The medium is my message

Great conversation with Hugh McLeod looking at the difference between enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and social media (SM). According to Hamish, with SM, “All interpretation of the message is done by the human receiver”, whereas “In ERP by contrast we have a whole load more stuff to do, as all interpretation is done by the software, or more accurately by rules written in software by a designer who is not in situ to intervene in any ambiguous situations. ”

Learning management systems (LMS) are the ERP’s of the education and training world. They try to take into account all of the factors necessary to control the experience, whether it be the “right” content or the most “appropriate” evaluation. Automating teaching and learning in order to be like ERP’s is the holy grail in some edtech business circles.

Learning is not a business process. Learning is the interpretation of messages by a human receiver, whether these messages be information or experiences. That means that a dumb network, like SM, with human interpreters at the ends, makes for better learning than a smart network, with its limited (by design) number of constraints.

The best LMS is the Web, because it allows any message to be received by anyone, without adding a pre-defined learning wrapper. In a world of ever expanding information and knowledge, the key to “managing” learning is helping individuals to develop their own message interpretation processes and skills.

7 Responses to “The medium is my message”

  1. Janet Clarey

    I flip-flop on the control issue – especially lately for some reason. Food analogies are often where my mind wanders…it’s great to wander around the grocery store selecting food and eating it on the spot but hey, somebody has got to buy the stuff, bring it home and cook it to be efficient. Eating is a process and an experience. Learning too? What’s efficient learning? And, some people won’t wander into the market and select what they want…they’d prefer to go hungry or take what’s in their friend’s wrapper and eat it.

  2. Harold

    My experience is that most learning would be better with less control by instructors, but more skills on the part of the learner. Our educational institutions don’t prepare self-directed learners, for the most part.

    There are places where control is necessary, but these are not the majority, IMO. When I was responsible for clear-cut procedural training, like flying & fixing helicopters, the need for controlled content and evaluation was quite obvious. However, when it comes to crew resource management or tactics, it’s less cut & dried and requires individual knowledge-making skills, not just doing it by the book.

  3. Tom Haskins

    I wonder, if a learner has an appetite for “junk learning”, whether s/he needs to be put on a restricted diet or given more criteria to interpret what they are getting fed. I suspect that most formal content appears intrinsically useless, tasteless, “devoid of nutrition” — unless it’s tied to a job skill like “flying helicopters”. Restricting the diet amounts to “blaming the victim” who has lost his/her taste for valuable learning from so much junk content.

  4. Jon Matejcek

    It’s interesting to me when large companies view their business processes as the procedural equivalent of helicopter repair. To them, it’s all relative. For example, non-compliance with purchasing procedures won’t get anyone killed, but it could cost the company a lot of money (resulting in career casualties, perhaps). So, they pile on the training. The training audience, meanwhile, is thinking, “Lighten up, it’s only purchasing. Just tell me how to do this stuff when I actually need to buy something.” One more step in the loss of their ‘learning tastebuds,’ (lame attempt to extend Tom’s metaphor!).

  5. John Zonneveld

    I completely agree that the web provides instant access to a vast ocean of information on any topic imaginable. The problem I see with this observation is that it leaves organizations with no way to focus their learning investment (yes, there is a cost to employees surfing the web for the purposes of learning new concepts). It is also difficult at best to measure an organization’s learning investment ROI with completely unstructured learning experiences.

    Not all learning needs are equal either. While some jobs require very subjective and informal learning experiences (a.k.a. On-demand learning or just-in-time learning), others require very structured, prescriptive learning experiences. In my many years of experience in the learning technologies business, I’ve seen a strong correlation between the level of technical expertise required to perform a given job and the need for prescriptive focus (complex technical curricula) to ensure that those responsible for building and servicing technically complex goods have the skill required by the OEM to properly perform their jobs.


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