CSTD Symposium in New Brunswick

Today was the second and final day of the Innovation in eLearning Symposium. We began at 7:15 am with a scenario forecasting exercise wherein government officials, university people, eLearning folks, and others tried to stuff four or five hours of thought processing into 40 minutes. It didn’t work.

PA230005This has been a nice little conference, and I don’t use little disparagingly. I don’t know how many people attended (160?) but the event was small enough that everyone could talk with everyone else if they cared to. As the first national CSTD (Canadian Society for Training and Development) meeting to be held outside of the Province of Ontario, attendees ranged from total novice to experienced veteran. People were not afraid to speak up. Several presenters said they’d rarely encountered such a responsive audience.

PA230008The closing act was a panel session featuring Stephen Downes (pictured), Bob Pearson (president of Provinent, Canada’s largest eLearning company), and yours truly, moderated by Lisa Neal. Lisa was nothing short of masterful in selecting audience questions that we panelists could have fun with.

Stephen cracked people up on several occasions. On the topic of grades, he said they should be random observations that bear no relationship to performance. Just like in real life. He made a terrific argument in favor of tearing down the walls around schools so that kids could learn by doing things in the real world. Bob was our corporate straight man, uneasy about blogs because they were tough to control. I recounted my story of blogging my complaints to Stamps.com and other uncontrolled situations.

Stephen recorded the event as it happened. Here’s the mp3. He has also posted a ridiculous videocam movie.

Flow Learning is…

Nothing like a new environment to bring out new ways of thinking. This morning I began doodling aspects of different ways of conceptualizing learning.

Starting assumptions:

  • Logic applies in only a narrow band in the spectrum of human experience. Otherwise, complexity kicks in.
  • People are not machines, nor are organizations. Ditch industrial-age thinking.
  • No person acts alone. One’s performance is augmented through connections with tools, culture, and other people.
  • Everything – information, stories, experience – flows.

This is an augmented learner. She may have computer access, a smart phone, or a Blackberry.


Maybe learning should look more like this:


Of course, this model is ever-changing to fit with shifting requirements. More appropriate for Flow Leanring is a model that works over time:


On the input side, Opportunity is a function of:

    Number of connections
    Quality of pointers
    Ease of deciphering content
    Relevance of content
    Quality of signal
    Proximity of sender
    Timeliness of alerts
    Reliability of signal
    Push or pull
    Incoming bandwidth

In the learner’s head, Processing is a function of:

    Motivation & relevance
    Pattern recognition
    Pattern creation
    I/O transaction processing

Streaming out is Performance, a function of:

    Signal strength
    Ability to write, speak, draw
    Adept at reading audience feeling and needs

To market, to market

We began our day at the Saturday morning farmer’s market. This is an echo of an ancient tradition. Once a week, the feudal lord would open the gates to the fortress. Farmers would set up shop for the day. Pictured here is one of Fredericton’s two adjacent market halls.

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A mouse pretzel, a flock of mouse pretzels.

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Maple syrup, maple creme, maple sugar. maple candy; salmon.

The market serves an important economic function, enabling farmers to sell their eggs, butter, milk, beef, lamb, chickens, smoked fish, Canadian bacon, cured sausage, cheese, bread, pastry, and mouse pretzels. I doubt that selling food is what has preserved places like this.

Just as in medieval days when the farmers were accompanied by minstrels, jersters, magicians, and storytellers, the marketplace is a social activity. It’s a place to see and be seen., to hear the gossip and spread some of your own. People are here to schmooze. Informal learning and food make a great combination.

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This is Lord Beaverbrook, benefactor of Fredericton. He gave the city its art museum and many other civic attractions. The museum is topped by four white horses. You won’t confuse these equines with those atop the Brandenburg Gate or overlooking the Piazza del Duomo in Venice: these guys are airbags!

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Here is an authentic redcoat. That reminds me. After the American Revolution, the Loyalists (AKA losers) fled to Canada in great numbers. This was the first great wave of people to arrive in Atlantic Canada.

Fresh PEI mussles. Yum.

Storytelling in Organizations

Stories and conversations are two of the primary vehicles of informal learning. They teach, they inform, they are fun, and they come naturally.

I just finished Storytelling in Organizations : Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and Management by John Seely Brown, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak. A quick read at 175 pages, this is a powerful little book. It’s accompanied by a free website, Storytelling, Passport to the 21st Century.

A few quotations from the conversational text:

What we’re really talking about here is a different mental model of how an orgnization works. I’m talking about a non-mechanistic, non-rationalist model, a model that is organic and stel-adjusting, where people talk to each other and things are not as cris[p,or as clear, or as rational, or as scientifc as they appear in the mechanistic models. Organizations don’t function like a machine. Organizations have a lot of people in them. And what do the people do? They talk to each other about the work, mostly in the form of stories.

Loosen the screws. Loosen the couplings. Let people talk to each other. Dogs sniff each other. Human beings tell stories.

Marshall McLuhan once said, “Anyone who thinks there’s a big difference between entertainment and education knows nothing about either subject.”

Facilitation in architecture: open office spaces with marble tops and little chairs, serving espersso and biscotti. Very, very encouraging to come and sit down, have a cup of coffee, and talk to someone.

There’s an effort underway to move from business processes that are basically coercive to processes that are in essence enabling. This concerns the design of processes that could actually help you get your job done. So there’s this sense of finding the right balance between letting people improvise versus trying to create processes that clamp down on them.

Narrative has a lot more impact than “just the facts.”

Natural New Brunswick

Uta and I arrived in New Brunswick last night and drove along the Saint John River from Fredericton to Saint John this afternoon. Atlantic Canada is a breath of fresh air. Lots of family farms, many people flying the flag, very friendly and talkative locals. I ate haddock, oysters, lobster, and clams today; Uta, a vegetarian, had a tougher go of it.

PA190012Last week the river jumped its banks. You could paddle a canoe through downtown Fredericton. Water still stands on many a pasture. The dam above the nuclear power plant was opened. The resulting high water wiped out Saint John’s major tourist attraction: the reverse tides of the Bay of Fundy. The surging wall of water won’t be more than a ripple for the next few weeks.

Speeding along a wooded country road, we jammed on the brakes to let a black bear lumber across the road. I said I hoped we’d see another…and perhaps a moose. The moose appeared on cue.

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The marketing department of Moosehead Ale is protesting a proposal that Canada’s tourist agency switch from a theme of “moose, mounties, and mountains” to “Canada: Keep Exloring.” The Moosehead people are right. “Keep Exploring” is what I do when I can’t find what I want. Canada is nature. They’ve got a leaf in the middle of their flag.

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A great day

palmsIt has been a glorious day in California. These palms adorn the entrance of the University of Santa Clara.

Tomorrow, Uta and I are off to Fredericton, New Brunswick, for a week. We will celebrate our 35th anniversary there. I should probably have my head examined. Last week you could paddle a canoe down Fredericton’s main street. Residents drove their cars to high ground.

Click for Fredericton, New Brunswick Forecast

If you’re a member of CSTD (sort of like ASTD but “C” for Canadian), you can see and hear Clark Aldrich, Stephen Downes, and yours truly remotely. It will cost you $50, but I assume that’s Canadian funny-money.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., there’s a new blog in town. Check out Ted Cocheu’s Rapid Learning Blog. Great overview of Rapid Learning. Plus, I loved these lines most of all:

“The general subject of this rant is not unlike that of most of my rants. It is the tunnel vision, myopia, or what amounts to the ideology of many instructional designers, and, worse yet, instructional designers who have been promoted into management. They have somehow deluded themselves into believing, against all common sense and daily observations to the contrary, that “true learning” cannot take place unless the learning experience has been instructionally designed.”


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This is the Mission Santa Clara. Isn’t the campus beautiful?

terriProfessor Terri Griffith and I chatted about informal learning, communities of practice, measuring the value of learning, and oodles of other things we share an interest in for a couple of hours on the patio behind the faculty club.

At one point I went on a tirade similar to Ted’s about the priests of instructional design praying at the altar of an obsolete religion. Take the core argument of The World is Flat, that individuals and small groups count, that interoperability fosters a kind of business process bricolage, and that we’re all members of a giant, ever-evolving network. How does ADDIE address this? We don’t have time for it.

Terri, Ted, and I all wonder about what I’ve called the “informal learning paradox,” i.e. most corporate learning is informal; most corporate spending goes to formal learning. I close the day convinced that my book on Informal Learning must contain unassailable proof of the results one can achieve by improving informal learning.


I’m experimenting with something called feedmap. I don’t understand their branding; they also go by Blogmap. For tinkerers, here are the results.

For people who want more structure to their information, here’s the lowdown from their home page.

Welcome to BlogMap – a place where blogs meet maps and location!

Using BlogMap you can geo-code your blog, browse already geo-coded blogs and search for blogs. Once geo-coded, you can get your own BlogMap location using a simple url!

Here is a list of things you can do with BlogMap:

* Geo-code your blog feed using the submit page (and get your own BlogMap badge).
* Browse blogs by location using the browse page.
* Search for local blogs using the search page.
* Find bloggers in your neighborhood!
* Get local BlogRoll in OPML format.

You can also link to feedmap site for browsing blogs by country and searching blogs by place names!

It's a flat world after all, it's a flat world after all….

Today I talked with one of the brightest people I know, one of the most visionary, and a true intellectual pioneer; the three all double as authors. I’ll let them figure out which category they fall into. Two things popped up as important items in each conversation.

1. Flatness. Reach back in your memory for the insipid Disney tune, “It’s a small world after all.” Hum a few bars. Seven years ago, an accordian player in the Paris Métro planted this song in my head. It haunted me for days. Here it is. Got it?

Substitute “flat” for “small.” It’s a flat world after all. Tom Friedman’s best seller has it nailed. It’s time for America to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s a flat world after all. The playing field is level and it’s broad as the earth. ¡Mi XML, su XML! The transfer cost of knowledge is nil, and the net has no respect for geography. You’re going to hear this a lot. It’s a flat world after all.

2. School daze. Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone. I was reading weiterbildungsblog.de because they’d translated my definition of workflow into German when I came upon Bill Gates’s NGA speech on high school education posted on Mark Oelhert’s blog. This had come up in every conversation, too. I first saw it in email from Elliott, then it began popping up elsewhere. Words of wisdom from Chairman Bill (and if you’re a Microsoft-hater, suspend your knee-jerk response, because this is right on):

“America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times.

Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.

I recommend reading Bill’s speech in its entirety. The Pini Floyd music makes a nice background.

If people are up for it, Emergent Learning Forum may hold a F2F meeting in Berkeley to face the music and talk over what we plan to do about it. These are world-changers, my friends. We cannot afford to sit back contently and let this wash over us.

From Process to Practice

Great quotse in John Hagel’s Edge Perspectives blog about enterprise software. Think “LMS” when you read this.

[Quoting Ken Norton] “My epiphany was recognizing that I don’t hate products that are used in a corporate setting. I just hate products that aren’t built for users. The vast majority of enterprise products are built for the people who are going to purchase, administer, configure, deploy, and provision them. And these products are often despised by the people who ultimately do try to use them (duh). No wonder a large percentage of enterprise software efforts go up in smoke. The enterprise software market is broken for this reason.”

The primary driver behind enterprise software was efficiency and automation, removing people from business processes wherever possible and imposing standard procedures on people wherever they remained. Business processes were the primary focus of business performance and companies generated considerable cost savings from this focus. JSB and I have a strong sense that the focus on business performance is shifting from process to practice. The real frontier for business performance going forward is on helping people to connect with each other and to build their capabilities more rapidly by engaging together on challenging problems and opportunities.