Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Learner Lifecycle

That's Life.
To everything there is a season. We are born, we play, we work, we teach, we die. As time goes by, we change how we learn.

A baby's every waking moment goes into figuring things out. Child's play for pre-schoolers is learning in disguise; they devote their time experimenting, making connections, and understanding their world.

School children attend formal classes and do assignments to lay a foundation for learning the 3 Rs, cultural memes, and social norms. The quality of the school experience is open to debate, but few would argue that children should have to invent, say, multiplication rather than have it taught to them in school.

School children weave a mental tapestry of understanding; adults patch holes in the fabric.

This is work.
Upon escaping the confines of school, people go to work. Just as the high-school grad descends from the top of one heap to the bottom of another as an entering freshman, the college grad starts over as a new hire. It's like being a kid again.

Careers are front-loaded with formal learning: orientation sessions, courses on fundamentals, and certification programs. Over time, informal learning becomes ever more prominent. Mid-career workers rarely take workshops. They are learning to tweak, to improve, and to improvise from what they already know.

Everyone is a novice in some areas and an expert in others. Workshops, courses, and other formal instruction are appropriate for the newbie who needs the 20,000' view as a landscape for connecting and making sense of details.. Collaboration, search, small-chunk simulations, and other informal means are better alternatives for experienced people seeking guidance for working directly on the ground.

Variations on a theme
Most people arrive at adulthood having built the foundation skills, mental models, and working knowledge they need to get along in the world. They learn new things after answering "What's in it for me?" Adults learn when they need to solve pressing problems. They don't have patience for superfluous material or rehashing what they already know. Curriculum is for kids; exploration is for adults.

Veteran workers who are savvy in the way things work are most organizations' top performers. In the factory, the best worker was perhaps twice as productive as the worst. In the knowledge economy, the best worker is hundreds of times more productive as than a mediocre peer. Top performers justify special handling.

Your workforce.
What proportion of your workforces are green recruits? What fraction already know the ropes?

If you're like most organizations, your old hands outnumber the new recruits 10 to 1. The Western world has an aging workforce. The boomer bulge is still at work. People born today live thirty years longer than they did when my grandfather was born.

The DNA of instructional design.
The United States had no standing army when it entered World War II. The military needed to train millions of civilians how to fight . This sowed the seeds of what became Instructional Systems Design (ISD) in the 50s. The core methodology of ISD, the ADDIE model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate), has a great track record of raising novices to basic competence.

Winning World War II was such a success that corporations followed the military's example. Command-and-control hierarchies were run by officers who developed strategies to battle the competition.

A new world.
Times have changed, and models that once helped companies succeed now hold them back. ADDIE is not the best way to help top performers learn. ADDIE starts with a Needs Analysis, but experienced workers do better defining their own needs. They can identify with Winston Churchill when he said, "Personally, I'm always ready to learn, although I don't always like being taught."

Ted Cocheu, CEO of Altus Learning Systems, has been instrumental in raising my consciousness on these issues. He asks why companies put most of their training budget into courses, workshops, Learing Management Systems, and other things that primarily deal with getting novices up to speed. Doesn't it make more sense to invest in communications infrastructure, putting resources at workers' fingertips, and facilitating collaboration? They would get a better return from helping experienced workers do their jobs better.

My next column in CLO will discuss how to do just that.

Friday, April 29, 2005


Next D Journal

GK VanPatter:
The notion you often come back to that "learning is remembering what you are interested in...."

Richard Saul Wurman: I mean there is no way anyone can find a fault in that statement and nobody ever has. Under deep challenge, nobody has. And if it is so, the entire makeup of the educational system would change.

GK VanPatter: Well that path through the forest is one with many implications. It is a disruptive path that would not sync well with the many systems within education already in place.

Richard Saul Wurman: In fact many things are done to do just the opposite. The parents telling kids to stop asking so many questions, don't be interested in automobiles, don't be interested in this or that, and do your school work. Many of the systems in place are actually antithetical to how people find the joy of learning.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

curriculum, will richardson

from weblogged this morning:

Curriculum is for Kids

I love this quote from Jay Cross:

"Curriculum is for kids; exploration is for adults."
I brings me back once again to the idea that Ted Sizer expressed about the disconnect between the way the school system teaches kids and the ways in which adults teach themselves. I can't imagine not learning by exploration, which is what I do every day of my life. I've developed my own curriculum of sorts that changes based on where my explorations take me. Today, if you check what I've been Furling, it's about social software. Tomorrow, if may be about podcasting. The key is my self-interest in these topics motivates me to learn, and within the context of those explorations I learn other things too, how to write clearly, how to negotiate meaning, how to think critically.

Maybe it's because over the last couple of weeks I've been hearing the boredom of my daughter and the boredom of my students. What they are experiencing is not meaningful learning...they're just getting through. Terry said it so well yesterday:

The best weblogs are their own reward. A few students get that right away, then they ask themselves, "What do I need a teacher for?"
And that's sad, isn't it, because kids see teachers as the people who deliver content, not as the people who teach them how to learn. That's what kids need teachers for. To show them what learning looks like, how messy and reflective and individualized it really is. To show them what a wonderful gift failure is. We all do this differently. For me, much of it happens here when I take the time to put words to my ideas, or when I'm trying to build something or coach my kids. It rarely happens with 25 other people consuming the same content at the same pace in the same place... It is exploration. Blog as exploration. I like that metaphor too...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Learning Hacks

Incoming email:

I’ve been trying to solve a problem but am not getting a good solution. The thing is that I read a lot about elearning, learning theories and other related stuff on the web as well as in books. At the end of say a month or so, though I know I’ve read this, but I don’t have a way of retrieving or accessing the same information. I have lost it. I desperately want to keep track of my learning and want that all to be easily accessible. I face the same problem with maintaining contacts.


Keep a journal. At first, keep it personal. Write down what you want to do. Write down what you learn. Put in names and numbers. I have single files named 2005, 2004, 2003... going back a dozen years.

Later, after you've got the rhythm, you may make some of your information public, as a blog.

These days I keep a variety of private blogs, too. It's easy to add to them from wherever I may be. The internet is my hard drive.

Mary Hodder

Must put Mary on the interview list. Her blog today:

Panels are Dead

For me that is.

I'm sitting here at a conference that I flew all the way to Paris for.. for two days, and damned if it isn't full of panels, broadcast mode all the way, telling the audience how it is. And well.. it's so freaking undynamic. Because it's not a discussion. These are bloggers. They know a lot. They know what it is. These 300 people make media every day on their blogs and yet, panels are here giving us time to email the office, our cats or the mailman about a critical lost postcard.

This audience is creative, bright, thoughtful and our brains are being numbed to death by one-way talk about how blogs are about losing legacy control and we're all taking it back. Somewhere there is a tragi-comedy in here. It's time for a revolt. Please, please, please can we do all conferences from now on differently? For the love of transparency, aliveness, I hope we can.


1. Ditch the panels.
2. One leader per room.. moderating an active discussion by everyone in the room by, asking questions and interacting.
3. IF we do panels, any time there are more people lined up at the mic, than are on the panel, the panel and the people at the mic have to switch places.

Please note, I do appreciate all the work that goes in to making a conference like this, and thank the people who put it on. But they are doing a format we all have done for a long time. And we need a change. This doesn't work, and it needs to stop.

George Leonard

Human beings are learning animals. Natural selection is right but it's not the end of the story. Through the magic of activating genes, we can even pass our learnings along to future generations. (See Matt Ridley, Time, on genome.) It's expressed genes that matter, not just genes.

The environment is pushing us in the direction of all thinking alike. The SAT's five-paragraph essay is an example. So is the grammar checker in MS Word. George is an accomplished author and former magazine reporter yet Word continually tells him he's wrong.

PA030005We all have the potential for genius within us. He and Mike Murphy take this as an article of faith.

Most of George's learning has occurred outside of school. "Learning has been my whole life," he told me, eyes gleaming. Encouraged by his parents, George collected reptiles, did the ham radio thing, had a room for his chem lab, studied modern American literature, played the clarinet (after hearing Benny Goodman on the radio), and formed his own swing band, all before turning 18.

Summers when he was 13, 14, and 15, George and his brother Ed, five years older, would repair to the front porch after breakfast, where Ed would teach George everything he had learned in school, including taking the tests. Faulkner, Dos Passos, psychology, whatever. Unlike teachers at school, Ed was excited and enthused; he trusted George to understand, and that he did. This is the way it should be: the student is a free learner who decides where he should go, what he should learn.

School forgets that the body contains millions of feedback circuits. Centering -- it changes everything. The stillness of meditation.

George has been studying Aikido since the late 70s, and his skills are still improving. He has recently come up with a new genre that involves seeing things from the opponent's point of view. He'll soon be taping a video of it.

One day Mike Murphy and George were brainstorming, writing ideas on slips of paper and letting them fall to the floor as new ideas arose. This was the time of the Free Speech Movement and the Women's Liberation Movement. George said "Human Potential Movement. After three or four years, they tried to bury the term. They discovered it is much harder to unname something than to name it.

While a very accomplished man, George is a soft spoken, unassuming, easy fellow to talk with.

How to learn? Stay open to possibilities. The world is feeding you opportunities all the time. Keep your eyes open and you will see them.

You need instruction to get the basics, but after that, watch closely and see what works. Don't try to change everything at once -- that doesn't work.

Learn from accidents. Learn from mistakes. Capitalize on them. Celebrate the unexpected.

George is getting on in years but he still learns all the time. His piano is improving. He brought up dishwashing. He reflects on the sequence of steps. He seeks to be efficient. He moves several things at a time toward the sink. He probably wastes fewer steps than any dishwasher on earth. This reminds me of Ellen Langer's suggestion that we should perform everything in life as if it were art. And of course, there's the Buddhist maxim that if you're going to wash the dishes, wash the dishes.

I'm going to dig back into Education and Ecstacy for more lessons.

The Mastery Curve

There's really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it:

To take the master's journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so - and this is the inexorable fact of the journey - you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.

How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself. Rather than being frustrated while on the plateau, you learn to appreciate and enjoy it just as much as you do the upward surges.


from Fast Company

What has the good professor learned so far? The new economy doesn't need more talk -- it needs a whole new conversation. Zeldin believes that most of us are working in jobs that make use of only 20% to 25% of our potential. So companies, he argues, need to be reinvented to allow us to do work that we will find enjoyable, and that will make us better people

We should abolish "work." By that I mean abolishing the distinction between work and leisure, one of the greatest mistakes of the last century, one that enables employers to keep workers in lousy jobs by granting them some leisure time. We should strive to be employed in such a way that we don't realize that what we're doing is work.

Contact Theodore Zeldin by email (

It's good to talk, says Oxford professor Theodore Zeldin, the author of Conversation (HiddenSpring Books, 2000). But engaging in world-changing dialogue involves more than sending and receiving information. The "new conversation" demands that you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person. Results cannot be predicted, but adventure is guaranteed. Here are a few of Zeldin's tips on talking.

Get out more. "Asking the same old question, 'Who am I?', cannot get you very far. However fascinating you may think you are, there is a limit to what you can know about yourself. Other people are infinitely more interesting and have infinitely more to say."

Think ahead. "Talk without thought is empty. Change the way you think, and you are already halfway to changing the world."

Be bold. "We need to start using conversation to create courage in the face of failure. I'm talking about a balanced kind of courage that can resist disappointment and that can at last make us immune to the cynicism that has so long been our scourge."

Talk with purpose. "The main purpose of engaging in conversation can no longer be personal advancement or respectability. Instead, I'd like for us to use conversations to create equality, to open ourselves to strangers, and, most practically, to remake our working world."

Dave Pollard on Environmental Scan

CostNotKnowing2The Idea: A nine-step process for setting up a Continuous Environmental Scan in your organization, or just for your own use.

In their book Jumping the Curve, Imperato & Harari introduce the concept of a Continuous Environmental Scan, which is about using modern technology's 'radar' to harvest a lot of ideas about what is happening in the world in areas (geographical, intellectual, or commercial) that you care about. The best manifestation of this is the RSS Aggregator, which allows you to 'subscribe' to newsfeeds, weblogs, newsletters and additions to websites, and have all the content appear on a single, continuously updated, page. Alas, many of the sources people want to read are not available as RSS feeds. And while you can get either titles and headlines only, or complete articles, it is an extra step to then filter the resultant feeds for keywords.

Another approach to doing this is what are called Alerts or Profiles, which allow you to register keywords with a search engine and get daily e-mails sent to you of all news items and new articles containing those keywords. Or, if you use services like My Yahoo, you can have these keyword search results aggregated for you, on a latest-first basis, on one page you can call up when you want. These searches, though they cast a wider net, are not very discriminating, usually returning a lot of irrelevant stuff, and tedious promotional material. Even then, there are a lot of useful sources that aren't online, or are only available for a fee, which your Alerts and Profiles will miss.

So if you want to set up a comprehensive Continuous Environmental Scan you need to put a bit more work into it, and you may have to be prepared to spend some money to access some material. And then you need to be patient and perseverant -- it takes some trial-and-error to get the keywords right so you don't get drowned in 'false positives' or more than you can read, and so you don't miss crucial articles. Here's the process I evolved to do this:
  1. Know How You Learn: Understand your 'information behaviour'. Some people like information 'pushed' to them through e-mails. Others like to go out and 'pull' this information from an Aggregator page when they're ready for it. Design your Continuous Environmental Scan for your preference. If you're doing the scan for others in your organization, be prepared to offer the results in both push and pull 'flavours'.
  2. Determine Your Information Universe: Spend some time (and brainstorm with others) to identify the universe of different sources you want your Scan 'radar' to capture. Note that Google News doesn't capture all news sources, and most other news aggregators capture only a very few select media sources. Make a complete list of all the news sources that are of interest to you -- the raw newswires, local, national and international newspapers and media websites, magazines and trade periodicals, newsletters, analyst reports, technology analysts, scientific and technology news, demographic and economic news sources. Some useful sources may not be available online, and others are only available for a fee. If you're doing this for business, don't forget to scan industries that could be developing new processes, technologies and innovations that could affect your industry. And don't forget to track new books on the subjects you're interested in. And don't overlook multimedia sources (radio programs, TV documentaries, training materials etc.)
  3. Discover Infomediaries: Now consider how you can tap into others who are already aggegrating some of the content you care about. Trade and industry associations often précis relevant news on their websites and newsletters. There are many specialized bloggers: Just Google the topic or industry you're interested in and the word 'blog' and you'll be amazed at what you'll find. There are some excellent cross-disciplinary e-newsletters out there as well, like Innovation Weekly which covers innovations in all sectors of the economy and society. Some of these 'infomediaries' include summaries, free of charge, of articles from other sources that they've paid for. Most of them offer RSS feeds.
  4. Tap Into the Stuff Inside Your Organization: Next, consider how to tap into sources sitting on the hard drives and bookshelves of the people in your organization and networks. The best stuff (like the results of customer surveys) isn't always on the company Intranet, and even when it is it is probably not being read by those who could benefit from it. If you have tech-savvy staff with a lot of material on hard drives, consider setting up 'public partitions' on each employee's hard drive that can be canvassed and archived by the Intranet and made available to others. Consider setting up, and tapping into, employee weblogs.
  5. Add Together, Stir and Sift: Now you have all the content for the top of the funnel. The next step is to filter it. How you do that will depend on the format it is in and the tools at your disposal. If there is an RSS feed of the source, use it to capture the whole feed, then use keyword searches to filter just the articles you want to read. Keyword filtering takes skill and practice: Learn to use phrases and boolean symbols to eliminate 'false positives'. If you're interested in Innovation and Differentiation, for example, you'll want to filter out the many references to cell differentiation and mathematical differentiation and keep the rest. You need to consider synonyms and foreign terms which may catch important articles your primary keywords would miss. Try to avoid common English words, especially those with ambiguous meanings -- check the thesaurus for synonyms that mean the same thing and are likely to occur elsewhere in the same articles. Brainstorm with others to come up with better phrases and boolean qualifiers. For hard copy sources you'll have to divvy up the reading duties, learn to speed read and scan quickly, and have a process to digitize or copy (single copies for personal use are permitted even for copyrighted materials) the articles. Learn to write terse, one-sentence abstracts of articles, one-paragraph summaries of books, and put them at the front, to save re-reading to remember what it was about. Learn to write short three-page summaries of books for those who should, but won't, read the whole thing.
  6. Add Value: Often your context-rich interpretation of 'what it means' or 'what it could mean', can be more valuable than the article itself. Putting down your analysis, interpretations and insights can not only make it more valuable for others, it can help 'make sense' of it in your own mind.
  7. Organize and Make Available What's Left: Whatever has passed through your filters now needs to be put into a logical order, organized by topic and format, and indexed. If you're doing the Scan for a lot of people, you may want to use the index as the basis for a newsletter, with hotlinks to the content, and to your synopses and abstracts. For those that want the results 'pushed' to them, you'll need to further organize it into an e-mail or e-newsletter. For those that prefer to 'come and get it' you'll need to organize it in a database or on a web page that is easy to navigate.
  8. Don't Forget Serendipitous Reading: No matter how skilled you may get at using Alerts, keyword searches, RSS feeds and other techniques to distill everything down to Your Personal Newspaper, you're going to miss something. Sometimes important ideas and disruptive innovations just come out of left field. That doesn't mean you should read the daily paper cover to cover, unless you're a glutton for punishment. You can scan the headlines of the local, national and business papers online in about 15 minutes. Use the rest of your daily news reading time to read selected magazines that cast a wide net, make you think, and focus on what's next and what you can do about it, rather than just rehashing useless news. My favourites are The New Yorker, Fast Company and Wired, though I read sporadically a dozen other unorthodox publications like the Utne Reader as well. Stop reading matter, start reading what matters.
  9. Have conversations about 'what it means': Make yourself available, and encourage your organization to make time and space, for 'water cooler' discussions about 'what it means'. Pick the articles (from the Scan or from serendipitous reading) that you found most thought-provoking and make a point of inviting people to talk about them with you. It may take some practice and exercise, but you may just find that people will start getting much more engaged about important things about your organization and about the world at large, and you may just become the centre of attention. If you work solo or at home, you can do the same thing in your neighbourhood (an extension of the old neighbourhood book club idea), or even virtually with Skype and your online networks. Bloggers, of course, already have such an outlet.
There's no turnkey way to do this, and it takes a lot of practice. What's amazing is how many large organizations are doing virtually nothing to make use of the immense amounts of interesting and useful information 'out there' in a disciplined and organized manner. It's left up to the individual, and most individuals have neither the time nor the skill to do it. It's a missed opportunity in many companies, and perhaps one of the reason for the dearth of innovation in our world today.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pattern Language

at Design Matrix

their template

Is it worthwhile to use the pattern language approach as a way to describe a learning ecosystem?
Perhaps that should read "learning in the workplace."

Driving Forces: business requirements
necessary evils: compliance

Groups that matter: communities, professional and personal; colleagues

Infrastructure, architecture, technical support
Culture: appreciation, nurturing, sharing

Gravity: access, quality, relevance

How individuals learn


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Dave Snowden

It is worth remembering that the primary purpose of KM is to enable better decision-making and to create the conditions for innovation; better decision making is contingent on active learning, innovation is dependent on disruption of entrained patterns of thinking.

New tools enable us to telescope down five or six years of social networking down to five or six weeks....

Finding Snowden's knowledgebase is great. The serendipity of being insanely curious.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr is the Chief Learning Officer of Goldman Sachs.

The Boundaryless Organization: Breaking the Chains of Organization Structure
Jossey-Bass; 1998

The GE Work-Out : How to Implement GE's Revolutionary Method for Busting Bureaucracy & Attacking Organizational Problems - Fast
McGraw-Hill Trade; 2002

Tom Stewart article in Fortune. "They all know each other." '89
CoP councils

call placed to Media Relations Tel: 1 212 902 5400

GE information sharing

Steve Kerr is the Chief Learning Officer of Goldman Sachs.

The Boundaryless Organization: Breaking the Chains of Organization Structure
Jossey-Bass; 1998

The GE Work-Out : How to Implement GE's Revolutionary Method for Busting Bureaucracy & Attacking Organizational Problems - Fast
McGraw-Hill Trade; 2002

Tom Stewart article in Fortune. "They all know each other." '89
CoP councils

call placed to Media Relations Tel: 1 212 902 5400

Thursday, April 21, 2005

PowerPoint Issues

This thread started with a newsletter from MindJet, the mind mapping software folks, announcing that they had a new blog.

Michael Schrage has a wonderful article on the 2x2 matrix and PowerPoint for presentations in strategy+business.

This took me to Cliff Atkinson's

And it dawned on me that I must cover "the world's most popular authoring tool," in Informal Learning. Tufte, Gettysburg, the horror of presos without notes, mindless bullet-point reduction, upside ops with Breeze and good graphics. Sun and the JCS eschew PowerPoint. World Bank story. Confines.

Here's the Beyond Bulletpoints site. "As much as people might blame Microsoft for enforcing a bullet-point culture, it is really organizations that enforce it through their templates and lack of an organizational strategy for their PowerPoint-based communications. " Or "When you shift the dynamic of every presentation from self-centered to audience-centered, the other people in the room get to be the ones at the center of the action. "

Cliff structures PPTs as stories, not presentations.

If you're a knowledge worker and you don't work for Sun Microsystems, you're going to create and deliver PowerPoint presentations, listen to PowerPoint presentations, coach the people who work for you on making PowerPoint presentations, and sit through the good, the bad and the ugly. Since you're going to learn and teach via PowerPoint, it's worth taking a little time to learn to do it right.

I have consulted with organizations that use PowerPoint to capture research. Others use PowerPoint instead of memos. It's one way to introduce graphics into our word-obsessed culture.

Steve Rae

Steve defines informal learning as that which is not measured. No grades, no certificates. Usually it's by choice.

The way to increase informal learning is to make it more attractive. It's like gravity, where there's mutual attraction. There are three key gravitational forces for informal learning:
  1. Accessibility 25%
  2. Quality of the experience 15%
  3. Walkaway value 60%
    (% is relative weight)
Access covers the cost of participation, portability, awareness that it exists, exclusive pre-reqs

Quality includes production values, ease of use, it's what I was looking for

Walkaway value is WIIFM timeliness ("latency"), time savings, economic value, outside incentives, punishments for not doing it, participation.

These three factors can pinpoint informal learning's Achilles' Heel about 80% of the time.

Latency is an important value now. IM is pervasive at IBM. I asked a friend how often he used IM. "At least once an hour." Blue Pages, an in-house directory that shows every IBMer's profile, photo, reporting relationships, and current assignments, he consults at least once a day. IM is the most rapidly adopted technology in IBM history. Google has rapid returns, but iffy solutions.

The Community Tools/Webhead Team is working on some great collaborative structures. Skill tap lets you post a query to a tagged community of interest. Previous queries are logged into an FAQ. Content develops itself. Contact Mark Sheraton for more info.

The human element, the establishment of intimacy between people which Steve expects to become the major user of bandwidth, is vital. He was on a call with a senior exec, who asked him a question to which he did not have the answer. While talking, he used SameTime to ping someone who had the answer, and slipstreamed it into the conversation. It's immediate. Sometimes the only way to find something out is to contact a human brain. The system lets you find the other brain and then access it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Robin Good

Robin Good is in town from Rome. After he videotaped me for his forthcoming movie on blogs, we repaired to César and talked about informal learning. Robin spontaneously came up with a number of thoughts.

Architecture. At Microsoft earlier this week, the stark glass buildings offered no space for informal get-togethers. The visiting group complained that Microsoft was not getting its money's worth by providing PowerPoints delivered by VPs with 10-minute breakouts. In the evening, the group went to a restaurant with the developers. Conversation flowed. The developers said they got more ideas than at any previous meeting.

This reminds me of the story of John Akers, in the days that the IBM ship was sinking, chastising a group of engineers huddled around the water cooler, telling them to get back to work -- failing to realize that talk around the cooler was the work.

Collaboration. Corporations are clueless. At the conclusion of the session at Microsoft (on collaboration, no less), the issue of follow-up arose. M'soft suggested text chat once a month. Text? When online meeting tools are available? Once a month? Not as needed? When they do a conference call, they often send Robin a number he cannot dial from Italy.

Governance. IT often holds control of KM and communication. Thus, someone whose only concern is security has the clout to shut down effective collaboration.

Person-to-person. Bonding is important for continued collaboration. At World Bank sessions in the field, Robin would set participants loose to explore the jungle or soak in the pool while contemplating a problem. The group developed a shared passion around the issues. Alumni were motivated to continue working with one another. This doesn't happen by accident.

The beginning middle end model encore.

PowerPoint. The product of a brain-damaged designer. The defaults are wrong. For example, the chart wizard spews out chart junk. Classes teach standards for the number of words in a bullet point when it's more important to find a reinforcing image. Overconfidence in the tool leads amateur Leonardos to produce garbage.

Robin bans the words teacher and student. There are guides, coaches.

Individuals are motivated by curiosity, questioning. Robin takes notes, but rarely looks back at them. Taking the notes plants the subject in his head.

Bubble models guide the day. The larger, the more important. Start in the morning, cross off at the close of the day.

Folksonomies will become very, very important. Flickr, Populicious and trendsolicisous cherry pick delicious for the new and popular.

Social networking. Better to share preferences than to share contact info.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Developing Self-Directed Learners

Table 1: Research on Traits of Self-Directed Learners

Learner TraitsResearchClassroom Implications
Student MotivationAnderman, 2004; Guthrie, Alao, & Rinehart, 1997; Howse, Lange, Farran, & Boyles, 2003;
Lumsden, 1994, 1999
Challenging, but achievable, relevant assignments; conceptual theme instruction; choice in task/task accomplishment; mastery learning/outcome-based instruction; cooperative/collaborative learning; individual goal setting; accelerated learning; teacher modeling of positive behaviors; depth rather than breadth of topics.
Goal OrientationCaraway, Tucker, Reinke, & Hall, 2003; Nichols, Jones, & Hancock, 2003; Stefanou & Parkes, 2003Type of assessment influences motivation; learner emotions/teacher instructional strategies influence student goal orientation; a higher general level of confidence increases student engagement in curriculum.
Locus of ControlHarlen & Crick, 2003; Miller, Fitch, & Marshall, 2003Learning goals rather than performance goals; at-risk students have a higher external locus of control.
Self-EfficacyBouffard & Couture, 2003; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003; Thomas, 1993; Zimmerman, 2002Student demonstrates behavioral, cognitive, motivational engagement; teachers assist students to maintain self-efficacy beliefs; foster belief that competence/ability is changeable; motivational variables do not change much across subject matter; performance feedback improves independent learning.
Self-RegulationPalmer & Wehmeyer, 2003Students can develop self-regulation through problem-solving/goal-setting instructional activities.
MetacognitionBlakey & Spence, 1990; Ngeow & Kong, 2001Students should plan, monitor, and evaluate their thinking processes; students should engage in inquiry/problem-based learning that includes problem framing, data gathering, divergent thinking, idea generation, evaluating alternatives.

Ted Kahn

Know Who

"It’s not just what you know, but who you know."

Building successful learning communities is really about enhancing and leveraging what people know, do, and create. So effective learning is as much about people finding and helping other people who can assist them in their own pursuits than it is about just finding and using information

Know-who is a companion to "know-what" and know-how. Using a musical metaphor, it’s a harmonic or contrapuntal line that parallels the other more dominant themes that tend to be more audible. I am using this concept in both of the two companies with which I am involved: In DesignWorlds for Learning , our notion of creating a virtual design and learning studio among schools, homes and community/business partners depends heavily on finding talent and people who are willing to work in new ways to help schools leverage their technology and people resources more effectively. In the workplace arena, CapitalWorks, LLC <>, we are focusing on maximizing human capital performance through applying principles of work redesign (such as work effectiveness) and use of appropriate support technologies to align strategy and everyday behaviors in the workplace.

I’ve come up with "Seven Knows" as basic skills:

Know-who (social networking skills, locating the key people and communities where competencies, knowledge and practice reside&endash;and who can add the greatest value to one’s learning and work)

Know-what/ Know-not (facts, information, concepts; how to customize and filter out information, distinguish junk and glitz from real substance, ignore unwanted and unneeded information and interactions)

Know-how (creative skills, social practices, tacit knowing-as-doing, experience)

Know "What-if...?" (simulation, modeling, alternative futures projection)

Know-where (where to seek and find the best information and resources one needs in different learning and work situations)

Know-when (process and project management skills, both self-management and collaborative group processes)

Know/Care-why (reflection and organizational knowing about one’s participation and roles in different communities; being ecological and socially proactive in caring for one’s world and environment).

There are several typical functions that people play in providing value to each other in virtual or online communities:

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Credit for Experiential Learning

Credentialing is a major divide between formal learning and informal learning. Formal learning often ends with some sort of recognition: a certificate, a degree, a sheepskin, academic units, a report card, a merit badge, a professional license, or a plaque to hang on the wall. These tokens don't signify learning so much as having gone through an official process.

Years ago, a colleague and I gave a presentation on corporate universities at the annual Training conference. We explained how we were not talking about college or formal education or enriching the mind. The university we had founded was extremely pragmatic. We taught subjects to enable people to be more effective in their work. A hand shot up. "How do you award Continuing Education Units if you don't know how long they spent on their studies?" The CEU or "Continuing Education Unit," measures little beyond having filled a seat for a given number of hours.

We said we didn't care. The less time spent, the better. Our distance-learning specialist could not fathom such an idea. You are supposed to be rewarded for learning, not time-in-seat. Of course, having progressed through primary and secondary school at a fixed rate, unrelated to accomplishment, it's easy to miss the distinction.

This brought back a flood of memories from the late seventies. John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, believes the source of one's knowledge is value-neutral. Whether you learned things by extensive reading at sea (as he had) or by attending the doctoral program at Oxford (as he also had done) makes no difference, because the measure of learning is what you know, not how you came to know it.

A typical student in the BSBA degree program administered by Sperling's Insitute for Professional Development (IPD) for the Univesity of San Francisco was a thirty-two year-old businessperson with a two-year degree from a California junior college. Who knew more about business, an adult with a dozen years experience in the workforce or an inexperienced 21-year old with an undergraduate business degree? No contest. But the adult students needed recognition of their prior learning.

USF's College of Continuing Education set up a Center for the Assessment of Prior Learning. New adult students would document things they had learned out of school and how they learned them. As an adjunct member of the faculty of USF's McLaren School of Business, I evaluated applicants' background in marketing. I recommended that an experienced sales manager receive credit equivalent to a course on sales management. A product manager for Pacific Telephone received credit for Marketing 101. A bagpiper received three units of music. Was the system perfect? Certainly not. Most applicants deserved a lot more credit than they received; I imagine a few inflated their experience and received more than was warranted. But it's difficult to argue with the logic of the system. One of our students was manager of balance sheet accounting for a Fortune 50 firm; another was Senior Vice President of the world's largest bank. Shouldn't their learning be recognized?

Stephen Wolfram, a polymath physicist and programmer, attended one day of first-year graduate classes at Oxford and didn't learn enough to justify going back for more. He then attended a day of second-year classes and again found scant reason to return. He never went to another class at Oxford. Come exam time, his faculty and peers expected Wolfram to get his comeuppance. He turned in the highest score in his class. He didn't learn in the traditional manner either (no CEUs!) but he earned the same sheepskin as everyone else.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits college programs as legitimate. If your institution on the West Coast is not accredited by WASC, it's either a technical school or a diploma mill. One morning the WASC accreditation team was meeting with a group of us in the conference room in IPD's offices in San Jose. The honcho from WASC threw down the gaunlet, saying that if someone had a degree from Stanford, he knew what it meant, but if a police officer had a degree from an IPD program, he had no idea what it meant.

Sperling seized on this. "How do you know the Stanford grad knows anything at all?" Indeed, I've since heard the hypothesis that if you took the entire entering class of Stanford and plopped them down in some giant motel in the Midwest, they'd know about as much after four years as they'd have learned on campus.

Our current system favors the credentialed over the uncredentialed, regardless of what they know. It's convenient and easy for hiring managers to put a hurdle of being certified by Cisco or Microsoft than to do one's own testing, even when a certificate is no proof of the street smarts required to get things done. This comes back to haunt them when the certificate, say a Cisco CCNA, gives one the right to demand a $10,000 raise.

Similarly, if a firm only recruits graduates of the top colleges, they pay more but screen out people with low SAT scores or the inability to convince admissions officers to take a risk on them. I've been privileged to attend several elite universities. Take it from me, there are lots of Princeton grads you do not want to work with.

Old joke: What do you call the person who graduated last in their class at medical school? Answer: Doctor.

To keep me honest while I was developing the curriculum and faculty guides for the USF BSBA program, I led a group of sixteen students at what was then called the National BankAmericard Center. VISA was born during our nine months together. My students included a branch manager, business development officers, a data center manager, a product manager, and a number of techies.

At graduation, my bankers donned caps and gowns to file across the stage when their names were called. The sheepskin they were handed looked just like the sheepskins given to the grads who had spent four years on campus. The traditional grads could not have been more joyous than my group with broad smiles, cheering relatives, bouquets of flowers, and renewed sense of confidence. Recognition of learning is empowering.

An individual emailed me from Australia, describing evaluating experiential learning, much as I had done at USF.

I am reminded of people who approach me to 'RPL' (get recognition of prior learning) for various qualifications - in particular what is called here a Cert IV in Workplace Training & Assessment. The idea is that if these people are already doing the work and can prove they are doing it ''competently'' (according to a specified standard), they can get their qual without attending the program. Often they struggle to provide evidence of their competence. I then interview them and get them to tell me HOW they think they learned what they know and do. There are the usual short courses they may have attended that contributed, but there is also a lot they have gained through informal learning - and sometimes this is not on the job - sometimes it is out in the community doing volunteer work - such as for their kid's school, or sporting club or church group or some other community group. It is interesting that these people had not thought of their informal learning events as part of their 'portfolio of evidence'. What is also interesting is that higher ed qualifications don't often provide much evidence of their competence - because the qualification I am awarding them is about what they can DO, not just what they know.

When people are asked to put together a portfolio of prior learning, they tend to overlook experiential learning altogether. Jean-Claude speaks French because his parents spoke French at home. Sally taught herself HTML and Perl by examining code. ...

[exercise: what's on your learning portfolio?]


From Judith Meskill's blog:

Social Software

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Learning Ecology

The Learning Ecology The Workplace.

Just as the first cars were "horseless carriages" and the first refrigerators "ice boxes," the first eLearning were online classes. We replicated school and corporate training programs, leaving out a some critical components and failing to recognize the many ways that technology-assisted learning can go traditional learning one better.

[insert picture of Omega university campus]

failure of eLearning story

Gibbons experience at Stanford.

JSB & Xerox.

The Knowledgable Workplace

Let's get into what gamers call God mode. Imagine that we have no constraints. Money is plentiful. You're in charge of learning for a 100,000 person corporation. You have a blank slate. What would you put together?

My ideal looks like this: My Learning Ecology is boundaryless space group of teams and work groups populated by free-range learners. Guides and coaches roam the territory. There's a high tolerance for failure (for we learn through experimentation) and no tolerance for information hoarding (it's a career-limiting move).

The company intranet is participatory. The content repository (called "stuff we use") is chock full of blog entries, emails, plogs, and project histories, all chunked and rated by all who use them. Video of appreciative inquiry events is available, as are corporate stories and history. Daily messages appear on the daily blog; key issue discussions download into employee iPods. It's apt to think of the repository as a lake, ever changing, with streams flowing in to replenish the water than evaporates, leaks into the soil, or pours into the cattle trough.

Half of the floorspace in company's offices is set up for interaction: small meeting rooms, a tea room, two pool tables, sofas and conversation nooks, and for symbolism, a water cooler. The cafeteria serves first-rate, healthy food to encourage eating in. Customers are invited in for meals, for schmoozing, for voicing their needs, and for co-creating new concepts.

A loosely-coupled enterprise-wide system monitors the flow of value through the value chain, alerting workers when things are out of spec.

All workers are encouraged to understand and act on the values, mission, and strategy of the firm. Resources are available to help workers build life skills, e.g. learning to learn, negotiating, planning, finance, psychology, conflict resolution.

Learning is personalized via syndication.

LMS vendors provide management with a feeling of control. How many hours, classes, certifications, whatever, have we run through our system this quarter. Since seat-time is not correlated with productivity, increases in activity may or may not yield improvements in the business. The most important elements are those not captured by the LMS. It's like the story of Nasrudin looking for his keys under the street lamp because the light is better rather than where he thinks he may have left them.

Friday, April 15, 2005


from Newsweek's Steven Levy

Think of tagging as the opposite of search. By leaving linguistic bread crumbs behind on your wanderings through cyberspace, you can easily relocate the sights (and sites) you saw along the way.

But "keeping found things found"—as Clay Shirky, a teacher at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, explains—is only the first benefit of a grass-roots tagging system. Whereas the old, Dewey-style taxonomies involved graybeards figuring out in advance how things should be categorized, tagging is done on the fly, adapting to the content itself. What's more, because all this is digital, there's no limit to the number of tags people can slap on an item.

Think of the process as similar to that of language, which is also a self-organized process," says author and tagging proponent David Weinberger. That process is also at work on a Web site called 43 Things, where people express their goals, tag them and comment and commiserate on the goals of others.

Flckr, 43 Things, Delicious, Technorati

I can’t imagine that I would stop learning! Not only do I learn whatever comes along my way, I seek out learning daily. I’m moving this to my “Done” list!

I can’t imagine that I stop learning for my whole life! I always learn – just looking, listening and feeling everything around me. And I do thousands of things (sometimes too much!), actually I am learning spanish (2nd course), playing cembe, singing opera arias, designing an internet page without tables, working with iTunes, develop myself, and many other things more…

I really feel like its uber-important in life to keep your brain active with new experiences. Right now I’m re-reading American history textbooks, getting ready for law school, and hoping to try to train for a half-marathon. I’m also reading Sophie’s World to learn some basics of Philosophy.

I’m taking japanese and excel classes, I started reading the Finantial Times’ Weekend, plus I’m tring to improve my listening skills!

Study for the MBA, specialize in a medical field like Paeds, learn how to ride a bicycle, learn to play the drums… (to be continued) calls itself a social bookmarking service. with the delicious toolbar running in your browser, you can add a tag to any page on the web. on the fly. thousands of people are doing this, making up their own tags or selecting tags from a list. this is totally informal and unstructured. in fact, users call these bodies of tags folksonomies or tagsonomies to distinguish them from pre-arranged taxonomies.

Creating ad hoc tags is but one side of the equation. Consuming them is where the power of the hive comes in. This is the social part. and similar services. You can troll popular tags or search among favorites. Just this moment I called up Zniff, a service that scans tags from Spurl (another online bookmarking service). Before I knew it, I was browsing through page after page of fascinating material on learning ecologies.

Social Bookmarking Tools (I)

A General Review

We are here going to remind you of hyperlinks in all their glory, sell you on the idea of bookmarking hyperlinks, point you at other folks who are doing the same, and tell you why this is a good thing. Just as long as those hyperlinks (or let's call them plain old links) are managed, tagged, commented upon, and published onto the Web, they represent a user's own personal library placed on public record, which – when aggregated with other personal libraries – allows for rich, social networking opportunities. Why spill any ink (digital or not) in rewriting what someone else has already written about instead of just pointing at the original story and adding the merest of titles, descriptions and tags for future reference? More importantly, why not make these personal 'link playlists' available to oneself and to others from whatever browser or computer one happens to be using at the time?

Flickr shows what tags are popular on recent photographs. Click a tag, see a slideshow of all photos submitted with that tag. For example, clicking squaredcircle finds 11,748 photographs so tagged. Thumbnails appear on 588 pages of 20 each. I enjoy looking over them as a slide show.

Instructional design is the process through which an educator determines the best teaching methods for specific learners in a specific context, attempting to obtain a specific goal.

MIT Future of Learning

Future of Learning
Principal Investigator: David Cavallo

(For more Future of Learning projects, see Seymour Papert.) The world resonates with rhetoric about new needs and new opportunities for learning. But while the volume of the standard rhetoric accurately reflects an urgently growing sense that learning in the twenty-first century will be radically different, its content seldom questions conceptual and organizational constraints inherited from the nineteenth. The Future of Learning program has been created in response to this situation with a three-part mission: critical, conceptual, and activist. The critical mission is to recognize and break the mindsets that limit systemic, global thinking about the latent learning potential of the planet. The conceptual mission is to elaborate the conceptual framework and the language to support thinking on a more holistic, systemic level about what being digital can mean for learning. The activist mission has two parts based on a distinction between micro-mathetics (actions directed at affecting learning on a level of individuals or small groups) and macro-mathetics (actions directed at affecting the way a country or, indeed, the entire planet, deals with learning.) The major thrust of the activist mission of the group in the coming year will be developing the Learning Hub: an international network of projects each of which operates a learning site that breaks radically from prevailing assumptions and uses its success to leverage the adoption of new ideas by the general public, the political leadership and the education establishment of their country.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Same Time

"I couldn't live without SameTime," said Tina, out of the blue.


IBM plans to launch in the second half of this year an API (application programming interface) for linking the Lotus Sametime enterprise instant messaging product to VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) platforms, mobile phones, and traditional office telephony systems.

The API is being used currently by a small number of partners who are working on early voice applications for Sametime, and IBM expects to make the API generally available to developers in 2005's third or fourth quarter, says Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace products.

Monday, April 11, 2005

IT Conversations

Doug Kaye

Today I learned a lot about Web Services from Halsey Minor and Open Source from Tim O'Reilly, and if you were to pick the two most savvy people in those fields, it would be those two guys. Remarkably, they talked to me while I climbed Laurel Trail in the regional park not far from my house. I listened to them on my Creative Nomad, a 3" long, 2.7 ounce mp3 player with ear buds. One end of this tiny device is a USB connector that lets me copy audio presentations I download from the web into this little device.

My interest is learning to better navigate IT (information technology) issues, and the source I turn to is IT Conversations. ITC posts nine shows a week to the web(dozens a week by the time you read this.) These free downloads are audio recordings of interviews, panel discussions, and conference presentations. Currently, conference presentations from hot speakers attract the most listeners, closely trailed by high-quality one-on-one interviews. More than ten thousand people download an average show in the first sixty days it's available. As many as 30,000 people download a chartbuster like Malcolm Gladwell's talk at PopTech.

On any given day, 12,000 of us download shows by speakers of this calibre to out iPods and mp3 players:

Like a lot of breakthrough concepts, IT Conversations was created by one guy, entrepreneur and author Doug Kaye. When writing his latest book, Loosely Coupled, he recorded his interviews with experts. Figuring they knew more about the topics than he ever would, he re-recorded the interviews and posted them to the web. The rest is history.

Just kidding. Doug casually mentioned to me that before getting into IT, he was an audio engineer. In fact, he was a motion picture sound editor, so from the get-go he knew that high-quality sound requires equalization, filtering, splicing, and encoding. One reason for ITC's success is the high quality of the sound they produce.

ITC's listeners are passionate. Initially, they steamed presentations for listening at their desks. Now most people download presentations and listen to them while communing to work, on airplanes, and while exercising. They request topics and they volunteer to help. Not long ago, listerners complained that they weren't being charged for IT Conversations. Some feared that Doug would lose interest without money pouring in; others felt guilty getting something for free that was better than things they paid for.

Doug is actually having a ball, "the best time of his career." He has no business model beyond serving his listeners. Twenty volunteers recently formed Team ITC. They'll split up what comes into the tip jar but they are not in it for the money. IT Conversations is morphing into an Open Source webcasting service. Doug foresees similar services in biotech, physical sciences, and natural sciences. And why not? Doug recently recorded an O'Reilly conference attended by 700 people. 70,000 people will listen to presentations from the conference from IT Conversations. The time-delayed audience is one hundred times more than attended in person! Conference producers who once feared that IT Conversations would cannibalize their market now recognize that it's as good an advertisement for next year's event as they can get!

What can we learn from this?

At least one institution uses IT Conversations to help students learning English as a second language. They learn current material and tech jargon as well as the nuances of spoken English.

A major consulting firm uses IT Conversations to keep its professional staff abreast of current issues.

"You may have missed the meeting but we've posted the PowerPoint slides on the intranet." I would get about as much out of this if the slides were in Urdu. Why not offer a recording instead? Especially for people who are pressed for time. Give the sales force iPods and offer audio briefings on new products, marketplace trends, strategic changes, and other in-house programming. This is not rocket science.

Some lament that there's no video. In many cases, that doesn't take much away from the experience. (And in a speeding automobile, it provides a margin of safety.) People who take part in many video conferences soon stop watching the other participants on screen. A shared white board, sure. Watching people sit at a conference table? It's the high-tech equivalent of watching paint dry.

Speed of execution is becoming the touchstone of competitive advantage. I can telephone my free blog account and record a message. Syndication would enable my call to get to every subscriber by any means at their disposal.

IT Conversations 2.0

Inspired by the citizen-journalism movement inspired by Dan Gilmour and JD Lasica, Doug came home from Gnomedex and announced IT Conversations 2.0. It should probably be called just Conversations, because Doug's intent is to podcast speakers on any and every topic. Think thousands of downloadable audio presentations. If only the Library of Alexandria had had the technology to do this, they would have backed up, and we'd be able to read all of the plays of Euripedes.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Bob Frankston

Great summary thoughts from Bob Frankston on Jerry's Retreat list.

It's also worth thinking about education in a larger context -- it's not
just getting the parents to be supportive -- they often need to be educated
themselves. Reading yes, but dealing with life. Of course that's gets into
value issues but simple things like payment for work being an exchange
rather than a due. Of course once we start with that we need to face up to
other issues such as depression, especially among women (though, being
sensitive to Summers learning experience, we have to be cautious about
assuming depression is intrinsic as opposed to social).

Now that I've raised all these, we next need to decompose them into
actionable elements in various configurations.

The assumption I'm making is that being education or literate is of value in
itself rather than just for getting a better job. That notion itself may the
essential element of becoming functionally literate.

Message: 3 Date: Sat, 9 Apr 2005 11:45:37 -0400 From: "Bob Frankston" Subject: RE: Re: "The World is Flat, After All"

"reading" like "keyboarding" emphasizes the mechanical, not cognitive skill.

How does one teach understanding and learning. It does mean teaching how to "decompose a problem. Anticipating objections -- that's not reductionism in that it's a representation not a the only reality.

Perhaps the most important point, going back to Papert, is debugging. If you don't understanding something or get it wrong on a test then debug your understanding, don't look for confirmation of your stupidity.

We also need to recognize that people come in with different cognitive styles due to a combination of implicit heuristics, cultural assumptions and possibly physiological differences.

And patience -- you don't have to master A before going to B -- you can back fill as you get context.

And the goal of education is to be educated and to be able to train yourself. It's not to produce another iteration of ditch diggers.

That said one does need some skills to be a good ditch digger like reading signs that say "buried gas line".

"the benefit/entitlement view of education... the idea that an education is something you are granted rather than something you go out and sieze/create/discover for yourself.

Especially with the communication and media resources available today, the solution seems pretty simple:

Teach the kids to read, instill a little intellectual curiosity decompose a problem. Anticipating objections -- that's not reductionism in that it's a representation not a the only reality.

Perhaps the most important point, going back to Papert, is debugging. If you don't understanding something or get it wrong on a test then debug your understanding, don't look for confirmation of your stupidity.

We also need to recognize that people come in with different cognitive styles due to a combination of implicit heuristics, cultural assumptions and possibly physiological differences.

And patience -- you don't have to master A before going to B -- you can back fill as you get context.

And the goal of education is to be educated and to be able to train yourself. It's not to produce another iteration of ditch diggers.

That said one does need some skills to be a good ditch digger like reading signs that say "buried gas line".

April 11.

Bob and I conversed on the phone for 45 minutes or so.

Everything is obvious so we should teach only the exceptions. People need to learn how to think critically. The goal is learning to learn. The educated person can find his own solutions. What does it take to be literate?

Information should be structured for understanding.

Problem is that learners don't know what's on the other side of the hill. (Breadcrumbs?)

People tend to look for agreement. It's more productive to start with disagreement and work backward from that. It helps if, like Bob, you never learned respect. Always question. Everything is suspicious.

Training focuses on a specific answer, not an understanding to generalize from.

"How do you teach a four-year old to be a five-year old? You simply get out of the way. But it takes a year." JSB?

At MIT 100th birthday of EE, "things haven't changed."

Pinker is all cognitive. Contrast with Andy Clark. How things learn, as well as people.

Follow up: Denise Caruso, Hybrid Venture Institute, multidisciplinary. Andy Clark, AI. Pinker. Enginers for Education. Brad Templeton.

Learning is an almost value-free term. One can learn for good or for evil. My meme that it improves connections is judgmental.

Ambiguity is fundamental. Claude Shannon showed you could have information with having meaning.

Some learning takes a generation. Nerd power rules the day.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Watch Jay Learn

William Zinnser's book On Writing Well is a well-written book on writing well, so well written that I remember the great time I had devouring it some twenty years ago. In a chapter about editing and polishing one's words, Zinnser shows a page of his own work, marked-up with self-imposed rearrangements, deletions, and word changes. Instead of reading about Zinner's writing, I was looking at the real deal.

Looking over Zinnser's shoulder at that single page changed the way I write. If he can go over such picky little nits, so can I. If he can edit an essay half a dozen times, so can I. If this is part of the drill for writing, I'll do it myself. And now I do.

We don't get the opportunity to look over many people's shoulders as they work, somehow preferring to deal with a description of the thing rather than the thing itself. So I'm going to look over a few shoulders for you, starting with my own.

thnking3A book on learning, something that takes place in our heads, needs a model of how the brain works. I decided to think about that while walking in a park above the City of Oakland.

The park is the on the grounds of what was once the estate of Joaquin Miller, a colorful local essayist and poet whose wild west sagas once charmed the British Royal Family.

Walking is my exercise; it's hilly enough here that a steady pace and swinging arms are enough to get the heart muscle in the zone. After forty-five minutes, I sat at a picnic table with my notebook to reflect on my thoughts.

thinking2 thinking1

This is typical for me: fragments of ideas, chains of thoughts, doodles, maps, connections, and scribbles. My writing tool of choice is a Waterman fountain pen, although it makes me sloppy. The 5" x 7" notebook is unlined. Drawing helps me think. The only time I'm without a notebook at hand is when I'm taking a shower.

My next step is to reflect and then convert the ideas into words and images on the computer.

In this case, the first draft result is here.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

How the brain works

"The human brain is the most complicated material object in the known universe. It weighs about three pounds. If the cortex were unfolded (it's gnarly), it would be the size of a table napkin. It contains 30 billion neurons and a billion synapses (connections)." Gerard Edelman in Wider Than the Sky

Here's a model of how the human brain works. It's not to scale; it's not scientific; I made it up. Nonetheless, let's see what we can learn from it.

For our purposes, we'll assume the brain has three separate areas. The conscious brain is what you're well aware of. The hidden brain contains stuff you've learned but forgotten. The hardwired brain is what your DNA formed.

The fireball at top-right represents reality. Drawn to scale, it would more than fill the building you are in. You see a teeny-tiny shadow of the reality that bombards your eyes, ears, nose, and touch.
The eyes send at least ten million bits to the brain every second. The skin sends a million bits a second, the ear one hundred thousand, our smell sensors a further one hundred thousand bits a second, our taste buds perhaps a thousand bits a second. All in all, over eleven million bits a second from the world to our sensory mechanisms.
Tor Norretranders: The User Illusion

The hardwired brain filters this maelstrom of waves and particles, letting less than one in a million register on our consciousness. It chops reality down to a comprehendible size.

Most of the activity of the hardwired brain is automatic. It reads human emotions. It may sense anger and trigger flight before our conscious brain registers anything. One fellow calls it the "First Brain." In a book of the same name, he claims "You got to be believed to be heard," meaning that if you don't pass muster with the hardwired brain, you will never penetrate the conscious brain. It also runs functions like breathing, keeps the heart pounding, and is currently putting me to sleep.

You're not aware of what's going on behind the firewall that divides the conscious and unconscious minds.

Evolution is not a steady uphill climb. Rather, it's two steps forward and one step back. It builds on useful mistakes to kludge together "breakthroughs" which it slaps on top of the old machinery. Hence, the brain is a set of layers, the earliest of which pre-date humanity. Thus the metaphor of the "lizard brain," as the hardwired brain is sometimes called.

Now we're entering slightly more familiar territory. The hidden brain contains everything you've learned but forgotten. Most of this is stored patterns. We kid ourselves that we think logically, that the brain is a bio-computer loaded up with banks of if-the-else decision chips. It ain't so.

The stream of sensory input that remained after the hardwired brain processed it is now fed through more neural processes, some of which relate to the stored patterns in memory. The boundary between the hardwired and hidden brains is porous, for they interact with one another to pare things down to reasonable size and connections to what we already know.

Memories aren't actually stored as memories. Rather, they are built on the fly -- recreated when called for. No one knows what the atomic particles of memories are like.

A lot of our thinking takes place behind the curtain in the hidden brain. When faced with a complex situation, I'll often delegate it to the "boys in the back room," i.e. my hidden brain. They seem to work best at night, while I am asleep. In the morning, the usually will have presented me with a solution.

We've arrived at the part of the brain we are aware of: the conscious brain. This is what's got your attention right now. It's focusing on things that interest you or that are darting around. It can access memories. This is where your picture of the world is formed. Consciousness is your User Interface to your environment. My computer's user interface is a simplified represntation that keeps me from having to deal with the intricacies of machine language, rotating disks, and spnning electrons. Similarly, the UI of consciousness gives me a picture I can deal with.

One extraordinary phenomenal feature of conscious experience is that normally it is all of a piece--it is unitary. Any experienced conscious moment simultaneously includes sensory intput, consequences of motor activity, imagery, emotions, fleeting memories, bodily sensations, and a peripheral fringe. In any ordinary circumstances it does not consist of "just this pencil with which I am writing," nor can I reduce it to that. Yet, at the same time, one unitary scene flows and transforms itself into another complex but also unitary scene. (Edelman)
Listen to yourself think. Hear that inner voice? It's always rambling on, presenting us with truisms, fantasy, lascivious thoughts, attaboys, and shouldas. The voice spins a narrative which becomes our interpretation of the world. It's more than the distraction of "the drunken moneys" who are always hopping around in there.

I'm going to call this voice Mimi (Me, me. Get it?). Cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga
calls Mimi "the interpreter." Psychologist Robert Ornstein says Mimi is continually writing our internal resume. Mimi is also our Boswell, interpreting our past and writing our autobiography.

Mimi is a tricky little devil. She convinces you that you're watching the passing parade of life as it happens. In reality, she can't release a story to the conscious brain until the hardwired and hidden brains have done their job. The conscious brain is a TiVo that is always a little behind.

Mimi's narrative reinforces two major beliefs: (a) The world makes sense, and (b) you are in control. Take away Mimi and there's no "you" there. Mimi's creating your identity.

What's in it for me?

Listen to Mimi. Become aware of what's she's telling you.

Don't take any crap off Mimi. She will listen if you question her, although you will have to be persistent.

Keep Mimi informed of what's important to you.


Who sets the objectives?
Should goals be explicit or open-ended?

Appreciative Inquiry doesn't seek to solve problems.
Positive Psychology doesn't stop at merely being okay.
Self-fulfilling mindfulness produces better results than mindless copying.
Toyota's devotion to building capability trumps GM"s setting of goals.

Learning is co-creation. Hell, everything is co-creation. A fixed goal assumes the co- part is over.

In school, the institution can set the objective and how it will be measured. No child left behind. Or from my personal experience, trigonometry. Numerically scored. No judgment. Memorize and play back.

In retirement, the individual can set learning objectives. Underwater basket weaving? Why not?

Can maturity be defined as taking responsibility for one's learning objectives?

But are objectives the right way to think about this? Objectives may result from fixing a deficiency. Don't leave that child behind. The danger is reaching the target and going no further. The glass ceiling. Satisfaction with mediocrity. Certifiably sane.

Better to come with a mindset of "Be all that you can be." It's unbounded. Lets you get into a flow state. You may blow the doors off. You can't fulfill a goal to paint a masterpiece or write the Great American Novel.

Langer suggests that mindless assignments lead to pedestrian outcomes, while mindful challenges are the path to greatness. Symphony orchestra musicians who are told to "do their best" (a mindless request) play less interesting music than those who are told to "play a little differently" (a mindful request).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

O Chame

Yesterday I hosted a discussion of Informal Learning at a pleasant Japanese-California fusion restaurant in West Berkeley.

Paul, Kevin, Clark, yo
paul kevin clark jay

Paul has been teaching at the School for Information Management at Cal. The classrooms are totally wired. The internet knocks down the walls of the classroom. A student asked Paul a question he'd received on IM from someone not attending.

Another time he was teaching in a MOO sponsored by PARC. There are no way to discern who was in the session. One student summarized how a particular expert would have interpreted an issue. The expert was listening in. It was a replay of the incident where Woody Allen brings out Marshall McLuhan to refute a windy Columbia professor standing behind him in line for a movie.

Formal vs informal. 99% of the talk about learning is talk about teaching. Explore the concept of informal teaching. We spoke of learning as jumping through hoops. Formal means the teacher owns the hoop. Once upon a time, the objective of school was to mold students so they would be able to earn a living.

Tony O shows an increasing shift from formal to informal. This parallels the shift from hardware to software.

We judge learning by its outcomes. What are people learning when they're not learning what we want them to? Kevin related the story of a poor Thai rice farmer who lived in a small village with no television, no electricity, and little contact with the outside world. Kevin asked him why he didn't grow two crops a year. Why? Why improve? The farmer is happy as he is.

Kevin asks students to explain the difference between training, development, education, and learning. There's no correct answer.

What's learning? Memorable change of behavior given the same situation as before.

Paul: Quality of information, not just quantity.

One remote group in India survived the tsunami because the head man remembered his grandfather's advice: if you see the fish, head for the hills.

Changing times? No, the fundamentals still apply. Competition and collaboration are contextually defined.

Learning styles. Some read & listen. Others draw. Some cannot abide lecture.

Toyota wins because they focus on a different outcome. GM (and Robt Kaplan and much of America) focus on meeting a goal. Toyota focuses on capability & process.

Every situation is at least a play within a play. In this case, we hit:

All of us are smarter than any of us.
Groups outperform individuals.
Gigondas is an ideal vin for lubricating discussion.
Eating outdoors is a great catalyst for conversation.

Who's next?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Redefining Learning for the Knowledge Era

To learn is to improve one's fit with one's ecosystem.
It no longer serves any purpose to define learning as what someone is able to do all on his or her lonesome. This is not "Survivor." Knowledge workers of the future will have instant, ubiquitous access to the net. The measure of their learning is an open-book exam.

136M American adults now use the Internet. That's 67% of Americans. 87% of teen-agers. 50% of home owners have broadband. In a typical day, 82M Americans will be on line. 71M of those use email...9x the number of people who use the postal system. 41M used a search engine. Broadband teenagers are more likely to get their news online. 14M did online banking, 5x the number who visited a bank. 4M googled someone they were about to meet; 1M googled themselves.

79M have participated in online support groups for a medical or personal problem. 7M have made political donations. 5-88M swapped files even as the Supreme Court was hearing the case.

There were 9 gaps. Only the gender gap has vanished.

Most important: Age.
Employment status: Students rule.
Education: More important than income as an indicator of Internet use
Disability: Only 38% of those with a significant disability use the Internet
Language: English is an indicator
Community type: Ruralites are less likely to be online than urbanites
Parental: Parented households are more likely
Race and ethnicity: Less significant than other indicators.

How does connectivity change us?

People who use the Internet "grow their social capital." People (especially women) use email to enhance their social networks. 84% of Internet users belong to online groups — that's 115M people. "ePatients are creating a new healthcare model where the all-knowing, omnipotent, gate-keeping doctor is being replaced by a new model — online advice and support. (Half of the people doing medical research online are looking for info for someone.) And there is an increase in civic engagement.

He does point to a down side: Evidence shows heavy use of the Net can cause stress. Not to mention bad people doing bad things via the Net.

When I attended business school in the mid-seventies, four-function calculators cost $100 (about $400 in today's dollars). I had a desktop model and couldn't justify buying a handheld as well. Lucky for me, ours was the last cohort at Harvard Busienss School who were not allowed to bring calculators to exams. Prices soon fell low enough that calculators became commodities, and students were permitted to take them to midterms and finals. Why not? No one in business uses a pencil -- or a slide rule -- to estimate discounted cash flow.

Performance is the measure of learning.

It's like the tree that falls over in the forest and makes no sound.* If a person gets something into their head but make no new connections and doesn't change a whit, that person has, for all intents and purposes, not learned at all.

Internet Time Group has found that people learn best when they...

Engagement. Attention. Uncertainty.

Conner, M. L. "How Adults Learn." Ageless Learner, 1997-2004.

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