Thursday, March 31

More on cultural differences and ICT

I'm making this a new post even though I started it as a comment on George's post about Informalization of everything. I found that I just went so far afield, and my comments were really relevant to several other postings, so here it is as a new post.

First, the "informalization of everything" is important. Anyone can now say anything about anything. Whether it's true or not. I commented on this very briefly here in my blog and the column at Poynter Online (everything you need to be a better journalist) has some thought-provoking questions.

I would like to explore this "fundamental shift in individual control" from the standpoint of culture. First, I think the traditional media are starting to "get it," and they're moving toward faster response times. They're experimenting with call-in numbers (though the first use may have been American Idol, and with polling and voting from cellphones, and I think this will increase. These types of interactions are rather "constrained" compared to full interactions, but they might be the tip of an approaching iceberg.

I think that the Learning Objects movement is a full acknowledgement of the argument that there is (or should be) a shift toward individual control in ... personal learning needs. Without LOs we'd be in real trouble. And without a need for individual control, or at least tailoring for individuals, there'd be no need for LOs.

On the day that George posted (March 12) I was returning from spending a couple of weeks in a unique environment where the individuals were (all of the following): Tibetan exiles in India; IT specialists; Internet connected; bandwidth-starved. What did this tell me about individual control? First, the Indian educational system does not exactly move the learner toward the concept of individual (learner) control, nor does that used in the community I visited, for that matter. In India, students are taught to memorize the full extent of everything they're "given" to learn. (Where did I see this same statement yesterday?) And if they're given "too rich" an environment to learn in (online, let's say), they can be overwhelmed by it. "Google gags them" (my words). They are also not particularly encouraged to question the teacher (though they may be taught to question themselves, and this can be an integral part of the learning process). One of the things we discovered during our visit (to this part of India) was that the "connected world" really excludes a large part of what we might have thought was actually connected. Although my cellphone (which is GSM) worked *far better* throughout India than it did in the US, the Internet connectivity was truly the pits and a community of tens of thousands (or so) souls was surviving on total bandwidth of 2 megabits. (Roughly the same as 2 DSL lines, eh? For thousands of people?) What it meant was that any e-learning was going to have to be hosted within the community. There's no way a world-wide ASP model is going to work there in the next few years.

And it also meant that those within the local community, because they are bandwidth-limited, cannot ask for help from "outside." They can hardly "Google" to find the answer to a question because receiving a Google results page takes 10 minutes - an average Google "full search" typically takes 90 minutes. So because Googling is nonfunctional in this setting, and discussion groups and emails are equally painful, it is very difficult to get either answers or training from the "outside" world. (This will change over the next 18 months due to telecomm policy in India, and it will be interesting to see how information-seeking changes!)

One of the things we found which inhibited learning in this environment was the hesitancy to "play" and to "experiment." Because computers are expensive, and difficult to configure or reconfigure, nobody experiments with software systems - they don't install and try new software because if it breaks existing servers then they have little hope of resurrecting them. One of our first efforts is to try to get "experimental platforms" in the hands of the IT learners. I suspect we will find this same hesitancy in other cultures - and I suspect we will find that it is typically "Western" to experiment in the way we do.

More coming later... [Jim Schuyler]

My next book, Learning By Doing

My second book, Learning By Doing, will be out on April 22. It is a comprehensive look at educational simulations. My entire first book, Simulations and the Future of Learning, fits neatly between chapters 19 and 20.

I have a copy on my desk, printed out on three hole punch paper, based on the last draft. I find myself thumbing through it a couple of times a day.

Don't tell anyone, but I have found a few grammer flaws. I also described a knot as Gideon, instead of Gordian (I hate when I do that).

But one of the biggest tests for any book in our world is how much does it practice what it preaches? Does it role model, or just lecture? How engaging and interactive can/should one make such a book?

I am satisfied with how funny it is. The line that I was most sure would be edited out (but that made it) is: "Virtual reality systems can now superimpose computer images onto real-time video goggles. Now soldiers, not just Alzheimer patients, can see snipers where there are none."

(By the way, I want to use this blog to officially say that my father-in-law who lives next door suffered from dimentia with his Parkinsons, so while it is still a shockingly cruel line, at least I know personally of what I speak.)

The humor corresponds to the game elements I suggest as a consideration for educational content. Each one is a risk, but the greatest risk is not to include any at all.

The interactive part might be the toughest test. I am satisfied when I was able to exemplify something described in a page or chapter by interacting with the reader.

For example, when talking about Thiagi's open style questions:

"He might give you a piece of a story or scenario, and then ask what
comes before it and what comes after. For example, consider this:

Then e-learning took off. It changed the world. Attracting all of the
best and brightest talent, it became the fastest growing industry of
the 21st century.

Thiagi might ask you:
• What came before this to make it happen?
• What came after it as a result that made it matter?"

Or when, after describing one type of early simulation model called branching stories, I asked:

"Which of the following is true for you?
• I have a strongly favorable impression of branching stories.
• I have a mixed impression of branching stories.
• I have a very negative impression of branching stories.

If you have an opinion about branching stories, it often reflects how appropriately they were used. By the way, if you were frustrated because the options were not exactly what you wanted, welcome to the user side of any branching interfaces."

Learning By Doing is more interactive than most books. But ultimately it is not as interactive as I wish it were, or that I hope (paper-based) books will be in the future.

We are in a changing world. It is hard not to feel honored to have a role in it, to feel excited about the possibilities, and yet frusterated that things don't happen more quickly, even when we are the ones holding ourselves back.

The Canary in the Training Coal Mine

There is the old cliche that train companies should have realized they were in the transportation business and invented and embraced airplanes. This always seemed a bit dim to me. There was just not that much value-add they could have, well, added.

I bring this up because I think a lot about the training business. I don't mean the vendors, but the internal training group. What is the best model for them? For any group, what is their "brand," and what is their core competency? How can they grow that? To the degree that they have investment dollars, where should they be taking risks?

There is a trendiness in which the training industry seems to get sucked up. Every new technology captures our imagination. "Training should be more like TiVo, or cell phones, or web pages, or iPods, or Segways..."

Yet the canary in our coalmine is training people in management skills. Most organizations, if they are honest, are terrible at training at a higher level than entry level. There are a few exceptions, of course, but not many. The implications of this are staggering. One is that the people at the top of an organization don't look at training very fondly. The training group was not a key ingredient in the assent. Training is for someone else, not me. Another implication is that most managers are horribly trained. That impacts stock price and, frankly, our GDP.

I am not saying that we should stick to an early twentieth century notion of training as a teacher boring conscripted students. Quite the opposite. But I am saying that our mission, our reason for being, if it is not enabling higher-level skills is enabling low-level skills. And that seems like a lost opportunity.

Friday, March 25

Supporting the Transition: Novice to Expert

For a while, I've been wrestling with the problem of segueing elegantly from novice to expert in computer-mediated environments. Tony O’Driscoll, in an Educational Technology article, shoehorned in this diagram about how the role of formal and informal knowledge changes as you move up in expertise. We are comfortable using formal methods (training, blended, etc) to provide the basics, and we know that experts continually are negotiating new understandings at the very top. I’m looking for how we bridge the gap between the formal fixed and the informal ongoing discussion.

My current thinking is that from perhaps completely ‘off the shelf’ courses for the utter basics, we need to very quickly get people doing projects creating representations together, even for relatively fixed understanding, so that the skill of representing and discussing develops the skill sets that become the basis of informal knowledge negotiation at the top (in addition to the other reasons to support this approach). It may also help learners build useful social networks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thursday, March 17

Informal Learning, Blogs, and Corporations

One of the prime rules of blogging has to be that good information can come from just about any source. While going through my email, I decided to click on what was obviously an unsolicited newsletter from a vendor. The concept of an enterprise wiki sucked me in. I'm not sold on that idea.

But what did make me want to blog was ideas raised in another article in the newsletter entitled Three Rules for Sharing Informal Knowledge. The author suggests that the three defining qualities of information found in blogs (which IMHO would have been the better title for the article) are:

  1. Immediacy
  2. Interactivity
  3. Informality

He then goes on to say:

When companies start to take seriously the idea that something written in an informal tone can be just as valuable as something that has been copy edited and when they start to get comfortable with the self-correcting effect that comes when knowledge workers share information they will be amazed how much more powerful their information resources will be.

I think he hits on a couple of concepts that are barriers to adoption by most organizations. First, corporate control of information. There have been several recent articles companies trying to control blogs/bloggers (Apple suing bloggers for releasing information on Tiger or the Delta flight attendant fired for blogging about her travels.) I'm not going to weigh in on right or wrong, but leave it at I don't think many companies, particularly their legal departments are ready to relinquish control of information.

A second barrier i think is more problematic - listening. Most organizations, corporations especially, are focused on honing their message down to laser beam accuracy to have greatest impact on their target market. Talk to anyone in marketing or sales and they'll tell you about the effort that goes into getting the message right for a relatively small group of consumers. Building a mindset that then turns to it employees and welcomes unfettered dissent just isn't going to happen overnight. If at all.

The self-correcting effect that the author refers to is true, but takes time. Lots of time, in some cases. I haven't seen too many books on corporate strategy recently that have been advocating a "slow down, relax, you've got plenty of time" approach.

All this said, I still agree that any company who can overcome these barriers and successfully tap into the wealth of information available to it in informal channels will clobber its competitors. Agree? Disagree? Speak up! Hit the comment button below.

PS - To read great commentary on the latest ruling in Apple v. Doe (and blogging at it's best) check out

Saturday, March 12

O Collaboration - Where Art Thou?

For those that know me (all three of them) know that I am pretty passionate about the power of the Internet being its ability to connect people to people, not people to content. I was reading an entry called Learning Conversation from Jay Cross' blog and was provoked enough to start writing a comment. A really long comment. So long in fact I thought I would post it here instead and get other people's reactions rather than have it buried there as a comment.
[yes, I believe that the comment format in blogs hinder more than help collaboration. Why, for example, can't blogs by default show comments to the right of the original post, in parallel, or even better have the option of the comment appearing as a footnote numbered so that you can precisly situate your comment relative to that section in the orignal post]

To get the context of what I am writing about play the archive of Jay's event before reading further.

I believe that for any effective learning event (events come together to form a continuous learning experience) a structure of before/during/after applies. For example during university my most effective classes were the ones that we prepared for ahead of time by reading the materials and then came to class ready to discuss. The same principles still apply online because they apply to effective learning, regardless of the delivery medium. One learning event flows into another one; the After phase of one event ends up being the transition to the Before phase of the next event and so it goes on to create the learning experience.
(as an aside I was recently talking to a generic courseware provider and expressing amazement that they were still in business given that no one has ever wanted a generic course but a solution to a specifc problem and he replied that they may be a dinosaur but that dinosaurs survived for thousands of years and it took a meteor hit to wipe them out - good point!)

To me Real Time Collaboration (RTC) solutions like Macromedia Breeze, Centra, WebEx, Elluminate etc replicate oh so many of the problems we face in the traditional face-to-face model. Yet on the other hand I don't want an unscripted, wandering presentation format. I want, I need, structure - just not the structure of the traditional classroom where it was so rigid that you felt that you were a captive unable to do anything let alone contribute in a meaningful way (i.e. sit and listen).
If you don't engage me then I'll vote with my web browser and go elsewhere. You need to keep me involved - the most effective way is to set my expectations before, during and after the event. I don't want just the agenda, tell me what the framework is going to be but keep it flexible. But remember, as a host, you are my guide and I trust you to be the ring master to keep us together as we explore the framework.

Let me give some quick general examples of what I mean by Before/During/After:
(1) Before - offer links of your related articles and blogs entries. If you really want to engage me I need to know the context of who you are (at least as expressed through your writings). You're the expert - you tell me what I should have passing knowledge of in order for me to understand you (context).
- Why ask me to email topic suggestions? Why can't I go to some place and post them out in the open for all to see. At least that way I can see other people's questions which may provoke questions from me. Email is so one way and runs counter to effective collaboration. Post a summary of the accepted questions ahead of time
(as some questions you can roll into one question) so that I too have time to think about my own responses. Lets start the conversation before the event!

(2) During - it's online so of course all of us are going to be multitasking while attending. If you are PowerPointing us to death than at least show one web link at the top of each slide that allows us to dive in deeper on that particular slide topic (I'm going to be multi-tasking so you might as well try to give me some things to do).
- Give me profiles of my follow viewers so that when I participate in the chat room I know more about the person I am chatting with.
It may be shocking to some but I don't care about videoconferencing. I will take a static picture of Jay over watching a video stream any time. I will get enough of the nuances from the audio, the video doesn't add much, if anything it is a distraction. The power is in what you are saying, not in what you look like (this is the fundamental principle of the Internet).

(3) After - so now the online event is over but in reality the learning is still continuing. This is where RTC really needs to be improved because I basically feel that in today's world when the RTC event is over then it all fades to black . Sure creative sparks may fly during the event and a good conversation was had by all but (and this may be just me) I need to time to think about what was said before being able to really articulate my thoughts and contribute. Give me a place to go to afterwards.
- And in the archive why can't I fill out the survey that was presented to the live viewers? You sure would get a lot more responses!
Macromedia - stop asking for my mailing address when I go to view the archive. If I want you to have it I give it so make it voluntary. And forget about getting my phone number, I don't even know you do, so here it is: 555-555-5555. It is an annoying barrier to what I came there to do - watch the archive. You already have what I consider to be my most precious piece of information - my email address.

For effective collaboration you need to synchronize not only the tools and people but also the processes.
(1) tools - the thing I hate most about Real Time Collaboration events is the lack of pre and post follow-up using other collaboration technologies. As Jay suggested at least link a blog to the archived event so I have a place to give my feedback and thoughts on the topic. Feedback keeps the underlying event alive and frankly the value of such an event increases over time as the comments will keep the topic fresh and current.

(2) people - most of your visitors will come from those viewing the archive version, often outnumbering the live viewers 100:1 (and more as a function of time). Keep that in mind when doing your live web cast.
- Don't just give me your email address at the end; give me a way to interact with other viewers because I know they are at least interested in the same topic. Even if I attended the live event why can't I keep up to date with the comments being added to the archive. Discussion group software has the ability to notify me by email of new postings, why can't the event archive do this?
And by the way, don't allow anoymous comments. If you have something to say then put your name to it (even better if it is a validated name or email address). This isn't AOL, this is a place for learning.

(3) processes - we need better ways of engaging people before, during and after an event. Like Jay said the Breeze technology technically worked fine but event was not as effective as it could have been. I felt that during Jay's event that there were two things going on - Jay and the guys talking and the interactions going on in the chat room. Sometimes the two worlds connected but not often. I wanted more crossovers to occur.

Real Time Collaboration works best when it acts as a springboard to something else and is viewed as one aspect of an entire learning experience. I'm sorry but no single RTC event by itself is going to change my life. The best events make me think about the topic so that I will continue to explore that area so that over time my habits will change. Until RTC vendors get this, that they are part of something bigger, then real time events will continue to leave the viewer turned off (pun intended).

So this is my rambling rant -
What do YOU think about my comments? Yea or Nay?
What do you think can be done to improve real time collaboration?
Click on the "comments" link below.

"Informalization" of everything

Citizen journalism is an interesting concept that continues to gain attention. Sites are beginning to provide resources to assist these journalists in improving the quality of their writing and reporting. As with any societal change, the visible is only an indication of a foundational shift. "Informalization" seems to be a growing trend - podcasting, music, journalism, etc. What is driving the move from institutional to personal (i.e. the "rise of the individual")? And what does it say to those of us in education and training fields?

I think traditional institutions have been slow to respond to the speed at which information is flowing. Newspapers report news 12 hours after it happened. Bloggers often report it first-hand and within minutes. Personal control has caused a fair bit of stress to the music, movie, and now media industries. There are certainly downsides to this trend (authenticity, responsibility, accountability of the "new journalist" as examples). For the purpose of this post, however, I'd like to look past those downsides and focus on what the trend of informalization means to learners.

Learning is under similar pressure. I'm concerned that higher education and corporate training will fail to understand the fundamental shift in individual control in highlighting personal learning needs...and meeting those needs in an informal manner. Education doesn't need to look far to see the danger of failing to acknowledge changing needs of its end users (note journalism in particular). In a rapidly evolving information climate, firm structure is a handicap. Fluidity, adaptability, and responsiveness are survival traits. What has to happen for training/education to meet the needs of today's changing learner?

Wednesday, March 9

Open Source LMSs

I am just curious what people have found in terms of open-source LMSs. Are there any good ones?

Tuesday, March 8


In the old days, web purists ranted against Flash. It was proprietary. It wasn't web-like.

How do people feel now? I'm thinking more of posting on the open web than in a controlled in-house environment.

I'd like to replace Abode pdf white papers with a new design I'm calling a "brief." Briefs are created in FlashPaper. Take a look.

Is the fact that Macromedia owns Flash a hang-up?

Friday, March 4

Alignment (or Big Brother II)

This is actually a comment on your earlier posting, but I couldn't resist adding the picture, so I've posted here.

It appears to me that the Big Brother ideal (see all, know all, control all) functions, in the eyes of many, as a driver of progress. It incites people with money to invest in technology because they know other wealthy control freaks have the budgets to buy and the will to extend their control. The phenomenon is as obvious in the technology industries as it is in contemporary politics.

The fearsome side of Big Brother is made to look more attractive and consistent with traditional ideals when its purveyors emphasize the advantages to the individual (retain all, access all). IBM calls it "just for me" (one step beyond "just in time"), but behind it there's the implicit notion of alignment, which might send chills up some people's spines.

As we attempt to build the pillars of the yet to be constructed collaborative culture that awaits us, I suggest that “coaching” , as you suggest, is a better place to start but that “mentoring” would be an even better place to finish.

What’s the difference between the two? Simple: spontaneity!