Category Archives: Innovation


Flipping learning is big in education. It will be big in corporate learning. Let’s not blow it.

How do you flip learning?

Khan Academy is the poster child for flipped learning. Sal Khan has produced more than 3,000 short videos on a variety of topics. Students watch the videos before coming to class. In the classroom, they sort out what they’ve learned and do what used to be called homework. Millions of students are learning this way. Recently, Stanford professors offered a couple of courses in this fashion and were surprised when a third of a million people enrolled.

Flipping makes a ton a sense. The learner can watch the mini-lectures when it’s convenient to do so. The learner controls the pace by pausing, replaying, or fast-forwarding. In all likelihood, the presentation by the enthusiastic Salmaan Khan or a popular Stanford prof is going to be more engaging than your local school teacher or grad student teaching assistant. The video can provide content in small, digestible pieces. Once it’s in the can, the video can be replayed again and again. And of course, video delivered online scales without an increase in cost.

More important for learning outcomes, the time spent in class can be put to more productive use. Learners convene to get answers to questions, discuss examples, put what they’ve learned in context, debate, explore, and extend their knowledge. Instead of passively listening to an instructor, they actively engage the material. Instructors, freed of the need to mouth the words of lessons, focus on helping learners understand things and coaching individuals. These activities can take place online, and people can learn from one another in virtual communities and support groups.

Flipping Stanford

In a Science Times essay, “Death Knell for the Lecture: Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education,” Daphne Koller described how Stanford University has flipped traditional courses:

At Stanford, we recently placed three computer science courses online, using a similar format. Remarkably, in the first four weeks, 300,000 students registered for these courses, with millions of video views and hundreds of thousands of submitted assignments.

What can we learn from these successes? First, we see that video content is engaging to students — many of whom grew up on YouTube — and easy for instructors to produce.

Second, presenting content in short, bite-size chunks, rather than monolithic hourlong lectures, is better suited to students’ attention spans, and provides the flexibility to tailor instruction to individual students. Those with less preparation can dwell longer on background material without feeling uncomfortable about how they might be perceived by classmates or the instructor.

Conversely, students with an aptitude for the topic can move ahead rapidly, avoiding boredom and disengagement. In short, everyone has access to a personalized experience that resembles individual tutoring.

Watching passively is not enough. Engagement through exercises and assessments is a critical component of learning. These exercises are designed not just to evaluate the student’s learning, but also, more important, to enhance understanding by prompting recall and placing ideas in context.

Moreover, testing allows students to move ahead when they master a concept, rather than when they have spent a stipulated amount of time staring at the teacher who is explaining it.

An article in Wired, The Stanford Educational Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever, describes the wildly popular course on artificial intelligence taught by Stanford professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig:

Does it make any sense that school is generally a place where people come together to sit and listen to the person at the front of the room?  It generally doesn’t make the most sense to get a group of people together to sit and stare.  What if instead, educators spent class time doing and homework time for the watching of lessons/lectures.  The other benefit of this is that these can be viewed and reviewed anytime/anywhere.  The result is a lively bustling classroom where students can spend their time learning, talking, doing.

I fear that flipping learning in corporations may meet the same nasty fate as eLearning.

In the early days, 1999-2000, many of us believed that eLearning was the forefront of a renaissance in learning. Not only could people learn at their own pace, whenever they wanted, they’d also be able to ask questions, learn with peers, join communities, access job aids, contact mentors, and create personal learning paths. Workers could attend virtual classes without leaving the workplace. Software would create personalized learning experiences by assembling custom configurations of learning objects.

The eLearning dream didn’t last long. Companies proved more interested in reducing instructor head-count and facilities costs than in improving learning outcomes.  Training departments put PowerPoint presentations on their intranets and acted as if people could learn from them. Vendors put deadly-dull page-turner courses online and called it eLearning.

When times were tough, training departments slashed budgets by replacing face-to-face instruction with online reading. They failed to follow through with the discussions, practice, social processing, and reinforcement that makes lessons stick. It didn’t work. Most eLearning is ineffective drudgery.

That’s my nightmare about flipping learning in the corporation, that organizations will once again confuse exposure to content with learning. It’s great to replace lectures with video clips — IF you retain the opportunity for people to ask questions, interact with the material, practice what they’ve learned, collaborate with others, and periodically refresh their memories. This takes a sound learning ecosystem, a workscape.

Dan Pink thinks we should flip not only schooling but also publishing, the movie business, human resources, and office space. I agree. Business has changed. There’s hardly any business model left that couldn’t benefit from a flip. Break the processes into pieces and see if there’s not a better way to put them back together.


Where’s your electronic medical record?

Everyone should be so lucky as to find a medical doctor as good as mine. I have every confidence in his advice. He calls me after hours to report a test result that’s out of line. He makes house calls. He’s personable and funny. He’s a master at playing the tabla. So when Michael moved from one medical group to another, I followed him without hesitation.

My electronic medical record did not follow me to his new practice. His former practice “owned” the record of my lab results, prescription particulars, and office visits. Besides, my information was trapped in a proprietary, non-transferable format. So my medical record got flushed down the toilet when I hopped from one practice to another.

A waste? Sure. It’s as bad a situation as with corporate learning records.

If you’ve worked in a company with more than a thousand employees, your company’s Learning Management System (LMS) has probably assembled a dossier on what courses you’ve completed and perhaps a score on how well you did.

Here’s the rub: when you change employers, it’s unlikely the record complied by the LMS is going to accompany you. Like my electronic medical record, your LMS entries are probably “owned” by your former employer and in a proprietary format to boot.

Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if you owned the record of what you’d learned and could take it with you?

After all, people now entering the workforce are likely to have at least seven or eight different jobs in the course of their working lives. Why on earth should they be forced to copy and re-copy the record of what they’ve been vetted for learning?

Medical records and learning portfolios should be ours to take with us.

While we’re at it, let’s transform LMS-style records of training into portfolios of our learning, work samples, capabilities, and endorsements that can help firms hire us when we’re a good fit with their needs and share our expertise once we’re hired.

Anybody interested in working on this?

Now is the Time for India to Democratize Learning

A synopsis of my remarks to Emerging Directions in Global Education 2011, Delhi, India

For the first 60 seconds, we listened to Yoyo Ma playing Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G as the flowers unfolded.


As time speeds up, we perceive that what once appeared rigid is actually fluid.

Progress is unfolding at an unprecedented rate. More happens in one of your minutes than in one of your grandfather’s hours. More information has been created in the three days I have been in Delhi than in the sweep of human history from the dawn of civilization until 2004. Futurists tell us the 21st century will not contain a mere one hundred 20th century style years but tens of thousands of them.

As the years speed by, we can appreciate that educational systems that once appeared rigid are actually fluid. We can nurture them to grow this way or that. We can “flip” them, that is, reconfigure the pieces. I’ll suggest that we can, and should, rearrange the components of schooling to democratize learning.

By democratize, I don’t mean giving students the vote. Rather, democratizing learning means giving students the knowledge and permission to realize their full potential. Democratization gives students a voice in their own learning.

Be forewarned: I am an alien in your midst. I am an American, a Californian, with scant knowledge of India. My specialty is corporate learning, not higher education. And I tend to live in 2016, not the present.

Nonetheless, I’d like to share a few stories with you. Perhaps they can serve as catalysts as you consider how to reshape India’s educational systems and policies to meet the demands of the future.


Hewlett Packard Engineers

Let me tell you a story that predates the internet. In 1974, a group of Hewlett Packard engineers who had been watching lectures on electrical engineering on the Stanford Instructional Television Network were reassigned to an HP facility in Santa Rosa, California, two hours to the north and out of television broadcasting range.  An instructor, Jim Gibbons, sent videotapes of the lectures to Santa Rosa. It didn’t work; the engineers weren’t learning. Accompanying the tapes with a graduate assistant didn’t work either.

Next the engineers tried something that did work. Whenever anyone did not understand a concept in a lecture, he would raise his hand. This stopped the tape. Most of the time, someone else in the group had the answer. They proceeded this way, learning without a teacher, until the end of the semester. Then Jim Gibbons carted the engineers to the Stanford campus to take the final exam.

Mind you, these engineers lacked the test scores to become Stanford students, yet they scored significantly higher grades   on the exam than the resident students. Why? I think it’s because they took charge of their own learning. They learned from one another, in the course of conversation. Furthermore, they were learning in order to become better engineers, not to earn a credential.

The HP engineers had flipped the educational process. They did away with face-to-face lectures. They set their own pace and answered their own questions. They took charge of the way they learned. In other words, they democratized their learning.



Western corporations are broken. Workers hate their jobs; customers complain of lousy service; investors receive meager returns. There has to be a better way.

In January 2012, two dozen authors, managers, and agile software developers met on a mountain top in Stoos, Switzerland, to try to reverse the situation. How could the practice of management be updated to work in a complex, unpredictable world?

The organization-as-machine, the model that served us from the dawn of the industrial age until the beginning of the 21st century, leads to a quest for efficiency. That works in stable, unchanging times, but it’s a formula for disaster amid incessant, disruptive change. The living network is a better model for today. Organizations need to conceptualize themselves as networks of individuals and teams who perpetually strive to create more value for customers.

This flips the corporation into an organization that respects people for their contributions rather than seeing them as cogs in the machine. The new order democratizes the workplace.


Corporate Learning

In America and Europe, the corporate learning function is dead or dying. A 2011 study by the Corporate Leadership Council reported that 76% of managers are dissatisfied with their corporate training function; 85% deem training ineffective; and a mere 14% would recommend training to their fellow managers. Workers and managers learn their work though conversation, collaboration, and on-the-job experience. My colleague Jane Hart calls this “learning without training.”

Enlightened corporations trust their people to pull in the resources they need. They’ve flipped corporate learning by putting the learners in charge of defining the curriculum. These corporations concentrate on building self-sustaining learning ecosystems, what I’ve called workscapes, instead of individual programs.


Education in India

India needs to train 500 million people in the next ten years. Some have proposed building thousands of new schools and challenges. Yet if the building program began in earnest tomorrow, there still wouldn’t be enough time to build the required  classrooms — some six times what India has today.

What would those schools teach? The half-life of a professional skill is down to five years and is shrinking fast. It makes no sense to train people on skills that will become obsolete in short order. I’ll suggest that people need to learn meta-skills, such things as:

  • learning how to learn
  • critical thinking and conceptualization
  • pattern recognition
  • design thinking
  • working with one another
  • navigating complex environments
  • software literacy

India has neither time nor resources to prepare teachers to transfer these skills to hundreds of millions of people. The answer? Flip Indian education. Delegate the delivery of content to electronic means, and focus teachers on coaching, leading discussions, helping people over hurdles, and relating lessons to real life. Also, teach students and workers to help teach themselves.

The time is ripe for India to democratize education, to help students to think for themselves and realize their potential.



A couple of days after my talk, nine of us piled into a van to visit the Taj Mahal.

Hour after hour, we honked and careened our way through chaotic traffic. We passed numerous private schools and academies. Mostly, we saw tens of thousands of abjectly poor people passing the time of day in hole in the wall kitchens and shops, wandering around in rubble, or defecating in fields. I wondered what comes first, educating the millions or giving them toilets.

By 2030, India’s population will outnumber China’s. The people we talked with at EDGE are entrepreneurial and optimistic. They are accustomed to thinking things over on an enormous scale. Never before in human history has a democracy of 1.3 billion people tried to reform education. Such transformation is mind-boggling.

Where is this headed, I wondered. By this time, our discussions about educational systems were over. I tossed about in bed in anticipation of an early morning flight home and reflecting on India.

What change does India want to see? Do we expect education to flatten a highly stratified society? Will the boys and girls playing in the dirt lead more productive, fulfilling lives because they can read and write? Will they have the patience to put up with the conservatism and cronyism of the Government of India? How will India create the jobs to challenge their young minds? Might not educating the masses be akin to showing the people of the former Soviet Union the riches of the west on television?

The more I learn about India, the less I understand India. I wish my new friends and their country well. They face the largest challenge I have ever seen.

Where innovation comes from

To stay ahead in business, a firm must continually re-invent itself. In the twentieth century, firms could compete on execution. Winners were those who played the game well.

No longer. Today’s standouts are game changers. They continually re-write the rule books. They are edgy. They invent new business models. In sum, they innovate. Continue reading


Next week, Harold Jarche and I are headed to a series of meetings with a client whose organization has severe hang-ups about web security. Access to many important sites on the net is verboten. Geez. How to work around something like this?

Our usual response that “smart phones route around IT” doesn’t cut it when you want to work web 2.0 tools into the organizational fabric.

Today I bought a gadget to get us the access we need. Maybe it will become the organization’s guerilla on-ramp to the net. It’s a mi-fi card from Verizon.

This is a slick little gadget. Fits in the palm of your hand. It’s smaller than my iPhone. It looks cool.

When I push the button (there’s only one on the device), it immediately sets up five wi-fi access points.

The price tag of these things had kept me out of the market, but Verizon has a sale going now. The Mi-Fi device is free (although you’ll still have to pay sales tax on it). The basic service is $35/month and you have to sign up for two years to get the deal.

I’m confident the Mi-Fi is going to pay for itself by skirting the access fees charged by #(&$#! hotels and #&($& airports. No more squinting at my iPhone when there’s a document I need to read.

Thanks once again, Moore’s Law.

Wikipedia's 10th

West Coast Wikiconference 2011

WikiPedia turned 10 years old today. I attended a delightful unconference with a hundred Wikipedians at the Hub in San Francisco.

How’s this for a deal? $25 paid for breakfast, lunch, a full day’s events, presentations by Ward Cunningham and Kevin Kelly, and even a celebratory t-shirt.

Hundred of events like this are taking place around the world.

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely success story than Wikipedia. From the Welcome to Wikipedia booklet:

    Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia in the world. It is created and maintained by more than 100 thousand contributors from around the world. Every month Wikipedia receives over 386 million unique visitors. Wikipedia features more than 16 million articles in over 260 languages. It is free to use, free to edit, and free of advertisements.
No sooner had I scored my t-shirt and cup of coffee than Eugene Kim introduced me to Ward Cunningham. Ward invented the wiki.

Ward Cunningham & Eugene Kim
Eugene & Ward

Ward is also a leader in the Agile Software movement and the thought leader in Software Patterns.

We discovered a common interest in learning from pictures and video. Periodically his company’s software staff gets together for a day-long retreat. Quarterly was not frequent enough, so they invented “micro-quarters,” of which there are six a year. At the conclusion of each retreat, people draw pictures of what they’ve accomplished. With the camera on his laptop, Ward takes a video of each individual explaining his or her picture. He edits out the ums and ahs to prepare a fast-moving video documenting the event. People use these to review the event and check on progress when the next micro-quarter rolls around.

Ward’s original wiki was geeky beyond belief. It relied on CamelCase and oddball formatting conventions. It was not pretty. I mentioned that ten years ago, my glossary defined wiki as “a way to stop a conversation.” So I asked Ward how he felt about today’s spiffed-up, user-friendly wikis. He told me that a few days after he released the first wiki, another developer had hacked out a different version. Didn’t ask permission or anything. Ward thought about it and decided that was okay. He was happy to contribute the wiki to the public good. I’ll cover the content of Ward’s presentation in another post.

Eugene Kim introduced the open space session masterfully, getting the participants to explain the rules of open space. Whatever happens is what is supposed to happen. If it’s not beneficial, move on.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10 West Coast Wiki Conference 10

The first breakout I attended dealt with getting new people to create and edit posts. Many people approach Wikipedia who don’t realize they can edit the content. More fundamentally, they don’t see themselves as editors. I called up the Wikipedia home page on my iPad. It’s totally intimidating. There’s no on-ramp for new users. When I brought up instructional design, forty faces went blank. I suggested putting together a few simple videos showing a user explaining what’s going on. Some people liked the idea, but some Wikipedia foundation people began explaining how hard it was to change the front page. (There’s enormous perceived resistance to change by the elite contributors.) Did I know how tough it is to make changes when hundreds of millions of people were involved?

This evening I discovered that there are already dozens of “how to edit” articles on YouTube. Maybe someone can convince Wikipedia to point to them.

In another breakout, Gordon Mohr encouraged us to explore how to make Wikipedia “Broader, deeper, and edgier.” This may have to take place outside of the Wikipedia framework. We touched on many topics. Some new articles would be better positioned as “not ready” rather than “not good enough.” Wikipedia would feel less exclusionary without the distinction made between members and outsiders. Why not consider all users members — and therefore editors? It occurred to me that Wikipedia has scant room for discussion. It’s still just an encyclopedia; it might be better by adding commentary and a forum for discussion.

Another breakout discussed Wikipedia – the next ten years. What should evolve?

I wanted to be able to walk around in the knowledge space, sort of the Library of Alexandria meets Second Life.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10 West Coast Wiki Conference 10

I also pushed my current passion, the workscape. Why not give readers the option of checking a box that would prompt periodic reinforcement? Battle the forgetting curve with brief, spaced reminders built right into the system. One of the old hands said you could already do this. All it took was remembering what pages you’d viewed and revisiting them. Another Wikipedia said c’mon, nobody’s going to do that; they won’t even remember what pages they’d visited. I don’t sense the group was very interested in people learning things beyond their initial exposure. If you have encyclopedia DNA, it’s hard to think outside of the encyclopedia box.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10

Toward the end of the day, Kevin Kelly gave a closing presentation on What Technology Wants, his new book. I’d heard Kevin’s pitch two months ago in Berkeley and departed in confusion. I’ll detail today’s version in another post.


A quiz for enterprise learning movers & shakers…

Shuffle through Mary Meeker’s phenomenal research report on the state of the internet economy. (Thanks for the pointer, George Siemens.)

Be amazed.

Here’s the Quiz Question:

Name a single trend Mary Meeker describes that won’t have a major impact on your workscape.

Which trend can a director of human resources, CLO, or chief information officer cast off as irrelevant to helping people work smarter?

My answer: None of them.

This is the soup we swim in.

In the world Meeker describes, learning is the work. It’s been a mantra the Internet Time Alliance has chanted for years; now it’s happening.

Work = learning = work = learning = work = learning, forevermore. Get used to it. Or disappear.

We welcome your thoughts on this.

Couldn’t find big trends to ignore, could you?


You may have heard me spouting off about aligning the aspirations of workers with the organizations they work for. This falls on deaf ears in North America and most of Europe where we mistakenly think treating workers as humans intrudes on their privacy.

In fact, getting worker aspirations clear (What do I want in life?) is the basis for fulfilling work, reduced turnover, self-development, and a bunch of other things.

Metizo is doing cutting edge work in the field. This is hot, hot, hot in Bejing and Singapore.

Metizo president Bob Aubrey turned me on to these ideas at the Future of Talent Retreat. If your interest is organizational performance over the long term, you owe it to yourself to investigate this stuff.

Giving up control

In an article titled Taking the Social Media Plunge: Learning to Let Go, Andy McAfee explores the reluctance of traditional organizations to embrace social media (and informal learning).

    Many organizations appear scared to death of Enterprise 2.0. They’re worried that people will use the new tools and accompanying freedom to broadcast hate speech or porn, or harass each other. They’re worried about secrets slipping over Chinese walls and firewalls. Or that people will be too critical or contrarian in public forums. That “social” is too close to “unproductive” or “time-wasting.”

    They’re worried, in short, about what will happen when they actually do empower their employees with the digital toolkit of Enterprise 2.0. They seem quite concerned about what will happen when they give demonstrably powerful tools to their most important assets.

Andy McAfee last year at DevLearn in San Jose

    Some of this hesitation is justified, at least for a bit. These tools really are something new under the sun, and it wasn’t initially clear if people would use them maturely, and for productive purposes. But virtually all the evidence I’ve seen over the years convinces me that people (whether employees, partners, or customers) can be trusted, and do predominantly use the new social software platforms in ways that provide benefit and credit to the companies that establish them.

    So I think the real reluctance comes from someplace else. I think it comes from a deep-seated desire to not give up control.

I agree with Andy on this. Unjustified distrust of workers denies corporations the benefits of networked learning and performance support.

Uptight senior managers are holding learning and development professionals back from doing what they know is right. Sad to say, Chief Learning Officers who tell us “We are not allowed to do that here” are stuck with a self-fulfilling prophesy.

At the Internet Time Alliance Retreat later this week, we’ll be devoting significant time to breaking through these barriers to progress. Please comment if you’ve got insights on this.

Andy and Jay

ePub format

This inquiry will explore the ePub format and its potential for creating unbooks. Please join in.

Read this as an ePub
Copy the file ePub_inquiry.epub file to the Books section of iTunes. Then sync your iPad and computer. This file should appear in the iBooks app.

Once you open the file, select the Sepia color and your choice of font.

It’s a book. It’s a file. It’s an unbook. It’s a magazine. It’s an ebook. It’s an ePub.


Ten days ago (late August 2010), Apple released an upgrade that enables Pages (Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word) to output documents in ePub format.

I opened the 391-page The Working Smarter Fieldbook in Pages and “shared it” as an ePub file. In less than 30 seconds, my ePub was ready. I experienced a conversion. This is the way of the future.

If you’re interested in discussing this stuff, leave a comment below or join us in the Internet Time Community.

First, grab that ePub_inquiry.epub file and put it on your iPad so we’ve got something to talk about.