Jiva Technology

The Power of Perceptual Learning

For those of you that missed it, there was an excellent article in the NY Times on the topic of perceptual learning. Benedict Carey reports on the work of a group of cognitive scientists who believe that the right kind of training dramatically improves those skills that are normally associated with experts in a field: the ability to ‘see’ the answer or classify what form a problem takes. It reminded me of a time a few years back when my admittedly ancient Mercedes car had given up the ghost on me near the desert town of Coolgardie, Australia. The 70 year old mechanic, who’d been recommended through a friend of a friend of a friend, didn’t touch the car – he just listened to it for 20 minutes. He then diagnosed the problem without laying a single hand on the stricken vehicle. The research seems to indicate that improving your perceptual skills not only makes learning easier, but also makes it easier to transfer skills from subject to subject and from classroom to real life. You can find some of the original research by UCLA and University of Philadelphia here.

Maths is really a ‘language’

Too many people seem to struggle with maths. My kids always roll their eyes when I talk about the beauty of algebra and would no doubt look incomprehensibly if I moved on to the elegance of calculus.

I’ve long thought that one of the basic problems is how we talk about the subject. In fact, I’d argue that we shouldn’t see maths as a subject at all. It isn’t, it’s a language. By understanding the language of maths, you open up the worlds of science, finance, engineering and even design. It allows architects to communicate difficult concepts to one another and it allows engineers to put astronauts on the moon and physicists to probe the depths of our universe. The power of the language of maths lies in what it helps us achieve. But when you’re starting a journey, doesn’t it make sense to know where you’re going? Perhaps we should stop telling our children that they need to learn maths because a). they have to and b). it will be really useful (without telling them why). Maybe we should spend 3 months talking about all the cool things they could do if they learn the language.

Without a firm grasp of the language of maths we’re consigning our children to a life at the hands of unscrupulous banks (percentages on loans), politicians (statistics) and sales people (basic mental maths). We demand that people living in the UK speak English as a basic form of communication, but isn’t it time we woke up to the fact that the whole world lives in Maths Land?

Homework just got easier

We’re really excited by the new release of Tutorhub that went up today. Not only does it have a killer new homepage, but it also includes a swag of new social features for the first time. Using the Twitter-style ‘follow’ feature, you can build study groups, invite friends to join your study group and follow your favourite ‘expert’ on a chosen topic. We’re constantly adding to the feature set, but this feels like a big leap forward.

Propositioning your market

We work in an industry that’s notorious for obsessing about all things hot and new. Hot new start-ups, hot new products, hot new technologies. If it wasn’t for the fact that how is already taken and hoew is hard to say, the popularity of hot-new would have spawned a portmanteau word by now (aside: I prefer the new term, wurjing to portmantau).

So you’d be on fairly safe ground if you assumed that hot, new products were the bedrock of success for the technology industry, right?

Wrong. With the rash of hot new IPOs hitting the exchanges in the last few months, I thought it was a good time to remind ourselves what, since time immemorial, has been the secret sauce in the most successful start ups. I’m sensing that I have your attention .. how do I incorporate a drum roll into WordPress? Anyway (no drum roll roll), the single thing that has made Google, Apple et all the companies they are today is not the quality of their products (good as they are), it’s the quality of their propositions. A proposition is an expression of the product offering in terms of value to a typical customer. I’ve heard it described as ‘the promise’. Google wasn’t about algorithms and Pageranks. It was about, faster, more relevant search results to you and I and about selling stuff to everyone else. Apple isn’t about music players and laptops, shiny as they are. It’s about being cool, urban, hip and easy. I’m an Apple user, when I go back to Microsoft, I always think the same thing, “wow, this is hard”. Hard isn’t such a great selling proposition.

The product (or service for that matter) is what delivers on your promise – it’s what makes your proposition come to life. What the technology industry has been uniquely good at is bringing to life whole new propositions that no one had thought of before and then making them so relevant that you wondered how you survived before. Mobile phones are’nt just phones that are mobile. Smartphones are not just phones that are mobile that are smart. They’re a whole new proposition. With them, I can do things I could never do before.




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