RSS Aggregators Save You Time

If you’re not familiar with RSS (real simple syndication) then read on. Using an RSS aggregator is a heck of a lot faster and less time consuming than using a search engine, surfing the web, and then creating a huge list of favorites or bookmarks.

Here is a short, descriptive article on how blogs work. This site ( has a blog, which exports an RSS feed (that’s the orange XML box).

I also use the Bloglines aggregator to keep track of other weblogs related to Learning, Work and Technology. You can use this public version of my aggregator, or you can go to the bottom of the page and "export subscriptions" to your own aggregator. It only takes a minute to set up with Bloglines, and I like their "My Recommendations" feature. Bloglines goes out and finds other sites that may be of interest to you, based on your current subscriptions. Bloglines also has a function that you can add to an Internet Explorer toolbar, so that you can subscribe to blogs or news sites with one click.

Via Seb Paquet, whose blog: "Seb’s Open Research" is in my RSS aggregator’s Technology folder.

“Classroom teaching will not scale”

Stephen Downes succinctly tells us why technology is the necessary equalizer in creating a global learning society:

Classroom teaching, even if supported with technology, will not scale. If we are to provide access to all, we must abandon the idea that education is something that is done for us and support the idea that it is something we can do for ourselves. That’s why we need technology in learning.

New technology, used to support new approaches to learning, is akin to the replacement of scriptoriums by literacy. Just as we no longer need people to read and write for us, we will, in the future, no longer require people to teach for us. The technology should – and will, because people demand it – allow us to teach ourselves. But clinging to the traditional model – in which writing is still done in scriptoriums (albeit, with ballpoint pens and laser printers) is to show a casual disregard for the needs and aspirations of people who not only benefit from writing, but are liberated by it.

In Tunisia I was told that the country had very different demographics than Canada. Most of the population is under 20. In order to make room in the classrooms for the expanding group of younger students entering the school system, the older students’ learning needs were starting to be addressed through e-learning. In this way, the limited physical infrastructure could be reserved for younger children. In Tunisia, classrooms don’t scale well either.

Virtual Networked Organisations

Via Rob Paterson, more on the future of work and business models, with an in-depth paper by George Defermos on the Networked Organisation. From the abstract:

This paper examines the latest of paradigms – the Virtual Network(ed) Organisation – and whether geographically dispersed knowledge workers can virtually collaborate for a project under no central planning. Co-ordination, management and the role of knowledge arise as the central areas of focus. The Linux Project and its development model are selected as a case of analysis and the critical success factors of this organisational design are identified …

This is an excellent synthesis of the rise of the corporate, command and control model, looking at the models of Taylor, Ford and moving on to the work of Senge. Defermos then goes on to a case study of Linux, compared to its competior – Microsoft. Defermos shows that the virtual organisation, as he defines it, is better suited for certain tasks than a centralised structure.

The virtual organisation may be best –
1. When there is a desire for standardisation, in order to increase innovation.
2. To “dethrone a product or vendor” with monopolistic tendencies.
3. To maximise the market web and share in the profits.
4. When all vendors need the end-users’ input.
5. To discourage “corporate backstabbing”
6. When the project is extremely complex.

It doesn’t seem that the networked virtual organisation will replace the centralised corporation, but it I’m sure that we will see more and more of these project-oriented organisations in this networked world.

Future of Work 2

Yesterday I wrote about Tom Malone’s new book "The Future of Work". Coincidentally, Jay Cross was at IBM’s Almaden Institute yesterday and posted this report on Tom’s book and IBM’s research efforts.

Flexible business solutions. The ability to grow organically. The capacity to respond to change in real time. A dynamic business and technical environment. A model that applies to all layers of the stack: systems, apps, and business. Shared processes. Loose coupling. Business objects. More intelligent businesses. Like a fractal patter, the model works at any scale: departmental, enterprise, or ecosystem.

It’s complete with diagrams which are very helpful. Thanks Jay.

Objects & Repositoires

George Siemens distills the essence of the use of learning objects and repositories in the e-learning field:

… content in context is the real challenge. Or put another way, the extraction of meaning from an object is the real challenge. We can have access to all the content in the world, but if we are not able to find what we need, when we need it, in the format we need it, and for the task which we need it, it’s of no use. Content management takes care of organizing resources. The extraction of meaningful content is where systems fail.

I find that there is still a lot of snake oil being sold as e-learning. If you can help people find what they need, when they need it, in the right context to be useful, then you will have effective content management and/or performance support. The rest is what a friend of mine calls "shovel ware".

Cooperation vs Competition

Knowledge@Wharton has a recent article [requires free subscription] on start-ups and cooperation. According to David Hsu, co-author of “When Does Start-up Innovation Spur the Gale of Creative Destruction”, some industries are more open to collaborative efforts between start-ups and established players. The key factors being:

1) the strength of the startups’ intellectual property rights; 2) whether they have relationships with intermediaries such as venture capitalists; and 3) whether their industry requires big investments in things such as manufacturing and distribution.

The biotech sector is described as an optimal industry for cooperation, but I’m wondering if our e-learning sector is also one. I would guess that intellectual property rights would be strongest for the technology companies, especially those with something unique. Now in the e-learning business there is not a lot of unique technology. One LCMS is similar to another, and there are many synchronous environments as well. A start-up that launched something like Groove, with few existing competitors, would have better chances of cooperation with the big guys. Now for point 2, the e-learning industry in New Brunswick does not have access to much VC financing, which is why the government plays that role. On point 3, the e-learning industry is OK, because there is not a lot of infrastructure necessary, mostly good people.

So it seems that, according to Hsu, the e-learning sector in NB could be fertile ground for cooperation between companies. A recent article on the industry in New Brunswick lists the cooperative environment as one of its strengths. For a region with many small companies, and few large ones, Hsu’s cooperative model may provide more impetus for growth.

Open Source & Language

In an evaluation of v. 2.4 of Groove’s peer2peer software (v 3.0 is out in beta), a group of francophone reviewers looked at its functions. Since Groove is already upgrading, I didn’t go into much detail on the tech specs, and will wait until more reports on Groove come out. See my recent post on Groove 3.0.

What I found most interesting is that Groove has no intention at this time to come out with versions in other languages, and is not looking for any volunteers to help with localisation/translation.

Q: Is Groove Networks looking for partners to assist in translating Groove into other languages and/or testing under local environments?
A: No, Groove Networks is not looking for partners to localize Groove software at this time.

Now if you go to the ATutor site, you will see that there are many people working on version translations. The French version of the latest ATutor release came out at the same time as the English.

My point is that if you happen to work in a non-English environment, then open source makes more sense; because you will at least have the option to do your own translation.

CATA Supports Open Source

Last April, in a letter to the Treasury Board, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance urged the Canadian government to support the use of open source and open standards.

These governments have been attracted to Open Source because it provides a foundation for lowering costs while increasing stability, scalability and security. This change in procurement strategy provides an opportunity for our members to capture new markets.

I made a similar recommendation to the New Brunswick government during their recent pre-budget consultations. Too bad I hadn’t seen this letter earlier. Notice how CATA believes that open source/standards would be advantageous for its SME’s (small and medium enterprises).

Thanks to Seb for pointing to this.

Link Errors

I just discovered a number of link errors on my previous posts. I had used the wrong kind of quotation marks when referring to a URL, and the link just pointed back to this website 🙁

I think that I’ve cleaned them all up, and have discovered a bit more about HTML, which I’m learning on the fly.

Future of Work

I’ve written a bit about the need for business models that are more flexible than the industrial age corporation. An effort to look at the future of work organisational models has been going on at MIT since the mid-1990’s. in 1999 the team at MIT wrote a manifesto on the changes needed for future work structures. They called for the creation of organisations that are environmentally, socially and personally sustainable.

Thomas Malone, author of the forthcoming book “The Future of Work,” has been involved with the Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century initiative at MIT, and in a recent interview talks about open source as a good busines model for the future, and applauds the success of e-Bay.

Malone also explains that all new work models have resulted from improved communications systems.

We’re now in the early days of the third stage – transitioning from business kingdoms to business democracies. Much more decentralized decision-making is now possible because communication is so cheap. We can afford to have vastly greater numbers of people well-enough informed that they can make a lot more decisions for themselves, decisions that, in the past, were only possible in central offices.

Decentralisation is becoming a fact, but whether it will result in environmentally, socially and personally sustainable organisations, remains to be seen. I guess it’s up to us. I look forward to reading Malone’s new book.