Archive for January, 2006

Separating knowledge from the learner

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

I’m going to make what will sound like an absurd suggestion: future learning endeavors need to separate knowledge from learners. Here’s my rationale:

Over the last three years, XML has grown substantially in use for data organization. HTML tied together content and presentation (i.e. the data and presentation were treated largely as one entity). When a company decided a new website was required, both data and presentation had to be created. XML separates data and presentation. Data can be managed in one document, and the presentation handled by CSS. It allows a designer to alter a web page simply by writing a new style sheet.

In a learning sense, we have treated the learner and the content as one entity. We fill the learner with content and release them into the corporate world. As their content runs low, they attend evening/continuing education classes in order to “refill”. This model works fairly well when the half-life of knowledge (how long it takes for knowledge to lose relevance) is long. In today’s world, knowledge is short – it survives only a short period of time before it is outdated. Most individuals need to spend an enormous amount of time in continuing education classes to stay current. It’s not good for business, and it’s not good for employee’s sanity.

We need to separate the learner from the knowledge they hold. It’s not really as absurd as it sounds. Consider the tools and processes we currently use for learning. Courses are static, textbooks are written years before actual use, classrooms are available at set times, etc. The underlying assumption of corporate training and higher education centers on the notion that the world hasn’t really changed.

But it has. Employees can’t stay current by taking a course periodically. Content distribution models (books and courses) can’t keep pace with information and knowledge growth. Problems are becoming so complex that they cannot be contained in the mind of one individual – problems are held in a distributed manner across networks, with each node holding a part of the entire puzzle.

How do we separate the learner from the knowledge? By focusing not on the content they need to know (content changes constantly and requires continual updating), but on the connections to nodes which continually filter and update content. Instead of buying a book on elearning, subscribe to Stephen’s site, Maish’s or Jay’s blog (or elearnspace :) ). Read a few wikipedia articles (and contribute), join discussion forums, a list serv, follow tags on technorati or del.icio.us, attend a virtual conference, take a few workshops…you get the idea. When we stop seeing knowledge as an entity that is possessed within a person and start to cast it as a function of elements distributed across a system, we notice a dramatic impact on the education process: the educator becomes a supporter (not the center), the content is not as critical as the connections, learners find value in their aggregated perspectives, learners become content creators, and learning is continuous, exploratory and sustained (not controlled or filtered by only one agent).

Enough with 2.0

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

I’ve decided to repent. The phrase 2.0 used in relation to learning no longer sits well with me. I’ve blogged about web/learning/elearning 2.0 (at least 20 references on my elearnspace blog search)…I’ve delivered presentations (Connectivism and Web 2.0)…but I’m at the point where I don’t feel comfortable using the term “learning 2.0″. I mourn my discomfort in this podcast (8 minutes).

I’m concerned because I don’t think learning has changed. The act of learning (how our brain stores, recognizes, and retrieves knowledge) is fairly stable. Our external environment is not. As a result, over the last 30 years, many situations have developed in society that challenge established approaches to learning. Static is replaced with dynamic. Content is replaced (or at least augmented) with connections to ensure that people stay current. My whole intent with connectivism is to present the need to design a new approach and view of learning – one that is not hamstrung by classrooms, but is a thread that runs through the entire fabric of life. Learning as natural as breathing, as constant as a beating heart.

Maybe a bit of my concern is the machete work of language. Technologists use language as a means of beating newcomers into a state of confusion. Our field has more “insider speak” than any other (including medicine). It takes a newcomer years just to understand the language (forget actually joining the dialogue!). We use language as a barrier to newcomers. We should use it as a means to welcome others into the space to dialogue, share, and grow together. We are already at learning 2.0…and 85% of instructors and managers are still not at elearning. Do we really need more new words in our field? What does the phrase 2.0 add that is not added through concepts that are more readily understood (I say this to myself – I’ve 2.0′d many concepts as well).

Current talk and hype about learning 2.0 blurs the line between what has changed and what has not. We don’t have a new version of learning (i.e the act of learning itself). We do, however, have a new climate in which different approaches need to be taken to foster learning. Our old systems don’t work today. But the problem isn’t that we need to rethink the act of learning (30 years doesn’t result in much “evolution of the human brain”). I think it’s possible to get to focused on language (and trying to derive associated meaning) that the potential of an industry is dulled.

While I’m complaining – I would also like to highlight the severe deficiency in our vision in regards to our potential. We are not good keepers of our industry. We are designing courses, blogging, running wikis, and reading RSS. We think that’s where the learning is…that we are doing our learners a service by taking these approaches. But it’s more. Much more. Our myopic vision does a disservice to our field. As learning designers, it’s about designing for life. Learning is all around – TV, newspapers, internet, conversations, etc. We can’t get away from learning. Yet we toil away in front of our computers, designing for this narrow space called “learning”. I think the learning specialist of tomorrow (as early as five years) will hold many positions not traditional to our field. The concepts of learning and technology will penetrate (actually, they have already, people are slow to acknowledge it) into every area of our corporation, organizations, and schools. Those who understand the new space of constant learning will play a key role in helping organizations and people achieve their potential (and the idealist in me says, “to make a better world”). We simply think too small. We think we are trimming the hedges, when we have the potential to alter the entire landscape – to alter the very make up of the soil in which the hedges grow.

Am I splitting hairs with this argument? How can we portray that we are at a new place in regards to method of learning, but still in the same place in regards to the act of learning? How can we grow our scope, our image, our conception of learning and learning design (especially when we break from courses and classrooms).

Power

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Power is an underlying thread that extends through all of life. We’ve all heard statements that “money is power” or “sex is power”. I don’t have a strong opinion on the accuracy of those two statements, but I do believe that the real power issues of our era center around ideologies. Our ideologies are then expressed in how we create our institutions and organizations. What we believe, and the accompanying meaning of that belief, are central to the educational process.

The following are the key ideology-driven power constructs that will shape our world over the next several decades:

  • Corporations. Corporations have one ulterior motive: generate value for shareholders. Country lines and patriotism are secondary to achievement of corporate vision. In our developing global environments, corporations hold tremendous power.
  • Belief-based organizations (religious, atheistic). Religious structures have long held an important role in society. The attainment of “higher ideals” has shaped and driven society for centuries. The loss of public power (i.e. governing people, law and punishment) has resulted in spiritual groups developing a quiet, often behind-the-scenes, power in the lives of their adherents. This quiet power is then reflected in how members of a group function within corporations, institutions, and government.
  • Countries/governments. I’m not sure how this power structure will fair in a global era. Already we are seeing countries sacrifice some autonomy to be a part of larger multi-country trade and currency groups (EU, NAFTA are examples…and UN is a more global example, though countries don’t necessarily sacrifice autonomy to be a part of UN).
  • “The people”. This power structure has gained substantial capacity to influence corporations and governments (China and Iran may not be the best examples) with the advent of internet and communication technologies. Smart mobs and the “new superpower”, are examples of informal, often rapid, organization of people around promoting/preserving an ideal, or righting an injustice. While a far cry from Marxist “power to the people” approach, this power structure works within to influence other structures (instead of trying to replace or duplicate them). “The people” wield their influence based on the nature of the power structure they are trying to influence (corporations with dollars, countries with votes, churches with reputation).
  • Education. Education is the odd element in this power list. Education influences each structure listed above, as it is the process by which other power systems achieve and propagate their aims. In an ideological sense, I believe education, when coupled with appropriate power structure, is the only way we are able to truly change the world (for the better). In a sense, education is the balancing, accountability, critical thinking element of power.

    I’m not trying to present any of these power structures as negative – just simply acknowledging that they exist and each carries a certain approach, element, or implication for society.