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Points of learning and teaching systems (POLTS), part II

Ubiquity, Volume 2002 Issue December, December 1 - December 31, 2002 | BY M. O. Thirunarayanan 


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Proposed teaching system will reflect a learner's cognitive skills

Proposed teaching system will reflect a learner's cognitive skills

In a previous article I proposed the idea of dedicated learning systems labeled Points of Learning and Teaching Systems [POLTS]. In this follow-up article, I will outline additional features of POLTS that will make them better technological systems than existing computer systems for purposes of learning and teaching.

Interactions Between Learners and POLTS

Each POLTS unit will ask its primary learner a number of questions periodically, to determine the current level of content knowledge, ongoing needs, interests, learning preferences, learning styles and the personal life experiences of the learner. This will enable POLTS to prompt learners with appropriate questions or to encourage learners to look at content from a different perspective that might enable the learner to gain a deeper understanding of the content.

Not only will POLTS be able to answer questions of the learner, the learner will also be able to "ask" (by way of typed, spoken, gestured or other forms of input) POLTS to transform and present the content under study in a wide variety of formats including text, charts, graphs, tables, models, concept maps, simulations, virtual; reality, audio, video, multimedia, holograms and other formats.

While much of the interactions that take place will be between a learner and his or her POLTS unit, learners can also interact with their peers and teachers. A POLTS unit can call other students' POLTS units, or a teacher's POLT unit and initiate communication. A POLTS unit will also have the capability to wander through cyberspace to gather and evaluate appropriate content as and when there is a need for such additional content. If human intervention is necessary for evaluating content, then the POLTS unit will know where to route the newly acquired content. Once the content is evaluated and is ready to be transformed in appropriate ways, the POLTS unit will make such content a part of itself, and also make it available to all other POLTS units that are searching for similar content.

On Demand Views of Content

In addition to being able to provide examples and analogies, POLTS will also be able to present the requested content using different lenses, and the different views enabled by these lenses, including the following:

The Content View: In this view the learner who uses POLTS will be able to interact with the content devoid of any context, history or relevance. If a student is learning the Newton's Laws of Motion then that is the content he or she will be able to interact with.

The Context View: This lens or view option will overlay context to the content being studied. As an example, POLTS can present the Bernoulli Principle to the learner. When the learner asks for a context, it can embed the Bernoulli Principle in to the context of flight.

The Connections View: At the touch of a screen, or in response to a spoken command, or any other form of appropriate input, POLTS will present its learner with information about how the content being learned is connected to other content that has already been learned.

The Application View: Using this view, learners can see the applications of the content that they are studying using POLTS.

The Relevance View: In this view, POLTS will overlay the relevance of the content that is being learned. Students often ask the question "Why should I learn this?" Providing a relevance to what is being learned can help students answer the aforementioned question.

The Historical View: Learners can use this view or lens to learn the history behind the content being learned. Such a view will provide timelines and historical perspectives that add to the understanding of the content being learned.

The Story View: In this view learners will learn about and interact with the stories that are associated with great discoveries. Such stories will add interest to the content and make such content easier to understand.

The Personal Life Experiences View: When the learners demand this view, POLTS will, based on its knowledge of a learner's personal life experiences, and whenever possible and appropriate to do so, relate the content being covered to the life experiences of the learner. As a learner grows and gains a wider variety of experiences in life, his or her POLTS will be able to relate more and more of the content to the life experiences of the learner.

Multiple Views: Learners can also use multiple views at the same time and the content will be presented accordingly whenever such multiple views of content are possible and appropriate.

Other Views: POLTS will allow learners to create other views of the content. POLTS will also be capable of creating other views for learners based on the characteristics of the learners.

Zooming In and Out of Content

POLTS will enable learners to zoom in and out of content, and not just the pages or areas in which content is located. When a learner uses the "zoom in" feature, he or she will be able to interact with a specific chunk of content. As the learner "zooms out," he or she will be able to interact with additional chunks of related content. These additional chunks of content need not be located in the same area as the original chunk of content.

The content zooms in POLTS will enable learners to interact with the content from part to whole and also from whole to part. This means that learners can start by zooming in on the smallest chunk of content and keep zooming out until they are able to interact with and learn the largest quantity of related content. Conversely, learners can also start with the largest amount of content and keep zooming in until they learn the smallest chunk of related content.

Panning Away from the Originally Selected Content

Using POLTS, learners will be able to "pan left" and "pan right" of the content. As learners pan left or pan right, they will be interacting with chunks of content that are peripherally related to the initial chunk of content with which that they were previously interacting. This is very similar to how books are classified and arranged in libraries. When a person finds a book that is of interest to him or her in a library shelf, the other books to the left or to the right of the previously selected book will be on a topic similar to the selected book. As the person starts moving further to the left or right of the originally selected book, he or she will find that the content of these books are more and more peripherally related to the content of the originally selected book. POLTS will allow learners to pan practically in all directions away from the originally selected content.

Learner Controlled Storage and Retrieval of Content

Learners who use POLTS will be able to store ideas and concepts that they have learned in different ways and in different formats. Learners may store some information as text files, other information as concept maps, audio, video, tables, charts or simulations, and other information in other ways. Learners will also be able to store chunks of content that they have just learned next to other chunks of context that they have previously learned. This will make it easy for students to retrieve the content that have learned since they have placed such content in proximity to other content that they have also learned.

A Reflection of the Learner's Cognitive Structures

Over a period of time, the content that is organized by the learner in his or her POLTS will be a reflection of the learner's cognitive structures. Educational psychologists will be able to conduct research on learners' cognitive structures by studying the content that is stored in POLTS by different learners. A study of how learners use POLTS and interact with the content contained therein will also provide valuable clues about how learners learn.


The initial development of POLTS will require sufficient funding, time and effort. Once a prototype of the system is developed and tested, the production of each individual unit of POLTS should be relatively inexpensive. A team effort will also be needed to obtain the initial funding needed to design and develop a POLTS prototype using the ideas outlined in the two articles on POLTS. After successfully developing and field-testing the initial version of POLTS, the same team can also be responsible for developing future versions of POLTS. A system such as POLTS can be developed in about three to five years by a team of dedicated professionals with sufficient funding.

About the Author
M.O. Thirunarayanan is a tenured associate professor at Florida International University in Miami where he teaches undergraduate, graduate and doctoral courses in learning technologies.

The author is interested in putting together a voluntary team of people who are interested in working collaboratively to develop a system such as POLTS that is outlined in this and the previous paper. The team will be responsible for further refining the many ideas and concepts related to POLTS, obtaining funding, designing, developing and field-testing a prototype of POLTS. Qualified people who are interested in being a part of the POLTS development team are encouraged to contact the author of this paper. The author's office e-mail address is and his office phone number is (305) 348-2085.


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