Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Learning chez Jay

Bias alert. I find Don Norman's work awesome. The Design of Everyday Things lifted the burden of clutziness from my shoulders. Emotional Design added concepts from Drucker and Ted Leavitt that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My concept of the augmented learner shared a perspective with Don's Things That Make Us Smart. I was already chock full of Silicon Valley marketing concepts, so I didn't get much from The Invisible Computer. Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles opens with a bunch of parents watching a school play. The dads will never see the real thing, because they are all looking at the tiny screens in their video cams.

I had talked with Don at conferences long ago, me talking to the celebrity, he would never have recognized me. Jerry Michalski and I had dropped by Ideo after hours to hear a presentation by Dan Pink. Perhaps three dozen people, maybe four, were in the audience, Don among them. Afterward, I explained that I was writing a book on informal learning. Could he spare me time to talk a few months hence? Sure.

Three months later, I arrived at Don's condo in downtown Palo Alto. I explained that I was having a hard time getting my arms around the topic. He quizzed me thoroughly. After 90 minutes, he diagnosed my dilemma. My topic was too big to get my arms around. Damn.

So I drove home somewhat dejected because my topic felt like an integrated whole. At least in my head. The next day I wrote Don thanking him for his generous counsel and guidance. But I was too feisty to let go, so I said that somebody had to do this, and it might as well be me. If I fail, it's hardly the end of the world. Don offered his support.

Marcia Conner coaxed me to slim this baby down, as did George Siemens and Clark Quinn. I was on that path until the conference I'm been taking part in the last three days. What had I learned? Messing with an entire nation's historic K12 education system is a head-twister of the first order. This time there are social, cultural, and religious issues. The first Sheik Nayahan settled in Abu Dhabi in 1793, but recent archeological finds suggests people have lived here for more than five thousand years. One anomaly is the distribution of wealth. The poor (mostly Indian and Pakistrani ex-pats) live a miserable existence.

How can I describe the wealth here? Remember Goldfinger and his gold covered Rolls Royce. If you could slap half a ton of gold on a big Rolls, how many cars could one Sheikh's riches buy? I figure it's three to four thousand cars.

There are more things I have just learned floating around in my head, but I've got a book to write. An hour ago I wrote an introduction for conferences attendees to sign up for our maillist. This may not fly.

At eMerging eLearning 2005, we began a conversation about some very big
issues. Our conversations focused on helping the UAE revolutionize its K12
education system. Thank you for taking part.

We unearthed some thorny topics, things like unwise uses of funds, low teacher morale, pockets of administrative incompetence, uninspired students, the status of women, and others. Segregation of genders is black and white here. Literally. Men wear all white; women wear all black.

I don't mean to complain. The UAE is one of the only places on earth where leaders are not thinking about next year, or the next election, or popularity contests, but rather a breath-takingly far-sighted vision of the future. The spirit of Sheikh Zayed continues to guide the nation.

At our World Cafe, borrowing from Bedouin hospitality, we welcomed visitors to join us in conversations that matter. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Please join me by taking your first step now. Cam will tell you how to "subscribe." Then you will automatically receive each day's messages by email. And of course, you can write and send messages of your own.

Give it a try. If you don't move out of your comfort zone, you will never adapt to future conditions.

At lunch today, perhaps intoxicated by a whiff of the Alba white truffles on my plate, I jotted down a list of potential chapters for the book. Tell me if you spot any real turkeys:

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