General Session on Tuesday Morning at Masie’s Learning 2012

1600 people in a big ballroom showed up for another general session at Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012.

According to Masie there are a few things different this year in comparison to previous years:

  • Eight years ago everybody was rushing to a session on how to buy your LMS. We have now realized that the LMS is an important form of “air conditioning”: if it doesn’t work you’re screwed (so you do need it), but it doesn’t necessarily create the next step in learning.
  • We are now having a clear conversation about personalized learning. How can I learn what I want/need to know in the timeframe that makes sense, in the style that is appropriate, with the level of collaboration that I want and in the location that I am?
  • Another interesting question is: What will be the role of content created by the users (user generated content).

Oliver Bogler from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center came on the stage to pick up a Masie Spotlight Award. The center has a brilliantly designed logo:

MD Anderson Logo
MD Anderson Logo

They had a short conversation about how they teach not just the health professionals and students but also the patients and the “concerned” public. Education is really one of the cornerstones of their mission.

Diana Oblinger from Educause was on stage next. Educause is an organization in the field of Higher Education. There often is a disconnect between the world of corporate learning and the world of higher-ed. Diana made an argument that technology is enabling large changes in learning. We now have the ability to deliver large scale learning at a low cost. She also mentioned DIY Learning which is a topic that I did a session on too. Masie asked her how come higher-ed campusses only deliver a smart part of the learning in corporations. She does see this changing: MOOCs are an example. Masie then urged us all to connect with her and ask her about something like portfolios in higher education to see what we can learn from that world.

Charles Duhigg is a New York Times journalist and has written a book titled The Power of Habit. His inspiration for the book came from the military where habit formation is a key element to success. Because of advances in neurology in the last decade we now finally are starting to understand how habits work. In research with rats they have found out that as a habit forms the rat stop thinking. We now know that habits consist of three parts:

  • There is a cue that kickstarts the habitual behaviour
  • The behaviour itself is called the routine
  • Finally there is a reward, this is why we continue to show the behaviour in the future
The Habit Loop
The Habit Loop

We used to focus on the middle part, but the cue and the reward are very important too. The cue is usually easy enough to find, but the reward is harder to find. In the context of learning we are of course interested in shaping the habits of other people. Duhigg gave a couple of examples from Starbucks where they are trying to imbue will power habits in their young employees. One thing they use is the L.A.T.T.E. loop (they Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why the problem occurred). Duhigg also showed the marshmallow experiment (it relates to will power):


Changing individual habits can best be done by giving people insight in to how habits work. Habits take place just below our consciousness. They happen without us really thinking about it. Organizational habits are different. This is about culture. Some habits are more powerful than other in organizations, these are called keystone habits. Once you shift the keystone habits other things will start changing too. This is a way of unlocking cultural change in the organization. Masie related this story of habits to gamification (badges, etc.). He is afraid that we are overly simplifying things when we think about gamification as a way to shape habits. According to Duhigg we understand very little about rewards. There are two types of rewards: expected rewards and unexpected rewards. For rewards to be effective we need to have both. We usually only create expected rewards in our incentive systems. This is a problem because we tend to discount expected rewards when we get them and are overdelighted by unexpected rewards. There is also the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Often we need to have extrinsic rewards to kickstart or bootstrap a new habit which can then be sustained through intrinsic motivation.

They also discussed an article that Duhigg wrote about (software) patents. According to him we are starting to realize that software patents are broken (more information about how bad software patents are can be found here). Masie talked about the ridiculous story of IP learn. This is what some would call a patent troll set up to sue LMS companies. The company has already managed to pick up about 17 million dollars without ever having invented anything.

Unfortunately I had to miss Josh Bersin speaking as I had to prepare for my own session.