Tuesday, January 31

Another Lesson from Google...

Fair warning people, if you also read my e-Clippings blog (that goes for both of you), you'll see me post this there as well...let's just say I am fired up. Wanna know why? Try looking here. What you'll see at that link is a bunch of stories about how Google's stock took a monster hit today (12-20% depending on what time you're looking at). Why? Because the company ONLY reported a 4th quarter growth in profits of 82%!!!! Shameful!! Their net income was $372 million compared with $204 million last year. Their crime? They missed economic projections. Because of some tax issues, etc. blah blah blah. They are still approx. 20% ahead of Yahoo! in market share.

Why is Mark fired up about this? Why am I so upset that I'm speaking in the third person? Because how in the world are you supposed to convince ANYBODY to invest in anything as hard to touch as the value of learning when these freaking idiots are willing to dump Google stock when its profits only rose by 82%!?!? I swear to you, the short-sighted nature of the American Stock Market is both staggering and appaling. I don't even own Google stock and yet I am horrified by these reactionary market spasms. Someone tell me what fundamental of Google's business changed by 20% overnight? NOTHING!!

You (present company and readers excluded of course) knee-jerk, reactionary, no vision, short-term, Gordon Gecko wannbe, fundamentals ignoring, panic stricken, ridiculous caricatures of humans! I swear you will be the death of innovation and creativity in the American marketplace if not the world!

Monday, January 30

Peter Struck Me (actually something Peter wrote struck me)

I'll keep this little trend of responding to and playing off other's posts going here - Peter wrote:
"I would suggest we start looking at what I call the sense of “identity” (personal, social, professional), a permanently evolving entity or bundle of beliefs that is nevertheless based on some deeply stable elements (personality, culture, social status, etc.). By failing to take into account this major factor, the officially recognized pleasure and pain involved in learning become superficial or trivial and we’re left wondering why the planned training didn’t work (face to face, eLearning or simulation, it matters little)."
Yea! Exactly! I think this is such an important idea not only because we need to understand this to create better opportunities for learning (note I didn't say create better learning) but because to a degree that has never been possible before, users can now create their own learning experiences based on this sense of "identity" that Peter describes so well.

Here is a picture illustrating some of what I mean:

That's a screenshot of my desktop with some Widgets running. One is a drug reference manual, one is pulling RSS feeds from the NY Times (could be changed to be ANY RSS feed), one is a customizable flashcard widget and one is a lookup program for area codes. They are all free. They are all customizable with no scripting skills. I think they can allow a user to construct an environment customized to their ever-changing identity. I also think they point one way forward for us - to build platforms instead of applicaions and to teach people how to construct and operate in these environments and not try to teach them what to learn. We can't keep up with that anyway.

I'll end my little rant with one final thought - do we assume that in the absence of instruction that no learning occurs? If the answer is that of course we know that learning occurs regardless of the presence of really well-designed instruction, then shouldn't we look at how that learning already occurs and look to maximize those opportunities for people?

SimWord of the Day: Paths (Player-created)

Players create paths on maps, especially in tycoon style games, to connect processes and places, and direct and sometimes limit units' movements.

Paths can be:

  • Bidirectional or one way;
  • Narrow/bottleneck or broad;
  • Free to use or toll;
  • Expensive to build or cheap or free;
  • Too few or too numerous;
  • Connect the right things or connect the wrong things;
  • Perment, or temporary;
  • Wear down with use, or increase with use;
  • Aligning of interests;
  • Physical, contractual, virtual, informational;
  • Connecting of people, processes, work units, or even information and alignments.

What is so interesting to me about paths is that CEO's spend so much of their time talking about them. I can't count the number of times I have heard:

  • How do I create better communication between different departments? How do I get different groups to know what other groups are doing.
  • How do I build a relationship between customers and designers?
  • How do I get better access to another company's technology or markets?
  • How do I access the design skills of Italy, the tech savy of San Francisco, and the cheap labor of China?
  • How do we align with shareholders?
  • How do I find the right person for the job?
  • Are the current organizational lines right, or should I reorganize (destroy old paths and create new ones)?
A few examples:
  • Xerox' PARC research center has a permanent video link to their sister research organization in France, connecting two well traveled hallways.
  • Every canal ever dug.
  • This very blog entry is a path between my thoughts and at least four other people (I am not sure what the actual number is. It might be as high as twelve).

Like many of these SimWords, everyone could probably write a great paragraph on when and why to build new paths and destroy old ones. Yet the effective, no, intuitive ability to do that across a multitude of fronts differentiates between success and failure for many of us.

Sunday, January 29

Is you is or is you ain't my ism?

I started writing this as a reply to Don’s message about behaviourism (see below) and the link to the film. It quickly got too long to be a simple reply and so I’m posting it here.

I love the whole idea – and social practice -- of taking an obvious truth and setting up elaborate experiments to prove it. The real art is to leave people with the impression that you've summed up everything that needs to be said about the subject simply because you have proved that what is obvious is true. People are not only paid to create this proof of the obvious, but they even make careers out of it. And it doesn't stop there: the clever ones can turn it into an "ism".

Do you realize how many people would be unemployed if this wasn’t the case (today as well as in 1948)? But the benefits to society as a whole are even greater. By turning their obvious truth into an ism clever scientists stimulated the economy. How many people that then made careers out of studying the ism (and extending its scope) would have been absolutely idle (and on welfare) if it hadn’t existed?

Behaviorism is the one of the star isms of the 20th century. If I were a historian, I would call the 20th century the “century of isms”. A few years ago I visited an exhibition on early 20th century art at the Gropius museum in Berlin with Jay Cross and was particularly struck by the fact that in the period represented (roughly 1900 to 1930) every artist seemed to belong to an ism, or created one as a brand for his innovative style. Many of them I had never heard of.

Behaviorism teaches us that you can’t learn without motivation and that motivation can be associated with the pleasure (and pain) principle. From there it’s easy – and “scientifically necessary” (question of good marketing) -- to maintain that this accounts for everything, since pleasure and pain can be found everywhere. But it’s like saying I drink wine because it contains water (which it does) and quenches my thirst (which it also does).

Behaviorists would be right if they maintained that the same thing that drives rats in cages applies to people with ipods and cell-phones.. or enough money to buy a bottle of wine. It does. But the same thing that applies to wine and that goes beyond pleasure and pain (sociability, loss of inhibitions, poetic inspiration, a bright tunnel towards the ultimate truth, etc) applies to our use of anything that serves either educational or recreational purposes. Much of our pleasure is communion; much of our pain is boredom. Bored rats – as the film shows us – are called, not “bored” but “satisfied”. They lie down and wait to be hungry again or to receive a shock from a sadistic researcher. They don’t go looking for an ipod or obsessively consult their e-mails.

What strikes me as being particularly significant is the fact that, with or without the behaviorists, we have always known that motivation conditions whether people learn or fail to learn. The most surprising fact –where is the bar that releases the food pellets? – is that nobody seems to be motivated to understand where motivation comes from. Maslow gave us some hints: it comes from needs (perceived or unconscious) which stretch across Maslow’s full range, whether hierarchical or not. But it also contains a lot of mysterious (because repressed) components that Maslow didn't try to describe.

If only we knew what these mysterious components were or where they come from! I would suggest we start looking at what I call the sense of “identity” (personal, social, professional), a permanently evolving entity or bundle of beliefs that is nevertheless based on some deeply stable elements (personality, culture, social status, etc.). By failing to take into account this major factor, the officially recognized pleasure and pain involved in learning become superficial or trivial and we’re left wondering why the planned training didn’t work (face to face, eLearning or simulation, it matters little).

Take the ipod example. It’s mostly (but not always) a solitary pleasure, but if it wasn’t a social phenomenon how many people would be so hooked on it and especially organize a significant part of their lives around it? There is an ipod culture, which I still know precious little about, but I sense it is seriously emerging. I'll leave the commentary to others, in order to further my own social learning.

If we knew how to explore these phenomena (or cared enough to know), we might be able to begin to assess the factors that are at play in social and informal learning. Behaviorism encourages us to focus on single, isolated learning goals: how to get the pellet to fall or to stop the electric shock. Social and informal learning embrace a quantity of associated (and often necessarily associated) goals in a much more holistic framework. Why not go for the whole instead of the parts. Open up the bright tunnel towards truth. Or to quote Jon Hendricks, "Gimme my wine".

Saturday, January 28

Motivation, Learning, Rewards and Today's Technology

Wanting psychology to be a more precise science, researchers in the field of psychology turned to physics and created "behaviorism", which is based upon Newton's one-way cause effect mechanics.

Behaviorism attempts to explain behavior without referring to unobservable internal forces such as thoughts or needs. It explains behavior by focusing only upon the behavior that can be observed: the behavior itself and the environmental events that proceed and follow it, which thus becomes its main weakness in a learning environment -- behaviorism is about the observable, yet learning takes place within the unobserable -- the mind.

I have always found behaviorism a quite interesting concept, although mostly wrong. Thus, when I came across this documentary on rats, I wondered how yesterdays' behaviorists would describe today's generation as they "pushed" the keys on their computers, cell phones, and iPods. How would they describe their drive? What is their reward?

Note: the page that the movie is located on is Motivation and Reward in Learning (1948)

Wiki Help

I have a quick question, spurred on by Jay's post below..

A client asked me the other day, "what is the best way for a division of a large company to launch and maintain a public wiki, including what is the best software?" I had some ideas, but I would greatly value what others would suggest.

ASTD TechKnowledge

Sunday I hop on a plane for Denver, the locus of ASTD's TechKnowledge conference. In the past, this was generally an introductory conference, with lots of very basic material. It was perfect for newbies.

This year's TechKnowledge looks to be more sophisticated. Elliott Masie delivers one keynote, Ray Kurzweil the other. If you read Internet Time Blog, you already know I'm a tremendous fan of Ray's work. His notion of the acceleration of time is enough to rattle any of our cages. The radical changes we will experience in the next decade underpin my plea that organizations adopt more natural, informal, flexible approaches to learning. Get this: in the 21st century, we will experience the progress not of a hundred years, but of 20,000 1999-style years!

On Tuesday the 31st, I'll be talking about informal learning and how I'm designing the Unworkshops we announced yesterday. Our first unworkshop focuses on using blogs, wikis, and other web tools to improve learning effectiveness, so participants will create a blog, start a wiki, give a podcast, and so on: learning by doing. Forgive the self-promotion; I'm excited about the unworkshops and really looking forward to hearing what Ray has to say. Please say hi if you see me wandering the aisles in Denver. Or do they say "Howdy" in Denver?

Thursday, January 26

SimWord of the Day: Playing out Information

One of the most interesting things about both good movies and good computer games is the way that information is played out.

For linear content, movies are a great model.

  • There are back stories, giving necessary context and information, which some directors play out seamlessly and some do not.
  • Another technique is to have a character be the audience proxy and to ask the questions or make the statement that most people in the audience would ask. "Why don't you just go to the police?" or "You had an affair? What are you, crazy?"
Computer games must teach skills that are actually used and improvised upon, not just parrotted back on a test, which turns out to be even harder than telling a complicated story.

In Half Life 2, there are creatures that are mounted to ceilings with long tongues hanging down that grab things and pull them up to eat them.

One technique to inform the player might have been an encyclopedia-like screen giving some information about these creatures. Another would be to have a virtual colleague say something like, "Careful - those tongue creatures are hungry and once they grab you, it's over."

Instead, Half-Life 2 carefully builds the awareness in the player, and then pushes it. They first (in this screen shot) show the player what these creatures do by, in this case, having an unwary crow get scooped up. Then they expose the player to simple situation with a single creature. A few levels later, the player has to get through dozens of these creatures using increasingly clever techniques, including improvised hybrid strategies learned from other parts of the game.

The Instructional Design fascists say, "tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them."

What they are really training their audiences is how to be idiots.

Thank goodness computer games have more respect for our intelligence.

Wednesday, January 25

SimWord of the Day: Rubber Banding

In making a computer game, rubber banding is the technique to allow computerized opponents to bend the rules to keep things exciting and "close" for the player. The term comes from racing games, where you can imagine a giant rubber band extending out from the player's car to pull lagging cars forward and winning cars back.

Rubber banding is a "game element," something done to make an experience more fun, in this case at the expense of accuracy.

There will be debates about this technique. Let's look at very specific examples of using rubber banding in racing situations.

If the racing educational simulation is to build familiarity with a map (travelers racing around a foreign city to get a comfort of the layout, students racing through a functioning ancient city), or to become aware of principles (driving tiny vehicles through magnetic fields), because the learning objective is not winning a race, "rubber banding" would increase interest without undermining the learning experience. If the course was on winning a race, be it chariot, NASCAR, or UPS truck, this technique would cripple the learning.

Once again, we all must get very specific in discussing the pros and cons of educational simulations in general, and any one in particular.

Saturday, January 21

Pirate Sites Illegal Sales Hits Close to Home

Startling but true!

There are illegal websites out there that make electronic copies of popular books and encourage people to download them for free. These pirate sites make their money off advertisements, including Google ads.

A friend recently pointed me to an illegal copy of one of my books, SATFOL, which was sponsored (without his knowledge, of course) by "Elliott Massie"!

It is a strange world in which we live.

(Originally posted by Clark Aldrich on Saturday, January 21, 2006)

SimWord of the Day: The Ninth Paradox of Educational Simulations

The Ninth Paradox of Educaitonal Simulations states that a good educational simulation takes traditional linear training just to use.

SimWord of the Day: Constituents

We have talked a bit about units, little creatures that interact in a computer game or educational simulation.

While most simulations have broad categories of units, increasingly when describing constituents, be they customers or voters, the more accurate simulations use at least ten or fifteen variables to capture attributes such as spending ability, preferred/trusted media, relationships with other units, and interests and concerns.

Then, when it comes to such questions as "will they buy from you or a competitor?" "for whom will they vote?" or "are they happy?" the sim does the necessary fuzzy logic to come up with a discreet answer.

In physics, we have wrestled with the question of: is something a wave or a particle?

Simulation designers will likewise wrestle with the question, is behavior best modeled by an abstract high level system, or by creating individual units.

Thursday, January 19

Teaching Simulation users to do their own After Action Review

At the end of each play of SimuLearn's Virtual Leader, a student see a series of charts that provide reflections on his or her performance. Here is a piece that we created to help students evaluate their own performance.

Tuesday, January 17

SimWord of the Day: Tracking Quests

Pedagogy in educational simulations is that layer on top that makes things easier to understand. It includes charts and advice, as well as prereading and after action reviews. Done well, it speeds the learning and avoids the development of superstitious behavior.

One truism of edSims is that the same pedagogy that helps in doing the simulation also helps people understand real life. In fact, some early educational simulations had better pre-canned pedagogy than simulation, and enterprises stripped away the simulation and just deployed the pedagogy.

A nice piece of pedagogy is a constant list of core activities/goals/quests, with updates on little steps either completed or that need to be completed. This is especially useful where there are more than two quests going on at a time, like in this example from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Monday, January 16

SimWord of the Day: Big Skills

There are a list of skills that could be classified as soft skills, but I prefer the term "Big Skills." These skills have a few attributes:

  • These skills are critical to almost any job, but more than vocational, they are truly life skills.
  • We practice them, in some form or another, almost every day.
  • Schools, self-help book, and enterprise training programs have done a terrible job at facilitating their adoption, although they talk incessantly about them.

I know I have given various lists before, but enough people have emailed me about them that I beg your indulgence in posting them again. These skills include:

  • Business Process Improvement and Business Process Reengineering:
  • Contracting, Sourcing and Outsourcing :
  • Communication.
  • Conflict Management
  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Creating and using boards and advisors
  • Creating new tools
  • Decision-making
  • Ethics
  • Innovation/adaptation
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation
  • Nurturing/stewardship
  • Project Management/ Program Management
  • Relationship management
  • Researching
  • Risk Analysis, Management/Security
  • Solutions sales
  • Teamwork
  • Turning around a bad situation

Some call these 21st century skills, which they are, but they are also 20th century, 19th century, 18th century... and so on.

My premise is that educational simulations will make considerable headway in allowing the formal development of these skills, and that they will be hard to scalably teach without using simulations.

Sunday, January 15

Watson: Come Here, I Need You

A couple of years ago, I was discussing the timeliness of training with a colleague. See said to me, "It would be ideal if we could have the right training ready when the employees asked us for it." I responded, "No, ideal would be that we have learning content ready before they ask for it."

Recently I ran across a tool that tries to do just that. Watson 2.0 is a nifty little search tool that sits in a sidebar on your desktop. When you work in any one of several programs (right now it supports Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, Internet Explorer and Firefox on the PC), it analyzes the content in your document and automatically conducts a search on the key words it's come up with.

Watson returns the results from 5 domains of content - the Web, News, Blogs, Shopping, and Desktop. In the free version, which I have loaded for the time being - it searches are of the entire web.

With the professional (for pay)version, you can eliminate specific sites or specify sites for Watson to definitely include as high priority. You can also, in enterprise wide installations, have it search your intranet.

Check out the screen clip I took when I loaded my resume into Word and let Watson do it's thing. (click on the image to see a larger version.) Watson 2.0 is to the right. The terms highlighted in yellow are the search terms Watson used. Doing this with my resume has lead me to some very good professional, as well as developmental, resources that I had not yet stumbled upon. For those wondering what "Shopping" hits came up for my resume, it was primarily books on training. You wierdos!

This last feature really sounds like a potential winner. I can imagine working on a prosposal at work and having all the historical data that is related to my project presenting itself to me as I type! I wouldn't have to go research it. It'd be there as I need it. Talk about capturing corporate knowledge in a useful fashion!

Check out Watson 2.0. The free version has most of the functionality of the for a fee version, so you won't be out anything but your time.

SimWord of the Day: Scoring

It is a mainstay of computer games, sports, classrooms, even standardized tests - the score. It is the single number that allows easy comparison and ranking. Usually the higher the score the better, although there are a few exceptions like golf. A is good. F is bad.

If you believe more in evaluation than formal learning, you might shoot for a scoring system that follows a nice bell curve, with some winners, some loosers, and most lumped in the middle.

We like to pretend that academic scores/grades are instructional, but really they are motivational. The reason to work hard is to get a good score, as opposed to using the score to figure out how to improve.

We also like to pretend that scores are scientific, when in fact they represent a massive editorialization of what is important, and by how much. Shooting a big asteroid is 50 points. Shooting a little asteroid is 100 points. Dodging an asteroid is worth nothing.

Scores in educational simulations seem to work best if they are built around the academic standard of

  • 69 and below = D = unacceptable
  • 70-79 = C = good try but plenty of room for improvement
  • 80-89 = B = solid
  • 90 - 100 = A = great

This seems natural to those on the outside and a good cultural standard to follow (imagine using an educational simulation twice, the first time getting a score of 24, and the second time, 190), but for designers, squeezing the world of outcomes into that range is as natural as being a yoga master. And putting absolute numbers to actions should make anyone at least a little uncomfortable (try putting numeric values to the activities you did today).

Having scores unquestionably increases usage and focus. But the greater the reliance on scores for motivation, the more students will worry less about learning the material and more about gaming the system - finding logic shortcuts to exploit, and actually subvert the learning.

Friday, January 13

SimWord of the Day: The Eighth Paradox of Educational Simulations

The eighth paradox, and this is true of any transformation (from getting a big promotion to moving to a better house), is that things get worse before they get better, even when the transformation is sought after and desired. New clarity only follows frustration. New power comes from not being able to do things the way you have in the past.

Maybe this song will help, I mean chart will help, about the experience of going through a tranformative educational simulation:

Real simple why Web 2.0 is important...

...because it exposes and links. I know this is probably so clear to those of us who are immersed in it but I think we need to "stay on message" with other folks. Social networking, Web/Learning 2.0 - whatever - these are all aimed at exposing, revealing and linking. If your situation doesn't call for that, these technologies aren't right for you - no harm no foul. Why is this important?

...because informal learning will just stay something you do personally within your own close-knit network and not a phenomenona we understand and can use to imporove organization performance UNLESS we use some of these tools and the concepts behind them to reveal, expose and illuminate the networks of informal learning that they are creating. I have this feeling that we need a whole new lexicon for talking about the instructional impacts of furl, del.icio.us, frappr, etc. Of course, its early - I could be wrong.

P.S. Clark - you must promise to collect all of your SimWords somewhere....

Thursday, January 12

SimWord of the Day: Communities

The less someone knows about computer games, the more he or she thinks of them as a solitary activity. Instead, computer games have driven and modeled online virtual organizations, and educational simulations will have to go even further.

Roles when there are multiple people include:
  • opponents and team members,
  • buddies,
  • instructors,
  • facilitators,
  • leaders and followers,
  • mentors,
  • support and front-line, just to name a few.
Technologies that have to be considered for any good collaborative educational sim include:
  • Message board/Forum
  • Application sharing
  • Authentication
  • Avatars to represent players
  • Chat rooms/Instant Messaging
  • Public/private message
  • Email Integration
  • Calendaring
  • Video Conferencing
  • Floor control for the facilitator
  • Whiteboard
  • Massively Multiplayer (MMP) components, such these from Star Wars Battlefront II

Tuesday, January 10

Swicki: Can a Cloud Make Search Clearer?

A new search tool is in the footer of LCB for you to try out. Swicki is a new twist on search that promises a more contextualized and a customizable community search. It begins with someone, me in our case, creating an initial instance of the search tool naming key topics that might be interesting to the community. In addition, you can designate universal key worlds that every returned page must include. I chose to require "learning" for the LCB search. You can similarly designate key websites to target or to avoid.

You can set the search to give priority to blogs and/or your website. (I've asked this LCB search to search LCB first and then the web.) After a little bit of configuration work (choosing fonts, search box size, colors, etc), you simply copy some HTML code Swicki gives you and paste it into your site and you are of and running.

Then as members of the community use the search they can either choose a term that appears in the cloud of terms or enter another term that they are interested in. As the community uses the search engine, it learns the communities preferences and displays new terms in the cloud.

Swicki is so confident that can deliver a more focused search to you than Google, that on your results page they give you a link to compare the Swicki results with Google results. Check it out. What do you think?

SimWord of the Day: Hero

Hero is a very tricky word in the formal learning industries.

In most computer games, you play the unique hero - the person who has the power to save the day, or at least make all of the decisions.

In classic mythology, heroes live apart from the rest of society, having special responsibilities and getting special perks.

In Joseph Cambell's take on things, we can take little heroic actions every day.

In massively multiplayer online role playing games, we see the emergence of a band of heroes, groups of equals coming together to go on some quest.

The role of "a hero" is challenging in educational simulations.

Most of us want to be heroes, although some want it more than others.

Should HR departments train people to be heroes? Heroes often break rules, something that every centralized department hates. And as Joss Wheaton in the movie "Serenity" wrote, "heroes are people that get other people killed."

Yet, Len Vickers, the marketing guru behind GE's "we bring good things to life" and Xerox' "The Document Company," told me that the best sales people took advantage of vendor loop holes for the advantage of the customer, heroic in some self-serving way. Every good organization rewards heroes with praise.

Finally, logistically, programming the user to be a hero in an educational simulation feels funny. Do you give your player the most power to make a difference? If yes, the sim feels false. If no, the sim is unsatisfying.

I guess the paradox today is that HR has to teach people the rules, and then promote those that break them successfully.

Monday, January 9

SimWord of the Day: Real-time

At the highest level, a simulation is real-time if it does not stop and wait for the user to input before continuing as a turn-based simulation might. Said another way, if the user does not do anything, the simulation takes that as the input.

Almost all computer games are mostly real-time.

Some consider real-time simulations to be more realistic, engaging, and educational.
  • They are more realistic because many "real-life" target situations, from flying to negotiating, are real time, and so that dimension is a critical part of it. They also create pressure which mimics the pressure found in situations that aren't inherently speed-based.
  • They are more engaging, in that they require intense awareness, and the constant requirement to deal with surprising situations. They also might prevent people from over-analyzing.
  • They are educational, but also because they make it easier to see fluid patterns play out.
Of course, even educational simulation real-time zealots (people who would argue for a real-time simulation even if the target use of the content is not real-time) would still argue for paused moments of reflection, such as an after action review.

It is finally worth noting that real-time is not synonymous with twitch-speed. A good real-time simulation, unlike a twitch-game, could still be of significant educational value if played turned-based.

Sunday, January 8

More Relationship Maping

Clark is right about the importance of being able to understand and map relationships but might not the next set of illustrations to allow us to do that also include something along these lines?

SimWord of the Day: Lines and relationships

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

I suspect that same will be said of our industry.

One such precision tool is relationships. At the base of any good domain expertise pyramid is a whole mess of relationshps between two or more variables. What is the relationship between compensation and performance? How are budgets spent across the development and launch of a new project?

Here are some of my favorites generic relationships.
  • The linear relationhips.
  • The bell curve.
  • The s-curve.
  • The asymptotic relationship.
  • The price/demand relationship.

Or visually:

I suspect that increasingly, we will all have to be as comfortable with using these and other relationships to characterize knowledge as we currently are with bullets, headings, and fonts.

Friday, January 6

Head spinning...too much Web 2.0...can't see straight....

For a couple of reasons I have been doing a lot of looking recently at a whole spate (what's more that a spate?) of applications which mainly fall under the current rubric of "Web 2.0". I've done some reading by some seemingly smart folks on the topic and even some of those folks critics...and currently that picture over there is pretty fair representation of what my head feels like.

I am looking at all of these through the lens of how could any of these impact learning/training and the not-so surprising answer that I keep coming up to is - very little actually - within the bounds of two conditions.

The first condition (now that I look - this appears to very close related to the second condition as well) being my strong belief that culture will always trump technology. If a corporate or organizational culture is not ready to change or accept change, then no technology is sufficient to break through that. So, changing the organizational culture remains the top priority.

The second condition states that none of the incredibly cool applications will impact corporate training to any noticeable degree if the market continues to view learning as a product that is designed, developed and built somewhere and then taken to the consumer, like a car. What do cars compete against in the market? Other cars mainly (I hear some of you saying 'mass transit' and if you live outside the U.S. you may have a point but not so much inside the U.S.). Even though if it is mass transit, it is still paying for transportation. 'Learning' products compete against an almost innumerable array of free [informal] options.

My favorite quote of the year so far? "You don't deploy a commnity." So many of these tools draw their power from community, from an organic coming together of like-minded folks - I think what organizations are missing is the 'organic' and all they are seeing is the 'power.' This gets at the heart of this second condition - the idea that driving this insane burst of creative energy from the Web 2.0 side of the house is the idea that we should build platforms and not applications. Maybe what we should be thinking about is how to become better advocates of changing corporate and organizational cultures to accept the deployment of platforms upon which their members/employees can construct their own learning applications. Oh and yes, we can build and sell those platforms.

Phew. I'm tired now.

Corporate pandemics of 2006

Inspired by a batch of recent frustrating consulting gigs, a battery of medical check-ups and the current buzz about pandemic preparedness, here are my predictions for six emerging corporate pandemics that trainers will have to deal with in 2006:

1) Ulteriorsclerosis – the clogging of an important initiative by personnel or policies, for spurious reasons that mask more pernicious ulterior motives. Widespread ulteriorsclerosis will lead to the demise of several organizations in 2006. The disease, once it takes hold and starts to spread, can only be cured by surgical OD interventions. It manifests itself in the right projects not being approved, or not moving forward, for apparently good reasons which, with persistent investigation, turn out to be fatuous. Ulteriorsclerosis is typically artificially induced by the idle, the desperate, or the power hungry, and can be career threatening to diagnose.

2) Nearly Ubiquitous Wireless Mobile Informal Learning Syndrome (NUWMILS) – the propensity to instantly learn only what one needs to learn in order to perform, when and where the performance is required. Also referred to as Schizogooglia, it will evolve in cultures where networked knowledge links of known quality and reliability become so intuitively accessible that it will be like having multiple brains in your head. Sporadic outbreaks have been occurring with increasing frequency, and now seem set to attain pandemic status in 2006. Once it loses its stigma and is accepted as a blessing rather than a curse, NUWMILS will be renamed “ambient learning” and at least three gurus will claim to have invented the term.

3) Mailanoma – the unrestrained metastasizing of productivity-sapping email, texting, and instant messaging, leading to complete breakdown of one’s ability to communicate. While much of this has been from externally inflicted spam, as 2006 progresses there will be increasing volumes of malignant messaging that are internally generated through quite unnecessary cc-ing, bcc-ing, and e-messaging of people sitting whispering distance apart. As communication is the life blood of organizations, malfunctioning of the system can cause a serious breakdown in performance – and in the ability of training to have an impact.

4) Infobesity – the deleterious effect of excessive data consumption on the fitness and agility of individual and corporate minds. With the volume of new data being produced doubling every three days (vs. every three decades a few generations ago), Infobesity will become dramatically debilitating, though it will stimulate the growth of technology filtering tools. Those who master infofiltering will jog confidently through the fog, while those who don’t will keep staggering into lampposts. Employees and teams with calcified knowledge filtering modes will become alienated and resentful, unable to compete, and decreasingly productive. Fortunately for them, they make up most of upper and middle management, and still dominate the shareholders of most large companies. So they will hold onto legacy processes and implement new glass ceilings to keep info-savvy juniors from gaining power (often by inducing ulteriorsclerosis in the relevant area). Unfortunately for their companies, the info-savvy are subversive, mutate rapidly, are well networked, and will job hop into smaller, more fluid entities that will collaboratively run competitive rings around the big corporations.

5) Organizational Incontinence – the involuntary leaking of things you’d rather not have others see. As the networked world brings on premature aging in organizations, they will start to leak at increasingly alarming rates. They will leak knowledge (IP Incontinence) as their walls become porous and their employees network outside of the company to gain the insights they need to get things done. They will leak processes, as much that used to be done in-house becomes outsourced. They will leak secrets, as staff start to blog and podcast without the censoring filter of Corporate Communications. And they will suffer from increasing motivational incontinence as employees finally lose all sense of belonging to a cohesive caring organizational family. This in turn will lead to the leaking of valuable employees. Organizational Incontinence, in all its forms, may require a significant rethink of the role of learning services, and its repositioning as an aid to the enhancement of an individual’s market value.

6) Learning Impact Myopia – the failure to expect or demand that learning initiatives have lasting effects. Like most other things in corporate life, training activities will be evaluated more and more on what effect they have on each quarter’s financial results, rendering longer term impacts irrelevant, and in turn making the development of long-term programs pointless. When trainers struggle to develop interventions that have lasting impact, they will be told that such esoteric stuff simply does not matter, and will be pressured into providing instant gratification to the bean counters. Learning Impact Myopia and Schizogooglia both seek faster short-term solutions to the expertise problems, but for different reasons. Trainers may have to selectively succumb, while still fighting for some strategic surgical impact. [Paradoxically, Surgical Learning Impact Myopia (SLIM) -- the deliberate implanting or nurturing of e-learning 2.0 where appropriate -- may give SLIM organizations added vigor and longevity].

Be prepared! The future will be a dangerous place if you relinquish control of your integrity to the organizational pandemics.

Compliments of the season to all, and may your 2006 be filled with health, wealth, and happiness!

Godfrey Parkin

SimWord of the Day: The Seventh Paradox of Educational Simulations

Simulations are very dense learning experience. Most deployments of simulation based programs look
  • successful if measured forward from what a student learned, but most simulation deployments look like
  • failures if measured backwards from what percentage of material that the students could have learned, they did learn.

Thursday, January 5

SimWord of the Day: The Sixth Paradox of Educational Simulations

Vendors and builders of simulations like to describe them as vaguely and mystically as possible:

  • Learning By Doing.
  • Flight Simulator for Business Skills.
  • Safe Environment to Take Risks.
  • It is Like Actually Being There.

Yet this hype-driven misdirection blurs product categories in the marketplace, eradicating the critical lines between different types of simulations (branching stories verus interactive spreadsheets vs. game based models vs. virtual labs vs....), making comparison hard and lessons learned to apply the right type of sim for the right situation even harder.

Mining is Hell

At some point in our cultural history, someone decided to use mining as an analogy to Hell. Having spent some time 3.5K straight down in a gold mine in South Africa (picture of me in 1987), I can say with first hand experience that the analogy works.
My heart goes out to the West Virginia miners and their families.

Wednesday, January 4

SimWord of the Day: Situational Awareness

Experts in various areas see the world differently.
  • When I was leading hiking trips up in Maine, I used to constantly be on the look out for roots, broken glass, steep hills, and other environmental hazards.
  • I spent the one week when I was targeted for assassination constantly looking for both threats (people moving quickly, vans approaching me) and also escape routes (first story windows, back streets). I would not walk into a room with only one door, for example. (Oh, this was just a college game, but it taught me some lessons I never forgot.)
  • When doing re-engineering, I look for the relationships between people: who are the factions, and how strong are they.

One of the best training opportunities of a simulation is to force people to develop a situational awareness, to see the world differently. This is often done at the interface level.

Here is a screen shot from Tropico, that uses pedagogical highlighting (in green) to show where low-income tourists would find desirable. Thinking of the island in this way is critical to attracting a good tourist trade. The game designers also could have used nothing but simulation elements, having tourists themselves go to the best spots.

There are also impaired situational awareness opportunities. One simulation from Second Life (I think) captures what it is to have some mental ailments, with other characters yeling at them and scary images appearing on the walls. Some driving simulations capture the sensation of being drunk, showing the reduced reaction time.

Seeing the world as experts do, and then either through pedagogical and/or simulation elements capturing and transfering that, is one of the greatest opportunities for simulations.

Monday, January 2

The resistance army

Michigan's Lake Superior State University has just published its banished word list.

One of the choices might surprise us. Then again, it might not. Here it is:

– A five-dollar phrase on a nickel-errand. Value-added into many higher education mission statements. “Not to be confused with ‘school.'” – Jim Howard from Mishawa, Ind.

I use this as forensic evidence in my case against the resistance movement within educational institutions whose counter-revolutionary mission is to squelch informal learning. Howard fittingly deflates university mission statements, and by the same token, the whole business of mission statements, which usually announce clearly what an institution is unwilling to invest in but, by formalizing it as part of the "mission", expects its members will implement spontaneously. However, his idea that "community of learners" is an overblown synonym for "school" shows he hasn't read the literature (starting with Etienne Wenger).

If I were into grades, I'd give both Howard and the Lake University an "F". But as I'm more into communities of learners, I'd prefer extending an invitation to the entire "educational community" (should this term also be banished?) to join the world of thinkers and doers concerned by learning rather than the defense of sclerotic superstructures.

What's nasty about this kind of "humor" (or sarcasm) is that it borders on PC, with the same perverse spirit of manipulation. The "banishing" metaphor is revelatory. But what it really reveals, coming from the academic community, is the refusal to move outside the box of the formal institution ("school") to recognize that, even before technology moved in, learning was essentially a social phenomenon and the campus a social institution, par excellence. More significantly, I see this as an attempt to cut off all discussion of how the social dimension of learning is evolving and may evolve to achieve better performance.

In any case, it provides clear proof that the reactionary resistance movement is well armed, which is sad, because the members of the academic community who pride themselves on being promoters of knowledge would be the first to benefit from the creative and productive role they could be playing interacting with communities of learners rather than being mere lackeys to the established hierarchy.

Sunday, January 1

Top 11 Trends for Organizational Learning

  1. Google
  2. Blogs
  3. Wiki's
  4. Open Source
  5. IM/VOIP (Instant Messaging/ Voice Over Internet)
  6. Ambient Information
  7. Mobile Phones as Content Inputs/Outputs
  8. Podcasts
  9. Computer Games driving educational simulations
  10. Growing Training Budgets
  11. More Decentralized College Programs