The Future State of Capability Building in Organizations: Inspirations

CC-licenced photo by Flickr user kevindooley

CC-licenced photo by Flickr user kevindooley

I have been involved in organizing a workshop on capability building in organizations hosted on my employer‘s premises (to be held on October 20th). We have tried to get together an interesting group of professionals who will think about the future state of capability building and how to get there. All participants have done a little bit of pre-work by using a single page to answer the following question:

What/who inspires you in your vision/ideas for the future state of capability building in organizations?

Unfortunately I cannot publish the one-pagers (I haven’t asked their permission yet), but I have disaggregated all their input into a list of Delicious links, a YouTube playlist and a GoodReads list (for which your votes are welcome). My input was as follows:

Humanistic design
We don’t understand ourselves well enough. If we did, the world would not be populated with bad design (and everything might look like Disney World). The principles that we use for designing our learning interventions are not derived from a deep understanding of the humand mind and its behavioural tendencies, instead it is often based on simplistic and unscientific methodologies. How can we change this? First, everybody should read Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Next, we can look at Hans Monderman (accessible through the book Traffic) to understand the influence of our surroundings on our behaviour. Then we have to try and understand ourselves better by reading Medina’s Brain Rules (or check out the excellent site) and books on evolutionary psychology (maybe start with Pinker’s How the Mind Works). Finally we must never underestimate what we are capable of. Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment is a great reminder of this fact.

Learning theory
The mental model that 99% of the people in this world have for how people learn is still informed by an implied behaviourist learning theory. I like contrasting this with George Siemens’ connectivism and Papert’s constructionism (I love this definition). These theories are actually put into practice (the proof of the pudding is in the eating): Siemens and Stephen Downes (prime sense-maker and a must-read in the educational technology world) have been running multiple massive online distributed courses with fascinating results, whereas Papert’s thinking has inspired the work on Sugarlabs (a spinoff of the One Laptop per Child project).

Open and transparent
Through my work for Moodle I have come to deeply appreciate the free software philosophy. Richard Stallman‘s four freedoms are still relevant in this world of tethered appliances. Closely aligned to this thinking is the hacker mentality currently defended by organizations like the Free Software Foundation, the EFF, Xs4all and Bits of Freedom. Some of the open source work is truly inspirational. My favourite example is the Linux based operating system Ubuntu, which was started by Mark Shuttleworth and built on top of the giant Debian project. “Open” thinking is now spilling over into other domains (e.g. open content and open access). One of the core values in this thinking is transparency. I actually see huge potential for this concept as a business strategy.

Working smarter
Jay Cross knows how to adapt his personal business models on the basis of what technology can deliver. I love his concept of the unbook and think the way that the Internet Time Alliance is set up should enable him to have a sustainable portfolio lifestyle (see The Age of Unreason by the visionary Charles Handy). The people in the Internet Time Alliance keep amplifying each other and keep on tightening their thinking on Informal Learning, now mainly through their work on The Working Smarter Fieldbook.

Games for learning
We are starting to use games to change our lives. “Game mechanics” are showing up in Silicon Valley startups and will enter mainstream soon too. World Without Oil made me understand that playing a game can truly be a transformational experience and Metal Gear Solid showed me that you can be more engaged with a game than with any other medium. If you are interested to know more I would start by reading Jesse Schell’s wonderful The Art of Game Design, I would keep following Nintendo to be amazed by their creative take on the world and I would follow the work that Jane McConigal is doing.

The web as a driver of change
Yes, I am believer. I see that the web is fundamentally changing the way that people work and live together. Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody is the best introduction to this new world that I have found so far. Benkler says that “technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice“. Projects like Wikipedia and Kiva would not be feasible without the current technology. Wired magazine is a great way to keep up with these developments and Kevin Kelly (incidentally one of Wired’s cofounders) is my go-to technology philosopher: Out of Control was an amazingly prescient book and I can’t wait for What Technology Wants to appear in my mailbox.

I would of course be interested in the things that I (we?) have missed. Your thoughts?

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:

Twitter
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.