the future is here

Work is learning, and learning is the work. This has been my tag line for the past decade. Until recently it felt in some ways that I was talking about the future of work, as many organizations still focused on formal course-based training, and education was firmly established on subject-based curriculum developed in isolation from the world.

The pandemic changed everything. Things that we thought would take years were done in a week or two. Is digital transformation even an issue today, or did it just happen? This question has been making the rounds on social media.

Who led the digital transformation of your company?
a) CEO
b) CTO
c) COVID-19

One of my favourite commentaries on schooling from home comes from my friend Tanya.

Most people have had to do a lot of learning in the past weeks. They have had to change normal practices, innovate, collaborate, and adjust. Schools transitioned to online and teachers in turn are learning that there is a lot of stuff done in classrooms that is not necessary. Students, parents, and teachers are adapting. Much of the world just got a major cognitive jolt.

“Covid-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future. We might ask, after so many have lost their jobs, whether all of them are the jobs the world most needs, and whether our labor and creativity would be better applied elsewhere. We might ask, having done without it for a while, whether we really need so much air travel, DisneyWorld vacations, or trade shows. What parts of the economy will we want to restore, and what parts might we choose to let go of? And on a darker note, what among the things that are being taken away right now – civil liberties, freedom of assembly, sovereignty over our bodies, in-person gatherings, hugs, handshakes, and public life – might we need to exert intentional political and personal will to restore?” —Charles Eisenstein 2020-03

There is little that is happening during this pandemic that has shaken my own perspectives on work and learning. Back in 2011 I wrote — The 21st century workplace is all about understanding networks, modelling networked learning, supporting and strengthening networks. Alan Levine commented on my 2010 post on hierarchical conversations, saying, “You don’t understand networks and learning from hearing words or seeing diagrams; you understand it via first hand experience.” Everybody just got that first hand experience.

The pandemic will definitely change my business, with a lot fewer — or no — public speaking engagements in the near future.  As much as I like to travel, I have become adept at online presentations and collaborations. I did one many years ago during a power outage and used a landline to speak while the moderator showed my slides and provided audience feedback. In 2009 we did a 24-hour around the world online conference to engage people in every time zone, where I presented once in French and later in English. In fact, I find online conferences are often superior to large public engagements if there is an active back channel and the technology is used appropriately. It seems that the future we were preparing for in 2005, is now here.

“Harold Jarche is a true pioneer. Nine years ago [2005], long before online activities were commonplace, we conducted a series of Unworkshops on the topic of web-based learning. We relied on free software. Our students came from Australia, Lebanon, Canada, Austria, the Azores, and points in between. Lessons were both synchronous and offline. To give people exposure, we used a different platform each week. I can’t imagine anyone (aside from Harold) crazy (and innovative) enough to sign up for something like this.” —Jay Cross (1944-2015), founder Internet Time Alliance

Photo: NASA

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