Cloud Learning

I have chosen “Cloud Learning” to describe my focus trend for UMTrends11. One reason is that it is a buzz word nowadays. The second reason is that my ideas are driven from the particularities of the field of Cloud Computing. But the real reason is because I cannot figure out a better name. Your suggestions and ideas are welcome.

“Cloud Learning” in my context is not the concept of storing learning data, tools and servers in the cloud as indicated by its technical connotation. It is a new learning model that is emerging based on trends suggested by the cloud computing. It is a new track for learning that is happening outside the traditional educational framework. I have strong indications that this will evolve into a full fledged learning environment in the near future. At the moment, it is emerging.

Trends of Cloud Computing and its impact on human paradigms

I will start my post explaining the trends that cloud computing have passed through then relate theor effect on human learning.

The term “cloud” as used in technology, started with a doodle depicting the complicated telephone infrastructure. The doodle always looked like a cloud, so the term “cloud” was used to sum up the massive infrastructure that operates the telephone network. In the 90’s, the doodle and the cloud term migrated into the world of the Internet. Now, the cloud simply means the Internet.

“Cloud Computing”, as a term, became popular in the early 2000, when Internet services emerged as a potential new economic market. Out of the few reputable organization that  defined the term, I prefer NIST’s (National Institute of Standards and Technology) which states that:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models”. (Mell & Grance, 2009, p. 2)

Evolution of the Technology: The ideas that govern the cloud computing as an external massive power predate the Internet. In the 1950s, Herb Grosch, postulated that the entire world would operate on dumb terminals powered by about 15 large data centers (as cited in Ryan, P., Merchant, R., Falvey, 2011). Between Grosch’s data centers and present day cloud computing, many events took place that shaped our society, economy, life and… learning.  However I have chosen three events that triggered paradigm shifts that changed human perceptions and values about teaching, learning and education:

1. Telecommunication: The invention of the telecommunication in the early 1900s (Pool, 1977), from telephones to global networking including television, was the basis that shaped the internet and global connectedness. This technology introduced a new notion about instantaneous communication. Before, instantaneous communication between two individuals could happen only face to face which required effort and displacement. With the telephone, for example, instantaneous communication could happen from a distance. This had three impacts. The first impact is that currency of news and information became possible which promoted reliance on facts and currency instead of myth and heresy. The second impact was that knowledge became widespread among laypeople while before it was limited to the elites like priests and academicians. The final impact is that it permitted human philosophical interaction at a global level while before it was limited to selected individuals meeting in a predetermined place. These factors have evolved creation of knowledge from being attached to a physical location (Like Palto’s Academia in in 300’s BC, the Royal Society in 1700’s in London and the present universities) to become possible with anyone located anywhere.

2. Virtual machines: One limitation that telecommunication imposed on global interaction was the need to use specific equipment. In the 1990’s the virtual machines provided a possible solution to access computer power using cheap and dumb devices. What started as a Citrix, a remote desktop solution, evolved to become Amazon Silk which offers super browsing powers utilizing powerful internet servers with “super-dumb” devices like Kindle Fire. This permitted a shifted in human attitude to become machine independent. Instead of being productive only in an office, on a desk using a PC, individuals became “over-productive” anywhere using any device. This had two added values to the creation of knowledge. The first one is the possibility of accessing global knowledge and power anywhere using mobile devices. The second is offering this type of resource access to the masses because the devices become very cheap.

3. The open source phenomena: Wiki tools, like Wikipedia, and opens source projects have taken the global interaction two new facts. The first fact is that many small drops of water do make a sea. In other words, the combined trivial contributions of massive number of individuals lead to a valuable body of knowledge. Wikipedia is an obvious example. The second fact is that chaos leads to conformity. Again, Wikipedia is a good example. Open source project is another good example. Education do not accept them because they contradict its traditional wisdom were conformity and structure are an essential element in its design.

So what?

What does this have to do with education and learning? A lot. Let’s put the above presentation in the perspective of human knowledge. Socializing used to happen in one room, now it happens globally. Information was limited to those who had access to specific hardware whether books or computer. Now it is open to all. Knowledge used to be built by the infinitesimally few, now knowledge is constructed by the masses. Brain knowledge extensions, like computers and internet access, used to happen when connected to a specific computer, in a specific location and using specific software, now you we can access the same information, if not more, from anywhere, with cheap software independent devices. Cloud Computing allows us to be free in accessing our information and creating our knowledge based on who we are and the way we want to be without worrying about the technology or the medium. Not based on predefined norms and standards determined by others. We, as individual, determine our own norms and needs because the resources are open and available to us. This contradicts educational wisdom. So, I foresee that a new learning paradigm is emerging were an individual determines their learning needs, based on their current situations and facts, based on their abilities using the most up to date information. Traditional educational systems cannot afford to provide such an environment.

In other words, using educational terms, learners will decide their curriculum, their learning outcomes, their own assessment and their learning activities, anywhere, anytime, when needed and on the fly. No need for teachers or mentors. People will learn on their own based on their global network of interest.

You may say I am a dreamer. But I am not the only one.

This is emerging. It did not mature yet. But it wide spread. It will require some time to become a recognized main stream. Just consider the time it took people to move from using the telephone as a luxury in the 1900’s to become a socializing tweeting device in 2010’s.

This new learning paradigm, I call it Cloud Learning, is emerging. Here are some examples:

MOOC: To me, the Massive Open Online Course, is the embryonic manifestation of cloud learning. Although it tries to adhere to the traditional educational paradigm by having facilitators, setting a structured curriculum and guidelines, yet, it is learner driven where learning is personalized and individualized. Participant choose and develop their own learning needs and environment. Then they build their knowledge based on interacting with the right community of learners.

Online games: online gamers have their own learning society where they learn new skills and develop their own knowledge based on their needs at that point. As McGonical (2010) pointed out, the global power of the young gamers could solve the most complicated world problems. So the younger generation can build their knowledge, i.e. learn, on their own. They ask for help from their friends and they build their knowledge based on situation they are facing at the moment without reverting to teachers. This is a model that education is having trouble to explain or comprehend.

Positive Psychology: the movement of positive psychology demonstrated by the ideas of Robinson’s Elements, Buckingham’s Strengths and others, is trying to individualize the human experience. Consequently, promotes converting learning systems to redesign the education experience in ways that promotes diversity instead of conformity. But, once an individual know his or her own strengths and abilities, do they really need a teacher to learn? Wouldn’t learning become natural?

Finally

So, the cloud learning is an environment where an individual can learn dynamically based on who they are and not what others want them to be. As such, I like to adapt NIST definition, to define cloud learning as:

“Cloud learning is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable learning resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal teaching effort or learning provider interaction”

Any improvements is encouraged.

References                                                                                                                    

Gruman, Galen (2008-04-07). “What cloud computing really means”. InfoWorld. Retrieved 21 Nov 2011.

Ryan, P., Merchant, R., Falvey, S., (2011). Regulation of the Cloud in India. Journal of Internet Law, Vol. 15, No. 4, p. 7, October 2011.

McGonigal, J. (2010). Gaming can make a better world. TED. Obtained from: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html. Accessed on 15 Dec 2011.

Mell, P. & Grance, T. (2009). The NIST definition of cloud computing, ver. 15. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Information Technology Laboratory. Obtained from: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-145/SP800-145.pdf. Last accessed on 27 Nov 2011.

Pool, I. (1977). The Social impact of the telephone. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c1977.

GMU (n.d.). The core of information technology: the history of virtual machines. [website]: http://cs.gmu.edu/cne/itcore/virtualmachine/history.htm Accessed on 27 Nov 2011.

Silk. (n.d.). Introducing Amazon Silk. [Weblog]: http://amazonsilk.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/introducing-amazon-silk/ Accessed on 27 Nov 2011.