Category Archives: Alberto Cairo

Steve Heller, Alberto Cairo, and The World in Terms of General Motors

World in Terms of GM Cutout

Readers:

The other day on Twitter, Albert Cairo tweeted about a great visual map he found in a 1938 issue of Fortune Magazine at Steve Heller’s Moving Sale on Saturday, June 28th, 2014 in New York City.

Alberto Cairo GM Tweet

Daily Heller Moving Sale

Steve Heller

Steve HellerSteven Heller wears many hats (in addition to the New York Yankees): For 33 years he was an art director at the New York Times, originally on the OpEd Page and for almost 30 of those years with the New York Times Book Review. Currently, he is co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author Department, Special Consultant to the President of SVA for New Programs, and writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review.

He is the co-founder and co-chair (with Lita Talarico) of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, New York, where he lectures on the history of graphic design. Prior to this, he lectured for 14 years on the history of illustration in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual arts. He also was director for ten years of SVA’s Modernism & Eclecticism: A History of American Graphic Design symposiums.

The World in Terms of General Motors

The visual in the December 1938 issue of Fortune Magazine was called The World in Terms of General Motors. It depicted a sketch map showing the location of (then) GM’s 110 plants. The spheres representing each plant are proportional (in volume) to their normal number of workers. The key numbers of the spheres are indexed on the map. The map does not include those manufacturing plants in which GM has less than 50% stock. The principal ones are Ethyl Gasoline Corp., Bendix Aviation Corp., Kinetic Chemicals, Inc., and North American Aviation, Inc.

Not shown are GM’s many non-manufacturing interests, domestic warehouses, etc.

So, finally, here is the complete map.

Enjoy!

Michael

[Click on the map image to enlarge]

IMG_0354

 

Tapestry Conference 2014: Alberto Cairo’s Keynote Presentation

Alberto Cairo

Data, Patternicity, and Biases

Last Wednesday, Alberto Cairo gave a keynote presentation at the Tapestry conference. The day after (Thursday), he spoke at the Investigative Reporters and Editors meeting (CAR2014.) In both talks Alberto discussed some topics that are concerning him.

Mr. Cairo is considered by many (including me) to be one of the industry’s leading experts on infographics and a person I respect and view as a mentor.

Mr. Cairo’s keynote focused on the rise of activism and P.R. (he views them as expressions of the same phenomenon) in visualization and in communication in general. He discusses that he has nothing against people having opinions and agendas —is it possible not to have them? However, Alberto feels that some designers and journalists seem to be too willing to surrender to their biases rather than working hard to curb them.

He continues that these communicators usually argue that being transparent about their motives and goals is enough. Mr. Cairo argues that it is not. Writing about journalism, Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis have suggested that transparency is the new objectivity. Mr. Cairo disagrees. He states,

Transparency is necessary to gain credibility, but it’s not sufficient, and this is valid for non-journalistic infographics and visualization, too. The old notion of ‘objectivity’ in journalism was simplistic and unworkable, but that doesn’t mean that we should rush to drop the ideal outright.

Another area of concern that Mr. Cairo mentioned at CAR2014: Opinions that may lead you to cherry-pick data are not the main risk. Unconscious cognitive biases are even more dangerous. He discussed Michael Shermer’s patternicity. Mr. Cairo expressed concern that the more he learns about patternicity and cognitive biases, the more worried he becomes about our lack of understanding of them. He further points out that they are not explained in schools of design, as far as he knows. They certainly aren’t studied seriously and systematically in journalism schools. That, he states, is a huge issue.

Interesting Sound Bites from Alberto

    • Conscious decisions are not the only risk. Cognitive biases and political ideals can lead us astray, as well. They are much more dangerous, in fact.
    • When we are strongly ideologically or politically motivated, we are also more likely to find patterns in the data that confirm our preconceived ideas.
    • We journalists like to say “trust your instincts!” Well, that’s very bad advice. PLEASE, DON’T. Don’t trust your instincts. Your instincts are a source like any other. And you should always try to double-check your sources.

New Book in 2015

Mr. Cairo will have a new book out near the end of 2015. It is tentatively titled “The Insightful Art.”

On the left, in the image below, is the cover of “The Functional Art,” which was published in 2012 and a book I highly recommend you read. The cover example on the right, shown below, is just one of the alternatives he is pondering for the new book.

New Book in 2015

New MOOC Course in 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr. Cairo is currently working on a completely new MOOC, co-taught with Scott Murray (photo right)  Mr. Murray wrote the book Interactive Visualization for the Web. I have included an image of the cover of his book below. Alberto and Scott’s goal is to offer something at the beginning of 2015.

Tentatively, Alberto will talk about principles, and Scott will get into the nuts and bolts of JavaScript and D3 (Data-Driven Documents).

Stay tuned. I will provide more information about this course in a future blog post as I get more information.

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web Book Cover

MOOC DataViz Showcase #4: Who’s Buying What ? (Andrei Ciobanu)

I continue to showcase some of the beautiful work done by students who attended Professor Cairo’s Introduction to Infographics and Visualization MOOC course in October 2013 that just completed.

This one is to showcase a redesign assignment by Andrei Ciobanu.

Andrei chose to arrange criteria in columns in order to make numbers comparable.

Here was the original design the students needed to redesign.

Original Who's buying What

And here is Andrei’s redesign.

whos buying what - Andrei Ciobanu

MOOC DataViz Showcase #3: Who’s Buying What ? (Jose Rodríguez)

I continue to showcase some of the beautiful work done by students who attended Professor Cairo’s Introduction to Infographics and Visualization MOOC course in October 2013 that just completed.

This one is to showcase is a redesign assignment by Jose Rodríguez.

Here is Jose’s explanation of his redesign.

In the review of “Who is buying what?” tried to focus on increasing the ability to answer questions with little effort from displaying the graph.

The questions we attempt to answer are:

  • What is the difference in purchasing power between the biggest spenders and the least?
  • What kind of expenses do the more expenders and the least expenders?
  • Where are distributed around the world the more spenders and the least?
  • Between the top expenders, what differences exists? and between the top less expenders?

To answers all this questions I do some “re-do”:

    • I put a bar graph to show the huge difference between the top 10 most expenders and the top less expenders, and between them.

    • To show the differences of priorities between top expenders and top less expenders AND between them, I put a vertical bar graph that escalate between top expenders and top less expenders.

    • To show where are distributed the countries less and most expenders I use a world map, but smaller one than original.

Below is the original information graphic design the students were suppose to review, analyze and re-design.

Original Who's buying What

Here is Jose’s redesign.

Jose - whoisbuyingwhat

More of Jose’s work can be found on his personal Web site. The link is below.

www.joserodriguez.info

MOOC DataViz Showcase #2: Who’s Buying What ? (Kamila Zhussupova)

I continue to showcase some of the beautiful work done by students who attended Professor Cairo’s Introduction to Infographics and Visualization MOOC course in October 2013 that just completed.

The one is to showcase is a redesign assignment by Kamila Zhussupova.

Here is Kamila’s explanation of her redesign.

Hi, this is my variant of the infographic (as an online version).

I have tried it to organize in three sectors. All countries, Highest and Lowest Spenders and countries by GNI (Gross National Income per capita in 2012, World Bank Data).

Page/sector – All countries – shows main trends. For example, in general, people spend on recreation and householding goods. Electronic goods are not popular and etc. Also on this page you can click on the country and see information in detail about its spending.

Highest and Lowest Spenders and countries by GNI – are shown in bar charts. Charts are supposed to be in one page (one page for Highest and Lowest Spenders, one for GNI by country – another one page). But couldn’t do it well visual. So, just keep in mind this.

Below is the original information graphic design the students were suppose to review, analyze and re-design.

Original Who's buying What

Here is Kamila’s redesign.

Kamila W4 Final 01 Kamila W4 Final 02 Kamila W4 Final 03 Kamila W4 Final 04 Kamila W4 Final 05

MOOC DataViz Showcase #1: Who’s Buying What ? (Julien Hennequart)

Readers:

As I did when I originally attended Professor Cairo’s Introduction to Infographics and Visualization MOOC course last January, I am showcasing some of the beautiful work done by his current students in the October 2013 class that just completed.

The first one I am going to showcase is a redesign assignment by Julien Hennequart.

Julian focused on three parts of the design for his project.

  1. An overview of the subject, basically the same as the original but with a better organisation.

  2. The second page is on the position of countries relative of each items.

  3. And the last one, a work on the import/export of the items.

Below is the original information graphic design the students were suppose to review, analyze and re-design.

Original Who's buying What

Here is Julian’s redesign.

Mooc-W4-final01 Mooc-W4-final02 Mooc-W4-final03

Professor Cairo’s comments on his review of Julian’s assignment were as follows:

This is arguably the graphic that better preserves the looks of the original one, while making it much more interesting and easy to read. Good job.

Critiquing Data Visualizations

Jeff PettirossCritiquing Data Visualizations

I attended an online webinar today hosted by Data Science Central titled Making Flow Happen: Dashboards that Persuade, Inform, and Engage. The presenter was Jeff Pettiross (photo, right) from Tableau Software. I found Jeff’s presentation to be very informative and helpful, but it was the Q&A session afterwards that I thought brought an interesting topic to the surface.

The question asked was:

When creating a dataviz and taking feedback, how do you determine what feedback is based on personal opinion and what feedback adds flow to your dataviz?

Jeff discussed this as having principal-centered arguments versus personal-centered arguments. So, for principal-centered arguments, you could refer to Edward Tufte when you are discussing the field of data visualization, junk charts or small multiples, Stephen Few for best practices for dashboard design, or Alberto Cairo for best practices for creating infographics. You could also discuss articles and academic research related to data visualization.

Where the water gets murky is when you are exposed to personal-centered arguments or, basically, someone’s personal opinion. Sometimes when you are sitting in a dataviz review session, the criticism or critiques you receive can feel very personal. Some of it may be in the way the person is expressing their opinion and the intonation in their voice. Other times it truly may be personal; that personal may not like the person being reviewed or feels threatened by their work.

Jeff made a real good suggestion related to personal critiques by simply asking more questions. Deflect the criticism and ask them to tell you more about what they did not like about the visualization. For example, they might feel your dashboard is too crowded or too busy. You might want to ask for suggestions from that person. If the situation allows, you could bring up a copy of that visualization and make the changes in real-time as they are stating their suggestions.

Jeff pointed out that, unfortunately, this will not work in all cases. If you are a paid consultant at a company, and the client insists that they want it a particular way, the old motto “The Customer is Always Right” would take precedence here. You could say, “O.K., we will do it this way this time, but I would like you to consider this as an alternative for future visualizations.”

Jeff pointed out that at Tableau, they are a critique-centric culture. They often have review sessions of their visualizations where people from different areas of the company may sit in. For example, you might have Sales people, consultants, marketing, training, etc.  Using thoughtful critiques, spending about 20 minutes on each feature, and including a diverse group of people, they are able to refine the dataviz as a group and learn and hear other people’s ideas on dataviz.

Thanks to Jeff and Data Science Central for a great session today. What do you think? What do you feel is the best way to critique data visualizations?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Best Regards,

Michael

How We Learn: My Critique of the Time Magazine The Price Of College Graph – Part 4

Over the past three days, I have been discussing a Special College Report article that is in the current issue of Time Magazine (October 7, 2013). It is titled Class of 2025 How They’ll Learn and What They’ll Pay.

The first three parts are as follows:

Part 1, Teaching Methods that involved critical thinking I experienced early in my education when I took a course on the History of Napoleon at Texas A&M Univerity in the early 1980s from the late Dr. Shirley Black.

Part 2, I discussed the Time Magazine article, Online learning will make college cheaper. It will also make it better by L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT, Mr. Reif states that “digital learning is the most important innovation in education since the printing press.” He then describes the benefits of digital learning.

Part 3, I discussed the a MOOC class I took earlier this year from Professor Alberto Cairo titled introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization.

Today, in this fourth and final part of this series, I provide a critique of The Price of College graph from the aforementioned Time Magazine article.

The Price of College Graph

The question the Time magazine graph wants to answer is if rising tuition has made the price of a degree out of reach as opposed to other big-ticket expenses a family would have. The graph is a horizontal line graph with five series: house, 50 most expensive colleges, public tuition, private tuition, and new car price. The series is based on 2012 dollars and runs for 12 years from 2000 – 2012.

I tried to first focus on the lines related to tuition. As we can see, all of them are increasing over the 12-year period. However, the author of the graph then projects what these costs will be by the year 2025, which is the focus of the Special College Report. They show us the projected numbers, but just have then linearly following the path of the existing line. I have shown with red arrow lines where they actually would appear based on the Y axis (cost). I think if they had allowed the lines to increase to its value on the Y axis, the rise of tuition then shows the dramatic increase in the future. More specifically, the 50 most expensive colleges has a dramatic increase.

It would have also been nice to see them also project a single family home and a new car out to the year 2025. I realize the house market is in flux, but again, we are projecting. Will the housing market fully recover and houses double by then? Will new cars continue its incremental increase or will there be a spike upward or downward?

Also, it would be nice to have some indicator that shows that private college tuition is approximately double of public college tuition. Is there a want to quantify (or justify) the additional cost of sending your child to a private school (I’ll pick on my alma mater for this; is four years at Harvard worth the extra cost versus going to Texas A&M?).

The small graph in the bottom left corner is interesting in that it shows the actual increase for the past 40 years. However, should it have been overshadowed by the larger graph in this example or have been shown separately so it is in front and in full focus? Clear, over the 40 year span, all costs are dramatically increasing except for the housing bubble crash of the past 5 years or so.

Time - The Price Of College Graph - Revised

In Summary

I hope you enjoyed this four-part series on The Class of 2025 and How We Learn. I will be working in New York City the next few weeks and will be blogging about interesting data visualization topics related to New York.

Until next time.

Best Regards,

Michael

How We Learn: Alberto Cairo’s MOOC Class, Critique of Time Magazine Graph – Part 3

Time MagazineOver the past two days, I have been discussing a Special College Report article that is in the current issue of Time Magazine (October 7, 2013). It is titled Class of 2025 How They’ll Learn and What They’ll Pay.

Time discusses the debates going on over traditional education with a core curriculum and other academics who would rather have students attend a more specialized set of courses that allows them to set their curriculum. It seems, however, that all parties involved are most concerned with students having the skills to do critical thinking upon graduation which will make them more successful in the work force.

I had two personal life experiences I wanted to share. Last Saturday in Part 1, I discussed a course I took on the History of Napoleon at Texas A&M Univerity in the early 1980s from the late Dr. Shirley Black.

Yesterday in Part 2, I discussed the Time Magazine article, Online learning will make college cheaper. It will also make it better by L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT, Mr. Reif states that “digital learning is the most important innovation in education since the printing press.” He then describes the benefits of digital learning.

Today, in this third part of this series, I am moving ahead in time and discussing a MOOC class I took early this year from Professor Alberto Cairo titled introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization. I am also currently sitting in the latest section of this course Professor Cairo is teaching that began this month.

Alberto Cairo

Alberto CairoAlberto Cairo is a Professor of the Professional Practice at the School of Communication of the University of Miami. He teaches courses on information graphics and visualization, and is interested in the convergence between visual communication, journalism, cognitive science, cartography, and statistics.

He is the author of the books Infografía 2.0: Visualización interactiva de información en prensa (Alamut, Spain, 2008) and The Functional Art: an Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization (Peachpit Press/Pearson Education, 2012). He’s working on a new book, tentatively titled The Insightful Art: Storytelling with Data, Charts, Maps, and Infographics, to be published at the end of 2014 by Peachpit Press, too. He’s also the author of a 12-hour video tutorial about how to use Adobe Illustrator to produce information graphics: http://www.thefunctionalart.com/

Between June 2010 and December 2011, Cairo was the director for Infographics and Multimedia at Editora Globo, the magazine division of the biggest media group in Brazil, where he acted as an executive editor for the weekly news magazine Época and as an internal consultant for the other 12 publications of the group. He has also been an assistant professor at the School of Journalism, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, between 2005 and 2009. He was the James H. Schumaker Term Assistant Professor in 2008 and 2009.

Alberto Cairo led the creation of the Interactive Infographics Department at El Mundo (elmundo.es, Spain), in 2000. Cairo’s team won more Malofiej and Society for News Design (SND) infographics international awards than any other news organization worldwide between 2001 and 2005.

Cairo has been an invited lecturer and keynote speaker at all most influential international conferences on visual journalism and design. He has taught and consulted for educational institutions and media companies in more than twenty countries.

Professor Cairo’s MOOC Course, Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization

This course is an introduction to the basics of the visual representation of data. In this class students learn how to design successful charts and maps, and how to arrange them to compose cohesive storytelling pieces. The class will also discuss ethical issues when designing graphics, and how the principles of Graphic Design and of Interaction Design apply to the visualization of information.

The course has a theoretical component, and covers the main rules of the discipline, and also a practical one: to design basic infographics and mock ups for interactive visualizations.

Is this class for me?

This class is tailored for journalists and designers. However, it may be a good fit also for anyone with an interest in the visual display of information.

You do not need any previous experience in infographics and visualization to take this course. With the readings, video lectures and tutorials available through the course, you will acquire enough skills to start producing compelling simple infographics almost right away.

How much time will I need every week?

The answer depends on many factors, including your previous experience in this area. My suggestion is to plan between 6-12 hours of work a week. In most cases, that should be the minimum necessary to read the materials, watch the videos, and complete the assignments.

What will I learn?

  • How to analyze and critique infographics and visualizations in newspapers, books, TV, etc., and how to propose alternatives that would improve them.
  • How to plan for data-based storytelling through charts, maps, and diagrams.
  • How to design infographics and visualizations that are not just attractive but, above all, informative, deep, and accurate.
  • The rules of Graphic Design and of Interaction Design, applied to infographics and visualizations.
  • Optional: How to use Adobe Illustrator for creating infographics.

Signing up

I first found out about the course by visiting Mr. Cairo’s Website, http://thefunctionalart.com, after I had purchased his book to read. I had tried to sign up for the first session of this course taught in 2012, but it filled up very quickly (5,000 students were enrolled). I went on full alert to make sure I was able to sign up for the second offering, which started last January. Even with a cap of 5,000 students, the class filled quickly, but I was quick and able to enroll.

Communication

Mr. Cairo started each week by sending us an e-mail “New message from Alberto Cairo” which had a few notes and a link to the course News and Announcements forum. In the forum, Mr. Cairo posted detailed instructions for the week along with any recommendations and insights into the assignment. Between Mr. Cairo and Rachel Barrera, his Graduate Assistant for the class, I received e-mails every few days to let us know what the expectations were, informational items, etc. I felt the communication level was just right and both of them answered e-mail questions in a very timely manner.

Lectures

The lectures were all taught from video. The MOOC philosophy is to keep lectures around 12 minutes or less in length, which works out to about five videos to watch per hour lecture. The reasoning behind this is that our attention span starts to lapse after 15 minutes, so if the class is broken down into smaller chunks, we are more inclined to watch a shorter session on a particular topic as well as retain the information better. For the first week of class, Mr. Cairo’s videos were 2:32 minutes, 6:17 minutes, 12:03 minutes, 8:04 minutes, 9:51 minutes, 14:20 minutes, and 5:35 minutes. His style of lecture is to tell you a story related to the topic. I found the individual lectures very informative, interesting and the time went by very quickly when watching them.

I was surprised to see one of the week 1 lectures for the current class is 54:38 long. I think the reasoning behind this was it was from a presentation he made at a conference and these are usually around an hour long.

Reading

Mr. Cairo gave us a lot of different materials for reading. For example, in the second week of the course, we were assigned the following:

1. Read the interviews with John Grimwade (Condé Nast Traveler) and Steve Duenes/Xaquín GV (The New York Times).

2. Read Data Visualization for Human Perception, by Stephen Few.

Also, each week, Mr. Cairo would provide us links to additional articles, videos, and blogs he put together. They were optional, but again very useful. He also sent us an e-mail each week of links to other interesting materials to read.

Discussion

Each week, we were required to participate in the discussion forums. Whether it was to post our opinion on a topic or review other classmates assignments, we had to post 2-3 entries each week. At first, I did not think I would like this, but found this to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the class. When reviewing other classmate’s projects and assignments, we had 5,000 different examples to choose from, so there should have been discussions that appealed to everyone. I was very fortunate since the ones I picked were very interesting to read. Since we had a large pool of people from many different walks of life, we had a lot of diversity in why they created the design they did, their personal or professional interest in that topic, and the actual visualization they produced often gave me ideas for projects I was working on at work. Even after I finished my mandatory 2-3 entries to review, I often went back and read others I thought were of interest. For the final assignment we were able to pick our own topic. I frequented the discussion forum a lot just to see the variety of topics and infographics my classmates created. I was a bit frustrated that time did not permit me to view them all.

Quizzes

We had two quizzes early in the class. If you read the materials and watched the lectures, you will have no problem with these.

Projects/Assignments

We had three projects to complete as part of the class. The first was to create a topical interactive graphic. The second was to create a visualization, and the third project was to create an infographic.

I was fortunate that several of my classmates allowed me to blog about their completed assignments. Here are links to a few of these blogs.

As the current class progresses, I may ask some of the students if I can highlight their work on my blog too.

Best Quote

“Christmas cards do not cause Christmas to happen, but the two are highly correlated in time.”

Summary

As I now think back some more on my past experience in Professor Cairo’s MOOC class early this year, I feel that the theme of this blog series was accomplished in that class – that all parties involved are most concerned with students having the skills to do critical thinking upon graduation which will make them more successful in the work force. The assignments in this class provided course content in dozens of small conceptual modules of instruction and building on that through the iteration of immediate practice, feedback and reinforcement. We were able to better retain the concepts and were better prepared to put them into practice once the course was over. I also feel strongly that you will get out of a MOOC course what you are willing to put into it. I took this course very seriously and set my goal of getting the Certificate of Completion for the class (which I did). To get this, I had to do all of the course work. This class was something I wanted to take to enhance my skills as well as my career. I also took this course because I had read Mr. Cairo’s book, The Functional Art, and wanted to learn more from him. In regards to the readings, I was fortunate that I had already read most of Mr. Cairo’s book and had previously read many of the articles he assigned, such as Stephen Few’s material, so the reading assignments were not as steeped for me. However, I did go out and read a lot of the supplemental materials that I found of interest too.

Professor Cairo’s lecture style follows the form of story telling. He told the story about John Snow and the 1854 Cholera Epidemic in London, which made me go out and buy Steven Johnson’s book to read about it in more detail. I also loved the story and explanation of how we interpret circles and why not to use them in data visualizations.

When Mr. Cairo offers his next version of this class, I highly recommend you take it if you have the opportunity (sign up early!) I still find myself longing for more and hope Mr. Cairo or his counterparts like Stephen Few, Nigel Holmes, Colin Ware or Edward Tufte offer similar MOOC courses in the near future.

Tomorrow: My Critique of the Time Magazine Graph

How We Learn: Online Learning, MOOCs, and Alberto Cairo – Part 2

L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT

L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT

Yesterday, I started discussing a Special College Report article that is in the current issue of Time Magazine (October 7, 2013). It is titled Class of 2025 How They’ll Learn and What They’ll Pay.

Time discusses the debates going on over traditional education with a core curriculum and other academics who would rather have students attend a more specialized set of courses that allows them to set their curriculum. It seems, however, that all parties involved are most concerned with students having the skills to do critical thinking upon graduation which will make them more successful in the work force.

I had two personal life experiences I wanted to share. Yesterday, I discussed a course I took on the History of Napoleon at Texas A&M Univerity in the early 1980s from the late Dr. Shirley Black.

Today, I am moving ahead in time and discussing a MOOC class I took last year from Professor Alberto Cairo titled introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization. I am also sitting in the current section of this course Professor Cairo is teaching that began this month.

Before I discuss Mr. Cairo’s MOOC class, I would like to discuss the benefits of online learning discussed in the Time magazine report.

Online Learning Makes College Cheaper and Better

In the Time Magazine article, Online learning will make college cheaper. It will also make it better by L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT, Mr. Reif states that “digital learning is the most important innovation in education since the printing press.” He then describes what digital learning is good for.  His first point is that it is good at opening possibilities for billions of human beings who have little or no access to higher learning. He cites the success MIT has had with its OpenCourseWare as an example.

Mr. Reif then points out that online learning is very good at teaching content such as the concepts of circuits and electronics, the principles of chemistry, and the evolution of architectural styles. He then points out that his classroom students are not necessarily ready to apply the concepts that are taught. However, by contrast, compatible students taught through online exercises – including immediate practice, feedback and reinforcements retained the concepts better and were better prepared to put them into practice. Also, by moving the introductory materials to online courses, instructors can now take the time that was previously reserved for lectures and use it to exploit the power of innovative teaching techniques.

Time Magazine - Class of 2025Another advantage of digital learning technologies, although harder to quantify, is flexibility. Traditional colleges require four years at a physical academic address like a university campus where students have to meet regularly at the same place and time. Digital learning allows students to engage the material anytime, any day, as often as they need to, anywhere in the world. I know there were times as a student I wish I had certain lectures from my professors that I would like to have been able to listen to multiple times to reinforce what they taught us.

The next advantage of digital learning is the ability to analyze and gain information from the vast data that is being generated about how people actually learn best.  A systematic, data-driven approach to analyze the way we learn will provide us testable conclusions that could improve teaching methods and strategies for both online and in-person instruction.

With all of these benefits mentioned above, we also need to discuss the major drawback of digital learning-the ability to have face-to-face interaction. Judgement, confidence, humility and skill in negotiation that come from hands-on problem solving and teamwork; the perseverance, analytical skill and initiatives that grow from conducting frontline lab research; the skill in writing and public speaking that comes from exploring ideas with mentors and peers; the ethics and values that emerge through being apprenticed to a master in your field and living as a member of a campus community.

However, online learning may indirectly provide these benefits. The online courses will allow more time to focus on education; detailed discussions; personal mentorship, and project-based learning. It becomes more of a blended model as online tools are used more strategically. Students could, in the future, be able to complete their first year of college online, thus reducing their costs of education. Or, in their junior year, work in their field of interest while attending their courses online. MIT has around 200 lecture halls. With online learning, the need to increase the number of physical spaces (or reduce this space and use it for other academic purposes) could vastly change by the year 2025.

We need to capitalize on the strengths of online learning, make it more accessible, more effective and more affordable for the human race than every before.

Tomorrow: Alberto Cairo’s MOOC Course and my review of one of the graphs used in the Time Magazine report.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 273 other followers