Speed Dating at the 2012 Learning Technologies

On Wednesday, January 25th I attended the Learning Technologies exhibit at Olympia in London. I used agreeadate to schedule as many meetings with corporate learning luminaries as possible. Next to catching up, I decided to ask each of them the following four questions:

  1. What will be the most exciting (professional) thing you are planning to do in 2012?
  2. Which corporate learning trend will “break through” this year?
  3. Which company (other than your own) is doing interesting things in the learning space?
  4. What was the best book you have read in 2011?

So here goes, in the same order as during the day:

Steve Dineen

Steve is the Chief Executive at Fusion Universal. We mainly talked about Fuse their video-centric social platform. In the next few weeks they will swap out the current video player and will replace it with one that makes it easier to display subtitles and transcripts, will do bandwidth detection and will allow for much better reporting on how the video has been viewed. They will also roll out adaptive testing with adaptive learning journeys. See here for example:

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The implementation of pull learning, seeing learning as a journey rather than a process and then the provision of the environment to let personal learning happen (as a platform and an environment). Another exciting thing is the Virtual School, they should be going live with a full secondary school curriculum by September.
  2. People will start to understand that not all learning needs to be centered around a course. This is a big paradigm shift for which we are now seeing the pioneers emerging.
  3. Fusion is not necessarily taking inspiration from the learning technology community. Instead, they are taking inspiration from YouTube. It is incredible to see what they have done to their platform. On design matters they take inspiration from Apple.
  4. The four books he enjoyed in the last few months were The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and Presentation Zen, Good to Great and The Innovators Dilemma.

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the three partners in Onlignment, a learning consultancy with broad capability. He is also responsible for changing my life by properly introducing me to Markdown, the greatest thing since sliced bread for people who have to do a lot of writing of any kind. They have put a lot of effort into truly blending their own offerings. Rather than just teach a course on learning design for a few days they now design a journey towards independence. For one client they do a workshop first and then one-on-one coaching sessions (virtual and face to face). The end result will include e-learning content created by the participants themselves and guided by Onlignment.

Onlignment's Circles

Onlignment's Circles

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. Making the circles live. The circles make it very clear what Onlignment is offering and from now on we will only do work on things that fit with these circles.
  2. What we will see is a lot of mobile learning done badly (“everyone will screw up mobile this year”). Everybody will deliver e-learning content on mobile technology. It is usually crap on a PC and will be worse on mobile. He has also seen more Moodle vendors than ever before at this exhibit, so Moodle seems to be breaking through too.
  3. Two companies that are doing interesting things are Aardpress and Coloni. The former has a Software as a Service (SaaS) version of Moodle and the latter has a great licencing model: you pay on the basis of the space you take on their servers (their roots are a website development company) and they are very actively engaged with their clients.
  4. The only book that Barry has read in the last year is a book about becoming a dad.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence was the only person who was excused from my four questions. Instead we had a discussion around topics like mindmapping, authenticity, tools for conviviality (and the speed of transportation), theatre and doing what you love. We spotted Jaron Lanier who has written the thought provoking You are Not a Gadget, but were too late to invite him over to join our lunch.

Amir Elion

Amir works for Kineo Israel an e-learning development company and has written 100 Presentation Ideas which is now also available as an iPhone app. I have had many virtual meetings with Amir over the last two years (he participated in the Learning in 3D reading group for example, but this was the first time we got together in real life.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The first thing that he is looking forward to is to try and see if mobile learning can be made into something real. It has a lot of potential and is a new way of supporting performance. There are still many questions around it that need to be answered. There is a lot of technical work to do, but more importantly the learning models and the performance support models will need to be rebuild. Kineo is doing pilots with a few clients. The second thing he is excited about is advancing blending learning through using a learning typology. He has started drawing a table explaining which type of solutions solve particular challenges.
  2. He hopes the break-through trend will be the open source Learning Management System (LMS) and would prefer that to be Totara. In Israel that is very likely to happen. Many companies there do not have an easy way to track learning now and the fear for open source has subsided. Companies now actually see the advantages of open source: flexibility, lower costs and supplier independence (“there is always another Totara partner”).
  3. The companies that are creating the development tools are really moving forward quickly. Articulate Storyline is exciting in how it really supports non-linear learning and now can also work in Hebrew and other right-to-left language. The latest version of Adobe Captivate is also good. These companies really work with the e-learning development companies to incorporate e-learning best practices into their tools. Other than that it is mostly individuals that he learns from. Donald Clark, Cathy Moore with her Action Mapping, Cammy Bean (from Kineo US) or David Kelley.
  4. The book he liked was Drive. The concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose can directly be applied in corporate learning.

Kineo has a tradition of producing very useful promotional booklets. They gave me a copy of the very sensible Designing Mobile Learning (available on the Free Thinking area of their website) . It has ten tips on designing mobile learning:

  1. Always ask “Why make this mobile?”
  2. Use those off the shelf information and communication apps NOW
  3. Bring the informal into the blend
  4. Make sure it’s more than e-learning on a tablet
  5. Make it tactile
  6. You’re in their personal space; you’d better make it worth their while
  7. Make the limited space count
  8. Consider developing templates for efficient design
  9. Extend the impact of your media assets
  10. Find the right place to use mobile learning in your new-look blends

and 10 examples of where mlearning can make a difference:

  1. Make it easy to review the latest news and information
  2. Scan it, learn about it
  3. Just-in-time guides
  4. Performance support and checklists
  5. You know where I am, help me!
  6. Refresher learning
  7. Push reminders
  8. ‘Mobile company uses mobile learning’ shocker… Use the medium they use
  9. The LMS on the go
  10. Talk to me, interactively

David Perring

David is director of research the UK-based and EMEA focused educational technology analysts Elearnity. Elearnity has been working hard at writing vendor perspectives. The summaries will be available for free and the in-depth reports are available for a fee.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The most interesting and exciting thing for him is always working with clients who have interesting challenges. It is fascinating to work for people who have different perspectives but also bring intelligence into the process. For him it is the “freshness of working with 10 organizations rather than with one”.
  2. He is not sure that there will be any more break throughs in the next year. Certain organizations might have find some “inspirational moments”, a lightbulb going on. Maybe some sales forces will start using mobile technology for its real potential, rather than having people use mobile technology in the classroom. He thinks the economic pressures will mean that there might be a lot more technology assisted learning and less face to face training in the years ahead.
  3. He doesn’t believe you will find companies doing interesting things, you will always find people doing interesting things. It is very difficult to find people in organizations who are willing to share the interesting things they are doing: the catalysts for change, the mavens who help organisations reach tipping points.
  4. The book he really enjoyed reading last year was Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall. Milligan is a comic genius.

We also discussed how great it would be to create more pencasts, using the Livescribe to sketch out and explain concepts. This is something that is still on my list to try out properly.

Rob Hubbard

Rob runs his own company LearningAge Solutions and is the chair of the E-learning Network (ELN). The ELN was present at Learning Technologies and was campaigning hard for effective elearning through “The Campaign for Effective Elearning” (also see: #c4ee on Twitter. He is very worried that people will start to think that all e-learning is cheap and crap. This would be bad for the industry (I see this kind of reaction in my company already). The ELN will therefore start highlighting things that really make a difference. Rob will be a busy man in 2012 because there is a publishing deal with Wiley Pfeiffer for a book from the ELN and with LearningAge he has created a piece of web based technology that implements the concept of “goal-based learning”, which is all about solving the transfer problem and putting learning into practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He hopes that he will be able to do a very big project which uses games and simulations to train thousands of people up to a certain skill level. Another exciting thing is his Rapid E-Learning Design course (I met Rob as a pilot participant of this truly excellent course) which he will be offering for free for the first time this year. Why free? Because it is a great way to meet new people.
  2. Something that really seems to be gathering pace is the concept of gamification. People are starting to take it more seriously and the market is picking up on that, there even was one stand that advertised with “gamify your learning”. He likes how it aligns with the way our brain works: we have always learned through experimenting and getting awards for behaviour that works.
  3. HT2 is doing interesting stuff, but in general he would consider science fiction to be more inspiring than what other companies are doing. One thing he showed me as an inspiration was an an interactive storybook on the iPad titled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore made by Moonbot studios. It is incredible interactive and it teaches children how to play a song on the piano or how to write with the letters in a cereal bowl.
  4. He is really enjoying The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson which at some level is basically a book about e-learning and performance support.

Laura Overton

Laura is the Managing Director of Towards Maturity an organization that helps companies get the most out of their learning technology. She was incredibly busy at the conference trying to connect “upstairs” (where the conference is) to “downstairs” (where the salespeople are exhibiting) through organising exchanges between speakers at the conference and attendees at the exhibit.

Her answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. One of the things Towards Maturity is looking at in 2012 is how to use all the data they have for practical change and to stimulate thinking. They will start doing some sector views. Next week they are launching a series of in-focus reports on particular issues that they know are holding the industry back. One of them is the cycle of indifference to change. One research report will be focused on business leaders asking them to demand more and be less satisfied. She hopes this will stimulate some new dialog between business and learning. She would not consider herself a technologist, instead she wants people to act: it does not matter what technology they use as long as they get better results.
  2. A lot of people expect social learning to break through. She doesn’t think that will happen this year, especially the use of external social media (i.e. Facebook) will not work. Mobile learning is really on the verge of break through. User-generated content and an openness to that is an interesting thing too. They have seen quite a bit of growth in that.
  3. She naturally has something good to say about all the Towards Maturity ambassadors. She likes the e-learning vendors that are really looking at the business issue. They come up with business solutions rather than with elearning modules. Things like natural assessment, storytelling, experiential learning. Concepts rather than the technology.
  4. She thought Nudge, a book about influencing and persuasion, was great.

Ben Betts

Ben has his own company H2T and inhabits the edge between academic research and innovative education technology practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He is the most excited about Mozilla’s Open Badges project. He hopes it can help bridge the gap between Open Educational Resources and traditional formal accreditation. Anybody or any organisation can become a badge prodider (it will be one of my goals to start handing out Hans de Zwart-related badges before the end of the year), so he could already see something similar happening as in LinkedIn, “I recommend you and you recommend me”. I could see how you might get a meta-badge ecosystem with accreditors accrediting accreditors (Where would the buck stop? At Stephen Downes?). In 2012 he will also finish his doctorate thesis which is currently titled “Improving Participation in Collaborative Learning Environments” (I hope he doesn’t follow Dougiamas’ footsteps on this one).
  2. There was one word that he thought would be the word to watch for 2012. Unfortunately he could recollect it and then had to go for “Curation” (which he think is probably last year’s word).
  3. He quite likes what Epic is doing with Gomo, although they still have some way to go. Another great company is of couse Mozilla. He wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by Apple’s iBook announcement.
  4. The most interesting book for him was probably the biography of Steve Jobs. He is currently reading Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Also good was A Theory of Fun for Game Design which shows that having learned something is the definition of fun in a game. Another great book was Business Model Generation (I just read that too). Finally he would like to recommend Resonate by Nancy Duarte, which is basically “stuff you already know put really complicated” (mostly about telling stories), but it the best example he knows of how a book should be layed out.


I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the exhibit, but did do a very quick walkaround and found companies I just want to highlight:

  • Toolwire is going to evolve what they call Learnscapes into gamescapes, using their normal interface and turning it into a realtime multiplayer event.
  • I have never written about Lynda on this blog before. They provide videos teaching people how to do things with software applications (think about teaching you a particular effect in Photoshop for example). You can pay per video or get a subscription. They are hugely successful. I consider them another example of a thing that “geeks” have managed to get right, without the rest of the world noticing. Why aren’t they an enlightened example in the corporate learning world? Related to this I will create a theme for myself this year: Open source communities have been the first to find solutions for certain problems (collaboration at scale for example). What can businesses learn from this?

It was a great privilege to be able to speak to these eight people in a single day (I could have talked for hours with each and everyone of them…) and it takes an event like Learning Technologies to bring these people together. I will have to find a good reason to go again next year. Maybe a speaking engagement?

TruBaltics, An Unconference on Recruitment



Today I attended #TruBaltics one of the Tru Conferences on recruitment.

The Recruiting Unconferences are a series of pure unconferences organised worldwide, where the emphasis is on conversation, communication and the free exchange of ideas and experiences, (dis)organized by Bill Boorman.

These unconferences have four simple rules:

  1. No Presentations
  2. No PowerPoint
  3. No Name Badges
  4. No Pitching

The driving forces behind this edition of Tru seemed to be Aki Kakko and Ruta Klyvyte.

The topic of recruitment is very new to me, so this was a quick way for me to get an overview of the topics that people are worrying about and be more at the edge than if I’d gone to an event organized by Bersin for example. I attended a set of tracks and kept some notes:

Job board versus social

Mike Sandiford explained how in the UK people are declaring the job board dead. He is not sure he agrees: People go to job boards because they are looking for jobs. That is not necessarily the case for social. The most important thing is to find out where your target audience is spending time online. What is best really depends on what you are looking for and on the market. Whether you use job boards or more social tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, you will always find that brand is of course an important part of your presence on job boards and in social media.

One participant in the track argued strongly against using job boards at all. You don’t get much for what you pay for and you actually cast the net way too wide and then lose a lot of time in the screening process. According him the war for talent isn’t because there is scarcity of talent, but because there is too much talent and you have to spend time selecting the right person.

There is company that has created a lot of training materials on how you use social tools in recruitment: Social Talent. There seems to be a permanent race to use the latest social tool. People discussed using things like Foursquare, Pinterest and even Spotify (if you are the Hard Rock cafe you could create a playlist and hire the people that like your playlist…, yes yes).

Value-based interviewing (as opposed to skill-based)

Liena Ivanova and Darja Milova led this track which tried to answer whether companies should, can and will assess a candidate’s values during the interview process.

We first discussed whether companies can have values (or whether only people can have values). We quickly talked about Edgar’s Schein‘s three levels of organizational culture: artifacts, values and assumptions.

Some people in the track really preferred to look at somebody’s skills rather than at their values. Other people were very interested in how you would assess people’s values in the first place (there didn’t seem to be any answers for this in the room). Heineken has a funny ad that shows how you can go beyond the traditional way when assessing candidate:

One thing you can do is create a video as an artifact of a company’s culture which can then attract the right candidates. Facebook has an example of this:

My employer has done something similar:

Of course we also discussed Zappos who seem to have managed to make their values part of their brand proposition (but are now themselves part of Amazon which seem to be pushing work practices in a terrible way).

This stimulating track left me with two questions/thoughts:

  • Don’t companies just get the candidates that they deserve? Or put another way: isn’t there a natural matc between the company’s values and those of the candidate? Isn’t the easiest intervention you can do when you want to have different candidates to change your company?
  • How does diversity fit into this picture? Diversity is part of many company’s value statements, but we don’t seem to have an appetite for hiring people who hav different values than ours.

The death of social recruitment. What’s the next big thing?

Rihard Brigis wanted to discuss what new technology is coming up that actually works. We touched on things like workforce marketing, social referrals, cloud recruiting and the increase in the use of analytics. The latter can help you find people on the basis of what they do rather than on the basis of what they say. Tools like Knack It serve a similar purpose.

There are few companies that claim to have interesting technology that helps the recruitment and that might be worth checking out. I will look into Jobscience, Bullhorn and Joberate. Joberate is developing a product that sounds very interesting. It is called “signal” and tries to find candidates that seem to be ready to change jobs and are thus ripe for the picking. This has obvious external applications, but could even be useful internally: who doesn’t want to know when is on the cusp of leaving? Read more about signal here.

Another things that is happening more often is that companies organize events that manage to attract who don’t work for the company (think of a hackaton) and then let current employees decide who they like to hire from those events. It boils down to organizing things that expose people to you. I think that this is what the larger MOOC providers like Coursera will ultimately do. As a company don’t you want to know who are the top performers in certain courses?

I actually think there must be a market for what I’ll name slow recruitment (or slow recruiting for SEO purposes): not using the latest online technology to continuously accelerate the sourcing and selection process, but take your time instead because you know that is just better. When I mentioned this in the track no eyes lit up (yet).

“Marrying” the candidate – pro and cons (building a close relationship or not)

Inna Ferdman and Irina Točko discussed an important recruitment topic: how “intimate” can you afford to be with your candidates. There is a trend in recruitment to build longer term relationships with candidates maybe even before they are ready to move. They used the metaphor of marriage to explore the topic.

For me this topic is very much about what I’ll term the directionality of the hiring relationship. If I am a recruiter for a company that can find many people for a particular job, then I can afford not to have a relationship with the candidate. If a candidate’s skills are so rare that he can pick different employer (flipping the hiring process so to say), then it pays of to invest in a candidate. (A sidenote: I am toying with the idea of doing an RFI/RFP process for my own employment where I would put down my requirements and then let employers bid against each other, could be interesting).

I don’t know this profession at all, so maybe somebody else can tell me whether the following is a feasible business model for a recruiter. Could you build very solid relationships with a group of very talented people that you then each place once every four years or so? How many people would need to be in your talent pool? Would it be less than Dunbar’s number? I guess that would depend on the field and how high the commissions are.

Employer branding 2.0

This track was led by Jacco Valkenburg from Recruit2 who is a LinkedIn recruitment guru.

According to Jacco we’ve been building recruitment sites for the past 10 -15 years. He now believes that these websites are at the end of their product lifecycle. Mainly because the web is disappearing: people are checking Facebook in the morning, rather than visiting a website. He adviced everybody to move their whole recruitment site into Facebook. Facebook’s interactivity make it a great place to show what an interesting place to work you are.

He showed how a company like Q-Park has created a Facebook page for recruiting. They follow their employees and then share what they share (if it is interesting) on their company page.

Anybody who has read this blog before knows that I have some longstanding issues with Facebook. As a company I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the so-called free basket of a company that is notorious for changing their policies and their functionality at their whim. I also don’t find it decent to make your prospective employees (or even customers) pay with their data for the data and functionality that you are getting. I tried to argue these points in the session, but they seemed to fall to deaf ears mostly. The “dark side” of social technologies weren’t mentioned in any deep way during the day actually except for one fleeting reference to LinkedIn’s scary practices.

About this type of unconference format

Sitting in a circle without slides definitely leads to much better conversations. I wish more conferences had much larger parts of them organized in this way. The one things I did notice is that I have a hard time with the fact that it is perfectly normal to switch tracks mid-way. I personally can’t do it (I also finish books I dislike) and was distracted by people leaving mid-sentence. I do understand why allowing this is essential to making the format work. One other thing that was wonderful was how refreshingly non-commercial the whole thing was. You really had to put effort into finding out who worked for what vendor.

Tru actually seems to have turned itself into a very active and connected community with all angles of recruitment covered. I will definitely attend another one.

My open questions

After the full day I was left with a few open questions on the topic of recruitment:

  • Everybody seemed to think that it is necessary to have recruiters (I guess that is what I would think if I was a recruiter myself), but doesn’t the technology disintermediate the recruiter? How is the profession changing in reaction? We didn’t have any solid discussions on this topic.
  • What is a proper typology for recruitment? The directionality was barely ever addressed directly. What types of recruiters exist?
  • There is a lot of talk about “employer brand”, but there was no talk about changing the company to attract different staff. If you want better people, shouldn’t just be a better place to work? Seems like common sense to me.
  • Are we indeed moving from a discoverability problem to a selection problem?

As always curious to hear your thoughts!

Notes and Reflections on Day 2 and 3 of I-KNOW 2010

I-KNOW 2010

I-KNOW 2010

These are my notes and reflections for the second and third days of the 10th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Knowledge Technologies (I-KNOW 2010).

Another appstore!
Rafael Sidi from Elsevier kicked of the second day with a talk titled “Bring in ‘da Developers, Bring in ‘da Apps – Developing Search and Discovery Solutions Using Scientific Content APIs” (the slightly ludicrous title was fashioned after this).

He opened his talk with this Steve Ballmer video which, if I was the CIO of any company, would seriously make me reconsider my customer relationship with Microsoft:

(If you enjoyed that video, make sure you watch this one too, first watch it with the sound turned off and only then with the sound on).

Sidi is responsible for Elservier’s SciVerse platform. He has seen that data platforms are increasingly important, that there is an explosion of applications and that people work in communities of innovation. He used Data.gov as an example: it went from 47 sources to 220,000+ sources within a year’s time and has led to initiatives like Apps for America. We need to have an “Apps for science” too. Our current scientific platforms make us spend too much time gathering instead of analysing information and none of them really understand the user’s intent.

The key trends that he sees on the web are:

  • Openness and interoperability (“give me your data, my way”). Access to APIs helps to create an ecosystem.
  • Personalization (“know what I want and deliver results on my interest”). Well known examples are: Amazon, Netflix and Last.fm
  • Collaboration & trusted views (“the right contacts at the right time”). Filtering content through people you trust. “Show me the articles I’ve read and show me what my friends have right differently from me”. This is not done a lot. Sidi didn’t mention this but I think things like Facebook’s open API are starting to deliver this.

So Elsevier has decided to turn SciVerse, the portal to their content, into a platform by creating an API with which developers can create applications. Very similar to Apple’s appstore this will include a revenue sharing model. They will also nurture a developers community (bootstrapping it with a couple of challenges).

He then demonstrated how applications would be able to augment SciVerse search results, either by doing smart things with the data in a sidebar (based on aggregated information about the search result) or by modifying a single search result itself. I thought it looked quite impressive and thought it was a very smart move: scientific publishers seem to be under a lot of pressure from things like Open Access and have been struggling to demonstrate their added value in this Internet world. This could be one way to add value. The reaction from the audience was quite tough (something Sidi already preempted by showing an “I hate Elsevier”-tweet in his slides). One audience member: “Elsevier already knows how to exploit the labour of scientists and now wants to exploit the labour of developers too”. I am no big fan of large publisher houses, but thought this was a bit harsh.

Knowledge Visualization
Wolfgang Kienreich demoed some of the knowledge visualization products that the Know-Center has developed over the years. The 3D knowledge space is not available through the web (it is licensed to a German encyclopedia publisher), but showed what is possible if you think hard about how a user should be able to navigate through large knowledge collections. Their work for the Austrian Press Agency is available online in a “labs” evironment. It demonstrates a way of using faceted search in combination simple but insightful visualizations. The following example is a screenshot showing which Austrian politicians have said something about pensions.

APA labs faceted visual search

APA labs faceted visual search

I have only learned through writing this blog post that Wolfgang is interested in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I would have loved to have talked to him about Goffman’s Expression games and what they could mean for the ways decisions get made in large corporations. I will keep that for a next meeting.

Knowledge Work
This track was supposed to have four talks, but one speaker did not make it to the conference, so there were three talks left.

The first one was provocatively titled “Does knowledge worker productivity really matter?” by Rainer Erne. It was Drucker who said that is used to be the job of management to increase the productivity of manual labour and that is now the job of management to make knowledge workers more productive. In one sense Drucker was definitely right: the demand for knowledge work is increasing all the time, whereas the demand for routine activities are always going down.

Erne’s study focuses on one particular part of knowledge workers: expert work which is judgement oriented, highly reliant on individual expertise and experience and dependent on star performance. He looked at five business segments (hardware development, software development, consulting, medical work and university work) and consistently found the same five key performance indicators:

  • business development
  • skill development
  • quality of interaction
  • organisation of work
  • quality of results

This leads Erne to belief that we need to redefine productivity for knowledge workers. There shouldn’t just be a focus on quantity of the output, but more on the quality of the output. So what can managers do knowing this? They can help their experts by being a filter, or by concentrating their work for them.

This talk left me with some questions. I am not sure whether it is possible to make this distinction between quantitative and qualitative output, especially not in commercial settings. The talk also did not address what I consider to be the main challenge for management in this information age: the fact that a very good manual worker can only be 2 or maybe 3 times as productive as an average manual worker, whereas a good knowledge worker can be hundreds if not thousands times more productive than the average worker.

Robert Woitsch talk was titled “Industrialisation of Knowledge Work, Business and Knowledge Alignment” and I have to admit that I found it very hard to contextualize what he was saying into something that had any meaning to me. I did think it was interesting that he really went in another direction compared to Erne as Woitsch does consider knowledge work to be a production process: people have to do things in efficient ways. I guess it is important to better define what it is we actually mean when we talk about knowledge work. His sites are here: http://promote.boc-eu.com and http://www.openmodels.at.

Finally Olaf Grebner from SAP research talked about “Optimization of Knowledge Work in the Public Sector by Means of Digital Metaphors”. SAP has a case management system that is used by organisations as a replacement for their paper based system. The main difference between current iterations of digital systems and traditional paper based systems is that the latter allows links between the formal case and the informal aspects around the case (e.g. a post-it note on a case-file). Digital case management systems don’t allow informal information to be stored.

So Grebner set out to design an add-on to the digital system that would link informal with formal information and would do this by using digital metaphors. He implemented digital post-it notes, cabinets and ways of search and his initial results are quite positive.

Personally I am bit sceptical about this approach. Digital metaphors have served us well in the past, but are also the cause for the fact that I have to store my files in folders and that each file can only be stored in one folder. Don’t you lose the ability to truly re-invent what a digital case-management system can do for a company if you focus on translating the paper world into digital form? People didn’t like the new digital system (that is why Grebner was commissioned to do make his prototype I imagine). I believe that is because it didn’t allow the same affordances as the paper based world. Why not focus on that first?

Graz Kunsthaus, photo by Marion Schneider & Christoph Aistleitner, CC-licensed

Graz Kunsthaus, photo by Marion Schneider & Christoph Aistleitner, CC-licensed

Knowledge Management and Learning
This track had three learning related sessions.

Martin Wolpers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) talked about the “Early Experiences with Responsive Open Learning Environments”. He first defined each of the terms in Responsive Open Learning Environments:
Responsive: responsiveness to learners’ activities in respect to learning goals
Open: openness for new configurations, new contents and new users
Learning Environment: the conglomerate of tools that bring together people and content artifacts in learning activities to support them in constructing and processing information and knowledge.

The current generation of Virtual Learning Environments and Learning Management Systems have a couple of problems:

  • Lack of information about the user across learning systems and learning contexts (i.e. what happens to the learning history of a person when they switch to a different company?)
  • Learners cannot choose their own learning services
  • Lack of support for open and flexible personalized contextualized learning approach

Fraunhofer is making an intelligent infrastructure that incorporates widgets and existing VLE/LMS functionality to truly personalize learning. They want to bridge what people use at home with what they use in the corporate environment by “intelligent user driven aggregation”. This includes a technology infrastructure, but also requires a big change in understanding how people actually learn.

They used Shindig as the widget engine and Opensocial as the widget technology. They used this to create an environment with the following characteristics:

  • A widget based environment to enable students to create their own learning environment
  • Development of new widgets should be independent from specific learning platforms
  • Real-time communication between learners, remote inter-widget communication, interoperable data exchange, event broadcasting, etc.

He used a student population in China as the first people to try the system. It didn’t have the uptake that he expected. They soon realised that this was because the students had come to the conclusion that use or non-use of the system did not directly affect their grades. The students also lacked an understanding of the (Western?) concept of a Personal Learning Environment. After this first trial he came to a couple of conclusions. Some where obvious like that you should respect the cultural background of your students or that responsive open learning environments create challenges on the technology and the psycho-pedagogical side. Other were less obvious like that using an organic development process allowed for flexibility and for openly addressing emerging needs and requirements and that it makes sense to enforce your own development to become the standard.

For me this talk highlighted the still significant gap that seems to exist between computer scientists on the one side and social scientists on the other side. Trying out Personal Learning Environments in China is like sending CliniClowns to Africa: not a good idea. Somebody could have told them this in advance, right?

Next up was a talk titled “Utilizing Semantic Web Tools and Technologies for Competency Management” by Valentina Janev from the Serbian Mihajlo Pupin Institute. She does research to help improve the transferability and comparability of competences, skills and qualifications and to make it easier to express core competencies and talents in a standardized machine accessible way. This was another talk that was hard for me to follow because it was completely focused on what needs to happen on the (semantic) technical side without first giving a clear idea of what kind of processes these technological solutions will eventually improve. A couple of snippets that I picked up are that they are replacing data warehouse technologies with semantic web technologies, that they use OntoWiki a semantic wiki application, that RDF is the key word for people in this field and that there is thing called DOAC which has the ambition to make job profiles (and the matching CVs) machine readable.

The final talk in this track was from Joachim Griesbaum who works at the Institute of Information Science and Language Technology. The title of his talk must have been the longest in the conference: “Facilitating collaborative knowledge management and self-directed learning in higher education with the help of social software, Concept and implementation of CollabUni – a social information and communication infrastructure”, but as he said: at least it gives you an idea what it is about (slides of this talk are available here, Griesbaum was one of the few presenters that made it clear where I could find the slides afterwards).

A lot of social software in higher education is used in formal learning. Griesbaum wants to focus on a Knowledge Management approach that primarily supports informal learning. To that end he and his students designed a low cost (there was no budget) system from the bottom up. It is called CollabUni and based on the open source e-portfolio solution (and smart little sister of Moodle) Mahara.

They did a first evaluation of the system in late 2009. There was little self-initiated knowledge activity by the 79 first year students. Roughly one-third of the students see an added value in CollabUni and declare themselves ready for active participation. Even though the knowledge processes that they aimed for don’t seem to be self-initiating and self-supporting, CollabUni still shows and stands for a possible low-cost and bottom-up approach towards developing social software. During the next steps of their roll out they will pay attention to the following:

  • Social design is decisively important
  • Administrative and organizational support components and incentive schemes are needed
  • Appealing content (for example an initial repository of term papers or theses)
  • Identify attractive use cases and applications

Call me a cynic, but if you have to try this hard: why bother? To me this really had the feeling of a technology trying to find a problem, rather than a technology being the solution to the problem. I wonder what the uptake of Facebook is with his students? I did ask him the question and he said that there has not been a lot of research into the use of Facebook in education. I guess that is true, but I am quite convinced there is a lot use of Facebook in education. I believe that if he had really wanted to leverage social software for the informal part of learning, he should have started with what his students are actually using and try to leverage that by designing technology in that context, instead of using another separate system.

Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs)
The closing keynote of the conference was by Peter A. Gloor who currently works for the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. Gloor has written a couple of books on how innovation happens in this networked world. Though his story was certainly entertaining I also found it a bit messy: he had an endless list of fascinating examples that in the end supported a message that he could have given in a single slide.

His main point is that large groups of people behave apparently randomly, but that there are patterns that can be analysed at the collective level. These patterns can give you insight into the direction people are moving. One way of reading the collective mind is by doing social network analysis. By combining the wisdom of the crowd with the wisdom of groups of experts (swarms) it is possible to do accurate predictions. One example he gave was how they had used reviews on the Internet Movie Database (the crowd) and on Rotten Tomatoes (the swarm) to predict on the day before a movie opens in the theatres how much the movie will bring in in total.

The process to do these kinds of predictions is as follows:

COIN cycle

COIN cycle

This kind of analysis can be done at a global level (like the movie example), but also in for example organizations by analysing email-archives or equipping people with so called social badges (which I first read about in Honest Signals) which measure who people have contact with and what kind of interaction they are having.

He then went on to talk about what he calls “Collaborative Innovation Networks” (COINs) which you can find around most innovative ideas. People who lead innovation (think Thomas Edison or Tim Berners-Lee) have the following characteristics:

  • There are well connected (they have many “friends”)
  • They have a high degree of interactivity (very responsive)
  • They share to a very high degree

All of these characteristics are easy to measure electronically and thus automatically, so to find COINs you find the people who score high on these points. According to Gloor high-performing organizations work as collaborative innovation networks. Ideas progress from Collaborative Innovation Network (COIN) to Collaborative Learning Network (CLN) to Collaborative Interest Network (CIN).

Twitter is proving to be a very useful tool for this kind of analysis. Doing predictions for movies is relatively easy because people are honest in their feedback. It is much harder for things like stock, because people game the system with their analysis. Twitter can be used (e.g. by searching for “hope”, “fear” and “worry” as indicators for sentiment) as people are honest in their feedback there.

Finally he made a refence in his talk to the Allen curve (the high correlation between physical distance and communication, with a critical distance of 50 meters for technical communication). I am sure this curve is used by many office planners, but Gloor also found an Allen curve for technical companies around his university: it was about 3 miles.

Interesting Encounters
Outside of the sessions I spoke to many interesting people at the conference. Here are a couple (for my own future reference).

It had been a couple of years since I had last seen Peter Sereinigg from act2win. He has stopped being a Moodle partner and now focuses on projects in which he helps global virtual teams in how they communicate with each other. There was one thing that he and I could fully agree on: you first have to build some rapport before you can effectively work together. It seems like such an obvious thing, but for some reason it still doesn’t happen on many occasions.

Twitter allowed me to get in touch with Aldo de Moor. He had read my blog post about day 1 of this conference and suggested one of his articles for further reading about pattern languages (the article refers to a book on a pattern language for communication which looks absolutely fascinating). Aldo is a independent research consultant in the field of Community Informatics. That was interesting to me for two reasons:

  • He is still actively publishing in peer reviewed journals and speaking at conferences, without being affiliated with a highly acclaimed research institute. He has written an interesting blog post about the pros and cons of working this way.
  • I had never heard of this young field of community informatics and it is something I would like to explore further.

I also spent some time with Barend Jan de Jong who works at Wolters Noordhoff. We had some broad-ranging discussions mainly about the publishing field: the book production process and the information technology required to support this, what value a publisher can still add, e-books compared to normal books (he said how a bookcase says something about somebody’s identity, I agreed but said that a digital book related profile is way more accessible than the bookcase in my living room, note to self: start creating parody GoodReads accounts for Dutch politicians), the unclear if not unsustainable business model of the wonderful Guardian news empire and how we both think that O’Reilly is a publisher that seem to have their stuff fully in order.

Puzzling stuff
There were also some things at I-KNOW 2010 that were really from a different world. The keynote on the morning of the 3rd day was perplexing to me. Márta Nagy-Rothengass titled the talk “European ICT Research and Development Supporting the Expansion of Semantic Technologies and Shared Knowledge Management” and opened with a video message of Neelie Kroes talking in very general terms about Europe’s digital agenda. After that Nagy-Rothengass told us that the European Commission will be nearly doubling its investment into ICT to 11 billion Euros, after which she started talking about the “Call 5” of “FP7” (apparently that stands for the Seventh Framework Programme), the dates before which people should put their proposals in, the number of proposals received, etc., etc., etc. I am pro-EU, but I am starting to understand why people can make a living advising other people how best to apply for EU grants.

Another puzzling thing was the fact that people like me (with a corporate background) thought that the conference was quite theoretical and academic, whereas the researchers thought everything was very applied (maybe not enough research even!). I guess this shows that there is quite a schism between universities furthering the knowledge in this field and corporations who could benefit from picking the fruits of this knowledge. I hope my attendance at this great conference did its tiny part in bridging this gap.

Random Notes From Online Educa 2009

My blog, as one of the preferred outsourcing partners of my mind, will serve as a keeper of some of my notes and thoughts on Online Educa 2009 in Berlin. This will be a relatively disorganised post with a lot of different short bits of information, apologies in advance.

Blog posts
Earlier, I wrote a couple of blog posts about this year’s Educa:

I used Twitter a lot this year trying to capture some choice quotes and thoughts. Twitter does not give you an easy way to show all your posts with a particular hash tag (why not?), so you can view my past tweets through Tweet Scan. Here are some highlights:

I wasn’t the only person tweeting at the conference. The tag was #oeb2009 and Twubs provided a nice hub.

Making the switch from Blackboard to Moodle
Alex Büchner from Synergy Learning talked about organisations switching from Blackboard to Moodle. He gave three reasons for making the switch:

  1. Moodle is a better product.
  2. Staff and students prefer to use Moodle over Blackboard (see this report).
  3. Moodle has a lower Total Cost of Ownership (see this report).

Alex made a lot of people laugh with his graphic showing how Blackboard is gaining market share through acquisitions and how Moodle still manages to trump that:

Big fish and bigger fish

Courtesy of Alex Büchner of Synergy Learning (click to enlarge)

Brochures that I picked up
There were a lot of exhibitors all handing out brochures. These are the companies/services of which I kept the brochures:

  • CELSTEC, the Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies. This Centre of Expertise is part of the Dutch Open University and does a lot of original research in the technology space. I would love to explore how I could work with them in the future.
  • Quick Lessons. I like how this company has all the right buzzwords in their marketing: they allow you to do “rapid e-learning development in the cloud” (!). They even have the famous Web 2.0 badge on their site. There is one thing I really like though: the concept of a web-based development tool. I do think there is a lot of potential for those, regardless of whether Quick Lessons is the best option. Does anyone have any experience with using Udutu for example?
  • The market for capturing presentations is maturing. A presentation or a lecture might seem old-fashioned to some, but there still is a space for this type of teaching (if it is well done) and by filming the lecture, you can turn this into on-demand content for students. Through my work at Stoas Learning I already knew about Presentations 2 Go, but I hadn’t heard of Lecturnity before.
  • The rapid browser-based sims of Thinking Worlds are very interesting to explore further. A little while ago I did a course which used a game developed with their 3D engine and I thought it had a lot of potential. Their worlds run in the browser and only require a Shockwave plugin which should be available on most systems. What I really want to know is how quick and easy the authoring process is. How do you design interactions and scenarios? I will check that out in the near future.
  • Geanium delivers “Interactive Chronological Visualisations”, another word would be timelines. Their product looked nice enough: you could put events not just on a timeline, but also on a particular place in the world. I can see some niche applications for this service.
  • I have quite a bit of experience in using Adobe Captivate to do rapid development. I like certain things about the software, but would be interested in finding out how it really compares to the other rapid development tools from Articulate (check out the excellent Rapid e-Learning Blog by the way) and TechSmith (of SnagIt, Camtasia and Jing fame). The latter has a new product out called UserVue, which could be very useful in usability testing. I wish I would have easier access to installed trial versions of these applications.

Lord Puttnam and We Are The People
Lord Puttnam keynoted on the first day. He talked about his latest video project titled We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For. The basic point of the movie is that we are not preparing our children for the future that is waiting for them. You can get the DVD you for free when you order it online. I ordered and watched it and thought it made a good case for making a step change in our educational system. My favourite talking head in the movie was Ken Robinson. If you have never seen his TED talk, then you should rectify that situation immediately.

An unconference with Jay Cross and his Internet Time Alliance friends
Jay Cross organised a couple of unconferences with his Internet Time Alliance friends. I always admire Jay for how he manages to utilise the Internet to his and his clients advantage. His self-published “unbooks” are a great example of this. His sessions were by far the most interesting and engaging at this year’s Online Educa. Jane Hart and Charles Jennings were in the room and Harold Jarche and Jon Husband were available through video conferencing.

The main question of the session that I attended was: What are the major challenges/vision/issues that we see moving into the 21st century when it comes to learning? Jarche thinks organisations will have to deal with more and more complexity. Everything that is simple or can be commoditized will move to the lowest bidder or will be an automated process. What is left is complex. The training functions are currently not able to deal with this complexity. Cross considers the global downturn a symptom of the end of the industrial age and the beginning of a truly networked world. In that world intangibles are much more important than tangibles. Our training metrics will have to change to reflect this.

Then followed a selection of models and ideas that are mostly familiar to me, but are valuable enough to share again:

  • A hierarchy of employee traits in the creative economy: passion, creativity, initiative (these cannot be commoditized) followed by intellect, diligence and obedience (all of these can be commoditized).
  • Jane Hart’s five types of Learning: Intra Organizational Learning (self-directed, organizational), Group directed learning (self-directed, group), Personal learning (self-directed, individual), Accidental & Serendipitous learning (undirected, individual) and Formal structured learning (directed, individual). These are interesting in that they show that they are other ways of delivery than the traditional face to face workshop, but they start at the wrong end of the learning question. I would like to start on the demand side when it comes to creating a learning typology (actually I am working on exactly that: a corporate learning typology, more to come).
  • The concept of the wirearchy: a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology.
  • John Husband shared this great paragraph from Peter Drucker (the full text is here):

Bribing the knowledge workers on whom these industries depend will therefore simply not work. The key knowledge workers in these businesses will surely continue to expect to share financially in the fruits of their labor. But the financial fruits are likely to take much longer to ripen, if they ripen at all. And then, probably within ten years or so, running a business with (short-term) “shareholder value” as its first—if not its only—goal and justification will have become counterproductive. Increasingly, performance in these new knowledge-based industries will come to depend on running the institution so as to attract, hold, and motivate knowledge workers. When this can no longer be done by satisfying knowledge workers’ greed, as we are now trying to do, it will have to be done by satisfying their values, and by giving them social recognition and social power. It will have to be done by turning them from subordinates into fellow executives, and from employees, however well paid, into partners.

Accelerating the Adoption of Innovations
I had a great round-table discussion with Ellen D. Wagner from Sage Road Solutions (kudos: the first business card with a Twitter name that I have received, maybe pretty standard in the valley?), David James Clarke IV from Toolwire and others about how to accelerate the adoption of innovations.

Wagner wanted to overlay Gartner’s Hype cycle over Rogers’ adoption curve. Gartner’s hype cycle looks like this:

The Hype Cycle

The Hype Cycle

Rogers’s adoption curve is as follows:

Diffusion of Innovations

Diffusion of Innovations

Wagner puts these two graphs together:

Ellen D. Wagner, Sage Road Solutions: When Hype Cycle meets the Innovation Adoption Curve

Ellen D. Wagner, Sage Road Solutions: When Hype Cycle meets the Innovation Adoption Curve

She shows exactly in which phase the pain lies and where extra stakeholder support is necessary. The whole discussion reminded me of this great Geek and Poke comic:

Gartner Hype Cycle Version 2.0

Gartner Hype Cycle Version 2.0 by Geek and Poke, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 License

David James Clarke IV and Experiential Learning
David James Clarke IV of Toolwire also presented on experiential learning in a plenary. His argument was that in the current information economy knowledge is not power anymore. It is access to knowledge and the ability to turn that knowledge into action and decisions that is power.

He talked about the tension between richness (the depth of the experience) and reach (the amount of people the experience can reach) as first described by Evans and Wurster which, if adapted to the traditional educational field, leads to the following tension between classroom (high richness, low reach) and distance (low richness, high reach) learning:

Richness - Reach tension

Richness - Reach tension

His point is that technology is now at a point where this tension can be overcome:

Technology overcomes the Richness - Reach tension

Technology overcomes the Richness - Reach tension

This is where experiential learning comes in. Students should have hands-on real world experiences while they are in school. He finished his talk with an example from the Matrix. I quote from the white-paper that he and Charles Jennings wrote on experiential learning:

The movie The Matrix provides an exceptional example of experiential learning in action. In this case, it is literally a matter of life or death. In a scene towards the end of the movie, our heroes – Trinity and Neo – find themselves trapped on the roof of the Agents’ headquarters. Their only escape is via a military helicopter.
The problem is neither of them knows how to fly a helicopter … yet. So what does Trinity do? She calls her Learning Management System (LMS), of course. In this case, the LMS is represented by a phone operator named Tank.
Trinity requests a specific learning object – Helicopters for Dummies! – and Tank downloads the skills directly into her brain. You can appreciate the experiential learning significance here. Once Trinity has received the skills, she and Neo fly the Helicopter to safety and continue saving the world!
This is a perfect example of just-in-time, context-sensitive experiential learning delivered exactly when the student needs it … in 30 seconds!

Clarke later in the day did a Pecha Kucha with 10 movies about learning as his topic:

I have decided that I will invest some time into creating my own Pecha Kucha: a top ten of education philosophers.

Niall Winter: a Framework for Designing Mobile Learning Experiences
Niall Winter is an interesting researcher at the London Knowledge Lab. He talked about the fact that mobile learning has failed to exploit the social practices by which the new affordances of mobile devices become powerful educational interventions. He sees designing mobile learning experiences as one of the key challenges for the technology enhanced learning community. It important to focus on the learning intervention and not be techno-centric. This should lead to socio-technical solutions where the context and the activity determine the success. His goal then is to design activities that are appropriate to the context.

He does this using a participatory design methodology going through the following time consuming process:

  1. Explore the institutional context: technology, identifying existing practice, participants’ perspective
  2. Explore the learner context: scenarios, concerns, (un)expected new practices (iterative cycle)
  3. Deploy and go through the cycle again

The host of Niall’s session, Herman Van der Merwe, introduced the audience to the International Association for Mobile Learning.

Two final interesting links to explore in the future

Final conclusion
All in all it was very worthwhile to go to this year’s Online Educa. I don’t think there is another occasion where that many members of the educational technology community are present.