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!

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 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.


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.

Reflecting on South by Southwest (SxSW) 2012

SxSW: The Place to Be (photo CC-licensed by Debbs)

SxSW: The Place to Be (photo CC-licensed by Debbs)

It has been a few months since I attended SxSW in Austin. Time to do a bit of reflection and see which things have stuck with me as major takeaways and trends to remember.

Let me start by saying that going there has changed the way I think about learning and technology in many tacit ways that are hard to describe. That must have something to do with the techno-optimism, the incredible scale/breadth and the inclusive atmosphere. I will definitely make it a priority to go there again. The following things made me think:

Teaching at scale

One thing that we are now slowly starting to understand is how to do things at scale. Virtualized technology allows us to cooperate and collaborate in groups that are orders of magnitude larger than groups coming together in a physical space. The ways of working inside these massive groups are different too.

Wikipedia was probably one of the first sites that showed the power of doing things at this new scale (or was it Craigslist?). Now we have semi-commercial platforms like or hyper-commercial platforms like Facebook that are leveraging the same type of affordances.

The teaching profession is now catching on too. From non-commercial efforts like MOOCs and the Peer 2 Peer university to initiatives springing from major universities: Stanford’s AI course, Udacity, Coursera, MITx to the now heavily endowed Khan Academy: all have found ways to scale a pedagogical process from a classroom full of students to audiences of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. They have now even become mainstream news with Thom Friedman writing about them in the New York Times (conveniently forgetting to mention the truly free alternatives).

I don’t see any of this in Corporate Learning Functions yet. The only way we currently help thousands of staff learn is through non-facilitated e-learning modules. That paradigm is now 15-20 years old and has not taken on board any of the lessons that the net has taught us. Soon we will all agree that this type of e-learning is mostly ineffectual and thus ultimately also non-efficient. The imperative for change is there. Events like the Jams that IBM organize are just the beginning of new ways of learning at the scale of the web.

Small companies creating new/innovative practices

The future of how we will soon all work is already on view in many small companies around the world. Automattic blew my mind with their global fully distributed workforce of slightly over a hundred people. This allows them to truly only hire the best people for the job (rather than the people who live conveniently close to an office location). All these people need to start being productive is a laptop with an Internet connection.

Automattic has also found a way to make sure that people feel connected to the company and stay productive: they ask people to share as much as possible what it is they are doing (they called it “oversharing”, I would call it narrating your work). There are some great lessons there for small global virtual teams in large companies.

The smallest company possible is a company of one. A few sessions at SxSW focused on “free radicals”. These are people who work in ever-shifting small project groups and often aren’t very bounded to a particular location. These people live what Charles Handy, in The Elephant and The Flea, called a portfolio lifestyle. They are obviously not on a career track with promotions, instead they get their feedback, discipline and refinement from the meritocratic communities and co-working spaces they work in.

Personally I am wondering whether it is possible to become a free radical in a large multinational. Would that be the first step towards a flatter, less hierarchical and more expertise-based organization? I for one wouldn’t mind stepping outside of my line (and out of my silo) and finding my own work on the basis of where I can add the most value for the company. I know this is already possible in smaller companies (see the Valve handbook for an example). It will be hard for big enterprises to start doing this, but I am quite sure we will all end up there eventually.


One trend that is very recognizable for me is hyperspecialization. When I made my first website around 2000, I was able to quickly learn everything there was to know about building websites. There were a few technologies and their scope was limited. Now the level of specialization in the creation of websites is incredible. There is absolutely no way anybody can be an expert in a substantial part of the total field. The modern-day renaissance man just can’t exist.

Transaction costs are going down everywhere. This means that integrated solutions and companies/people who can deliver things end-to-end are losing their competitive edge. As a client I prefer to buy each element of what I need from a niche specialist, rather then get it in one go from somebody who does an average job. Topcoder has made this a core part of their business model: each project that they get is split up into as many pieces as possible and individuals (free radicals again) bid on the work.

Let’s assume that this trends towards specialization will continue. What would that mean for the Learning Function? One thing that would become critical is your ability to quickly assess expertise. How do you know that somebody who calls themselves and expert really is one? What does this mean for competency management? How will this affect the way you build up teams for projects?

Evolution of the interface

Everybody was completely focused on mobile technology at SxSW. I couldn’t keep track of the number of new apps I’ve seen presented. Smartphones and tablets have created a completely new paradigm for interacting with our computers. We have all become enamoured with touch-interfaces right now and have bought into the idea that a mobile operating system contains apps and an appstore (with what I like to call the matching “update hell”).

Some visionaries were already talking about what lies beyond the touch-based interface and apps (e.g. Scott Jenson and Amber Case. More than one person talked about how location and other context creating attributes of the world will allow our computers to be much smarter in what they present to us. Rather than us starting an app to get something done, it will be the world that will push its apps on to us. You don’t have to start the app with the public transport schedule anymore, instead you will be shown the schedule as soon as you arrive at the bus stop. You don’t start Shazam to capture a piece of music, but your phone will just notify you of what music is playing around you (and probably what you could be listening to if you were willing to switch channel). Social cues will become even stronger and this means that cities become the places for what someone called “coindensity” (a place with more serendipity than other places).

This is likely to have profound consequences for the way we deliver learning. Physical objects and location will have learning attached to them and this will get pushed to people’s devices (especially when the systems knows that your certification is expired or that you haven’t dealt with this object before). You can see vendors of Electronic Performance Support Systems slowly moving into this direction. They are waiting for the mobile infrastructure to be there. The one thing we can start doing from today is to make sure we geotag absolutely everything.

One step further are brain-computer interfaces (commanding computers with pure thought). Many prototypes already exist and the first real products are now coming to market. There are many open questions, but it is fascinating to start playing with the conceptual design of how these tools would work.


Every time I go to any learning-related conference I come back with the same thought: I should really focus more on storytelling. At SxSW there was a psychologist making this point again. She talked about our tripartite brain and how the only way to engage with the “older” (I guess she meant Limbic) parts of our brain is through stories. Her memorable quote for me was: “You design for people. So the psychology matters.”

Just before SxSW I had the opportunity to spend two days at the amazing Applied Minds. They solve tough engineering problems, bringing ideas from concept to working prototype (focusing on the really tough things that other companies are not capable of doing). What was surprising is that about half of their staff has an artistic background. They realise the value of story. I’m convinced there is a lot to be gained if large engineering companies would start to take their diversity statements seriously and started hiring writers, architects, sculptors and cineasts.

Open wins again

Call it confirmation bias (my regular readers know I always prefer “open”), but I kept seeing examples at SxSW where open technology beats closed solutions. My favourite example was around OpenStreetMap: companies have been relying on Google Maps to help them out with their mapping needs. Many of them are now starting to realise how limiting Google’s functionality is and what kind of dependence it creates for them. Many companies are switching to Open Street Map. Examples include Yahoo (Flickr), Apple and Foursquare.

Maybe it is because Google is straddling the line between creating more value than they capture and not doing that: I heartily agree with Tim O’Reilly and Doc Searl‘s statements at SxSW that free customers will always create more value than captured ones.

There is one place where open doesn’t seem to be winning currently and that is in the enterprise SaaS market. I’ve been quite amazed with the mafia like way in which Yammer has managed to acquire its customers: it gives away free accounts and puts people in a single network with other people in their domain. Yammer maximizes the virality and tells people they will get more value out of Yammer if they invite their colleagues. Once a few thousand users are in the network large companies have three options:

  1. Don’t engage with Yammer and let people just keep using it without paying for it. This creates unacceptable information risks and liability. Not an option.
  2. Tell people that they are not allowed to use Yammer. This is possible in theory, but would most likely enrage users, plus any network blocks would need to be very advanced (blocking Yammer emails so that people can’t use their own technology to access Yammer). Not a feasible option.
  3. Bite the bullet and pay for the network. Companies are doing this in droves. Yammer is acquiring customers straight into a locked-in position.

SaaS-based solutions are outperforming traditional IT solutions. Rather than four releases a year (if you are lucky), these SaaS based offerings release multiple times a day. They keep adding new functionality based on their customers demands. I have an example of where a SaaS based solution was a factor 2000 faster in implementation (2 hours instead of 6 months) and a factor 5000 cheaper ($100 instead of $500,000) than the enterprise IT way of doing things. The solution was likely better too. Companies like Salesforce are trying very hard to obsolete the traditional IT department. I am not sure how companies could leverage SaaS without falling in another lock-in trap though.

Resource constraints as an innovation catalyst

One lesson that I learned during my trip through the US is that affluence is not a good situation to innovate from. Creativity comes from constraints (this is why Arjen Vrielink and I kept constraining ourselves in different ways for our Parallax series). The African Maker “Safari” at SxSW showed what can become possible when you combine severe resource constraints with regulatory whitespace. Make sure to subscribe to Makeshift Magazine if you are interested to see more of these type of inventions and innovations.

I believe that many large corporations have too much budget in their teams to be really innovative. What would it mean if you wouldn’t cut the budget with 10% every year, but cut it with 90% instead? Wouldn’t you save a lot of money and force people to be more creative? In a world of abundance we will need to limit ourselves artificially to be able to deliver to our best potential.

Education ≠ Content

There is precious few people in the world who have a deep understanding of education. My encounter with Venture Capitalists at SxSW talking about how to fix education did not end well. George Siemens was much more eloquent in the way that he described his unease with the VCs. Reflecting back I see one thing that is most probably at the root of the problem: most people still equate education/learning to content. I see this fallacy all around me: It is the layperson’s view on learning. It is what drives people to buy Learning Content Management Systems that can deliver to mobile. It is why we think that different Virtual Learning Environments are interchangeable. This is why we think that creating a full curriculum of great teachers explaining things on video will solve our educational woes. Wrong!

My recommendation would be to stop focusing on content all together (as an exercise in constraining yourself). Who will create the first contentless course? Maybe Dean Kamen is already doing this. He wanted more children with engineering mindsets. Rather than creating lesson plans for teacher he decided to organise a sport- and entertainment based competition (I don’t how successful he is in creating more engineers with this method by the way).

That’s all

So far for my reflections. A blow-by-blow description of all the sessions I attended at SxSW is available here.

Massive Online Learning Communities, The Future of Education?

Philipp Schmidt (CC-license by Joi Ito)

Philipp Schmidt (CC-license by Joi Ito)

Philipp Schmidt from the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) talked about big online learning communities. P2PU is non-profit organization that runs an open source platform that you can use to run courses. Their starting point (and that of their community) is not the institution. Their three values are: peer learning, community and open. Here are my quick notes on his talk.

There is a wave of Massive Online Courses that has captured the imagination of academics. Philipp considers things like WordPress and Wikipedia the starting point for collaborating at scale. Another thing that is at the roots of this movement is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig from Stanford have shown us that it is possible not only to scale content, but also scale assignments and assessments. More than 100.000 people registered for the course and around 25.000 students actually finished this very hard course. Thrun has now left Stanford and has started the for-profit Udacity in which he is trying to help companies with finding good computer programmers by selling the performance data of students in their courses. Other people from Stanford have started Coursera. Another example is MITx which will offer a portfolio of MIT course for free for virtual communities around the world.

This part of the MOOC universe has received a lot of attention, but there is a parallel reality of people who have been experimenting with this for a long time. Jonathan Worth, for example, teaches photography. Jim Groom is the poster boy for Edupunk. He runs a course called Digital Storytelling 106. At Virginia Tech they are running a course titled The Plaid Avenger. Nearly all these courses use open source and free tools that they open to the world. They invite people in and manage to attract great speakers because of the amount of students they manage to sign up for these courses. There is likely a much larger community than we can expect.

So what does this all mean? Thrun has said that he cannot go back to Stanford again to teach a normal course. Lots of people online are denouncing the university because of the alternative to them that these massive open courses show. Philipp is interested in thinking about how you would scale online courses in a way that doesn’t stink. P2PU has done some experiments in their School of Webcraft with self-paced and self-directed problem-based (“challenges”) courses. There are a few areas to consider:

  • Open content
  • Allocation of expertise
  • Assessment
  • Recognition/Certification
  • Community

I will definitely continue the conversation with him on each of these topics.