Monday, August 29

Learning By Doing: The Tool is the Curriculum

I had to brush up on project management skills over the weekend. Did I read a book on it? No. Did I find someone who was an expert to help me? Nope.

I downloaded Open Workbench (for me, a random open-source project management tool) and played around with it. I mapped a few of my projects into it. I looked through all of the fields and capabilities. And I learned quite a bit, including what I needed to know, plus a lot more that I am very happy to know.

For those home schoolers looking at math curricula, I would suggest Microsoft Excel. Whatever math you need to know, you can learn by getting deeper and deeper into Excel functionality, including calculus, logic, probability, graphing, and more.

And you can learn by trial and error, by playing, by experimenting. You discover the material; you own the material.

There are plenty of dangers, I suppose, with having the tool be the curriculum. I am sure academics will be happy to tell me what they are. But increasingly mature software tools represent philosophies, approaches, domain knowledge that is much more sophisticated than the more trivial linear experts. And you can learn by doing.

My grandparents learned to read by picking up the classics out on the farm. Bach learned music, I am told, by copying over the sheets of the great composers before him. I wonder if today's tools will be considered tomorrow's classics?

Saturday, August 27

E-Learning: Channels, piracy, and outrage PLUS REGULATIONS

I was thinking about the earlier post on how will we know we are getting close to e-learning meeting its potential. I thought of one more, slightly further down the road.

  • Regulations! How long until we see- WARNING - Use this e-learning product only as specified. It is against the law to use this e-learning product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.

Friday, August 26

A Snapshot of Leadership Training in the Enterprise

As part of rolling out Virtual Leader, it has been interesting for me to note how most organization who do formal leadership training actually do formal leadership training.

I think most terms are self-evident, but external coaching can also include board involvement. Tools include focused performance support.

The high-potential focus is not exclusive of other manager and supervisor leadership training.

Wednesday, August 24


I am going spend about two weeks now trying to get up to speed on Moodle, ultimately evaluating it (against other tools) for implementation.

I will share relevant data and artifacts as I come across them.

All comments are appreciated.

How to Optimize Organizational Learning (inclusive)

Here is the newest version of my accord chart. I continue to update it based on experiences in the field and even comments from this blog! It is a snapshot of all of our various options, the arrows in our quiver. Each have trade-offs; each have benefits. The question is no longer, which to do, but more, can you do each at the right time?
As with the consolidation chart, I am happy to send it anyone who emails me for it.

Tuesday, August 23

How to Optimize Organizational Learning

Recently while researching on the web on topics regarding Communities of Practice I came across the Community Intelligence Labs (CoIL) website. While it seems the website may have gone the way of the Brontosaurus (the last update was in Feb 2004), it's resources are still there for the viewing. Among them I found the following 14 guidelines on How to Optimize Organizational Learning written by Entienne Wenger in the summer of 1996 for the Healthcare Forum Journal.

I thought it would be interesting to get your take on these 14 guidelines now 9 years after Wenger first penned them. He introduced these guidelines with:
Here are the 14 guidelines to help you work with rather than
against the inner logic of organizational learning:
  1. View learning as work and work as learning. Recognize learning in all it's forms in order to find ways to nurture it and connect it across the organization.
  2. Count on the informal. That is where work gets done.
  3. If there is a learning problem, look for patterns of social participation and exclusion.
  4. Keep learning as close to practice as possible.
  5. Treat Communities of practice as assets.
  6. View individuals as members of communities of practice, not by stereotyping them, but by honoring the meaningfulness of their participation.
  7. Encourage the formation and deepening of communities of practice by legitimizing the work of pulling them together and valuing the informal learning they facilitate.
  8. Manage boundaries between communities of practice as opportunities for learning.
  9. Expect transformations, misunderstandings, and reinterpretations when people, artifacts and information cross boundaries of practice.
  10. Value the work of brokering learning among communities; it often does not look like work.
  11. Be attuned to the emergence of new practices at boundaries.
  12. View the organization as a constellation of interconnected practices.
  13. Put communities of practice in charge of their learning, recognizing that they need access to other practices in order to proceed.
  14. Make sure that the organizational apparatus is in the service of practices, and not the other way around.
Obviously, 9 years later, some of these guidelines are either proven or widely held to be true. I also would say it's obvious that communities of practice are thriving that would indicate that these guidelines are being well applied. Some of the questions I'd like to hear the LCB community chime in on are:
  • Are any of these guidelines obsolete, or impractical to such a level, that they should be struck from the list?
  • Which among the 14 are the "pain points" that corporate cultures just can't seem to get past, thus blocking the emergence of vibrant CoP's?
  • What's the role of collaborative technologies to date in this? Have they helped nudge along a very slow adaptation process? Or have then hindered the effort?

Monday, August 22

What's your most memorable conference experience?

What makes for a conference event with impact? I'm building a list of what works best. What's your most memorable conference event? What delivered the most learning impact? I'll tell you mine; tell us yours in the Comment section.

About ten years ago I attended a presentation by the late Gordon MacKenzie, the "creative enigma" of Hallmark Cards and author of the wonderful book Orbiting the Giant Hairball. He hung a clothesline across the stage at the annual meeting of the Instructional Systems Association and pinned a dozen doodles on 8 1/2" x 11" sheets to it. The audience would point to a sheet, and Gordon would tell its story.

Gordon's stories were heartfelt, emotional, and often very personal. At times it felt like the story was telling Gordon rather than the other way around. Gordon broke into tears several times, and tears streamed down our faces in empathy.

Gordon shared another story with me over lunch. When he started a day with no particular objective, he would tell himself that during the day he was going to be amazed. And he always was. Gordon taught me a lot about feelings and sensitivity to others that day. He also demonstrated that the sequence of stories in a presentation isn't always that important. I mourned when his widow told me Gordon had passed on.

"Grand Theft Auto"ing Edutainment Software

Grand Theft Auto might be the worst game series ever, in part because it might be the best.

Almost Microsoft-esque, GTA has absorbed and fairly seamlessly integrated different genres, including driving games, first person shooters, fighting games, gambling games, flight simulators, adventure games, shopping games, role-playing games and more.

My last post got me thinking. What if one took a GTA approach to edutainment software?

What if you could create, over multiple iterations, an experience that both included a generic, open ended "real-world" environment with specific missions to increase capability?

You could absorb:
  • Pet simulators/trainers
  • Lemonade stands
  • Tycoon (designing interactive environments, such as store layouts and zoos)
  • Designing (building cars for example, or new computers, or new clothes. If a persistant world had a GTA visual structure, you could see hundreds of people wearing your trendy new hats as you walked down the street)
  • Business building/ logistics
  • Logic games
  • Historic settings
  • Physics simulators
  • Medical/vet
  • Ecosystems/genetic engineering
  • Space
  • Traffic Emergencies
  • Negotiation simulators
Trucks, dinosaurs, dating, status, shopping, horses could co-exist in different locations as themes and reward structures. Mathematics could exist as an optional but useful lens. Multi-player and massively multiplayer would of course be optional key components. Building up business empires, huge houses, and vast social networks could start at humble activities, including creating great inventions and training animals. You could call in favors, as well as generate more and more people loyal to you. You could live in the stables, or labs, or making deliveries, or in the operating room as well if you wanted to.

I'm in!

Once a Booming Market, Educational Software for the PC Takes a Nose Dive

The New York Times ran a piece today about the crash and burn of the K-12 educational software market. To sum it up, once thriving, large, and profitable, the industry niche today, well, isn't.

I would be the first in line to buy any software that helps my son. But my own personal experiences with the "edutainment" software was pretty unsatisfying.

There were technical problems, production problems, quality problems, and just uninspired content problems.

Often times, the game elements, such as the cartoon rabbit, were not things to which my son could relate.

The general genre itself, the adventure game punctuated by unrelated, abstract exercises, was pretty uninteresting, especially as it was disconnected from the content.

I wrote in Learning By Doing:

Some game-based models use adventures games, a genre popularized in early computer games. Students traverse maps, either from a firstperson or top-down perspective, looking for pieces of information or performing small tasks to unlock new parts of the map.
This was the model for much of the early educational software. ("Sure Miss Squirrel, you can come into our clubhouse filled with toys and friends. But you have to identify these right four physics laws to get the key." There are also corporation examples, that might read, "Sure Mrs. Squire, you can come into the executive board room filled with stock options and great contacts, but you have to identify the right four ethics policies to get the key.")

Besides the reasons mentioned by the article, Will Wright has mentioned one reason he thought was the problem: increasingly kids are choosing/buying software, not adults.

Here are some reflections I have for the edutainment marketplace:
  • Interactivity is key, with real interactivity around the learning, not just propping up workbook style content.
  • Math is especially tricky. Math doesn't exist on its own! Math is itself a pedagogical layer, a set of tools to better understand the world. It needs to be handled as such, not futher burried under more and more layers of abstractions.
  • Game elements need to be specific to the user. Anything interjected to be "fun" has to be able to be modded very easily, almost like skins. Any student should have a choice of at least five different themes.
  • Building rewards creativity, and gives more ownership to the player.

Having said all of that, edutainment needs to be re-invented. As with American car manufacturers after producing Gremlins and Falcolns, there is so little credibility that a new brand has to emerge.

Saturday, August 20

E-Learning: Channels, piracy, and outrage

I said back in a speech in 1999 that e-learning was over-rated in the short term and under-rated in the long term.

I believe that statement is probably more true today, at least for the formal learning area. (Tools like Google and IM have proven the killer-apps for the informal areas.)

Wearing my analyst hat, I am looking for at least three things to see when formal e-learning hits the big time:

  • One is channels. We have talked about this on this blog. When e-learning becomes its own category at Amazon, that will be a milestone. The best producer of the types of simulations I would call branching stories, WILL Interactive, created an experience about sexually transmitted diseases. Users play one of two characters as they live an afternoon and an evening, making key decisions. The experience is honest, educational, relevant, and potentially life saving. Why isn't this in every library in the United States? There are plenty of people "studying" simulations. I would say to all of them, use your resources instead to go on a mission and get that single experience widely distributed. You will both learn more, and help more, than studying eight year olds playing computer games or bringing together academics and corporate people to talk about best practices in simulation design.
  • The second is piracy. Are people ripping off e-learning courses? Are e-learning courses being downloaded, tinkered with, and being resold on the black (or gray) market? Are some government officials in a poorer nation deciding that it is worth a bit of heat to distribute knock-offs of life improving exeriences? Why not?
  • The third is outrage. We are seeing a tiny taste of it with University of Phoenix. At some point, however, the success of formal e-learning will be putting a lot of professors out of work. More importantly, there will be complaints of vast homoginization of high school and university content. Ironically, there will be a race, between using simulation techniques to actually better preserve local ways of doing business, and the the propagation of single ways (much, much better skills than are possible today) that will threaten to erase diversity of knowledge. Buzz words like mono-knowledge will get headlines.

Are we there yet? We are not even close.

Friday, August 19

San Francisco and Los Angeles as different (but complementary) models for Formal Learning

There continues to be a movement in corporate formal learning programs to uber-empower the learner and focus the role of content designers to a more infrastructure role. Google and Instant Messenger are the perfect model for many. And I mostly agree with this "Bay Area" position.

But I also believe that "Passionate learners come from Passionate designers." Call it the "Los Angeles" take. The best movies, television shows, books, and computer games come from people passionate about the content, (although they rely on and assume the infrastructure). This passion was often true during the mom and pop instruction era, and it has to be more true in the era of scalable instructional content as well.

Being involved in, and watching, this passion around content is one reason why the educational simulation/ serious games movement is very interesting to me.

Thursday, August 18

Smackdown Learning

I find myself drifting to Kathy Sierra's blog, Creating Passionate Users, because it seems a lot like creating passionate learners. Plus it is wacky and inspirational.

I have no clue how I first stumbled on it, but take a look at this recent entry- The Smackdown Learning Model.
What happens to your brain when you're forced to choose between two different--and potentially conficting--points of view? Learning. That's what makes the smackdown model such an effective approach to teaching, training, and most other forms of communication.
Cognitive dissonance meets Celebrity Deathmatch. You gotta love/hate it.

SimJournal: The "problems" with richer content

Simulations require more content than linear content. Much more. This changes a lot.
  • There is an exploration of failure. Most corporate people don't like talking about, let alone mapping out, things that went wrong. Obviously finding people to talk about failure in detail is difficult.
  • You can't be politically correct at the expense of accuracy when creating a simulation. Can you imagine making a simulation of a car that works the way the designers hoped a car would drive, instead of the way a car really drove? Of course not. Likewise, simulations that present idealized world views are quickly found out.
  • The more content, the harder it is to translate to other languages. Many people act as if ease of translation of a course is a good thing, not a bad. Of course it takes less time and resources, but less content is less content. Some say, "simulations get into cultural issues and behavior, which makes them harder to localize." I say, "simulations get into cultural issues, so they actually work."

I think the best quote about simulations comes from outside the field:

Nineteenth-century mathematicians discovered to their discomfort that as the conceptual machinery of mathematics became more precise, it became more difficult.—David Berlinski, The Advent of the Algorithm

Wednesday, August 17

SimJournal: Stumbling upon a great score

Every once in a while, some one will do very well in Virtual Leader, but doesn't know why and can't repeat it.

The tools are there to analyze the play, but they quickly move on, assuming that they are just naturally good. Then they hit a wall, sometimes even replaying the same situation, get stuck, and then get very frusterated.

For some people, this strikes them as being unrealistic. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how very realistic it is. There are too many managers who got lucky a few times, and then are desperate not to understand their own success, but just assume they are naturally gifted and get promoted.

Simulations will continue to change our view of learning, and even our view of ourselves.

Tuesday, August 16

Computer Games and Classrooms already share one limiting feature

People, such as myself, are advocating a time when classrooms borrow more lessons from computer games. But they already share one, not-so-great similarity. They are both self-referential.
  • Doing well within the world of a computer game, be it buying the biggest house or uniting the world, is in itself victory. There is no need to transfer that to the outside world before getting the accolades. And you are not directly better prepared to actually buy a bigger house, or unite the world, for having played the game.
  • Similarly, most classrooms are self-referential. Getting the 'A' does not mean that you were successful outside the classroom, just inside.

Now in both cases, there may be correlations. The 'A" student and great gamer might be better able to get and perform complex jobs. And in the case of the 'A" students, they can stay in the self-referential academic world indefinitely, eventually getting tenure. But there is also the opportunity to 'game' the systems, building skills sets that actually hurt the opportunity for success outside the enclosed environments.

With all of that as background, I found these ideas on massively multi-player online role playing games (thanks, Kevin Kruse for sending it to me) very interesting. There are at least two parts to it. One is what happens when games have consequences outside the self-reference. The second is, how can gamers, like our life-long academics, never leave the self-reference and do quite well.

Still, with the exception of a few monks, the vast majority of us are going to have to transfer skills, knowledge, and perspectives between these various walled gardens. Smoothing those transitions are both quite difficult and, I suspect, world-changing.

Monday, August 15

Learning to Control our Moods

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, author Philip Dick imagined a society where people regularly took drugs to change their mood.

The only two pills I personally take are vitamins and the occasional Tylenol. I love my morning coffee, enjoy a dose of chocolate every couple of days, and probably have one alcoholic drink a month, on average.

But I realize that I am increasingly using my Ipod (with no music, mind you, just podcasts) as my personal mood regulator. I listen to IT Conversations when I want to build a healthy motivation and "white collar" work level, including driving to a meeting. I listen to political commentary when I want to physically rev myself up, say when doing yard work. And I listen to movie reviews at the end of the day to wind down.

I noticed a similar trend in myself when I started organizing Internet bookmarks/favorites by day of the week. Some clicks were better for Monday, and others for Friday or Saturday.

I believe this kind of mood awareness/engineering may become increasingly relevant for both deploying personalized learning programs and even planning formal learning events.

Friday, August 12

Criticizing the person versus criticizing the idea

One aspect of Virtual Leader that I have liked is that it forces players to differentiate between criticizing ideas and criticizing the people who sponsor them.

And yet, the exact mixture of the two provides a lot of additional information as to how raw, even how religious, the conversation is getting.

A post I made on schools and business hating each other definitely hit a bit of a nerve with some people outside our community, posting in.

But no topic raises such primal emotions as talking about post-literacy. The very idea that books are "just" a technology, three steps forward and one step back (my own working definition of any technology), strikes some people as blasphemous. It comes off as anti-book, as if being pro-automobile is the same as being anti-walking. One friend asked me not to use the phrase around her.

We are going to have to begin talking about post-literacy. The irony is that as we explore the topic, our love for reading and writing will become more heightened, not less.

Thursday, August 11


Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt wrote Canto Ostinato (mp3 file) for various instruments and flexible duration. Ten Holt uses repetition and minimalist permutations to create an original, evolving work with ever-shifting moments. These parts are woven together into an overlapping and flowing whole.

One popular arrangement is to have three or four pianos facing each other in the center of a room, and normally, unlike conventional performances, the audience is allowed to move and surround the performers as they play.

Canto Ostinato has 106 figures or parts and the players themselves, decide on the stage, how many times they repeat each section, etc. Ten Holt has said, "that what happens on-stage is like you're looking at an object from different angles, and the object is changed by the input people put into it. If you look at an object from above or below, it's still the same object, but the colours are different, the shapes are different, and that's what happens on-stage. So the players' input is very important."

Canto Ostinato has become a metaphor for a new approach to design (Thackara, 2005). The composer, score, musicians, stage, and audience all interact in subtle, yet complex ways. Neither the musicians or the audience knows exactly what will happen next as the arrangement is quite flexible. But they are not flying blindly as there are principles and to a point, a score. Thus, the situation itself, in a sense, becomes designed.

Flows are not just one element of social organization, they are the expression of the processes dominating our economic, social and symbolic life - Manual Castells in The Rise of Network Society.

Notice how this relates to performance management. There is a space of flows in each performance situation -- techniques, technologies, information, sounds, symbols, people, and the performance itself. Yet, like the Canto Ostinato, while there is a score (goal or blueprint); life unfolds anew, thus, each situation basically designs itself.

Fredick Taylor's Scientific Management tried to freeze the performance and then totally script it. While Taylor's method focused primarily on the process itself, flow is more about helping people to develop so that they can perform. The manager becomes more like Ten Holt in that he or she givers her players a score to follow and conducts them, while at the same time giving them the freedom so that the situation is allowed to design itself, rather than just becoming a carbon copy. Thus, rather than just simply following a script, interaction becomes a major part of the performance.

1. Arrangement (mp3 file) by Jeroen Van Veen

Evaluation of Formal Learning Programs is a marketing activity

One should not evaluate a formal learning program to justify that the money and time were well spent. One should evaluate a formal learning program to get resources for the next program.

If there is a "level 6" evaluation of a training program, it is, "did it lead to growth of the training program/growth of the training group/promotion of the sponsor?" If not, all other metrics are irrelevant.

Of course lessons learned should make the next program (the X+1 program) better. But the driver of those improvements is to get an even better evaluation of X+1 than of X, so that selling the X+2 program is easier.

There are those who view marketing as selective truth telling at best and lying at worst. That is too bad, because ultimately marketing is evolving the premise for a sustainable vendor relationship. It involves as much listening as talking.

Credibility is hugely important, therefore. Honesty is a sine que non of any sustainable brand. But the culture of the group has to be growth through success, not just introspection. Evaluations should be done looking forward and outward, not backwards and inward.

How effective is your learning evaluation?

The evaluation of training is too important to be left to trainers.

At the individual intervention level, at the strategic enterprise level, and at all points inbetween, the quality assurance processes applied to formal learning initiatives in most organizations are, in my experience, rudimentary at best.

Training departments are usually stretched thin, and don’t have the time or resources to do a “proper” quality assurance job at either the course level or at the aggregate departmental level. Implementing a regimen that elevates the strategic importance of evaluation (across all levels) and places it on a more professional level will do two vital things. It will improve significantly the effectiveness and efficiency of all learning activities; and it will save a tremendous amount of unnecessary, un-useful, or redundant work.

My fear is that with the advent of LMS-based evaluation and record-keeping, the information we have about the quality of our learning activities is becoming more narrowly focused, and its usefulness is becoming further diluted. Just as LMS functionality tends to constrain the nature of our design of instruction, it constrains the nature of our inquiry into its impact.

I’d like to see more training departments creating evaluation units and staffing them with a trained expert or two who can help get past the simplistic "smile-sheet & ROI" approach and start building systems that put the important issues on the dashboards of individual trainers, instructional designers, and senior learning managers.

Tuesday, August 9

Short Essay Question (worth 20 points)

In a fictitious Fortune 1000 organization, there is a 20-person group dedicated to managing real estate assets. Seven of the people were chosen to take a two-day, off-site course on negotiating, which all but one attended.


  • How do you think the members of the team felt who went to the training?
  • How do you think the members of the team felt who did not?
  • What does this say about the perception of training?
  • Is this situation a good one or bad one for the organization?
  • Could/does this situation happen in your organization?

You have five minutes to respond.

Monday, August 8

24 Questions about computer games and education

  1. Are computer games inherently counter-cultural?
  2. Are some computer games bad for children?
  3. Do computer games herald a revolution in education?
  4. For a given curricula, where would one ideally use books? Where would one ideally use computer games/educational simulations? Given educational objectives, how do you support them with computer games/educational simulations?
  5. How can computer games/educational simulations augment existing curricula; inspire new curricula? Do computer games/educational simulations increase the types of content that can be learned formally?
  6. How can modding be used to better use existing computer games in formal learning programs?
  7. How can teachers/professors/trainers use existing computer games (as is) in formal learning programs?
  8. How can you create a marketplace for educational simulations?
  9. How do you create a computer game for education?
  10. How do you measure the effectiveness of computer games/educational simulations?
  11. How do you use a computer game structure to capture and model expert behavior? What then has to happen to make it an educational simulation?
  12. How does someone who grew up playing computer games learn differently than someone who did not?
  13. How much should an educational simulation cost? To build? To buy?
  14. Should educational simulations be fun, the way that a computer game is fun?
  15. What are educationally relevant artifacts from computer games/educational simulations?
  16. What does one learn from a computer game? What does someone learn from Civilization III? Grand Theft Auto? What are the new frameworks/vocabularies needed to talk about this new content?
  17. What is the impact of looking at computer game genres, as opposed to computer games? Do we need new genres for education, or are existing computer game genres sufficient?
  18. What is the relationship between production values and effectiveness?
  19. What should a professor do about computer games? What are early steps? What are later steps?
  20. What toolkits exist for an e-learning developer to quickly and cost-effectively make an educational game?
  21. When should an educational simulation be single-player/multiplayer/massively multi-player?
  22. Which computer games today are appropriate for formal learning programs?
  23. Which computer games today are worthwhile from an instructional/liberal arts perspective?
  24. Will educational simulations be to computer games what documentaries are to movies?

Brainstorm: The New Curriculum for E-Learning Developers

I have a question for this community. If you were a university offering an advanced degree in Instructional Technology, what are the tools (not philosophies) you would strongly urge your students to learn?

Saturday, August 6

Digital Tools / Paper Mindsets

Someone, perhaps unwisely, gave me keys to this blog and asked me to write. We'll see how long it lasts...

For this first post are some long held observations on the use of communications technology. We know and see people spending a majority of their workday, or just walking around town, plus what they do at home, in front of the computer, the cell phone, the blackberry-- immersed in digital tools. However, it sure seems we still think in a paper mindset. Think about our terminology. We read web pages. We insert bookmarks to remember pages. Heck, I am surprised we do not refer to web sites as web books.

Mainly I am thinking of email, both boon and bane of our workday. Sharing information by email in our organization is the expected norm-- and the scourge of spam is bad enough in terms of time and productivity wasters, but also when it is used be well intended people in an inefficient way.

The ones that make me scratch my head are messages that arrive with subject lines like "Tuesday Planning Meeting Agenda" and upon opening the message is no agenda, no message, just an attached Word document. This makes the agenda, essentially text only content, yet one more click, and one more application launch away. And what does one really do with a nicely formatted list of basic bullet points? Print it? When I send agendas, they are right there in the body of the email, readily scanned, right there ins the message.

One of our groups, actually a technology group, has done this for years. But they've recently stepped up the level. They've created a portal for online community building. Oi! So the meeting notice is like, this, "Upcoming meeting. Click here for agenda." I click there. It's certainly a portal like pile of boxes and links. I find the one labeled meetings. I click the link for this month. It's another web page. I click a link that is labeled "agenda". What do I get?

It's the same old Word document. So now the agenda is about 3 clicks and an application launch away. It's what happens when we are stuck in document - paper - print mindsets. It is all about the "page" and not the content.

This was a puny example of a syndrome I have elsewhere labeled email attachment disorder. Beyond Google's gmail, general e-mail is about the worst and most inefficient system for organizing information. Much of the information shared in our system has no permanence beyond what is stuffed into an email. But there is no long term organizational memory or archiving of email, it is rarely widely searchable, and for large media files, it is sent to many more people than will actually view it. It is a paper mindset, stick a copy in everyone's mailbox.

For as long as I've been responsible for our office's online content, I've had to urge, remind, nag to always plan up front that everything we do have some sort of electronic presence, record, etc, especially for those that are unable to participate in our activities. Groups I am responsible for put their agenda up as a URL and filled in later by meeting notes. Our Ocotillo Online Learning Group has held monthly meetings back to 2000, which I know because all meeting notes have been archived, making them potentially searchable and internally linked to relevant content. This is what happens when you think about information in a web mindset, freed from the constraints of single throw away documents.

How about the N-factorial e-mail messages needed for N number of people to plan a meeting? For a different tactic, see Lee LeFever's Common Craft article on Wiki and the Perfect Camping Trip. Now that is using digital tools in a non-paper frame of mind. And it's been done in real life.

This web thinking is playing into our new plans to cease the print publication of a long running journal, which costs our unit thousands of dollars per year plus intense time spent in editing (getting the one off print version perfect), in lieu of a web publication that will, we hope, expand the range and types of content we can publish, plus add features not available in print.

We are trying to break of the proverbial box, which is after all... a paper product.

So what's it like in your organization? How does it organization and archive its processes? e.g. is there organizational memory? Are digital communication tools used to push around electronic bits of paper? Or does it really leverage the power of the digital terrain? Are they thinking digitally?

What every Simulation/Game Designer Needs to Know about Story

In my work on designing simulation games for elearning, I'm continually trying to help people understand how games differ from linear experiences. In What Every Game Developer Needs to Know about Story on Gamasutra, a game developer site, John Sutherland gives us some very valuable concepts about how to design an engaging story that works for a game (not a movie). Worthwhile reading!

Friday, August 5

A Chart of Consolidations (US Centric, E-Learning Centric)

Tools of E-Learning Hacks

This is an odd industry, sometimes a very cruel industry. What amazed me when I first entered it, and what still amazes me today, was the amount of hacks that people generally accepted as experts. There was/is this bizarre premium on volume and intensity over actually well thought-out and/or well-researched and/or deeply intuitive statements.

The framework/snake-oil of many of these hacks is: say something that superficially sounds smart or interesting, but that can't be taken any deeper.

  • Any statement that starts something like: The X Myths about e-Learning, Training, Learning, or whatever is always suspect. Most of so-called myths have very little supporters, or are bizarrely vague in and of themselves. i.e. Myth #1: E-Training equals E-Learning, or Myth #2: People only learn in formal training situations.
  • Another hack device, one that I have mentioned here before, is invoking every hot new technology. Training/Learning should be more like TiVo, or iPods, or Computer Games, Segways, or Viagra, or GPSs, or whatever. Don't get me wrong: if you are Kurt Squire and just finished your dissertation of actually using the computer game Civilization III in the classroom, I want to hear all about it. But if you just watched your kids playing a racing game on an Xbox, and want to make a sweeeping statement, you don't win visionary points from me.

Anyway, enough of that. I would like to show you how smart I am and tell you why Harvard Business School is doomed. And all of this fancy new technology is a waste as well.

Think about it. Why spend two years of your life, and all of that work and money, to get an advanced degree? The point is to control your life, right? All you really need is an email with tomorrow's winning lottery number. The infrastrucutre is so simple: an email address, which everyone has, and even a very old computer. Text only. You could even get it on your cell phone or pager (that would be m-learning). Or someone could call you and leave a message on the phone and answering machine you already have! And be honest: you may not spend three hours doing all of your homework, but you would definately spend three hours to get to the right store to buy a lottery ticket, right? You would be set for life!

That's the future. Yup, Harvard and all of those other places that just don't get it are doomed.

What is your favorite hack device?

Thursday, August 4

Pop Ups and Spam

Just a quick operational note to everyone.

Apologies to anyone who was subjected to a barrage of pop up advertisements. I have shut down the "Invite or Seduce?" flash poll (the trend was pretty obvious anyway!) because it was this Bravenet tool that was the culprit. Because LCB is entirely volunteer and operates with no financial support we seek out free resources. Unfortunately, most of these come at a price of advertising being pushed through your website. I will continue to work to keep this to as unobstrusive a presense as possible. If you are aware of any free web-based tools which are also advertising free, please let me know.

In addition, if you run across any spam comments, please drop me a quick note by hitting the "email the Blogmeister" link in the sidebar. I found 14 spam comments this morning throughout LCB. Fortunately they were fairly benign in content, but I may have missed 1 or 2. Scouring through the comments in Blogger is not easy.

Thanks everyone! Now I can get back to reading all the great discussions you all have been posting in the last few days! WOW! Keep it up!

Your humble blogmeister.

Brainstorm: What have been the major e-learning mergers of the last five years?

I have a question for everyone reading this blog. What do you think have been the major e-learning mergers over the last five years? List them by year if you have that information off the top of your head, but the actual merger is more important.

Wednesday, August 3

Merger mania in and around eLearning

First, on Monday, WebEx buys for $45M in cash (details) then today SumTotal buys Pathlore for $29M in cash (details) and $19M in stock. And then I hear that back on July 27 Premiere Global Services announced that it was buying Netspoke for $23.2M in cash (details).

So a virtual meeting company buys a collaboration company.
A LMS company buys another LMS company.
And a communication services company buys a collaboration company.

Looks like the convergence that Elliott Masie has been talking about taking place is finally happening. Anyone familiar with my posts and company knows that I am a big believer in the power of collaboration (and ideally done to such a level of integration that it results in mentoring not just with 'experts' but also with your peers) so it is heartening to see that finally we are moving past 'simplistic' collaboration (i.e. like stand-alone web meetings) in learning with and PGS+Netspoke while the fragmented LMS sub-industry is getting so much needed consolidation with SumTotal+Pathlore (and remember that SumTotal is the March 2004 merger of Docent and Click2learn).

All of this comes of the heels of SkillSoft releasing SkillSoft Dialogue, their version of a virtual classroom and NETg buying KnowledgeNet last year for their virtual classroom technology/LMS resulting in their Knowledge Now suite.

Are we finally getting to the point where educational content is merging with collaboration technologies which is merging with learner management infrastructure?

Collaboration is important as it allows learning to become a continuous process and acts as a quality feedback loop while helping to generate new content out of the resulting interactions, all of which sits on top of the learning management system. It has been long neglected in the eLearning industry due to it's complexity (trust me I founded and struggled with the scalability of it's mentoring model long after SmartForce bought it) for it has been far easier to manage content objects than collaboration objects. I always said while at SkillSoft/SmartForce/CBT Systems that the value of SkillSoft is not the 5000+ hours of training but the fact that you could potentially tap into the collective knowledge of their 3 million users. Of course the Internet bubble burst and they went back to the tried-and-true model of producing generic content.

Anyway ... sorry for the rant but I have been concerned about the health of the eLearning industry over the last 2 years and I am glad to see this much needed consolidation taking place. Hopefully it will result in some truly innovative stuff versus people scrambling to get into liferafts. Think social networking analysis, workflow learning, collective intelligence, presence awareness, expert locating, communities of knowledge (made up of smaller communities of practice) ...

Or as BusinessWeek recently put it - The Power of Us. If you haven't read their cover story on how mass collaboration is shaking up business you should as they talk about how large scale collaboration has changed the delivery of services like auctions (eBay) and product like books ( which makes you think about how mass collaboration could change the sharing of knowledge which until recently has been done on a small scale, typically geographically driven, basis or through static content.

PS - for those that care it is interesting to note that the 2 collaboration acquisitions were basically done at 2x trailing 2004 revenues (Netspoke) and 3x projected 2005 revenue ( while the LMS acquisition was done at 2x trailing 2004 revenues (Pathlore). These multiples are indicative that there is a resurgence of interest and hence increased value.

Schools hate businesses, businesses hate schools

As a gross generalization, schools hate business and businesses hate schools.

Let me defend that:

Schools hate business
1. Many academics view any skills that empowers an individual outside of academics as either "vocational" or "turning students into drones of capitalistic societies." (Yet they have no problem rewarding skills that turn students into drones of academic environments.)

I mention teaching subjects like "project management"and"solutions sales" to teachers and they recoil.

2. Professors are even encouraged to downplay their consulting to corporations. Even in b-school environment, what consulting is done, according the school mythology, is prostitution, a pursuit of lucre at the expense of integrity, unless it is done at the board level of a Fortune 500 company.

3. A lot of academics smile when the stock market dives, vindication of both their world view and their own personal career choice.

Businesses hate schools
1. Businesses rail against classrooms, even their own training classes. Corporate people love to complain about training classes. "Classes don't work!" "Training doesn't teach anything." "No one ever learned anything of important in a classroom." Many training books and training professionals love quoting high profile individuals (such as CEO's or brand-name consultants) hacking at classrooms, thinking "beyond the classroom." If you listened to all of them talk, you would assume that employees are spending half of the lives trapped in basement lectures. Most people spend less time in classes than they spend waiting in line at their organization's cafeteria. It reminds me a bit of the supporters of the a flag burning amendment. I wish people wouldn't burn the American flag as much as anyone, but as far as I can tell, there is just not an epidemic of flag burning. And there sure is no epidemic of too much classroom training. The railing is really just posturing.

2. Business people love talking about academic reform. But when a company is performing sub-par, business people don't talk about Xerox reform or corporate reform. They talk about change management, growth, and re-invention. They talk about "taking a short-term profit hit" to "restructure."

3. Even amonst the corporations that do the most training, I have never seen a business sponsor an internal remedial history class, or art class, or literature class, or any kind of liberal arts experience. They say they respect it on a resume, but if you don't arrive with it, they are sure not going to give it to you.

4. And businesses fight hard for tax breaks, which come out of school pockets.

All with a big smile
But both sides hide their animosity reasonably well. The development side of schools want donations from businesses. They talk to parents about preparing students for the future. Businesses want to appear helpful and benevolent and part of the community.

It is only after the love-fest meetings and PR events do the real feelings emerge.

And I believe the friction, the misalignment, this cold war between these two hurts students, hurts our GDP and standard of living, hurts schools, and hurts business.

The Hope of T+D
In our profession, literally of the people reading this blog, lies either the opportunity to bring these two worlds together, or to create a bigger wedge to push them apart. It is an opportunity (and yes, responsibility) that I hope we all consider as we present our ideas, shape our strategies, postore, define ourselves, and invest in and execute our plans.

Tuesday, August 2

Innovate's special issue on the role of video game technology in educational settings

Innovate's special issue on the role of video game technology in educational settings is now available.

It features such power-thinkers as Gee and Squire.

I had an opportunity to present a take on what I believe is absolutely necessary for the next step in schools: the 20 simulation genre solution (this is in the second half of the interview), as well as explore throughout the truism "what is taught is governed by what can be taught" and the crippling bias of linear media.

Love it? Hate it? Get it? Let me know.

Monday, August 1

Invite or Seduce?

Dan Klein, the former VP of PeopleSoft's Education Department, once told me that "We need to invite the learner into the learning." His statement reminded me of another one I heard at a TechLearn conference years before. A brilliant and dreadlocked speaker named Jared said "We must learn to seduce the learner into the learning."

So I've had this debate for years with more people than I can remember: Invite or seduce.

Invite is direct. It says that "Here's an interesting learning experience that we'd like to invite you to" or "Please attend this elearning program since you have expressed an interest, and we think you will find it useful." This is inviting versus the "My supervisor/manager/boss told me to take this course" or "This course was part of my annual review to make me smarter", which I call coercing.

Seduction is more subtle. I think about the Sickle Cell Anemia program developed by Roger Schank that I was seduced into. The opening screen is a video of a woman asking the person passing by for "Help!" It's an appeal to the viewer's altruism and 'seduces' you into finding out why she needs help. Turns out a relative has just been diagnosed with Sickle Cell and she needs help figuring out what to do. You can go to the Doctor, Library, Class or Relative With Sickle Cell. Either way you learn a lot about the disease by the time you go back and answer her questions.

I suspect that both are difficult to do well. Invite presupposes that you know what the student wants to learn. Seduce assumes that you can be clever enough to get someone to learn something they might not otherwise spend the time learning, even if they were invited. Seduction seems to be the more powerful of the two.

So which is it? Or there's no real difference. Or "Who cares! No one does it anyway!" Weigh in readers and be heard. Do the learners need to be invited or seduced into the learning?

We did a quick Flash Poll to get people's thoughts on what the best way to interest learners in a subject is: an invitation or seducing them. As you can see from the results below, seduction is a clear winner!

Invite or seduce poll

If you didn't get a chance to vote in the Flash Poll, drop us a note as a comment to this post. Or give your thoughts on the results of the poll.

Why it is hard to trust analysts

I was recently asked to write an endorsement blurb for the back of a book by an author who had made the the same request of at least 19 other industry "experts."

I am assuming no more than five would make it to the back of the book. So if I cared about actually being quoted, I would have to write something amazingly positive. "Sell your children if you have to buy this book and make it your new reason for living. Quote it to friends. Post aphorisms from it on your walls. THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE ."

This reminded me of when I was at Gartner.

First, reporters would call me and several other respected e-learning analysts. The wanted a projected market-size in billions, and frankly would quote the biggest number. So if you wanted your name to appear in the Wall Street Journal or on ABC news, shoot high.

Second, if you have a beat within any "neutral" media organization, be it for a publication, a broadcast, or as an analyst, you have to compete for resources within your organization. So again, it benefited you to be as inflationary as possible. (And don't get me started about Wall Street!)

I hope the book will be a big success and I am sure I will recommend it personally to clients. But I turned down the author (I turn down over half the books that people ask me to do).

Having said that, I have no doubt the person will get at least five of people to say, "You must buy it now. YOU WILL LOOK BACK AT THE TIME BEFORE YOU READ IT AS A CRUEL CHARACTURE OF LIFE," or something like that.

Creating an environment where the best of the best builders thrive

I have often sung the praise of IT Conversations, which has so many great presentations, and a few duds.

One presentation I both loved and would consider required listening is Paul Graham's presentation on Great Hackers. I had thought, by the title, this would be a piece profiling evil programmers. Instead, it talks about why and how companies attract and keep the best of the best.

One of the key points for me was the need and ability to focus for extended periods of time without being interupted. This speaks against cubicles specifically. But also, it gets to the issues that great producers of IP have to put themselves in the right mood, and that the threat of constant interuption can prevent one from putting oneself in that state of productivity, as well as the reality.

I would greatly value other people's reactions to the presentation.