Thursday, June 29

Big Skill: Conflict Management

Resolving an adversarial situation with the minimum expenditure of force necessary to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

Conflict is often, but not necessarily, a failure of conflict management. When conflict does occur in the context of a successful conflict management approach, it is more contained and productive than either no conflict or a larger conflict, or the conflict supports other agendas including political.

There are environments where certain types of conflicts represent automatic failure of conflict management strategies, including physical in most workplaces, and certain types of chemical or nuclear conflict between nations.

Strategies for conflict management include listening, involving a third-party for mediation, and establishing ground rules.

Conflict management can also include:

  • A “cold war” scenario, where two or more parties live with long term hostilities that never resolves, but that do not result in full scale force either.
  • Proactively dismantling sources of potential conflicts before they occur.

Ironically, preparation for successful conflict management can include building force.

Wednesday, June 28

Conversation between CEO and New Training Professional

[Training Person is riding elevator, when door opens and CEO walks in.]

CEO: You're the training person, right?

TP: Yes I am.

CEO: So what have you done this quarter?

TP: I and my whole department have been doing a lot of research. We are talking to a lot of industry gurus. We have been passionately following all of the hot trends in training.

CEO: Sounds great. What have you learned?

TP: First, we have found that a well designed application needs much less training than a poorly designed one

CEO: Done. Let me move funding from training to application development. What else do you got?

TP: We have figured out that most behavior change comes from motivation, not instruction.

CEO: Great point. Let me jot myself a note to shift budget away from your department and put it into corporate communications and our bonus pool. What else?

TP: According to our new research, most learning happens in casual conversations. So that should be a priority.

CEO: Hmm. I know my infrastructure people handle telephones and cell phones, my facilities management and HR work on office layout, and my IT people support email and instant messaging. So thank you. I will split the rest of the training budget between those three camps. This has been a very productive conversation.

TP: (whoops).

CEO: I just feel badly that such a smart person as yourself doesn't have a job anymore. Oh well. Best of luck to you. I'm sure you'll do fine. Just have your office cleaned out by the end of the day.

[Door opens, CEO walks out]

Tuesday, June 27

Race to the Bottom?

In all of the formal learning industries, including training and education, we have to teach the basic stuff, and we have to put out fires. We have to teach people how to use a portal, or create adequate footnotes. We have to get them their new password. A new compliance law pops up and we have to develop content to deal with it.

But what amazes me is how many people think that is enough. We have gone from tolerating the minutia on the way to greatness to relishing in the minutia.

We have metaphorically inherited our parent's business, and our satisfied with stripping away the vision, the R&D, the new projects, the passion, and prop up the cash cows as they slowly dwindle away. Then we complain that we are not respected, or influential, or growing. We grab onto hot trends, not because we have any urge to implement them, but because we can talk about them with ourselves and customers to keep their interest for a week. "I discuss n technology, but really all customers want is n-1" one vendor told me. What he was really delivering was n-10.

For 90% of the people I meet in this industry, my dominant question really is, what is your excuse for mediocrity? Budgets? Not enough support? Love the small stuff? You're new here? Don't want to take risks? Worry that you will fail? Hate doing pilots? Don't know how to evaluate results? Always working on something else that doesn't help anyone but has to get done? That is the job of the other training group? No one will return your calls? Think the biggest skill based problem in your organization really is using the advanced features in PowerPoint? The meanies over in IT won't let you touch anything? Too busy to do your job because you are doing other people's job?

By the way, for the other 10% of the industry, with whom many I have had the pleasure of working, thank you so, so much. I deeply respect all of you, and remain your humble servant.

Saturday, June 24

If you haven't practiced, you haven't learned anything

Let me try to rephrase this conversation a bit.

(And please, please read this post, not just the headline, before commenting.)

If you haven't practiced, you haven't learned.

To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, who said "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,"

I would say, "Give me six hours to learn something and I will spend the last four practicing."

Now, a digression/caveat: In the same way that:

  • knowing how to read offloads memory, so to does
  • using well designed and supported applications offloads learning about processes and even simple facts (if you count the spell-checker), (having said that, there might be a competitive advantage in using a tool that is not infinitely well supported, and I can only hope my competitors are too lazy and whiny to learn how to use it well) and
  • learning basic techniques such as Instant Messaging with your network and using Google offloads having to store large quantities of "just-in-case" facts and even perspectives. [FOR ALL RESPONDERS - THIS MEANS ASKING OTHER PEOPLE FOR HELP - SORRY FOR BEING OBLIQUE]

But what is left after all of that offloading are the big skills, which you have to learn, your boss has to learn, your co-workers have to learn, your employees have to learn, your senior management has to learn, and any company in which you invest has to learn.


  • It is easy to think you understand how to do something (specifically, a big skill) theoretically. Although gaining a theoretical understanding before hand, the locker-room before the game conversation to discuss strategy, is still critical.
  • There is significant work in transferring that skill to the real world. That work includes both mapping the big skill to real life options, and then practicing that in a diversity of situations.
  • Both the mapping and practice are hard, and if not done, the intellectual transfer is stunted. In most cases, students will not do either on their own, wasting the resources spent on the program.
  • All academic programs, despite majors, teach mostly the same thing: how to behave in a classroom, how to write a paper (including basic researching and analysis), how to take a test. That is it.
  • One reason I like sims is that they can provide the mapping through a good interface, and provide a place to practice. That doesn't make it less hard for students to map and transfer, but it allows them to happen predictably and while the students are still in the program, not hoping they will do it after.

Friday, June 23

Big Skill: Communications

At its core, the moving of information. More broadly, the ability to both express oneself effectively through various and appropriate media (writing, speaking, graphics), including understanding audience requirements, needs/pain points, and knowledge, and also effectively listening to others express themselves. Part of communication is knowing what is “in it” for the audience.

All communication has a credibility component.

Communication strategies often need to be created. Having a weekly open house to combat a rampant rumor mill might be critical. As organizations and teams become more distributed, ad hoc (so called “water-cooler”) communication becomes less reliable, and so formal communication technique need to be established.

Picking the right genre is important. Letters have different requirements than email. In fact, the best way to trash someone’s career is to circulate a colleague’s instant-messaging comments reformatted as a letter. Videoconferencing is more formal; web-cams are more casual.

Dynamically customizing the content increases effectiveness. This could be based on audience questions, or for self-paced content, providing alternative paths through the content, such as using hyper-linking.

An effective communication strategy might involve having the audience do some exercises to internalize the information. This could be everything from taking notes at a lecture to playing a marketing mini-game around the release of a new soft drink or movie.

Emotional associations can also be critical. Politicians use the icon of the United States flag. Computer games might tie into famous athletes or movies. Advertisements shamelessly use idealized models, professions, or roles (showing a mother buckling up her children in a minivan while talking about some new fast food product). Create a verbal label for a complicated idea, and you shape the perception of the idea.

There are legal requirements for communications, especially around product recalls and shareholder information. Organizations often have different uses of Public Relations and advertising.

Some communication is passive. What we wear to work or how we style our hair broadcasts our affiliations and even aspirations. Corporations choose colors and fonts carefully.

Some communication strategies are malicious. Spread a lie through so many channels that it becomes thought of as a truth. An ethically-challenged leader leaks a lie to a newspaper anonymously, and then publicly refers to the article as a source of credibility. In the computer world, there are “denial of service” attacks, where many computers try to communicate with a single site in order to overwhelm and shut down the site.

And again, I ask the question that no one will answer. Do you have any formal learning programs around communication? If so, to whom and how? If not, why not: a) it is not important, or b) it is really important, but we don't do it because _____.

Thursday, June 22

The Three Worlds of Knowledge

This post is chained to Peter Isackson's, Saving "knowing" from imminent execution, which is chained to Clark Aldrich's Dead Reckoning. To get beyond what Peter and Clark have described as a "static" and "freeze-dried world of knowledge and Jay and Clark’s comments on "knowledge" and "meaning," we need to look at other models. While this is not meant as a complete answer, I believe it moves it in the right direction.

"What is the object of knowledge?" asks young Grasshopper. "There is no object of knowledge," replies the old Shaman, "To know is to be able to operate adequately in an individual or cooperative situation." "So which is more important, to know or to do?" asks young Grasshopper. "All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing," replies the Sage, and then continues, "Knowing is an effective action, that is, knowledge operate effectively in the domain of existence of all living creatures." [paraphrased from Maturana & Varela].

One of the most popular epistemology models (except in the behavioral sciences) is Sir Karl Popper's writtings on the Three Worlds of Knowledge. The knowledge/learning/management professions seem to prefer and stay within the realm of Michael Polanyi's concept of personal and tacit knowledge. However, Polanyi's epistemology is narrower and has a limited basis for understanding knowledge as compared to Popper’s work, which provides a broader epistemological foundation.

Click to enlarge

Karl Popper theorizes that there are three worlds of knowledge:

  • World 1 is the physical universe. It consists of the actual truth and reality that we try to represent, such as energy, physics, and chemistry. We may exist in this world, however, we do not always perceive it and then represent it correctly.

  • World 2 is the world of our subjective personal perceptions, experiences, and cognition. It is what we think about the world as we try to map, represent, and anticipate or hypotheses in order to maintain our existence in an every changing place. Personal knowledge and memory form this world, which are based on self-regulation, cognition, consciousness, dispositions, and processes. Note that Polanyi's theory of knowledge is based entirely within this world.

  • World 3 is the sum total of the objective abstract products of the human mind. It consists of such artifacts as books, tools, theories, models, libraries, computers, and networks. It is quite a diverse mixture that ranges from a claw-hammer to Maslow’s hierarchy to Godel's proof of the incompleteness of arithmetic. While knowledge may be created and produced by World 2 activities, its artifacts are stored in this world. Popper also includes genetic heredity (if you think about it, genes are really nothing more than a biological artifact of instructions).

And of course, there are various relationships between these three worlds:

  • World 1 drives and enables world 2 to exist, while world 2 tries to control and regulate world 1.

  • World 2 produces world 3, while world 3 helps in the recall and the training/education/development/learning of world 2.

  • World 3 describes and predicts world 1, while world 1 is the inferred logic of world 3.

In addition, since world 2 is composed of people, we can use our senses to cut across boundaries and observe and test the exchanges and relationships of worlds 1 and 2.

Thus, knowledge surrounds us (world 1), becomes a part of us (world 2), and is then stored in historical contents and contexts by us (world 3 artifacts).

In this framework are two different senses of knowledge or thought:

  • Knowledge in the subjective sense, consisting of a state of mind with a disposition to behave or to react [cognition].

  • knowledge in an objective sense, consisting of the expression of problems, theories, and arguments.

While the first is personal, the second is totally independent of anybody's claim to know -- it is knowledge without a knowing subject.

A T ~ T H E ~ F I S H H O U S E S

by Elizabeth Bishop

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

Thus, knowledge goes far beyond the knowing/doing dichotomy. . . it is drawn, derived, flowing, historical, and forever.

Click to enlarge

A few examples:


Give a baby an object and one of the first things they normally do is "mouth" it. While this is sometimes done to massage their gums due to cutting teeth, it is also performed to learn about the object. Babies are just as curious about their surroundings as we are. The mouth and tongue are filled with sesitive nerve endings that allow them to not only feel, but also taste objects. Thus our first learnings are done by hearing, seeing, tasting, and feeling not only our hands, but also with our mouths.

Our senses are basically multifaceted in that we learn about world 1 through our senses and then create world 3 artifacts within world 2, which in turn helps others in their quest of learning by using their senses to understand world 3 artifacts in order to live more productively within world 1 (whew -- what a breath full). In addition, we test the interrelations of worlds 1 and 2 with our senses.

M I R R O R ~ N E U R O N S

Our brain contains a special class of cells, called mirror neurons, that fire not only when we see or hear an action, but also when we carry out the same action on our own. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others, and by using these special mirror neurons, we are able to grasp the minds of others through direct simulation, rather than through conceptual reasoning. Thus knowing and doing become one -- at least in our minds!

Mirror neurons reveal how we partly learn; why people respond to certain types of sports, dance, music and art; why watching media violence may be harmful; and why we may like voyeurism or pornography. We are simply hardwired for imitation.

For more information, see the video and audio clips.


Listening is instinctual -- we can automatically home in on specific conversations at large gatherings. And as Chomsky theorized, it is hard-wired within us for children do not really learn to understand the spoken word, they just do it. In addition, listening frees our hands and eyes so we can take notes, draw mind maps, and do other useful things with our hands (create 3rd world artifacts).

People normally enjoy listening to others. . . it is part of our social nature. Listening to someone directly can often be quite special to many, because rather than going through a world 3 artifact to gain insights to other’s knowledge, we remain in world 2 and thus get it straight from the cognitive source, rather than an artifact. Plus, we can directly interact with the person through the use of questions, gestures, and other interactive means.

SimWord of the Day: Business Process

A set of repeatable structured activities that add (or seem to add) predictable value, (including creation, marketing, refinement and transportation) at a predictable cost to an enterprise.

Business processes can be around transforming ideas, money, people, and products, delivering a service, branching to alternative processes, or triggering an action. There is often the movement and enrichment of some container of value, whether a widget to be painted or a form to be approved (or kicked back). Inventories are kept.

They often have an owner that takes responsibility for them. Some business processes are core, and presumably unique, while others are tangential.

Business processes can be ongoing (infrastructure), or triggered by an event.

Improvements to an organization can be made within a process (business process redesign), or changing processes (called business process re-engineering).

Business process can be simple or complex, and need to be connected to other business processes, sometimes through paths. Processes can also be done in parallel, avoiding a chain reaction of failures. A string of business processes can be called a value chain. And the integration between the processes is called “the process fit” which can be as strategically significant as the process itself, avoiding delays. Business processes maps are also called business process diagrams.

Business processes often need units, resources, and can be represented on a map by structures.

Business processes can be automated.

In many cases, when we come to organization, we don't know what the processes even are, and have to probe.

Ownership can vary. A business process can be
· done internally (retailer’s employees stock shelves),
· outsourced (retailers contracts independent workers to stock shelves), or
· transferred completely to another organization (retailer asks vendors to stock shelves, or retailer becomes online retailer and asks vendors to ship directly to customers).

Typically, the more important the business process, the more control the enterprise wants to use.

Wednesday, June 21

Simword of the Day: Save the Game

Creating a file that completely describes all of the variables in a game, including location of units, states, mission status and inventory items.

Accessing saved games allows players to both:

  • Leave the game, and come back later, creating an infinite length pause (called bookmarking in SCORM-speak), or
  • "start-over” from that point, presumably to try new tactics or strategies, or maybe even relive a great sequence.

Saving a game (and the corresponding “three lives” granted in an arcade style game) represents the purist departure from a game/simulation and reality. It necessarily breaks the illusion of the experience. It also changes behaviors, rewarding high-risk behavior. (Funnily enough, in the old arcade games, there was a real financial consequence to dying.) And yet for-entertainment simulation require the contrivance, and even the most pure simulation-hawk would advocate practicing in a sim by replaying a situation over and over until mastered, as one might with a tennis backboard or batting cage.

Some strategy games, like Rise of Nations, have campaign modes that do not allow players to “backtrack” via save games. Players have to live with the consequences.
Some science fiction games, such as System Shock 2, have tried to work the notion of save games into the story using re-incarnation machines when the player dies.

The more open-ended a game is, the larger the save file.

save points

A technique that only allows a player to save their progress at pre-established triggers, such as after a completed task, rather than whenever they want. This increases the suspense and the sense of jeopardy for the player, but can lead to frustration if the player has to replay a same sequence over and over again, especially if the sequence includes some linear aspects (especially pedagogical), and/or easy, repetitive play. Educational simulations have stricter save game policies than computer games.

One variation: some games save the game automatically and invisibly to the player. Clever designers put automatic save points before a difficult challenge to keep the player from having to backtrack too far, or right after a new level has been loaded, preventing the player from having to wait a second time as the level reloads. Automatic save points do not preclude open ended saving options.

Tuesday, June 20

Feedback from Virtual Leader

I love getting participant feedback from Virtual Leader, in most because it feels so different than feedback from other programs. Here's one quote I just got yesterday, going to the idea of situational awareness.

The Virtual Leader simulation requires a lot of attention to detail. It has brought me an awareness of how critical it is to be conscious of the entire surroundings. I had no idea how intense it is to consciously consider everything that goes on around you when working with a group of people.

If you want a pdf of reactions to VL, just send me an email at

Monday, June 19

Saving "knowing" from imminent execution

This posting is meant as a follow-up to the discussion Clark Aldrich and I had going in his post about Dead Reckoning. I'm posting it here because I think it leads the discussion in a new direction.

Most of us are now used to the slogan "learning by doing" and the implicit opposition between "knowing" (brain-based, or even more restrictedly, mind-based) and "doing" which involves a range of associated skills, from perception to reasoning.

I'd like to suggest a way of going beyond the simple dichotomy "knowing/doing" and, in a valiant attempt to rescue knowledge from oblivion (or the perils of rational management, as the first term of KM), propose a list of various approaches to building (rather than just acquiring) knowledge:

. knowing from sensing (perception with its multiple facets),
. knowing from being told by someone who, we believe, already knows,
. knowing from doing,
. knowing from playing by the explicit rules,
. knowing from playing by the implicit rules,
. knowing from playing beyond the rules (explicit or implicit),
. knowing from being expected to know or being recognized as someone who knows (or is in a position to know).

The second one is primarily what we associate with the old school and traditional pedagogy. But focusing on this alone may be doing an injustice to the notion of knowledge, which need not be static. The third one -- much bandied about these days -- encompasses all the playing modes that follow. The last one is the most mysterious, but I think much more common than we suppose. I think it deserves some special attention.

In the perspective of these types of "coming to know", knowing and doing are not opposed. In fact, they are closely linked. The essential ways of building knowledge (doing and being, rather than the passive "being told") are extremely varied.

My question to Clark is, "can these distinctions have any meaning or potential development in simulation"? I expect that they can. The last three seem to be fairly specific to forms of informal (i.e. unplanned and unprogrammed) learning. Knowledge gained in this way may of course subsequently be formalized, but it could be argued that deep learning takes place only through the conversion of the informal into the formal. (I'm not saying I'm ready to argue that, only to entertain the idea and therefore open the debate).

Any takers?

Friday, June 16

Nominate the Best Instructional Design Essays of 2005 - 2006

Mindful Learner has a great idea, based on Joel Spolsky's software post.

What are the best instructional designs essays of 2005 and the first half of 2006?

Please nominate them by replying to this post, and include the title, the author's name, and a URL/where the essay can be found. Please also link to this post from other sites. Let's see how many great entries we can gather.

Thanks! This is going to be fun.


Thursday, June 15

SimWord of the Day: Dead Reckoning

If ever there was a single term that, for me anyway, captures why this thread is so important, it is dead reckoning. Read the definition (especially the last paragraph of the definition), and I hope you will realize two things. First, it is essential for any professional, and second, it is not taught anywhere because it is a doing skill, not a knowing skill.

Whether you agree or disagree, I would love to hear your comments.

dead reckoning:

Navigating by

  • first, creating a vector based on understanding of current and destination location, and
  • then making a series of short term decisions based on reconciling the vector against real options available on a map.

It is often contrasted by navigating based on milestones.

The term comes from aviation, animal research and orienteering. But it also describes what all professionals do all of the time. In most professionals' cases, the map is conceptual, the destination is a goal (the creation of a product, the closing of a sale, the solving of a complex problem) and the options and barriers are procedural not physical, but the model, much more adaptive and dynamic that the milestone approach, is almost exactly the same.

Wednesday, June 14

Activity in the Discussion Wiki

I thought I'd call everyone's attention to some activity in the LCB Discussion Wiki.  Two members of the community have created new pages in hopes of generating discussion around topics of interest to them.

A member going by the screen name "learning" has added a page for discussion of "Funding sources for public sector projects." 

Peter Shea recently added a page to discuss "Becoming a great simulation designer."  He's hoping the community will use the wiki to share reading lists, organizations to join, and types of projects to tackle.

To join in these discussions, simply click on the LCB Discussion Wiki here or in the sidebar to the right and then click on the link to the page you want in the topics list.  Feel free to add a page to the wiki on any topic you think your colleagues might find interesting.

(Remember, you need to log-in before you will have editing rights.)

Tuesday, June 13

Computer Game Design as Horizontal, not Vertical, Activity

Universities are teaching courses on computer game design at both the undergrad and graduate levels.

Increasingly, courses are also focused on not just entertainment games but educational games as well. Deakin University in Melbourne Australia runs a unit on "Playful Learning Environments.” Columbia University’s Teachers College has a course in games and education. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design has an Edutainment program. Danube University in Krems, Austria, where Post-graduate teacher education is their core business, has a Game Studies Course in their Master Programs in Educational Technology and Educational Leadership, as well as various seminar type courses outside of their Master Programs.

These are all major breakthroughs, of course. But the next breakthrough will be when “simulation and game design” is not taught as a vertical skill, like Russian History, Clinical Psychology, or Biblical Archeology, but a horizontal skill, like researching or writing, even public speaking.

The tools and philosophies of simulation design allow better and sharper knowledge capture and sharing than the scarily blunt instruments of the writing, taking pictures, and even making films (although they all have their place, primarily to set up learning and to reinforce it afterwards).

SimWord of the Day: Chain reaction

One event that triggers a dispersed series of similar events, that may yet again trigger even more events. While some reactions are linear, chain reactions can spread geometrically (aka snowballing), potentially causing large and unexpected impact.

For example, one bank failing in the Great Depression would set off failures at many other banks. One currency can quickly devalue, setting off a chain reaction of similar devaluations. Atomic bombs are the result of chain reactions, with energy being released from a few molecules releasing the energy in its neighbors. A single match can burn down a forest. Chain reactions require some type of distributed energy patter. If one wants to stop a chain reaction, one can exhaust the energy in a controlled way.

Some organizations go through chain reactions of key people leaving. Others get multiple subsequent bumps up or down in stock price. Reorganizations can cascade, as can new leadership and direction. Interest hikes, lowering or raising prices, spreading rumors, and viruses each have a chain reaction all of their own. Word of mouth about how good or bad a product, even formal learning program, is can spread like wildfire; when positive, it is called buzz or viral marketing, and can be helped along by a "tell a friend" button.

SimWord of the Day: Delay

The time it takes for a change of input to result in a change of output. In a system with significant delay, users might not understand the correlation between input and output.

Often times if there is a delay, users overcompensate. For example, if it takes 30 minutes between putting food in one’s mouth and a feeling of satiation, one could easily overeat. If it takes three minutes between adjusting the temperature of the water and the shower to reflect the new temperature, bathers might go through cycles of getting the shower too hot, and then too cold.

Other times, especially if the input is expensive, users might give up. If spending money on advertising doesn’t result in immediate increased traffic, a business might give up, despite the eventual gain realized.

Saturday, June 10

Roles in CoP's

In my role as blogmeister for LCB I've done a lot of reading in the communities of practice literature to gain a better understanding of how online communities work. What can be done to enhance the community? What causes high quality interaction or 4L Model.gifcommunity disfunction and collapse.

One model I've developed is around the roles and interactions members of a community have as participants in that community. I thought I'd share my model with the LCB community for feedback and discussion. My 4L Model (Linking, Lurking, Learning, Leading) was spawned by comments made by John Seeley Brown in an interview with Marcia Connors for LineZine.Further influence came from the work of Lave, Wenger and McDermott.

The graphic to the right demonstrates the four types of roles in an online community. Any prospering community will have participants in each of these roles. Note that the lines between the roles are blurred. What role a participant is playing in the community is both determined and defined by the participant. Thus, it is not possible to strictly define the roles. In fact, any one participant can simultaneously play different roles on different topics within the same community. (ie, the leader of an organization often becomes a linking participant to areas they previously may have not paid attention to.)

While the roles can't be strictly defined, they do have basic characteristics which can be identified.

Linking  These are visitors who find a community by one means or another. They may have have bookmarked the site or added it to their RSS reader. They are in a “testing” mode to determine if this community if of interest to them and worth giving more of the time and attention.

Lurking  Often the largest segment of a community, these individuals pay attention to the activity of the group and occasionally participate in various activities. Wenger calls this group Legitimate Peripheral Participants (LPP). They may be interested in greater involvement, but either don’t feel worthy or don’t know how. For others the content may only be peripheral to their work.

Learning  These are regular visitors who contribute to the community regularly. They are considered “members” of the community. Occasionally , they may take on a project or event leadership role as either an “audition” for a more core role or as a way to lead despite overall time unavailability.

Leading  At the core of a community are the Leaders of that community. Leadership is a matter of commitment and willingness to contribute on a consistent basis. Leaders may or may not be designated via title. Roles, other than community coordinator, may evolve as needed. Wenger says it is the responsibility of leadership to “build a fire” of activity that is strong enough to draw people to the community and encourage greater participation.

Movement from one role to another is a learning process in which participants encourage and model roles for each other in what Seeley Brown refers to as a cognitive apprenticeship.  Thus it's incumbent upon the community to provide opportunities for participants to learn from each other and to "try on" new roles. 

So what do you think?  Does this make sense?  I'm curious what the LCB community thinks as to how well LCB tends to the various roles in our community.  Are we a community?  Should we be?

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Thursday, June 8

ELearning Acceptance within Organizations: the Role of Communication

Chiara Succi is a good friend of mine that I met while she was interning at the Masie Center. Chiara is also a Ph.D candidate at the University of Lugano in Lugano, Switzerland. She is pursuing a doctorate in Communication Sciences at the newMinE Lab (New Media in Education Lab) and her prof's blog is here. She is focusing on e-learning and needs some help with her research.

I am including an abstract of her research below but the upshot is that she needs some folks to take surveys. I have taken the survey myself and can attest to the fact that it is relatively painless and brief. The abstract is below but if I've already convinced you to help, the survey is here. C'mon - it'll just take a minute and you'll be blessed with good karma next time you are out looking for data.

Research Abstract: ELearning Acceptance within Organizations: the Role of Communication

In this research we would like to understand the importance of the context surrounding eLearning
experiences. In particular one element of the context seems to be functional to this purpose and worth of studying: the communication issue.The aim of the study is to identify a Readiness Index that has to be taken into consideration by eLearning managers when they create and communicate eLearning activities. In order to do this we identified four categories of variables playing an important role in the preparation phase: before launching/releasing an eLearning activity.
1. Commitment to the eLearning activity: motivation of eLearners and goals of the proposed
2. Knowledge of the eLearning activity: technical and cognitive skills and knowledge of tools in
3. Commitment of the organizational framework: internal sponsorship and involvement of the
4. Knowledge of the organizational framework: incentive systems and policies aimed to
facilitate eLearning activities (space and time).

We intend to identify:
* the presence (if companies do or do not ) of 17 activities fitting in the above listed
* their importance in the opinion of learning managers;
* the role of communication.

Is the Violence in Computer Games Realistic?

I was at a private conference in Washington DC about a month ago on simulation technology. The idea came up, again, that violence in computer games:

  • encourages violence in our children, and even
  • teaches them how to be violent.

Both issues, funnily enough, rest on how realistic computer games are today.

The first, about encouraging kids towards violence, is obviously a classic argument that has also been applied to television, movies, and rock and roll.

As far back as Freud, the question of does something release violence urges safety or build them, has been debated. But, if you take out the realism issue, the same questions could also apply to chess. Chess is a very violent game. Castles are destroyed. Knights, kings and queens are slaughtered, just in a highly abstracted environment. Backgammon ever more so. Since no parents are picketing chess clubs, let's assume that computer games are suspect because they are realistic, and Chess is safe because it is not realistic.

The second issue, do computer games teach bad behavior, should be a very relevant one for all of us in the formal learning biz.

So again, are violent computer games realistic enough to be educational?

There are at least three levels of realism.

First, does the game catch and spread all of the necessary steps and feedback? It is one thing to steal a car in Grand Theft Auto. You walk over to the car, click on it, and you are in. If a police officer was around, you may get a "star" with police cars temporarily chase you. Compare that to real-life. I don't have to be graphic here - I can let you all imagine what the reality is like. The most realistic "shooters" with locational damage (the game knows if you shot a leg versus a head) is nothing like shooting in real life. Even technically, how to load a weapon, how to clean it, the feel of a well oiled chamber, the smell of gunpowder, using one's voice to intimidate marks, the echo of a gun shot, running down the street (including stamina), are all absurdly abstracted or not included at all.

By the way, Thomas Claburn, Editor-at-Large of InformationWeek, said it more powerfully. "A realistic depiction of modern warfare in a game would look like a computer crash. You'd be playing the game and the next minute, without warning, the game would be over and your character would be dead. Perhaps for good measure, the game would be deleted too. It would seem like a random act and that kind of thing doesn't fit into the heroic personal narrative of the first-person shooter."

Second, does the game catch and spread a situational awareness? The way that an experienced criminal sees and filters the world is different then how you and I see it. Identifying safe and lucrative "marks," awareness of police patrols, awareness of alternative escape routes, awareness of civilians, including those who might get in the way, is critical to the learning.

Third, does the game catch and spread the mental state? Yes, it introduces the ideas, and certainly glorifies it. But WILL Interactive's CEO Sloane said it well. “The reality has to reflect the learners’ emotions and beliefs as well as their knowledge and skills.” Let's again return to Grand Theft Auto, and their San Andreas chapter. Does the game nurture a belief that no matter what you do, you will be dead before you are thirty years old? Does it nurture a belief that what you own is not safe, or that people will hurt you unless you are tougher than they are? Do you feel that you are in the minority, and that you are hated by the majority? Do you believe that you have no safety net? Talk of simulations aside, there is probably no better content creator than Fyodor Dostoevsky at catching and spreading at least one mental state, paranoia.

These three issues, realism in doing, situational awareness, and mental states, are just some of the issues in this debate that get left off the table from most commentators.

The implications are huge, and go well beyond this debate. During the last fifteen years or so, we all got good at digitizing information. Scanners, digital cameras, word processors, spreadsheet, OCR, web pages, Google, are all impressive tools and models.

From the work I have seen and done, however, I can say that the next great challenge, surprisingly possible, is digitizing wisdom. That is the true issue here, not the red herring of computer games and violence.

All of my Simword entries are codifying what many people are discovering. We are further along than anyone realizes.

Sunday, June 4

Herding Cats or Managing Informal Learning

Kineo, a consultancy in the UK, published an interesting report earlier this year entitled 13 Ways of Managing Informal Learning. This white paper authored by Mark Harrison posits some very interesting principles in an effort to drive more attention to managing informal learning in the workplace.

The strengths of this report come in a solid list of how new technologies can be used to better manage informal learning and in an extensive set of profiles outlining how to approach different types of employees (senior managers, new starters, experienced staff) to motivate them to participate in the creation and capture of informal learning.

Harrison also provides some very good ideas on assessing the current state of informal learning. I haven't heard much talk about coming to understand how exactly informal learning plays out in the enterprise currently. One of the strongest aspects of this report is that Harrison makes a strong point that informal learning has many facets and must be approached with a multi-faceted strategy.

He centers much of his arguement as to why learning professionals should focus on informal learning on data from a Atos KPMG Consulting study that he represents in a table like so:

The % of learning represented by activity type
Informal Learning
Formal Learning
Experience on the Job
Training programs
Mentoring & Coaching
Special Assignments
Manuals & Instructions

My first thought was "that's it?" In essence, 2 types of informal learning? And where is the non-business gossip or the discussion about the best ski resort for a weekend getaway? Certaining new information is learned in these conversations, but it's likely to have little benefit that can be tracked to the bottom line or the strategic plan of the company. My puzzlement expanded when Harrison in defining what informal learning is through a negation of what formal learning is states: "It does not include: .... - Coaching ......" But the table lists "Mentoring & Coaching" as one of the forms of Informal. Which is it?

His other major argument in favor of pursuing informal learning is '80% is alot of stuff and informal learning is quick and cheap.' I've been wondering for some time now, how much of that 80% do we really want to data mine and save for posterity. I'm quite sure we don't need the drafts of this blog posting if we were to start building a content repository. The distribution between informal learning and formal learning is more likely to be 40% Informal, 20% Formal and 40% Trash.

The assumption that dealing with informal learning will be "quick" is more wishing that it were so than it is a rational conclusion from what we know about design of learning interventions. Any instructional designer can tell you that instructional designs which are are less transparent, more realistic, more "doing vs. learning" take far longer to create than simple, non-contextualized lessons. Informal interventions will often border on covert at times. Instructional designers will be pushing new boundaries to create experiences in which the learner is influenced without perceiving they are being influenced.

Finally, I'm concerned that we are painting ourselves into a corner in regards to the "cheap" label that has been attached to informal learning initiatives. This perception of informal learning being cheaper is based on the now well flogged data in the chart above. 20% of the average learning budget is going to enhancing informal learning which makes up 80% of all workplace learning. But the main reason for informal only taking up 20% of the normal budget is that we haven't been paying attention to it. It is true that Informal Learning will happen whether we tend to it or not and it will happen most of the time for free. But our focus is to try to nudge that learning so that it aligns with the needs of the enterprise to meet it's strategic goals.

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Friday, June 2

Big Skill: Cost-Benefit Analysis

One Big Skill is Cost-Benefit Analysis.

Just because something is good, doesn't mean that we should do it.

Relevant questions to be considered are,

  • How much will it cost?
  • How much of the possible benefit will be realized?
  • What is the range of possible costs, and what makes the costs increase or decrease?
  • At what cost will it no longer be worth it?
  • How will we know, once we are into it, when to back off or when to "stay the course"?
  • What other things could we do with the resources that might be better?

Likewise, just because we can do something to get rid of something that is bad, doesn't mean we should do it. The same questions apply.

One should be doing cost-benefit analysis across multiple categories every day for themselves personally, as well as for every project, what their work group is doing, and what their organization and even industry is doing.

There are at least two traps with Cost Benefit Analysis.

Plenty of so-called leaders try to circumnavigate the cost-benefit analysis, and present activities as things that


Others, typically staffers, often misuse and subvert cost-benefit analysis as an excuse

  • not to do something that makes sense to do; to support the easy, seemingly no-risk status quo (one classic obstructionist staff scam is to apply a much higher standard on justifying new activities as justifying existing activities (including their own pay));
  • to give themselves a reason to let something fail rather than do the hard work necessary for success.

So given the importance of this Big Skill, is anyone formally spreading that knowledge? If so, how? And more importantly, if not, why not?

Thursday, June 1

SimWord of the Day: Design Document

design document

A very long, very detailed description of every aspect of a game/simulation. It includes screen mock-ups, user-interaces, basic game-play, art and animation assets, units, maps, state-charts, character descriptions and artwork, story-boards, and high level equations and relationships. It is not a marketing document, but may include a summary of the goals of the game/sim. The design document for an Xbox game, for example, is around five hundred pages. It can also be called the functional specifications. There is also a technical design document that explains how items in the design document will be implemented.