Fosdem 2012 or Why Open Source is Still Revelant

Fosdem is the place where you’ll find a Google engineer who as a “full time hobby” is lead developer for WorldForge an open source Massive Multiplayer Online game, or where you have a beer with a developer who has a hard time finding a job, because all the code he write has to have a free software license: “you don’t ask a vegan to have a little bit of meat do you?”. It probably is the world’s biggest free software conference: More than 5000 people show up yearly in Brussels, there is no fee to attend and there is no registration process.

I really enjoy going because there are few other events that have this few barriers to attendance and to approaching the event the way you want to approach it. I like wondering around and thinking about how these are the people that actually keep the Internet working. Below some notes about the different talks that I attended (very little educational technology to be found, beware!).

Free Software: A viable model for Commercial Success

Robert Dewar from AdaCore had an interesting talk about how to use free software as a true commercial offering. There was no ideology in his talk but only a pure commercial perspective. They usually sell free software as “open source” and focus on convenience and utility in their selling proposition. They tell the customer they get the source code included without locks and with no limits on the number of installs.

The business model is based around subscriptions (for support, testing, etc.). What he really likes about that model is that the interests of them and the customer are fully aligned: they only make money when the customer renews. Often companies have to get used to asking for support though, they have not been “trained” to value support in the past.

He considers commercial versus open source a bogus distinction. In many ways he would consider AdaCore to be very similar to what Microsoft in what they do. The main difference is the license of the software. The AdaCore is much more permissive as you are allowed to copy and do with it what you want.

He also spent some time thinking about whether AdaCore’s approach would work with other companies. Could Microsoft open source Windows? He thinks they could without it affecting them badly: people would be willing to pay for timely updates and support. Could a games company open source their games? Copryright protection is one way they currently protect their very large investments. It might be hard for them to open source, but in general the model could be used much more widely. Every company is in the business of giving users what they want and open source licenses are that much more convenient for users.

A New OSI For A New Decade

Simon Phipps has joined the board of the Open Rights Group and the Open Source Initiative (OSI). He talked about reptiles: they have no morality and are very old and only react to fear and hunger. Corporates are reptiles too. Corporations don’t have ethics, people have ethics. OSI tried to find a way to show large organizations that the four software freedoms (use, study, modify and distribute) are important for them too. A pragmatic rather than a moral perspective on open source software helped the OSI to be able to get corporate involvement. Their initial focus was very much on licensing. They have been succesful: OSI has become the standard for open source in government and the fear around the term has been turned around: other processes are now appropriating the term.

We are now in a new decade: Open Source is the default and digital liberty is moving to centre stage. OSI has lost some of its relevance, so they decided to reinvigorate the organization with a member-based governance which should include all stakeholders. They now have new affiliates (other open source non-profits like Mozilla or Drupal) and the next stage will be government bodies and non-entities (whatever that might mean). Later they will get personal associates and then corporate patrons. All of this should enable a bottom-up governance. Members will decide how OSI will operate, they will create OSI initiatives, they can use OSI as a policy venue and they will co-ordinate initiatives locally and globally.

A new OSI project will try and help educators educate the world about open source: FLOSSBOK. I am personally not sure the world is waiting for another project like this. There are quite a few alternatives already.

Mozilla Devroom

Tristan Nitot, Principal Mozilla Evangelist kickstarted the Mozilla Devroom. He told us that six European organisations have gotten significant grants from Mozilla (one of them being Fosdem). Mozilla strives to create an Internet that is benefiting everyone. The Internet that is being built currently does not benefit everyone. He focused on a couple of trends on the net:

  • App Stores have good sides (app discovery and monetization), but also very bad sides: they create vendor lock-in and prevent people from switching platform (I have personally felt this when contemplating switching away from the iOS platform) and occasionally inhibit free speech through “censorship”. Mozilla believes you can get the good of the app stores without the bad.
  • Social networks have obvious good sides, but also profile users, prevent users from porting their data to other services and identity providers can even lock people out of their digital lives. Using Facebook is ok, but don’t use it exclusively to interact with others. When you use something for free, then you can assume that you are the products. He showed us a great cartoon about Facebook users:

    The "Free" Model by Geek&Poke

    The "Free" Model by Geek&Poke

  • Newer devices (tablets, smartphones and netbooks) are increasingly convenient and popular. Very often they force users to a specific browser (e.g. Chrome on the Chromebook or Safari on iOS) making them definition the opposite of the web.

What is Mozilla doing about these things:

  • Open Web Apps are based on open web technologies, cross-browser and available in multiple app stores. You can even host your own apps on your websites for others to install in their browser. WebRT brings this a step further. It is a runtime for web applications that makes web apps look and feel like native apps on multiple platforms. Things like a Media Capture API will really change what is possible to do with Javascript in a browser. Other surprising APIs are the Battery API, the WebNFC (Near Field Communications) API and the Vibration API(!). More documentation is available here
  • They are trying to solve identity in a decentralized, browser agnostic and privacy respecting way. The codename for the project is BrowserID and it is based on using email addresses to provide identity.
  • Boot2Gecko (B2G) is a complete operating system build for the open web. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions about the project.

In my book these three projects (especially the last one) make Mozilla a group of absolute heroes. Donate here!

There was an interesting talk about how Mozilla organizes its own IT services. Currently that is done by paid staff, but they strongly believe they can get this done through the community (MediaWiki does something similar.

Kai Engert talked about a very important topic: “Web security, and how to prevent the next DigiNotar“. He has a let’s say “unconventional” presentation style: instead of slides he used a piece of written text that he displayed on the screen and read out loud. Maybe this should be called something like “live visual podcasting”. His points were good though. He explained how it is a problem that every Certificate Authority (CA) has unlimited power and he listed the alternatives. You could maybe use a web of trust like the CAcert community. This still doesn’t solve the problem of a single root key. Another proposed solution was Convergence using notaries that would monitor certificates. Kai see too many problems with this as a solution for general users. One suggestion could be build on top of DNSSEC. Again that has problems. How do you know who has signed the the DNS? Google has also proposed something called Certificate Transparency which might work, but also might create some problems. His proposed solution builds on what is in existence using the existings CA combined wit the notary system. This talk was bit dense (I got lost half way if I am honest, obsessibely reading Megan Amram), so if you want to read it yourself find it here.

Michelle Thorne is the global event strategist for Mozilla. She is currently very focused on creating communities of “webmakers” and they are starting with children, video makers and journalists first. She presented three tools/projects for these webmakers:

  • Hackasaurus let’s anybody edit the web. Kids are suddenly empowered to remix existing web pages. Check out the hacktivity kit if you want to use this in the classroom.
  • Popcorn.js is a HTLM5 media framework that allows you to connect web content with video.
  • OpenNews (formerly called knight-mozilla) puts web developers in newsrooms building tools that help journalistic challenges.

One thing I noticed is that she used htmlpad to present a few slides. I need to check this out as it is probably one of the simplest ways of collaborating around text or getting a quick HTML page online.

The focus for Mozilla in Fosdem is very much on the technology side of things and less on the broader themes that the Mozilla foundation is tackling. I had a hard time finding somebody from the Mozilla Learning team to talk about Open Badges, but did get some good connections to have this conversation later in the year.

Wikiotics

Wikiotics did a very short lightning talk of which I only managed to catch the tail end. Their goal is to make a site that allows anybody to create, update, remix interactive language lessons.

The Pandora

The Pandora is a small Nintendo DS sized open Linux computer designed for gaming. It has a 800×480 touchscreen, wifi, bluetooth, two SDHC card slots, SVideo output, two analogue controllers, a DPad, L/R buttons, a QWERTY thumb keyboard, 256/512MB RAM and 512MB NAND Storage. It has about 10 hours of battery life (full use).

It comes with its own repository (an app store) allowing for easy installation and updating of games and other applications. One thing that will appeal to many people is the amount of emulators that it can run. If you want to relive the days you spent on the Amiga 500, Commodora 64, Apple II or the Atari ST it will work for you.

Because the device is so open, the possibilities are limitless. For example, you could connect a keyboard and mouse using a USB hub and connect it to a TV to turn the Pandora into a small desktop PC or connect a USB harddisk and turn it into a web- or fileserver. The price price will be €375 (ex VAT). What is great is that the device is produced in Germany and so does not have any sick labour conditions for the people building it.

Balancing Games, The Open Source Way

Jeremy Rosen has been working on Battle for Wesnoth, a turn-based strategy game, since 2004. He talked about how to achieve balance in a game. When you are talking about multiplayer balance:

  • No match should be decided by the matchup
  • No match should be decided by the chosen map
  • The best player should win… usually

Single player balance is different, in single player game fairness is not important anymore, it is just about having fun:

  • The AI won’t complain if the game is unfair (Jeremy on the AI: “By the way our AI doesn’t cheat, but is very good in math”)
  • Players want the game to be challenging
  • Each player has different capacities, we need to decide who we balance for

Balance problems can occur in many places (e.g. map balance, cross scenario balance, unit characteristics) and aren’t easy to find. One way of finding them is by organizing tournaments as people will do their best to exploit balance weaknesses to win. Balance will always be a moving target and new strategies will appear. User feedback is not so useful because players think they never make mistakes and that all their strategies should work. Sometimes you can find some good providers of feedback: “These persons are important, and like all of us, they are fueled by ego. Don’t forget to fuel them”.

His recommendation is to find somebody in your game’s community who can make a balance a fulltime job.

Freedom Box: Out of the Box!

 

The FreedomBox Foundation

The FreedomBox Foundation

Bdale Garbee, gave us an update on the activities at the FreedomBox Foundation. According to him it really is a problem that we are willfully hand over a lot of personal data to companies to manage on our behalf without thinking much about the consequences. Regardless of the intention of companies, for-profit companies have to operate within the rules of the jurisdictions that they operate and can lead to things like Photo DNA.

Freedombox’ vision is to create a personal server running a free software operating system and applications designed to create and preserve personal privacy that should run on cheap, power-efficient plug computers that people can install in their own homes. That will then be a platform on which privacy-respecting federated alternatives to current social networks can be build. These devices will probably be mesh-networked to augment or replace the current infrastructure.

The foundation has to do four things:

  • Technology
  • User Experience (this is very important if it is going to be useful for people who are not “geeks”)
  • Publicity and Fund-Raising
  • Industry Relations

They have had to bound the challenge by focusing on software, rather than custom hardware and on servers and services rather than client devices. They have also decided to use existing networking infrastructure where appropriate while working to move away from central infrastructure control points (like the Domain Name System (DNS)). Another decision has been to build all elements of their reference implementation on top of Debian which is a completely open volunteer based International organisation. This means that regardless of how successful they will be as a foundation all of their work will survive and remain available. Their goal is that new stable releases of Debian should have everything needed to create FreedomBoxes “out of the box”.

The first “application” they want to deliver is a secure chat service. They have based this on XMPP with Prosody on a single host (by chance I was sitting next to one of the Prosody developers).

They have also decided to make OpenPGP (GnuPG) keys as the root of trust. It is great technology, but it is hard to establish initial trust relationships. One interesting idea is to take advantage of smartphone technology (that we all walk around with) to facilitate initial key exchange (see the work from Stefano Maffuli).

They have done some investigations into plug computers. They focused mostly on the Dreamplug (which gave them quite a bit of GPL related headaches), but you also have the Sheeva and the Tonido.

He finished his talk by quoting Benjamin Franklin:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

What I should have written last year: distributed and federated systems

There is an overarching trend at Fosdem that I could already see last year: the idea of decentralisised, distributed and federated systems for social networking and collaboration. There is a whole set of people working on creating social networks without a center (e.g. BuddyCloud or Status.net or distributed filesystems (like OpenAFS), alternatives to GoogleDocs (LibreDocs) and mesh networking (like Village Telco with the Mesh Potato). There are even people who are trying to separate cloud storage from the cloud application (Project Unhosted). These are very important project that have my full attention.

If you have reached this far in the post and still want to read more (with a little bit more of a learning perspective) then you should check out Bert De Coutere’s blogpost. Through him I learned about Open Advice, an interesting approach to capturing lessons learned.

A Day of Conversations at Learning Technologies 2013

This is now my fourth year in a row that I manage to do a quick visit to the Learning Technologies exhibition in London. Like last year I decided to try and speak to as many luminaries as possible and ask them what they were planning to do in the coming year.

Steve Dineen

Steve is founder and CEO of Fusion Universal which is going strong as it has just signed the term sheets with an external investor. Steve is on of these people who do what I like to call “push the world”: through a certain shamelessness (bright bright bright pink stand at the entrance of the exhibit) you can push a little bit further than others. So on the volume for the videos being played at the stand: “The right volume is when we get told off.”

Steve is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met and he has a product to sell (read the next paragraph with that in mind). Our conversations was around his excitement that their video-based social platform Fuse (“amplifying the brilliance of the trainer and making it last longer”) now has the final missing pieces and is putting everything together. If you look at the 70:20:10 model then according to Steve Fuse is leading in the 70%, has been doing well on the 20% and now with personal learning plans in place can even perform the 10%. There is a seamless integration of these three types of elements rather than the traditional Learning Management Systems that often have very clunky features bolted on. This makes it much easier to focus on business outcomes rather than on learning outcomes (and gets rid of the association of learning with compliance training and compliance systems).

Another big development will be the mobile app (for Android, Blackberry and iOS) which will allow for offline playing of the videos, capturing of video/audio directly into the platform and notifications of new videos into the app. Steve mentioned a course where all the participants had to create their own video about what they had learned. They noticed that each of these videos was watched an average of ten times (i.e. people were watching what their peers had done). So not only did the creation of their own videos helped internalize the materials, there was also repetition of those same facts through watching the videos of others.

Ben Betts

Ben is the CEO of HT2 and creator of Curatr. At the same time he is pursuing his PhD and has three more months before he has to hand in his thesis. He has just done some research investigating whether gamifying an environments affects the quality of the contributions (so, would gamifying the system make people game the system?). The paper will be out soon.

The big thing for him in 2013 will be the release of Curatr version 3 which will be Tin Can enabled and will integrate Mozilla’s Open Badges. I consider this quite forward thinking, but also a risky bet. Neither of these technologies have proven themselves yet. Ben and I had a short discussion about the Learning Record Store (LRS) component of Tin Can. Ben is convinced that people should own their own learning records and he is curious to see how this will be provisioned going forward. I am convinced of the value of tracking what you have (and in the usefulness of triplets as a format). I’ve written up all my activities in 2012 in the form of categorized triplets and was pleasantly surprised by how useful it is to get feedback about what you have done. I am not sure though that people will be willing to invest any time in “writing up” what they have learned or are now capable of. An “activity stream” of your professional life will only work if it is close to fully automated.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence still has the audacious goal of being what he calls a “wisdom architect”. He is toying around with the classic trio of quality, speed and cost (“pick two”) and thinks that if you would add wisdom (applied knowledge with experience and empathy) to the mix you could reframe those constraints.

We had a quick talk about open space technology which has four principles and the Law of Two Feet (“if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking”):

  1. Whoever comes is the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over it’s over

Open space is a truly self-organizing way of running things that allegedly always works as it has a lot more honesty and the people who are engaged are really engaged.

As an “imagineer” for Udutu (“ahead of the pack with a free (as in beer) agile collaborative online authoring environment”) he used open space to host a session titled “Life and Death: Please help me bring theatre into this corporate training project.” and found a way to bring context and story into the e-learning platform. Initially he was very much focused on the pedagogy first and the story second, but he soon realised that he should start with the story and then bring in the pedagogy, a more common-sensical approach.

Lawrence also shared his favourite learning experience that he ever designed: he taught salespeople of NetG networking hardware how the TCP/IP protocol works through dressing them up as IP packets and routers and letting walk over to eachother and communicate within the constraints of the protocol. Wonderful!

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the founders and director of Onlignment and a fellow lifehacker.

Two years back he told me about the wonders of Markdown and this year he has convinced me to find a Linux version of TextExpander functionality (suggestions are welcome). Next we discussed productivity like the Pomodoro Technique (works wonders for me, he will try it again) and the importance of not being distracted. Barry has disabled all notifications for all his apps and is also trying to make sure he doesn’t have to make too many choices to be productive.

He is convinced that the learning industry thrives on what people want to sell, rather than on what organizations want or need. Something like responsive webdesign for example which starts with the mobile experience and then upscales gracefully towards a tablet and desktop is being appropriated by the industry and implemented the wrong way round (starting with a desktop experience that is too rich which loses things when it is displayed on mobile.

The big project for Onlignment this year will be to “fix the conversations between training departments and their business stakeholders”. I think this is a perennial problem (not solvable as long as you have a training/learning department), so I like the ambition!

Charles Jennings

70:20:10 Forum

70:20:10 Forum

Charles Jennings has done a lot of work popularizing the 70:20:10 framework. This has now culminated in him starting the 702010forum.com. He has written an extenside whitepaper on the “what” of the framework (“70:20:10 Framework Explained”, soon to come out) and will soon deliver a whole series of papers on the “how”.

We started off by talking about the origins of the framework. He says it is most likely came from some work by Morgan McCall (then at the Center for Creative Leadership) who had been working on experiential learning for years. He got together with Michael Lombardo and Bob Eichinger and did a small survey where they asked high performing managers where they had learned or developed their capability. In 1996 they published the results where the managers said they got 70% from having tough experiences on the job, 20% from other people and 10% from formal learning or reading (another way to say it is 70% experience, 20% exposure and 10% education). In 2001 Charles started working with Reuters to create their learning strategy and he built it on the back of the 70:20:10 framework.

He sees a key role for the manager to enable this 70%. He quoted some research that says that people who are being developed effectively (by their managers) outperform their peers by 25%. That is like adding more than a day of productivity per week. This can only work if you make learning a continuous process. 70:20:10 helps to create this culture of continuous learning. This is where I diverge a little from his thinking: I see less and less relevance for the manager and think people should and will develop themselves, rather than be developed.

Charles sees four learning drivers:

  • Experience
  • Practice
  • Conversations (the “best learning technology ever invented” according to Jay Cross) and networks
  • Reflection.

I usually just say there are two drives for learning: doing things and reflection. I would like Charles to focus a bit more on how more direct feedback can help the reflection process.

All of this should change the focus of workplace learning. According to Charles we will make a shift from “Adding Learning to Work” (with learning metrics) towards “Extracting Learning from Work” (with business metrics).

Annie Buttin Faraut

Annie does HR Information Magement innovation at Philip Morris International, making her effectively my professional twin (especially since Philip Morris has made many of the same HR design decisions as my employer).

We talked mostly about her experience with Coursera where she did a very good course on gamification. It consisted of eight demanding weeks of watching videos, doing assignments and peer reviewing other people’s assignments. The peer reviewing was often interesting as you could see what other people had done with the assignment. I guess I will have to pick a course from their catalog to see for myself (even though their privacy policy is a bit scary: “We use the Personally Identifiable Information that we collect from you when you participate in an Online Course through the Site for processing purposes, including but not limited to tracking attendance, progress and completion of an Online Course. We may also share your Personally Identifiable Information and your performance in a given Online Course with the instructor or instructors who taught the course, with teaching assistants or other individuals designated by the instructor or instructors to assist with the creation, modification or operation of the course, and with the university or universities with which they are affiliated.”).

Just like me, Annie is trying to get the people in her team to become “Innov-Actors”, emphasizing that to be innovative requires you to do something. I will likely collaborate with Annie on a set of activities (inspired by the Innovator’s DNA that will help people increase their innovative behaviour.

Bert De Coutere

Bert is a solution architect at the Centre for Creative Leadership and writes one of my favourite blogs. He has a few personal plans this year: he will make “an app”, he will continue his investigation into the quantified self movements, will look into personal network analytics (“where do I fit inside the network and what does this mean for my leadership development”) and will look into the work of people like BJ Fogg (Tiny Habits) who work on behavioural change.

He is very excited that he will pilot a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this year on leadership. He is still full of questions about how to approach it. Do MOOCs work with softs skills and can they actually lead to behavioural change? How do you deal with confidentiality (important when it comes to leadership)?

Other short conversations

I ran into Laura Overton who told me about Towards Maturity‘s Learner’s Survey which will be launched. David Wilson and David Perring from Elearnity told me about their experiments with a new format for their presentation (minimal slide-based content and then conversations on the basis of questions on Twitter) and I shared with them my new “Socratic” approach to teaching classes. With Alex Watson I talked about the mindset of middle management and (off-topic for the conference) about How to be Black.

Books

I love to get book recommendations from people that I know. I asked everybody whether they had read a good book recently. Both Steve and Bert mentioned Insanely Simple and both Ben and Bert mentioned Dan Pink’s latest book To Sell is Human. Steve made The Lean Startup required reading for the staff in his company (this is a reverse recommendation: I remember telling him about the book). Charles mentioned Bounce a very interesting book written by champion table tennis player. Bert is looking forward to reading Yes! about the science of persuasion. Annie liked this book for “beginners” Content Rules and thought Socialnomics was good. Lawrence, finally, managed to get me to commit to reading Image, Music, Text by Barthes before I revisit London in June.

Learning from the Outside, How External Focus Can Help Learning and Development

This presentation delivered on April 19 for the Irish Centre for Business Excellence Network tries to address why things are not changing fast enough in the (corporate) learning world by pointing out that we often fail to look to the outside. We rely on benchmarking without realising that this will never get us ahead of the game. We try to implement best practices rather than focus on emergent practice. Changing this requires finding our edge and trying to see what you can learn from there. For corporations and organisations the edge can be found in things like the consumerisation of IT, open source, experimental academia and the startup world.

You can download the presentation as a PDF or watch in on SlideShare:

I’ve used many sources to create the presentation. Here are all the relevant links in context.

In the past I have thought a bit about seredendipity and have written a few blogposts about the topic.

Bert De Coutere describes how Learning and Development is stuck in his blog post Learning got stuck in itself…. Steve Wheeler writes about the differences between upstairs (where the Learning Technologies conference was held) and downstairs (where the learning vendors could tout their wares) in his post titled Upstairs downstairs.

If you are interested to learn more about Omphaloskepsis, check out this Wikipedia article.

The following three companies (among many others) offer benchmarking in the learning space: Corporate University Exchange, BrandonHall and Bersin (their benchmarking data for 2011 is available here).

Youngme Moon has written a book titled Different in which she explains why products in a category all become alike. Harold Jarche reviews the book in a blog post titled Different – Review. In that review he refers to Tim Kastelle who lifts stwo diagrams out of Moon’s book in Be Great at One Thing. I remade the diagrams using the excellent Inkscape.

The Wikipedia page about the Cynefin Framework isn’t bad. Dave Snowden’s Harvard Business Review article about his framework and how it can help with leadership is titled Leader’s Framework for Decision Making (and maybe I should credit Mary E. Boone for once).

Automattic is an amazing company. They create and host the wordpress.com platform (more information). The Automattic creed is available on Matt Mullenweg’s website. Matt gets interviewed here. This map shows where all the “Automatticians” are located. Check out this page if you want to know more about Automattic or are interested in working for them.

If you want to know more about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) you should start here and then quickly move on to what Stephen Downes writes in his piece What a MOOC Does. The MOOC example I decided to reference in the presentation is Digital Storytelling also known as DS106.

The term Edupunk was coined in Jim Groom’s post The Glass Bees and quickly got its own Wikipedia article. Stephen Downes tied together a few good posts about the topic here and this article on BlogHer could also be a good start.

The big open online courses that are now fashionable and are starting to get a commercial face (Coursera and Udacity) owe their debts to MOOCs and the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).

If you want to be kept up to date about learning technology “on the edge” then your best bet is likely to pay close attention to Audrey Watters’ blog Hack Education (not mentioned in my presentation).

Mozilla‘s mission page is here and it is worthwile reading their whole manifesto. Their Open Badges program is getting a lot of deserved attention and could always use more participants. You can read about all their learning plans on their Learning Wiki, this is also the place to go to if you want to get involved.

If you are interested in becoming more entrepreneurial and innovative, regardless of whether you have your own business or are working in a company/organisation, you can’t do better than read The Lean Startup.

5 Questions from Traintool: Teaching Soft Skills Online

Recently I was asked a few questions by Traintool about using training softs skills online. Below the questions and answers (the original is here, the session was in Dutch which is available here):

1. To what extent to you believe soft skills can be trained online?
“Believe” is probably the right verb for this question. Learning technology is still too often driven by opinions. Having said so, I definitely believe in it. First: a lot of soft skills have become online skills: how you behave in an online community, how you share knowledge through microblogging, or how you can be a good team member in an international virtual team. Additionally, it’s perfectly possible to practice all sorts of soft skills online. I see a natural increase of the “fidelity” of the practice process: from practicing in simple webchats, to practice in teleconferences, to practice with webcams or maybe even telepresence spaces. Finally, I think good design enables training of all sorts of skills.

2. What developments in the field of online training of soft skills do you find most promising? Can you name an example?
The biggest “opportunity space” is gaming. Recently I have been investigating two examples of games that try to train soft skills online:

  • X-Team is a 3D game in which you have to visit as many pagodes as possible, before getting to the finish line in time. These pagodes are at islands that can only be reached through bridges. Each bridge can only be crossed a limited number of times (you are with 12, but only 6 people can cross the bridge, wat do you do?). Everything is measured, making it easy to guide a teambuilding process through facilitation and adjusting the game’s parameters.
  • Code 4 from Hubbub and Demovides is a game that is played in runs of three weeks. This video explains the game (Dutch):

3. What do you think is the biggest challenge in training soft skills online?
Practice is key in developing skills, so that’s the biggest challenge: How do you get people to do what they find really difficult? How do you get them beyond their fear of trying new behavior? Well developed games might just be the solution to this.

4. In the evolution of learning, are there things you hope/desire and/or you’re afraid of? Alan Kay has a famous definition of technology: “Technology is everything that didn’t exist when you were born”. His pal Danny Hillis has an even better definition: “Technology is everything that doesn’t work yet”. We no longer call an elevator, technology. So I’m looking forward to seeing things we still call technology, actually work. For a nice example of how that could look like for smartphones with apps, read this (under “Why Mobile Apps Must Die”).

Being afraid is not something that fits in with how I look at life. I think we, as people, will always figure out our relationship with technology. But if I have to name something, I worry about the integrity of the Internet with the web as a platform for innovation on top of it. The five ”stacks” (as Bruce Sterling calls them): Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are all working hard to build closed ecosystems. We are going to suffer from this in the coming years and it will probably really have to hurt before these silos will be opened up.

5. What weblogs, people or organisations inspire you?
The person I learn a lot from is Stephen Downes. He writes a daily newsletter about this things he, as a philosopher, technologist and education theorist, finds interesting. His newsletter is published under a Creative Commons license and you can freely subscribe. Additionally, I keep a close eye on George Siemens and the Internet Time Alliance and I try to make time to read Audrey Watters: a learning technology journalist with a punk attitude. I keep on top of internet technology in general by listening to Guardian Tech Weekly and the shows of Leo Laporte (especially This Week in Tech). Thinkers such as Clay Shirky, Yochai Benkler, Lawrence Lessig and Douglas Rushkoff guide me.

One of my personal heroes is Martin Dougiamas, inventor of Moodle. It’s his natural leadership and personal character that have made Moodle as succesful as it is today, making even a giant such as Blackboard take notice.

Other organisations that inspire me are those that democratize education and technology in a non-commercial way. Think of Mozilla architects of the open internet (they also have a learning outfit and work hard at an Open Badges infrastructure), or the Peer 2 Peer University, Tactical Technology Collective and Ushahidi. It is no coincidence that all these projects are open-source. I believe in the value of open-source a lot, from a practical and a moral standpoint.

Four Questions (and Answers) about Learning in 2012

In a post about Learning Technologies 2012, I’ve asked four questions to a set of learning (technology) experts. In reaction, some people have asked me how I would have answered the questions myself. Here goes:

1. What will be the most exciting (professional) thing you are planning to do in 2012?**

From April 1st my role in the company I work for will slightly shift: instead of solely focusing on learning-related technology the scope of my innovation work will be enlarged to encompass all HR related technologies. This will include renumeration and benefits, talent, recruitment, health and more. It will be a challenge to try and replicate the innovation methodology that I used in learning inside these other domains. I very much look forward to engrossing myself in completely new problems with completely new solutions.

Another exciting thing is the work I am doing inside the Gamechanger team. Gamechanger is a very successful organization and is on a journey to see how the recently emerged hyper-connectedness of this world could influence the way it works. There will be more public information about that project on gc30.com very soon.

In 2011 I have given a lot of attention to serious games for learning and I am hoping to make a next step with that in 2012 by trying out a safety-related 3D immersive game in the field and measure its impact.

Finally, this year I have been given the opportunity to visit a big set of very stimulating gatherings. I will be present (and occasionally present) at Emerge 2012 (Phoenix, US), SxSW Edu (Austin, US), SxSW Interactive (Austin, US), e-Learning Event 2012 (Den Bosch, NL), ICBE Conferenc (Dublin, IE) and Masie’s Learning 2012 (Orlando, US).

2. Which corporate learning trend will “break through” this year?

Here are two predictions and one thing that is imminent to happen, but will likely not make it for 2012.

  • 2012 will mark the start of a slow but sure shift away from courses towards resources and networks. This means that learning organizations will have to start creating new business models for themselves as the way that their value proposition, benefits and costs align is going out of whack. If your budgetary unit is a course, if you separate design from development from delivery, if your recovery model is based on course fees, how can you ever move into more of a performance support or community management role?
  • Even though there is a crisis all around us, we will see a revival of classroom and face-to-face training. It will be driven by people who are getting tired of the hyperconnected world and are trying to create “reflective retreats” away from the daily business pressures. Yes, I understand this is contrary to the point above, but we are not looking at a homogenous world!.
  • “Social Contextualization of Content” is a trend that will become ever more noticable in the consumer space (“How do I know whether to buy something if don’t know what my network thinks about it?”). At some point smart companies will start stepping into the opportunity space for this type of technology in the enterprise market. They do this by delivering two things: a flexible way to capture and represent the social graph of employees (preferably one that also works from an outside-in perspective), and a platform for capturing, managing and displaying meta information about all available content (because everything is starting to become URL addressable it will likely be the browser that is the point where this technology meets the end-user). I would like to develop this argument a bit further in some of my speeches this year. Get in touch if you want to help push my thinking forward.

3. Which company (other than your own) is doing interesting things in the learning space?

I could have named others, but I would like to name three (unlikely) companies here:

  • Mozilla, creators of the Firefox browser and shepherds of an open and free Internet are becoming more and more active in the education space. Initially driven by their mission to skill up people on all things Internet and (web)development, they are slowly increasing their scope and reach and are even proposing an alternative architecture for certifications: open badges. Not only is what they do remarkable, the way (or how) they do it is inspirational too. Imagine working for a company in which everything that you do would default to open. Mozilla applies this to their source code, but also for example to their meetings. When they come together to talk about learning, the telcon details, the agenda, the ability to join the conversation and the minutes are all openly available. Refreshing right?
  • StackExchange is step by step creating the ultimately way to do Question and Answer sites for one particular set of questions: the ones that could actually have a perfect answer. Their platform is contineously improving and makes use of the latest understanding of how we tick (gamification anyone?) to entice people to keep coming back, ask more questions and give more answers. If you haven’t used it already I’d urge you to go to a community that interests you and try it out. It is a real shame that they have stopped delivering te technology in a “white label” fashion, but I do appreciate their somewhat noble reasons (they only want to have successful communities).
  • XTeam Training is based in Israel. They are one of the many companies who have jumped on the Unity 3D bandwagon to start delivering games with a purpose that is external to the game. They are the first however that I have seen to productize their game (rather than offering their services for bespoke development to solve particular problems). Their team development/assessment game is rooted in practical experience working with teams in outdoor sports and they have come up with a few clever concepts that make sure that the people playing the multiplayer game learn certain lessons about their behaviour and the behaviour of others.
Mission Island from XTeam Training

Mission Island from XTeam Training

Finally I want mention (again) the person who has given me the most insight in the last few months and somebody who I believe isn’t appreciated enough in our community of practice: Stephen Downes. If you haven’t signed up for his newsletter yet, then please do it here. Try reading it every day for at least a week. If you aren’t intellectually tickled by this particular blend of learning- (actually “living”-)related mix of philosophy and technology with free sharp commentary, then I’d rather not sit next to you at our next dinner party (and you would probably not enjoy sitting next to me either).

4. What was the best book you have read in 2011?

I read in public (although my friends at Bits of Freedom are probably right when they tell me that out of principle one should not give over your reading habits to some foreign company. To see the books I have read that I have rated with five stars, go here

One more thing

Let me finish by asking you a question: Which four questions would you like to ask learning professionals when you meet them?