Amazon flavoured learning services + The Millennials strike back

December 2017 

CAPDM Newsletter


CAPDM Thinking

Amazon flavoured learning services +
The Millennials strike back

Dear Reader,

Amazon flavoured learning services

Just at the end of November this year, Amazon snuck out a bunch of new Web-service technology announcements of potential interest to Education. There were some useful tools like Transcribe, an automatic speech translation service which we can embed into your learning environment to make your videos more accessible. Another tool is Translate which can be used to batch translate large volumes of text efficiently, to handle tasks like localising content for international students for example.

The ones that really interested me however were:

  • SageMaker is a way to deploy different machine learning models at scale. It includes the ten most common machine learning algorithms including Google’s TensorFlow algorithm. Connect it to your training data, and select and optimise the best algorithm and framework for your subject area application. Moodle’s new Inspire functionality uses TensorFlow to deliver its new student analytic and completion predictions.
  • Rekognition is a video analysis service that can amongst other things, detect and recognize faces in live streams. It returns specific labels of activities, people and faces, and objects with time stamps so you can easily locate the scene. Perhaps it could be added to the quiz plugin of your learning management system, to auto-mark student supplied videos for some assessed task.
  • Comprehend is a natural language processing service that uses machine learning to analyse text. It can identify the language of the text, extracts key phrases, places, people, nouns, or events, understands sentiment about subjects, and identifies the main topics from a library of documents. How long will it be before its applied to auto-marking student essay responses in volume?

All of these new machine-learning technologies need to be trained with a reasonable amount of real data. Having your learning materials held in a semantic content domain which you can Translate and apply Comprehend to is a useful start. Gathering your own student response data to apply SageMaker and Rekognition to is at least something to consider researching. Giving it all away to a third-party online program manager, or a proprietary learning management system provider at this early stage of its potential use, is something to guard against.

The Millennials strike back

We frequently get questioned as to why students might want to read textbooks anymore. The logic usually goes something like this:

“most students today are Millennials (born between late 1980’s and early 2000’s); they prefer videos to reading, and have short attention spans directed by digital devices. Therefore, we should video our lectures and publish those in small chunks instead of textbook based courses that require extensive old-fashioned reading”.

It was therefore somewhat refreshing to read Dora Gao’s recent short piece in Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning blog (November 30, 2017) entitled “Millenials don’t want everything in video!

For me the highlights of this piece were:

  1. If content is strong, engaging, and relevant to the learner, people will make time for it.
  2. What learners ultimately want is choice, variety, quality, and relevance. That can take many forms and doesn’t have to be all fun and games.
  3. Sometimes a short piece of text is faster and easier to get through than a five-minute video.
  4. A holistic content approach better meets the full needs of today’s learners.

Happy new year.

Email me now.

Martin Smith
Managing Director, CAPDM Ltd.


About the author
Martin Smith MSc is a core founder and managing director of CAPDM Ltd. A software engineer by trade, during the 1990’s he was product development manager for Office Workstations Limited and GUIDE 3 – the first commercial hypertext product. He worked for OWL International Inc in Seattle as an electronic publishing solutions consultant, responsible for the specification and implementation of electronic publishing solutions for Ford, GEAE and the US Navy. Through CAPDM, Martin has been applying open-standards based single-source publishing technologies to higher education for 25+ years, and has influenced the development of some of the most successful online distance learning programs operating today.


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This newsletter was originally sent by CAPDM Ltd. on the 19. December 2017.

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