, but his right hand moved anyway. The stimulation caused his hand to lift, and when it fell it hit a keyboard and fired the cannon. Success! For the first time, a human brain had communicated an intention directly to another human brain, allowing the two brains to jointly complete a task. As we played the game, we got better and better, to the point where in our last run, we intercepted the pirate rockets with almost 100 percent accuracy. Rao learned how to imagine moving his hand in a consistent manner, giving the computer a chance to make sense of his EEG brain data. Stocco found that he did not know his wrist was moving until he felt or saw his hand in motion.

Why Have Our Brains Started to Shrink?

11/20/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

shrinking brainsFrom Scientific American Mind Magazine
Oct 16, 2014

Christopher Stringer, a paleoanthropologist and research leader on human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, replies:

Indeed, skeletal evidence from every inhabited continent suggests that our brains have become smaller in the past 10,000 to 20,000 years. How can we account for this seemingly scary statistic?

Some of the shrinkage is very likely related to the decline in humans' average body size during the past 10,000 years. Brain size is scaled to body size because a larger body requires a larger nervous system to service it. As bodies became smaller, so did brains. A smaller body also suggests a smaller pelvic size in females, so selection would have favored the delivery of smaller-headed babies.

What explains our shrinking body size, though? This decline is possibly related to warmer conditions on the earth in the 10,000 years after the last ice age ended. Colder conditions favor bulkier bodies because they conserve heat better. As we have acclimated to warmer temperatures, the way we live has also generally become less physically demanding, which overall serves to drive down body weights.

Another likely reason for this decline is that brains are energetically expensive and will not be maintained at larger sizes unless it is necessary. The fact that we increasingly store and process information externally—in books, computers and online—means that many of us can probably get by with smaller brains. Some anthropologists have also proposed that larger brains may be less efficient at certain tasks, such as rapid computation, because of longer connection pathways.

The way we live may have affected brain size. For instance, domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild counterparts probably because they do not require the extra brainpower that could help them evade predators or hunt for food. Similarly, humans have become more domesticated. But as long as we keep our brains fit for our particular lifestyles, there should be no reason to fear for the collective intelligence of our species.

This article was originally published with the title "Brain size has increased for most of our existence, so why has it started to diminish for the past few thousand years?"

Building Rapport

11/20/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

By Rowena Crosbie

Visit the TERO website

Rapport is a feeling of comfort, trust and understanding you can have with someone else. Rapport makes it easier for us to be assertive, influential, accommodating, persuasive and relaxed with someone. Because rapport happens as a result of the way we interact with someone, we do not have to wait for it to happen naturally. By using the right behaviors and avoiding others, we can make it happen more quickly.

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone and felt that you were really on the same wavelength? What caused that feeling?

Have you ever been in discussion with someone and suddenly felt that rapport was gone? Why was that?

Have you ever tried hard to get along with someone to no avail? What happened?

Do you know anyone who seems able to get along quickly with a wide variety of people? How does he or she do that?

There are two key behaviors that can assist you in building and maintaining rapport. They are matching and reflecting.


People who get along well tend to mirror each other's body language.

Research has shown that people who have good relationships with each other will naturally assume a rhythm that matches the other party - in body language, cadence and movement.

To improve rapport, use matching body language, cadence and movement. Also, look for opportunities to "speak the same language". Does the individual you are negotiating with use language that would suggest they have a preference for auditory learning? Individuals with an auditory preference will use phrases such as: "I hear what you are saying", "How does this sound?"

Matching (and symmetry) also extends beyond body language and learning preference.

Recent studies have looked closely at the process by which parties engage one another. Specifically, one project carefully monitored 47 encounter groups that bring together Jews and Arabs in Israel in hopes of promoting better relationships. Many of these groups involve adults, though some involve children as young as preschoolers.

The researchers tracked the degree to which communication was balanced, as defined by how often and how long various participants spoke. Speaking time was roughly equal in many instances, a possible reflection of both the goodwill of people who chose to take part and the facilitative skill of the conveners. In some cases, however, one side dominated the conversation. That asymmetry likely exacerbated differences between groups.

It's not enough to get the right people to the table. To build and maintain rapport, how we communicate must be considered. Communication that is balanced carries important symbolic messages about respect. More powerful parties need to be especially careful not to inadvertently dominate conversations and put others in a position where they feel they must save face.


Asking questions about what was just said and summarizing or reflecting words back to others increases comfort and rapport.

Use your good listening skills and your asking questions skills.

Resist the temptation to interrupt others and finish their sentences for them.

People tend to get offended when someone tells them what they should do or what they ought to do.

Sentences that begin with yes and are followed by but are offensive and negate the yes.

When someone says "to be honest" it throws into question the honesty of the rest of the interaction.

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