Sebastian Thrun from Udacity probably read my last post on Massive Open Online Courses. At least that could be the motivation behind his latest idea: He aims to teach the largest on-line class ever. I don’t know where the current record stands, but this one will be large for sure. The Intro to Statistics course will start on June 25, 2012 and promises to be an interesting endeavour.

Certificate Udacity Web EngineeringMeanwhile, I have completed the Web Application Engineering course “with highest distinction”, including all homework and final. I loved it! I learnt how to use Google App Engine and Python and created a wiki system with login, editing and history functionality. The instant feedback to submissions makes it easy to see your progress.

So, if you always wanted to learn about stats, this is your opportunity. See you there!


For years and years, one of the main arguments proposed in favour of using learning technologies has been: “It scales!” Whether there are ten, a hundred or a thousand students in your class, it doesn’t matter. We used this argument in the early days, when developing adaptive on-line courses for students at the University of Education in Freiburg. And yes, we had a couple of hundred students every year. We used the very same argument when designing courses in software engineering at Fraunhofer IESE. And yes, at lot of learners came.

There are lots of examples, where learning was brought in based on the promise that you could reach a large audience in an easy way. But I always felt that e-Learning had never really delivered on this promise. A course for a couple of hundred students. Good. A training solution for several thousand employees in a company.  Nice. But only recently, we have seen examples of real scale. More than 100,000 people registered for a free on-line course on Artificial Intelligence offered by Stanford University. And 25,000 of them actually finished. Yes, that’s 25,000 people completing a hard, technical university course! Based on this success they have now started Udacity, a growing set of on-line lectures (all of them in Computer Science so far).

1 million learnersThe phenomenon has been coined Massive Open Online Courses, MOOC, by George Siemens back in 2008 (see interview). Only now, it really gets massive. Similar offers are available from academic room and the by now well known MITx.

But we don’t even have to look that for to see the emerging trend. My esteemed colleague Eugene just celebrated the 1,000,000th view on his YouTube channel Learn with Dr Eugene O’Loughlin. The first million is always the hardest, but I am confident we will all soon be millionaires.

Tracked Down

May 4, 2012

Being involved in research on user modeling and adaptive systems, I know a bit about the techniques of identifying users and tracking user behaviour. At this point most people will be aware that some websites set so called http cookies through which your browser can be re-identified and information can be stored for future sessions. There are many scenarios where these cookies come in very handy: forms may be pre-filled with the data you inserted the last time, settings or other personalisations may persist across sessions. So when I go and book a flight with Aerlingus, Dublin will be selected as my home airport, before I ever log in. I don’t think they have ever asked me explicitly whether I want to store this information, but their website has left this little textfile with my browser with “homeAirport: DUB” in it. I don’t really mind and find it convenient.

However, it gets more tricky when my behaviour is tracked across websites. Some websites will set third-party cookies (unless you block them from doing so). This means a third party (usually involved in ad serving) will be able to see that I visited both site A and site B.

As I said, I was aware of that fact anyway and even deleted certain cookies from my system at times. However, I was not really aware of the extend of this cross site tracking until I came across this TED talk by the CEO of Mozilla Corporation Gary Kovacs. In this talk he introduces a Firefox add-on called Collusion which visualises the sites that track your behaviour. I installed it immediately and just half-an-hour and a couple of clicks later my Collusion looked like this:

Collusion Tracking cloud

Tracking the trackers. Collusion visualises tracking sites.

Each circle represents a website. I have actually visited those with with a halo, but the grey ones have set a cookie and “know” that I visited site connected sites. After this quick session, a website that I had never visited called (“we help you to make marketing decisions”) had seen me indirectly visiting about a third of all the pages I visited! At that point I decided it’s time to re-visit those privacy settings in my browser.

Social TV

August 22, 2011

TV is rapidly growing from a mere consumption channel into a social experience. We saw in previous projects, that people seem to like chatting, posting and tweeting while watching TV. Whether football, X-Factor or Eurovision contest, people like to share their views. They critique, criticise, cheer, slag and comment on-line on what’s happening (or on what’s not happening). This response from viewers is not only entertaining, it is also of interest from a marketing perspective. Do viewers find our new ad campaign funny? Now you can find out. Immediately.

Just last week started a project with ClipSure and Modeva. They offer an innovative way to track the effects of TV marketing campaigns on social media. They developed technology to analyse ads and the response to these ads across channels in a systematic way.

According to recent research highlighted in today’s Irish Times, the most popular online purchase is flights and holidays, followed by tickets for entertainment.  CDs, DVDs and video games are the third most popular choice.

Do you sell your goods or products online and if so, are you confident your customers are happy with their online experience?  Does it promote or hinder sales?