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‘The future of online learning requires a human-centric approach’

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NovoEd’s co-founder and CTO discusses the future of online learning and the need to move away from a ‘lift and shift’ training approach.

Over the past 15 or so months, we’ve gone from joking about ‘the new normal’ to talking seriously about never going back to the ‘old normal’.

The extended period of remote working and learning alongside the need to decentralise systems and infrastructures has forced us to look critically at what processes we want to return to post-pandemic and which ones we want to transform.

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Online learning is one of the biggest areas that could see acceleration due to the pandemic. Though students were thrust into the remote world in much the same way the workforce was, under less-than-ideal circumstances, it has presented an opportunity to bring different approaches into the mainstream.

Not only could this change how the education sector works, but it could bring a new way of upskilling to the world’s workforce.

While the online learning environment might feel very new to many right now, it’s something Farnaz Ronaghi has been working on for nearly a decade.

‘Engaging online learning will enhance employee connections and a culture of togetherness’
– FARNAZ RONAGHI

Ronaghi holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree and PhD in management science and engineering, information science and technology from Stanford University.

It was during her PhD that she built the first version of NovoEd, an online collaborative learning platform, in Stanford’s Social Algorithms Lab in 2012.

Ronaghi is passionate about building the next generation of online learning experiences and said it is the only way forward when it comes to upskilling a highly distributed workforce.

“But to be successful, organisations need more human-centred approaches to create the community and social connections that drive engagement and sustain change,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

The value of online learning

While students all over the world have had to switch their full-time education to online learning at different points over the past year, online learning could also be of critical importance within the working environment.

“Corporate learning has the power to systematically cultivate organisation-wide capabilities that employees need to innovate in an increasingly complex and distributed environment, but only if they can learn from and with each other, and only when learning is tailored to their company culture, mission, values and specific roles,” Ronaghi said.

“When done well, effective and engaging online learning will also enhance employee connections and a culture of togetherness in today’s environment, which can be very isolating and disconnected across regions and time zones.”

But leaders need to get more creative about designing and delivering learning experiences that address the needs of learners and make a real impact, she added.

“To do so, they’ll need to unlearn mindsets, assumptions and practices of the past about how learning happens online.

“One mindset to overcome is that self-paced learning is solo learning. Many in the learning community create content or traditional e-learning courses as the solution to every problem. This approach might be OK for one-way knowledge transfer on some hard skills, but it does not develop capabilities. Developing capabilities requires practice and application, peer learning, feedback and social reinforcement.”

Another mindset that can negatively impact the online learning space is the belief that, even in an online world, bricks-and-mortar institutions still hold the top spots.

A 2018 Northeastern University survey found that 58pc of US employers believe that an institution’s brand and reputation is the main driver of a credential’s value, regardless of whether or not it was earned online.

And according to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management, 92pc of employers view online degrees from brick-and-mortar schools as favourable, while only 42pc would consider a candidate with an online degree from a university that operates solely online, despite the accreditation.

While these studies are based in the US, it presents a concerning bias that may exist against fully online offerings that don’t have the legacy of an established in-person programme from a traditional institution.

Another misconception that Ronaghi highlighted was the idea that in-person training could simply ‘lift and shift’ to an online video environment – a challenge that affects employers when it comes to upskilling their workforce.

“Over the past year in particular, attempts to replicate in-person learning through Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams and other workplace collaboration tools have revealed the difficulties of maintaining learner engagement as digital fatigue kicks in,” she said.

“Adopting a human-centred iterative approach to the design, agility in the creation and delivery, and contextualising content via relatable and purposeful activities in learning, is critical to unleashing the power of online learning in organisations.”

Advice for leaders

Aside from the need to shake off misconceptions, Ronaghi offered some advice for leaders when it comes to creating better learning environments.

She said these should incorporate virtual instructor-led workshops, self-study sessions with articles and videos, practice and application-oriented projects, peer feedback, group projects, and mentoring and coaching.

“With online training, you’re not limited to lectures and PowerPoints. Think videos, articles, podcasts, infographics, games, e-books, web conferences and other creative formats. Repurpose existing content wherever possible and create your own content to supplement it so you can include messaging and a look and feel that’s on brand.”

She added that, to achieve long-term success, online learning should be stretched over time. “Retention is higher with more time to absorb and reflect with peers. Designing for application is also important to ensure that learning activities are authentic to your company culture and allow participants to connect what they’re learning to the real world and their current roles.”

Another tip Ronaghi offered was for businesses to start small when it comes to building online training from the ground up. “This will allow you to maintain quality before scaling your programs organisation-wide.”

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Bridie Connell: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy

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Ah, the internet. My reliable friend. I turn to it when I need to smile (cute pet videos), when I need to cry (war veterans being reunited with their kids), and when I need to destroy what’s left of my self-esteem (Instagram). There are plenty of arguments about why life would be better without it, and honestly? It probably would be. But it also wouldn’t be as funny. Here’s a bunch of things from the world wide web that never fail to make me laugh.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than people trying to make the world a better place. Particularly when they make the world better in a way they’d never intended. I can just imagine the conversations that took place in the drafting process for this campaign:

“We need a catchy and educational campaign to tackle the horrors of addiction.”

“Yes, one that shows we’re in this together, as a community.”

“One that doesn’t stereotype addicts.”

“I’ve got it!”

The result is what I believe they call a “swing and a miss.” A+ for effort, though.

If there was an award for best award acceptance speech, this would win. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is brilliantly funny (while accepting an award for being brilliantly funny) and she remains my hero.

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Here’s one for my fellow theatre kids. This pitch perfect sketch is from comedian and writer Jacob Kaplan. Does it make me laugh? Yes. Does it make me tense every single muscle in my body and hold my breath while I try not to think about the time that 14-year-old Bridie wrote a play about the dangers of DRINK-DRIVING and also DRUGS, which inexplicably culminated in a peppy dance routine? … No comment.

Amber Ruffin is one of the most versatile and talented comedians around. I love a lot of what she does, but this song is a special favourite. Hilarious, a little creepy and downright catchy: a winning combo!

This sketch from the late 1990s sketch group Big Train still delights me. Short, sharp, silly. Please and thank you!

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Adrian Bliss, Certified Internet Star™, is a go-to for inventive sketches (and a seemingly endless supply of costumes). Many of his skits feature historical characters, like this one about a Greek soldier inside the Trojan horse. That layer of awkwardness that the Brits do well drives this skit, and now that I’ve seen it I can only hear The Aeneid being read in Bliss’s voice: “I sing of arms and a man, innit.”

Now this, THIS is some relatable content. Don’t pretend you’ve never tied one on and woken up on a golf course/boat/gold lame suit, because I won’t believe you. Perfectly encapsulating the delight of a great night-turned great story, I give you this hungover Scotsman who woke up in the wrong house. Of course, it’s made all the better by the Glaswegian accent.

*Assumes elderly wizard voice* I have been studying and performing improv since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, so the Whose Line crew are some of my longtime heroes. This game is one of my faves, not just because it’s so funny and clever, but because the “mistake” that happens around the 2:20 mark encapsulates the joy and collaboration that good improv is all about. Oh dear, this got more earnest than I intended. Just watch it!

A masterclass in physical comedy, from one of the greats.

Last but not least, here’s a video to save for a day where you need a bit of a pick-me-up. This is my favourite of all “laughing baby” videos, a classic in a crowded genre. And sure, if we’re measuring “funny” by incisive satirical commentary or well crafted punchlines, then this is a fail – but no other video fires up my mirror neurons and makes me laugh as much as this one.

Seriously, if you watch this and don’t feel at least a little bit better, then call a cardiologist because you have NO HEART.



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North Korean ransomware dubbed Maui active since May 2021 • The Register

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For the past year, state-sponsored hackers operating on behalf of North Korea have been using ransomware called Maui to attack healthcare organizations, US cybersecurity authorities said on Wednesday.

Uncle Sam’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI, and the Treasury Department issued a joint advisory outlining a Pyongyang-orchestrated ransomware campaign that has been underway at least since May, 2021.

The initial access vector – the way these threat actors break into organizations – is not known. Even so, the FBI says it has worked with multiple organizations in the healthcare and public health (HPH) sector infected by Maui ransomware.

“North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors used Maui ransomware in these incidents to encrypt servers responsible for healthcare services – including electronic health records services, diagnostics services, imaging services, and intranet services,” the joint security advisory [PDF] reads. “In some cases, these incidents disrupted the services provided by the targeted HPH Sector organizations for prolonged periods.”

The Feds assume the reason HPH sector organizations have been targeted is that they will pay ransoms rather than risk being locked out of systems, being denied data, or having critical services interrupted.

Maui, according to Silas Cutler, principal reverse engineer at security outfit Stairwell, is one of the lesser known families of ransomware. He says it stands out for its lack of service-oriented tooling, such as an embedded ransom note with recovery instructions. That leads him to believe Maui is operated manually by individuals who specify which files should be encrypted and exfiltrated.

The advisory, based on Stairwell’s research [PDF], indicates that the Maui ransomware is an encryption binary that a remote operator manually executes through command line interaction. The ransomware deploys AES, RSA, and XOR encryption to lock up target files. Thereafter, the victim can expect a ransom payment demand.

According to SonicWall, there were 304.7 million ransomware attacks in 2021, an increase of 151 percent. In healthcare, the percentage increase was 594 percent.

CrowdStrike, another security firm, in its 2022 Global Threat Report said North Korea has shifted its focus to cryptocurrency entities “in an effort to maintain illicit revenue generation during economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.” For example, consider the recent theft of $100 million of cryptocurrency assets from Harmony by the North Korea-based cybercrime group Lazarus. But organizations that typically transact with fiat currencies aren’t off the hook.

Sophos, yet another security firm, said in its State of Ransomware Report 2022 that the average ransom payment last year was $812,360, a 4.8X increase from the 2020 when the average payment was $170,000. The company also said more victims are paying ransoms: 11 percent in 2021 compared to 4 percent in 2020.

The advisory discourages the payment of ransoms. Nonetheless, the FBI is asking any affected organization to share information related to ransomware attacks, such as communication with foreign IP addresses, Bitcoin wallet details, and file samples. The advisory goes on to suggest ways to mitigate ransomware attacks and minimize damage.

Last month, the US Justice Department outlined its Strategic Plan for the next four years and cited enhancing cybersecurity and fighting cybercrime among its objectives. One of its key metrics for success will be the “percent of reported ransomware incidents from which cases are opened, added to existing cases, or resolved or investigative actions are conducted within 72 hours.” ®

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Revolut banks on Stripe tech to expand payments globally

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Soon to launch in Mexico and Brazil, Revolut joins a long list of Stripe users including N26, Ford and Spotify.

Revolut will now use Stripe’s financial infrastructure platform to power its payments in the UK and Europe.

Stripe’s international reach is also expected to accelerate the global expansion of Revolut, helping it enter and grow in new markets. The UK neobank is soon planning to launch in Mexico and Brazil.

With this latest partnership, Revolut joins a long list of tech companies that have turned to Irish-founded Stripe to power payments, including German neobank N26, Swedish fintech Klarna, US carmaker Ford and streaming giant Spotify.

“Revolut builds seamless solutions for its customers. That means access to quick and easy payments and our collaboration with Stripe facilitates that,” said David Tirado, vice-president of business development at Revolut.

“We share a common vision and are excited to collaborate across multiple areas, from leveraging Stripe’s infrastructure to accelerate our global expansion, to exploring innovative new products for Revolut’s more than 18m customers.”

Founded in 2015, Revolut has become one of Europe’s biggest fintech start-ups. The London-headquartered company now offers payments and bankings services to 18m customers and 500,000 businesses in more than 200 countries and territories.

Last month, the fintech made its debut in the highly competitive buy now, pay later market in Europe, with roll-out starting in Ireland. It also revealed this week that it is moving into in-person payments, launching a card reader for businesses in the UK and Ireland.

“Revolut and Stripe share an ambition to upgrade financial services globally. We’re thrilled to be powering Revolut as it builds, scales and helps people around the world get more from their money,” said Eileen O’Mara, EMEA revenue and growth lead at Stripe.

Even though Revolut has 1.7m customers in Ireland and is rolling out banking services here, the fintech is set to face stiff competition from Synch Payments, a mobile payments app venture from some of Ireland’s pillar banks. Synch recently took another step towards launch by picking a technology partner for its app.

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