Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Can you trademark commonly used terminology?


Credit: Anne Bartlett-Bragg (Mosiac by Gaudi, Parc Gruell, Barcelona)

Anne says: Somewhere, not so long ago (in fact, it was last month – 15 November, 2017), a strange thing happened. The US Patent & Trademark Office has awarded the New York City–based technology company, Grovo, a registered trademark on the term Microlearning®.

I really expected to see more outrage across my organisational learning network in the social channels. How is it possible to patent a term that has been used for a long time? (I did a quick Google Scholar search and uncovered citations using the term back in the 1990s).

Some readers may recall Blackboard successfully trademarked the LMS (Learner Management System) in 2006. And how has that gone for them? They did successful sue Desire2Learn but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of companies branding their software as a LMS!

But there’s patents and there’s patents. When I recovered from disbelief, I dug a little deeper into the announcement to understand the impact and restrictions for everyday organisational learning practitioners who may have, or are intending to base their strategies on microlearning (would they have to stop using the term, would they have to pay royalities?).

Grovo have registered their patent on the US Supplemental Register. This means they can use the funky little  ® following the word. According to CLO magazine the value is:

“The Supplemental Register is basically where you park your registration for a number of years and then you hope that a few years down the road your mark has built up what they call ‘secondary meaning,’” Arnold said.

Secondary meaning occurs when consumers eventually identify a trademarked name with a specific product. If Grovo were eventually to get the mark to the Principal Register it would give the company the ability to stop others from using a mark similar to microlearning.

If you continue to read the CLO article – there’s more about the debate, what is microlearning, why Grovo want to be the ones to define it (own it) and a final comment from Grovo’s CEO, Steve Carpenter, that is perhaps more revealing than the other spin:

“We do want to be the biggest player in microlearning, so we’re definitely going to continue to build around the intellectual property and the marks associated with it,” he said.

Now, with a touch of cynicism, I wryly smile and wish them the best – because we all know how quickly buzzword terms morph into new terminology and new ways of approaching learning – and I will continue to use microlearning as an approach, not a product. Without the funky ®.

And from their own blog, the acknowledgement that it’s a buzzword: 11 Next generation learning buzzwords – posted 2 months ago – prior to the trademark being awarded.

Read: Trademark Announcement Sparks Conversation About Microlearning from CLO magazine:

Learning Solutions Magazine:

Enough of the ‘STEM’ obsession: We need more philosophers

Nat says: The world is based on differences of opinion. What matters most is not what you think, but how you think. At the core of its practice, wonder is the beginning of philosophy; the questioning of what it means to be human, and the critical examination of life that transcends inquiry beyond the socially acceptable spectrum of public debate. We live in an age, however, where science and technology reign supreme, and philosophy is viewed as something to be left to old and dusty books on a forgotten bookshelf, or to irrelevant University Professors. Alarmingly, the education system is promoting the divorce between science and philosophy; emphasising the desire for coders, engineers, and technological researchers without the questioning of what we are trying to achieve, and why, as a species through our emphasis on a technological world.

The shared article challenges the dominant epistemic script that has somewhat plagued Western culture. The current STEM focus in schools (which stands for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’) is very much needed, however it fails to include the thinking and questioning of its practices that is often associated with the humanities, such as liberal arts, the social sciences and, of course, philosophy. We have become a society that so readily celebrates the scientific method and the so-called rational mind that we have become bamboozled into believing that all that we are is a walking brain, and that to be human means to be in possession of an intelligent mind; an intelligence which favours maths and logic above all else.

We have attached ourselves so much to the scientific mind that it has become a form of religion. We used to live in an age where no one dared to question religion, and yet now we are in the age where no one dares to question the reign of science. However, this is precisely what needs to take place. Our technological advances are, ironically, leading to greater inequality. With the rise of automation, for example, people are also being left to question their existence for alarmingly the first time ever, as a vast majority of people derive their sense of meaning in life from their vocation. Science cannot answer questions of meaning, but philosophy and a somewhat questioning of existence itself can lead to unexpected insights. The problem, however, is that although we desperately need more philosophy, we need the right type of philosophical thinkers. As so eloquently put by my favourite philosopher, Alan Watts:

The current movement in philosophy is “logical analysis”, which says: you mustn’t think about existence, it’s a meaningless concept. Therefore, philosophy has become the discussion of trivia. No good philosopher lies awake nights, worrying about the destiny of Man, and the nature of God, and that sort of thing. Because a philosopher today is a practical fellow who comes to the university with a briefcase at 9:00 and leaves at 5:00. He “does philosophy” during the day, which is discussing whether certain sentences have meaning and if so what. The problem is: he’s lost his sense of wonder. Wonder is in modern philosophy something one mustn’t have… it’s like enthusiasm in 18th century England: very bad form. But you see, I don’t know what question to ask when I wonder about the universe. It isn’t a question that I’m wondering about, it’s a feeling that I have. Because I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder. The moment my mouth opens to talk about it I suddenly find I’m talking nonsense. But that should not prevent wonder from being the foundation of philosophy.


Young and Online: Children’s perspectives on life in the digital age

Jakkii says: A companion to the 2017 State of the World’s Children Report, this report from Western Sydney University, Unicef and RErights explores the reality of life in the digital age for our children through a lens oft neglected in our discourse: that of children themselves. 490 children across 26 countries participated in the research, providing a solid foundation for the findings contained within the report.

From education through to business, the digital age has changed – and continues to change – the way we interact with the world around us, the way we engage with information, and the way we engage with one another. If we are to continue pushing forward developing true workplaces of the future, it’s not enough for us to consider what we need today, or even by 2020. We must start to truly consider what the world looks like for children born of the digital age – the positives, the negatives, and the inbetweens. What can we learn from their experiences and perspectives that we can apply to our future thinking?

The key findings – or ‘main messages’ – in the report:

  • Connection, communication and sharing
    Children view connection, communication and sharing as key benefits of engaging with digital technology.
  • Divides
    Social, cultural and economic divides profoundly shape both the challenges and opportunities children face in using and making the most of digital technologies.
  • Barriers
    Poor connectivity, prohibitive data & device costs, & a lack of appropriate equipment are significant barriers children must navigate to participate online.
  • Social change
    Children see digital technology as vital to their development and their capacity to contribute to their communities.
  • Education
    Children view technology as vital to achieving their future goals, and many use technology for learning. However the benefits are distributed unequally across divides.
  • Concerns
    Children are concerned about commonly discussed risks, such as interacting with strangers online, accessing inappropriate content, or being exposed to malware or viruses.
  • Family life
    Digital technology impacts family dynamics in positive and negative ways. It facilitates and strengthens family interactions, and also causes inter-family tensions.
    Children both teach and learn from siblings, parents and grandparents, demonstrating scope to use intergenerational relationships to enhance digital literacy of all ages.
  • Health
    Overall the majority of children say either technology’s impacts on health were positive, or were a balance of positive and negative.
  • Child-centred framings
    The ways in which children talk about their concerns often mirror mainstream media narratives and adult-centric concerns. In the view of the report authors, it is essential children be given the space to develop their own languages and ideas about the opportunities digital technologies can afford.

It’s a fairly hefty report, but it’s well worth a deep dive into the findings for anyone interested in better understanding the perspectives of our children on digital technologies and the impact upon their – and our – lives.


Harry Potter chapter written by bots is magically terrible

“Quit eating Hermione’s family, Ron, and what’s with the Hufflepuff House pig?”

Joel says: J.K. Rowling, you’re in no danger of being replaced any time soon. The bright Muggles at Botnik Studios trained predictive keyboards (one for narration, one for dialogue) on all seven Harry Potter books and produced a brand-new chapter about the young wizard. And great sizzling dragon bogies, is it awful.

“Our web keyboard app analyzes text files and offers the most common word sequences as suggestions to the human user, to help them write in the style of the source material,” Botnik CEO and co-founder Jamie Brew told CNET.

“Then a bunch of writers in the Botnik community got together in an online chat room and pitched lines they wrote using the keyboard. Our editorial team cobbled these fragments together into the full chapter we posted today.”

There are plot twists Rowling never imagined. Ron Weasley “immediately began to eat Hermione’s family,” while wearing something called a “Ron shirt.” Hufflepuff House has a pig that pulses like a large bullfrog. Ron “was going to be spiders. He just was.” One of Hogwarts’ passwords is “BEEF WOMEN.” And not to spoil the ending, but Harry falls down a staircase “for the rest of the summer” before issuing an overconfident warning.

The bot created fan fiction story has already caught the attention of artists who wasted no time making fan art for the new chapter.

After reading this it got me wondering. Books, or stories in general, are just strings of words. If bots were eventually trained well enough on writing styles and genres it’s not too hard to imagine a future world where some of our most loved novels may be authored by a piece of software. Along with many sequels, all at the press of a button.


Oh Snap! Brands Are Getting Kicked Out Of The ‘Friend Zone’

“It’s clear social media has changed the roles of friends, just like it’s changed the role of brands.”

Emilio says: In the present heyday of social media when it is being exploited as a marketing channel, brands are comfortably loitering in the ‘friend zone.’

But recent moves by dominant social networks such as Facebook and Snapchat seem to be changing this. The demarcation line between ‘true friend’ and ‘friend with an agenda’ (ie, ‘marketer’) is slowly but surely being drawn.

Take, for instance, Facebook’s ongoing fine-tuning of its algorithm to favour loved ones and (true) friends’ posts appearing on top of users feeds over sponsored posts by ‘friends with agendas’. Further, Facebook has made organic brand posts visible to the barest minimum of a brand page’s fanbase – a minuscule 1% to 3%.

In the same vein, Snapchat is reportedly working to alter users’ feeds by categorising them as either friends’ snaps, or publishers/ brands/ influencers’ posts.

As a marketer, these developments certainly aren’t welcome moves, as they make it tougher to achieve our objectives. But on the flipside, as an avid social media user and consumer myself, these algorithm tweaks might actually be for the better – from a user experience perspective.

I have always silently held the view that social media is primarily an engagement channel – a way for friends (as well as friends with agendas) to chat and engage in conversations with others to open communication lines and strengthen connections. The unenlightened tribe of marketers (and there are heaps of them) do not seem to get this at all. In fact, I rue the current practice of many brands and marketers using social media as a broadcasting channel purveying purely marketing messages.

That the major players in social media are effectively taking brands out of their followers’ intimate friend zones and herding them to a purely commercial zone might not be a bad idea at all.


36130-200This is our last ‘what we’re reading’ post for 2017 – thanks for joining us throughout the year! We’ll be back next week with a final post for 2017, and our regularly scheduled Friday Faves will return mid-January.

Happy holidays and here’s to a great 2018!

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