Laptop Schools

I have generally been against the use of technology for technology’s sake, and this includes laptops in schools. An article in Syllabus has raised a good point to make me question my anti-laptop stance. According to the author, having laptops available to all students provides more opportunities for advanced students. "As the schools embrace full access to online resources, they are importing services and resources. They are also giving kids access to online Advance Placement (AP) courses that are produced and distributed by colleges and corporations. These school districts could never afford to support as many AP students as is possible electronically." Perhaps I’ve been wrong.

Open Content

Thanks to Stephen Downes’ OLDaily for pointing this out. The PEW Research Centre states that 44% of American Internet users put content online for free. I think that there are a couple of inferences that one can make. First, that it is possible to have content online without paying someone. Second, that if you are going to launch a business that offers content for sale, then it has to be better in some way than all of the free content out there. As I’ve said before, just putting content online is not a viable business model.

RSS & Aggregators

RSS (really simple syndication) is a means of keeping track of the web logs that you read. It’s a push technology so you don’t have to keep checking for news, it comes to you. I use bloglines, a web-based aggregator, and my blog subscription is publicly accessible. There are many other services available, free and for a fee, some which use client software on your computer.

If you’re interested in the use and future of RSS, go to Stephen Downes’ discussion: "So, RSS could succeed. It will probably succeed. But it is important to keep our focus on what it does well: it allows an individual to scan, filter, and pass forward. That’s all it ever has to do. The network will do the rest."

Systemic Causes of Societal Problems

Rob Paterson, on PEI, writes about the systemic problems facing island society, in a letter to the Provincial government. “When a business is in real trouble, it is because it has a systemic problem. Trimming here and there will not save it. So it is with us. Prince Edward Island has a structural problem related not to its physical assets but to its human capital.”

This letter is worth the read, as Rob’s view is that the root causes of complex problems cannot be addressed by focusing on the symptoms. This is also the view of human performance technologists. Rob’s points are pertinent to one of my projects, where we are making recommendations on how to grow the New Brunswick learning industry. Our key for sustainable development is to find out what is at the root of the problem/challenge. For PEI, Rob says that many children are already challenged before they enter school, because learning and literacy skills are developed prior to age four. All of the interventions to develop literacy and learning skills after this age are treating the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.

This is the same kind of root cause that I am looking for. What are the core components of an industry that will ensure sustainable growth? Is it infrastructure, government policy, access to capital, R&D, marketing & branding, an educated workforce, etc.? My suspicion is that the basics are the most important part. For instance, I moved to Sackville because there is a university, a local hospital, a good elementary school and cheap housing. I have stayed here because of high-speed internet access and two relatively close airports.

Are there basics that need to be addressed in order to grow an industry? In the case of PEI, Rob makes the point that early childhood interventions are critical for a sustainable society. Are there other pieces of the puzzle critical to grow a small industry, or should we focus on the region or province instead, and let industries grow in what we have cultivated? This is one of my current challenges, and I would appreciate any feedback.

Social Networks & Corporate Learning

Jay Cross of the newly renamed Emergent Learning Forum, discusses social networks and their value for corporate learning. This is the frontier of the Internet, building on the writings of Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point)and others, on how loose social ties are more important than strong ones for learning, as they introduce ideas and people outside of our usual social circle. Social networks, communities of practice, expertise locators, etc. have more potential and utility in this medium than centralized systems such as LCMS. If you have an interest in this field, then join the Forum, it’s free.

This site uses Open Source

This new version of my website launched today. It was built using an open source CMS (content management system) called Drupal. The learning curve was steep for me, until I got over the first hurdle of understanding Drupal’s concepts, especially "books". The great support team at Tantramar Interactive (see bottom of page for a link) here in Sackville, really accelerated the process. This effort took place in spurts over the span of a week.

I would recommend this kind of a website to any small business that uses the web to communicate. Being in control of your content, without too many technical hassles, is wonderful. I’m told that Drupal has the added advantage of being able to survive being "Slash-dotted". This is when thousands of people hit your website all at once. Somehow I doubt that this will happen to me in the near future 😉

Open Source for Learning

About a year ago, I started writing about open source technologies for learning applications, and created a blog to inform my clients and colleagues. It is still available on the QuickTopic site.

I am interested in the new business models that open source software is spawning. I intend to stay abreast of developments so that I can advise clients when it would be appropriate to use an open source system versus a proprietary one. There are pros and cons for either decision.

I am currently working with a colleague on the installation and testing of ATutor and ACollab, both developed by the University of Toronto.

Book Reviews

One of the advantages of owning my own business is that I can buy books from my local bookstore, as part of my business operations. I’ll keep adding to this list, and would appreciate any comments.

Human Performance Technology

Analyzing Performance Problems by R. Mager & P. Pipe (ISBN 1879618176)
This is the classic on how to analyze what people are doing within organizations. It covers the performance analysis and cause analysis portions of the HPT model. Highly recommended.

From Training to Performance Improvement by J. Fuller & J. Farrington (ISBN 0787911208)
A good book for those in the training business who want to move into performance improvement, or HPT.

Learning & Education

e-learning by M. Rosenberg (ISBN 0071362681)
This is a good introduction to elearning which includes general explanations of knowledge management and performance support as well.

The Educated Mind: How cognitive tool shape our understanding by K. Egan (ISBN 0226190366)
This is a wonderful book that proposes a theory on education that no one else has tried to do. Egan says that Western education is based on three conflicting premises which compete for dominance. These three premises are – education as socialization; education as a quest for truth; and education as the realization of individual potential. No one premise can dominate without precluding the others, so we continue to have conflict in our education systems. Egan then goes on to formulate a model of cognitive tool development, which can put this traditional conflict to rest. All educators should read this book.

Making Sense of Adult Learning by D. MacKeracher (ISBN 0921472269)
Everything you want to know about adult learning under one cover. This is not about technology at all. The book covers a wide spectrum including cognitive, physical and spiritual aspects of learning. It’s also well-written and easy to read.

Systems & Technology in Society

Systems Thinking: Managing chaos and complexity by J. Gharajedaghi (ISBN 0750671637)
This book takes a lot of brainpower, and throws you a new concept on almost every page. It is like Einstein’s theory of relativity for business systems. A must read if you design systems that involve people.

The Human Factor: Revolutionizing the way people live with technology by K. Vicente (ISBN 0676974899)
This is a great read, particularly if you are interested in human computer interaction, usability or human centred design. Vicente is a scientist who thinks like an artist, and sees what happens when the mechanistic model goes awry.

Learning in Chaos by J. Hite (ISBN 0884154270)
A heavy and theoretical book that covers classical and technical chaos theories. The best part is Part 4, which you could read without wading through the rest. Borrow this book, unless you are really into chaos theory.

Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning people, performance and payoffs by R. Kaufman et al (ISBN 0787965030)
Based on Kaufman’s Organizational Elements Model (OEM), but I prefer it over a lot of other IT-focused strategic planning models. I don’t know if you would ever follow all of the steps, and stay on budget. A good reference book if you don’t have another strategic planning model that you like.

Business and Organizations

Natural Capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution by P. Hawken, A. Lovins & L. Hunter Lovins (ISBN 0316353167)
A good read that gives a new macro perspective on how capitalism should take into account the measurement of natural capital. It comes with a lot of concrete suggestions from the Rocky Mountain Institute. This perspective fits in well with Kaufman’s (see previous entry) Macro perspective for Strategic Planning.

McLuhan for Managers by M. Federman & D. deKerkhove (ISBN 0670043710)
Having read most of Marshall McLuhan’s own work, I find this book a good synthesis of these books. The authors provide a a solid methodology for using the Laws of Media to develop scenarios. A must read for anyone interested in McLuhan.

Managing in the Next Society by P. Drucker (ISBN 031232320116)
This book is a series of articles written at different times that look at how changes in knowledge work are changing the corporation as we know it. Drucker even predicts the end of the corporation. Since Peter Drucker is in his 90’s he has seen it all. For instance, he was working for an American firm in Europe during the crash of 1929. The articles are easy to read and provide lots of food for thought.

The E-Myth Revisited by M. Gerber (ISBN 0887307280)
At first I thought that this book was a “how to” on building a franchise. It’s not. Gerber clearly shows how all small businesses have to develop their processes, and what happens if they don’t. This is a must read for all small business owners. The “E” stands for entrepreneur.

Free Agent Nation: The future of working for yourself by D. Pink (ISBN 0446678791)
This book helped me when I stepped out on my own. It’s focused on the US environment, but there is a lot of information for those of us in other countries. I like the idea of the Free Agent Nation (FAN) club so much that I’m starting a similar one here, called the Sackville SOHO Society.

The Cluetrain Manifesto by R. Levin, C. Locke, D. Searls & D. Weinberger (ISBN 0738204315)
After having read the manifesto online, in bits and pieces, over the past few years, I went out and purchased the book. It’s now in paperback, so not too expensive. It was a great read again, and even though the authors state that it is not a business book, it provides a good lens though which to view our networked world. I don’t agree with all that is said, and the rant style can get on your nerves, but the book is still worth it. What I remember most from this book is the first of the 95 theses, that “Markets are conversations.”

One of my favourite paragraphs is in the last chapter:
“Fact is, we don’t care about business — per se, per diem, au gratin. Given half a chance, we’d burn the whole constellation of obsolete business concepts to the waterline. Cost of sales and bottom lines and profit margins — if you’re a company, that’s your problem. But if you think of yourself as a company, you’ve got much bigger worries. We strongly suggest you repeat the following mantra as often as possible until you feel better: “I am not a company. I am a human being.”

Learning, Work, and Technology

This is where I post my thoughts and comments on ideas, events or other writings that are of a professional interest to me. Current areas of interest include social networking applications, like blogs, wikis and the use of RSS feeds, which is one reason why I have this blog: to practise what I preach. I’m also interested in the use of open source software platforms for learning. The development and nurturing of communities of practice online is another area of applied research that interests me.

My previous blog is still available as an archive.