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Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.

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Performance support & Connectivism


posted on
October 30th, 2007
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General

New York Times columnist David Brooks has written a description of acquiring and becoming dependent on a GPS.

The Outsourced Brain

Brooks’s description of hooking into the shared knowledge network is an exemplar of George Siemens’ Connectivism.

I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S.

I’ve been researching the current state of performance support, and the G.P.S. certainly qualifies as an interactive performance support tool. Why should I learn something if I can look it up with I need it?

Since the dawn of humanity, people have had to worry about how to get from here to there. Precious brainpower has been used storing directions, and memorizing turns. I myself have been trapped at dinner parties at which conversation was devoted exclusively to the topic of commuter routes.

My G.P.S. goddess liberated me from this drudgery. She enabled me to externalize geographic information from my own brain to a satellite brain, and you know how it felt? It felt like nirvana.

Mash up Connectivism and performance support, and the result is meta-learning. Common wisdom holds that in the information age, we are each responsible for our own learning. The new insight is that we are each responsible for our own instructional design. We must ask ourselves whether we want to learn something or just to learn how to find it.

Through that experience I discovered the Sacred Order of the External Mind. I realized I could outsource those mental tasks I didn’t want to perform. Life is a math problem, and I had a calculator.

Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.

Yesterday I took part in a scavenger hunt along Cannery Row in Monterey. John Steinbeck lived and wrote here. Brooks ends his piece with reference to The Grapes of Wrath. At the end of the movie, Henry Fonda assures his mother than while his body is dying, his spirit will carry on. Brooks tells us his spirit will persist as well.

Now, you may wonder if in the process of outsourcing my thinking I am losing my individuality. Not so. My preferences are more narrow and individualistic than ever. It’s merely my autonomy that I’m losing.

There is no dishonor in taking advantage of knowledge that’s stored outside your head.

I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. As John Steinbeck nearly wrote, a fella ain’t got a mind of his own, just a little piece of the big mind — one mind that belongs to everybody. Then it don’t matter, Ma. I’ll be everywhere, around in the dark. Wherever there is a network, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a TiVo machine making a sitcom recommendation based on past preferences, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way Amazon links purchasing Dostoyevsky to purchasing garden furniture. And when memes are spreading, and humiliation videos are shared on Facebook — I’ll be there, too.

The bottom line is performance, not learning. The group mind is your friend. All of us is smarter than any of us. Better streamline your connections to the group mind.

[errors corrected 10/31]

3comments

  • Stephen Downes - October 31, 2007 at 4:28 am -

    > George Siemens’ Connectionism

    Should be “George Siemens’ Connectivism”. Connectionism is a theory of computing pioneered by people like Rosenblatt, Minsky and Papert.

  • Jay Cross - October 31, 2007 at 4:54 pm -

    Noted and corrected. Thanks, Stephen.

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