Monthly Archives: February 2010

I first met Stephen Denning about ten years ago. He had just left the World Bank and was selling copies of The Springboard out of a bag. It taught me the power of storytelling over PowerPoint, a lesson I too soon forgot. Storytelling in Organization, co-authored with Katalina Groh, Larry Prusak, and John Seely Brown, was even better because it was more practical. Then I tried reading The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling but gave up at the half-way mark; other things came up.

Steve participated in some of the open conference calls I ran while researching Informal Learning. He’d drifted out of my consciousness until recently, when I

Gazing down from the helicopter

Maybe it’s just me, but everywhere I turn, people are looking at things from a higher level of abstraction. They’re seeing a bigger picture by rising above the immediate situation. (I dubbed this the Helicopter pattern recently.)

For example, executives look beyond mere execution to their readiness to change strategies. Managers who used to deal with training are focusing on whatever it takes to get the job done. Organizations are going around yesterday’s confining corporate boundaries to form closer ties with customers and collaborators. It reminds me of the famous movie by Charles and Rae Eames, Powers of Ten. The higher you go, the greater your perspective.

Kevin Wheeler, founder of the Future of Talent Institute, and I talked about this trend toward taking a loftier view over lunch in Fremont yesterday. I asked Kevin about the transition from competencies to roles, from specialists to generalists, and from job descriptions to enlightened action.

Are you seeing the same phenomenon?

Training magazine, RIP

Nielsen Business Media is shutting down Training magazine and its companion Web site, The March issue will be the publication’s last. The move includes the elimination of 11 positions, a spokesperson said.

I first saw Training magazine in 1977. At the time I didn’t know the training business from a hole in the ground. “You mean there’s really a magazine about this stuff?” I became an avid reader. Training helped professionalize a rag-tag industry. Training taught me many lessons.

(Embarrassing. I had the one on the right as a professor at B-School.)

The editors and publisher of the magazine were promoters of the training business, much as O’Reilly Media supports all things internet these days. The company nurtured the Instructional Systems Association. Ron Zemke and Jack Gordon wrote and shaped a thought-provoking magazine.  Jerry Noack and Phil Jones helped the training industry progress. Julie Groshens managed not only the Training conference but also the Training Directors Forum, Online Learning, and other events. Leah Nelson somehow worked magic to make events go smoothly. This is quite a contrast to the Nielsen regime. Their editor told me not to submit articles because I wasn’t a full-time journalist.

I’ve keynoted Training and spoke at TDF several times. I wrote a cover story for Training. I’ve spoken at Online Learning — and learned a whole lot there. While I stopped reading it several years ago, I’m sad to see the magazine snuffed out. It feels like the end of an era. I kidded Phil Jones years ago that they should change the name of the magazine to Learning to keep up with the times. In retrospect, that would only have prolonged the death-spiral.

Workflow Learning gets real

Learning on the Holodeck

Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll have written a definitive book on virtual worlds, Learning in 3D:  Adding a New Dimension in Enterprise Learning and Collaboration.

Many people think of virtual worlds as the realm of characters in bizarre costumes and companies out to waste their PR budgets. Karl and Tony see a phase change in how people learn.

Learning is social, and I think this has something to do with the power of watching your avatar experience something as opposed to simply imagining it in your mind.

I heartily recommend the book but I suggest jumping around as you read. The first section sets the stage by setting out the fundamentals: the webvolution, the immersive internet, the ineffectiveness of the classroom, and “the brave new training world.” If you read this blog, you already know this stuff. They move on to architecture and archetypes. Everyone will want to read the nine cases which demonstrate a variety of learning environments. If you take part in Thursday evenings’ #lrnchat on Twitter, you can skip the sections on traditional design; you have already witnessed the ADDIE wars. The implementation advice is priceless, as are the essays by four revolutionaries.

Tony and Karl have convinced me that 3D learning is on the way. I hate to be a stick in the mud but I don’t yet think it’s ready for prime time. It’s going to be a while before most corporate citizens will be comfortable with this. Many workers’ minds are too calcified to handle the concept of avatars and alternative realities. Give it five years, and people will be saying “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

I don’t expect 3D learning environments to thrive in Second Life. Second Life is a pioneer and is the gorilla in the 3D space right now. However, SL can’t shed its DNA, and corporations aren’t going to train workers while the twisted sisters next door solicit customers.

Conservative organizations and schools are more likely to adopt environments developed specifically for business and academic applications. Examples are the knowledge worker environments developed by Proton Media and the interactive simulations coming out of Toolwire.

ProtonMedia: a professional environment, no funny hats

Une interview de Jay Cross, l'auteur d'Informal Learning

Une interview
Par Harold Jarche (Traduction Thierry de Baillon)
Mercredi 17 Février 2010 13:21

Jay Cross, Chief Scientist à l’ Internet Time Group, est l’auteur de Informal Learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance (NDT: Apprentissage informel: A la redécouverte des voies naturelles inspirant l’innovation et la performance), publié en 2006.

J’ai demandé à Jay pourquoi il avait écrit ce livre, et il m’a répondu que peu de choses avaient été publiées au sujet de l’apprentissage informel en milieu professionnel, bien que ce soit ainsi que l’essentiel de l’apprentissage se déroule. Les chiffres ont démontré qu’environ 80% de l’apprentissage en milieu professionnel est informel, mais que peu de professionnels de la formation s’y intéressaient. L’apprentissage informel est une idée très en marge en ce qui concerne la formation et l’éducation en entreprise. Les idées développées dans le livre sont nées bien plus tôt, vers 1999, et comprenaient l’apprentissage visuel et les meilleures manières d’utiliser les représentations graphiques. Avant même de commencer à écrire ce livre, Jay avait déjà rempli plus de 30 carnets sur le sujet.

Le livre de Jay développait des idées inédites. L’idée majoritairement admise à cette époque était que la formation en entreprise était le moyen ciblé le plus sensé pour dispenser de la formation sur les compétences essentielles. Jay a été l’un des penseurs qui contribua à modifier cette attitude. Dans un commentaire écrit sur mon blog en 2006, Jay écrivait, « je me heurte dans mon livre à la question des compétences de base. Mes relecteurs (tous les trois) souhaitent que je supprime ce qui se rapporte au storytelling, à la prise de parole en public, etc., parce que ce sont des compétences personnelles, et donc ne relèvent pas de l’apprentissage en entreprise. » En 2010, il est devenu plus difficile de dire que le storytelling ne fait pas partie de l’apprentissage en entreprise.


Parlez-vous francais? Allez vite à Enterprise Collaborative.

    Entreprise Collaborative est un laboratoire d’idées multiculturel permettant d’échanger entre experts et praticiens autour des concepts de social learning et d’entreprises en réseau afin de développer des organisations plus performantes.

Vive la France!

Learning Styles

Will Thalheimer reports on Learning Styles Reviewed by Association for Psychological Science AND FOUND WANTING.

Do you believe meshing delivery format with a student’s learning style improves the quality of the learning?

    The learning-styles view has acquired great influence within the education field, and is frequently encountered at levels ranging from kindergarten to graduate school. There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many organizations offer professional development workshops for teachers and educators built around the concept of learning styles.

For an indictment of learning styles as irrelevant to learning, see: Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

    We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number.

Related posts:

Learning Styles and Pedagogy, the definitive report from the UK

Learning styles? Ha, ha, ha

Thanks to Donald Clark’s Plan B for pointing me to this one.

Where Social Learning Thrives

Read this inspiring Fast Company blog post by Marcia Conner. She nails what I have been calling learnscaping.

Growing a culture of service is more like planting a garden than building a shed. A garden requires tending, whereas a shed is built once. A social learning culture requires design, training, guidance, leadership, monitoring and celebrating successes, large and small. People need to know where the organization is headed and why it matters. It’s not easy for people to make the shift from a culture where they fear they are not good enough and need to improve, to one where they feel safe enough to want to improve for the enjoyment of it. Some will think it impossible for a whole culture to shift from fear-based fixes to joy-based learning, from coercion to inspiration. Others have witnessed it and will cheer along.

As you’ve heard many times before, “it’s not about the technology.”

A social interaction pattern language 2 of 2

Getting good at social interactions is vital for social learning.

We live in a social world. Every action taken that involves more than one person arises from conversation that generates, coordinates, and reflects those actions. At best, those group actions serve the well-being of the whole: not just the whole of a particular organization, but the whole of life. However, as we well know, many group actions are not life-serving. They are disconnected, existing in a fantasy in which, by analogy, it’s as if they imagine it is possible for the cells in one’s stomach to work against the interest of the cells in one’s heart, without thereby acting against their own interest as well.

Because these group actions, destructive and constructive both, arise from group conversations, those conversations become a potential leverage point for anyone looking to shift the system. People who convene formal group conversations—facilitators, meeting planners, et al.—are particularly well placed to make a difference, and thus we carry an ethical responsibility. We can support processes that empower people, or processes that prevent them from taking charge of their own lives. We can plan meetings that are genuinely open as to outcome, or let ourselves be co-opted by the powers that be as tools of manipulation. We can spread skills for solid group process as deeply and broadly as possible, or we can horde knowledge. Basically, group conversations have power—and the people involved with this project believe that power should be shared . . . and that sharing power in this way serves life.

A group led facilitated by Tree Bressen is working to develop a pattern language for group process.

A Pattern Language is an attempt to express the deeper wisdom of what brings aliveness within a particular field of human endeavor, through a set of interconnected expressions arising from that wisdom. Aliveness is one placeholder term for “the quality that has no name”: a sense of wholeness, spirit, or grace, that while of varying form, is precise and empirically verifiable.

The term was originally coined by architect Christopher Alexander, who, together with five colleagues, published A Pattern Language for building in 1977. Others have since applied the term to economics, software design, liberatory communication, and more.

The group’s goals are:

  • To support Purpose-driven design. Form should follow function. The most important part of any meeting planning is to get clear on why you are having the meeting. That choice drives all subsequent choices for that event.
  • To deepen the skills of those who serve as group process guides, leaders, hosts, and facilitators. To assist with their learning in how to do design. To help them choose among many possible processes to create something that will be the best possible fit for their situation at a given time.
  • To serve as a resource for those who are teaching others to design, lead, facilitate group process.
  • To increase process literacy among people who are users of process(es)—which is all of us. Our world needs us to wake up and get more savvy about this.
  • You can see the work in progress and sign on to contribute at the group’s website.

    Pattern Workshop

    I spent part of yesterday and today writing patterns. I’ll show you what I came up with (in league with Kaliya Hamlin and a few other volunteers).

    Our pattern is called Helicopter. It had been named “Go Meta,” but we decided that was not easily understood.

    Most topics of group discussion can be visualized as a series of layers. The helicopter goes up a layer or two to get the “big picture” or a wider vision. Looking at the forest reveals viewpoints of a higher order than looking at just the trees. From the vantage point of the helicopter, you only see the forest.

    The Helicopter view is also known as going meta. Meta-learning is learning about learning. Meta-cognition is thinking about thinking.


    “Context” is the Helicopter view from a higher altitude.

    The facilitator may direct the conversation to the helicopter level by asking for similarities between objects. Things that are characteristic of an entire group of topics are generally meta.

    Alternatively, the facilitator could use graphics to explain the higher-order process. A process map or social network diagram gives the Helicopter view.

    Map the situation to show the connections. The network of nodes and connectors is at the meta level.

    In some cases, the facilitator may be able to get the group to the meta level by simply asking about the structure of the ecosystem surrounding the topic in question.


    • Finding a bottle neck in a system
    • Understanding the patterns of communication in a network
    • Investigating processes instead of isolated events

    Douglas Hofstadter uses meta as a stand-alone word, both as an adjective and as a directional preposition (“going meta”, a term he coins for the old rhetorical trick of taking a debate or analysis to another level of abstraction, as in “This debate isn’t going anywhere.”). This book is also probably responsible for the direct association of “meta” with self-reference, as opposed to just abstraction. The sentence “This sentence contains thirty-six letters,” and the sentence it is embedded in, are examples of sentences that reference themselves in this way. See Wikipedia article on meta


    Letter from Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke in 1676: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

    Patterns are meta.

    If you cannot discern a pattern, perhaps you’re dealing with a chaotic system. (Chaos has no meta.)

    “One person’s variable is another person’s constant.” Jay Cross

    A social interaction pattern language 1 of 2

    Pattern Language? A concept invented by Christopher Alexander, award-winning, renegade architect despised by most other architects, but wildly popular among designers and software authors.

    Alexander used to live in my neighborhood. I wrote up a little presentation on his Pepto-Bismol colored house. Neighbors complained his house was so ugly it lowered the value of each house nearby by $15,000.

    When Uta and I moved into our current house 17 years ago, Alexander was completing the house across the street. A rag-tag group of students put together this concrete monstrosity.

    Here’s the view from my front deck:

    You can see a little bit of my rooftop in this picture from Alexander’s The Nature of Order.

    Alexander’s The Nature of Order and his website tout my neighbor’s house as an example of a successful owner-designed home. The owners loath him. For example, with our first rainstorm, water blew right through the walls into their daughter’s bedroom.

    During construction, Alexander had asked, “What sort of windows would you like?” The owners didn’t understand the economics of custom-shaped windows until it cost them $30,000 to replace them with windows that didn’t leak. The project went over budget; last time I visited, there were still bare wires in the kitchen where fixtures were supposed to go.

    That said, I’ve read Alexander’s A Timeless Way of Being and A Pattern Language twice. They are classics of design.

    Close of Part 1 of 2