Of Speechi and helicopters

Why a simple helicopter is better than a cheap helicopter and how this is related to Speechi

There are three main barriers to the propagation of e-learning methods today and Speechi is an attempt to eliminate each of them.

1) Cost of content creation

After consulting for many higher education institutions, I found that, in almost every case, the cost of creating e-learning content was too expensive to give even a hope to use e-learning for more than 5% of classes. An e-learning module for an hour could cost anything from 5 k€ to 25 k€ and there is no economic way a University can produce e-learning modules for each class or even a statistically significant number of classes (typically several thousands). Then there are solutions that consist in filming courses with video, but video needs to be processed, cut, mounted, synchronised with professor’s presentation, and then ported on Web. This requires expensive hardware and technical knowledge and can be done “sometimes” but not “all the time”. Also video quality is very often poor on the Web and Speechi’s invention actually came out one day when I was watching one of Professor Richard Feynman’s video on the Web and found out, with quite a lot of frustration, that I could not read what he was drawing on the whiteboard !

With Speechi, there is no cost involved in creating content. Professor gives a class or a session, and at the end, his class is ready for the Web. We estimate 60% to 90% of classes can be put on the Web this way (estimate coming from Audencia Management School, one of our early customers). There is also no specific cost involved in streaming the content from the Web: Speechi uses standard web server technologies, no expensive or specific streaming (or video streaming) technologies.

2) Complexity of e-learning tools

The typical consequence of the phenomenon described above is that schools and universities, to keep in pace with e-learning “fashion” started investing in e-learning “management” tools (LMS): tools that store, sort, manage e-learning content, students, classes, etc.. Typical situation today is a university that has LMS able to manage thousands of contents, but virtually no content. Typical symptom of this is the evolution of vocabulary for e-learning tools. The less they help, the less you understand what they are about. Although I unmodestly consider myself an e-learning expert, there may be conferences I’m in where I don’t understand a good 30% of what other people say. The “normal” professor just does not understand anything and goes out of it (rightly, I should say).

The content creation tools have also shown to be too complex authoring tools (Macromedia Director, Macromedia MX, Authorware) or too limited (Quizz creation tools). Professors are NOT designers or webmasters and there is no hope they massively invest time in learning those tools. Even if they did, they would not, in average, have enough time or budget to create content with them.

With Speechi, any professor that understands PowerPoint is able to create his own, personalized e-learning content without any assistance. That’s about 50% of professors in higher education institutions. Any professor who can write on a real white board is also able to create his own e-learning content (hopefully, that’s about 99,99% of professors ! ).

3) No understanding a gap has to be bridged

Suppose that tomorrow, a new helicopter technology is invented that allows a new helicopter to be built for approximately the price of a car. For 10 k€, you can fly in your own helicopter and as it is very safe technology, you can take your children to school with it, go shopping, etc… Isn’t this new technology wonderful ? Sure, but if your cheap helicopter is as complex to drive as a standard helicopter, you can be sure it’s going to take a LOT of time before your helicopter replaces cars, since you can only sell it to “experts” (licensed helicopter pilots). Actually, you would probably be better off with a helicopter that costs 10 times as much but that is as easy to drive as a car, with a driving wheel, an easy to pass licence and that uses normal gas. More people, at least in the initial stages, would buy such a helicopter.

E-learning is a little bit the same. Extraordinary, sometimes revolutionary approaches have been envisioned. Some completely new “online” programs are being developed and this is absolutely wonderful, but the reality is the following:

  • most people today are trained physically by a professor who is there, in front of them. And this situation is not going to statistically change in the next 10 years
  • professors have been using whiteboard for generations and half of them are now able to use PowerPoint also. (this number is big enough, but actually, it’s interesting to see that the first PC appeared at the end of the seventies, and that after 30 years, although everyone would admit the PC has been a revolution, 50% of professors only are able to use PowerPoint).
  • statistically, no other presentation tool is used today by professors. Tools like OpenOffice, for instance, are used by less than 2% of professors world-wide.

So, if you really want to change things, if you want to realistically create the evolution, you need a tool, that, if possible, does not change the way professors are teaching (in front of students, with a whiteboard and possibly with PowerPoint). That’s what Speechi is about. That’s why Speechi is “simply said – but not simply done”, since a lot of technology is needed to reach that level of apparent simplicity.

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