The Modern Chautauqua

Of Conferences, Chatauquas and Boundary Objects, at Green Chameleon, discusses the relationships between small independent conferences; large-scale commercial events; academic sessions and then muses:

If the KM conference scene really is a complex ecosystem, then the failure of any element of it can have unpredictable, perhaps negative consequences. If the role of the conference really is to perform a boundary object role between different communities (vendors, experienced practitioners, corporate sponsors of KM, novice practitioners, thought leaders), then anything that fractures the communities and sends them into self-serving spheres, will surely drive the profession into stagnation and decline.

At the moment, it seems to me, out at the periphery, the cracks are already showing on the walls. Unless the stable centre recognises this, and unless we find new models for the economics and formats of conferences, and new models for collaboration and interaction between communities, my fear is that these cracks will spread. I hope I’m wrong.

The article also refers to those American traveling cultural shows called chautauqua.



I had read about chautauqua in Nine Shift (recommended reading):

In 1920, chautauqua, those great cultural and educational programs that traveled from rural small town to small town, bringing history, music, and entertainment to an agrarian society, had its largest attendance. Some 25 million people were said to have attended a chautauqua that year. The following year they folded, never to put up a chautauqua tent again.

It’s fascinating to look back and see what is taken for granted at a certain point in time. In 1920, with millions of people going to chautauqua, you probably would have the majority of Americans not predicting their demise. Yet, one year later, chautauqua are finished.

Perhaps the commercial conference will follow the same path. Who knows? Looking into the past can show us that we too should not take current conditions for granted. Personally, I’m drawn more to the unconference.

e-Learning Project Management Book

The Canadian eLearning Enterprise Alliance (CeLEA) has recently released its new e-book Plan to Learn: case studies in e-learning project management. Edited by Beverly Pasian (who is working on her PhD in project management) and Dr. Gary Woodill (who has recently become Senior Researcher at Brandon Hall Research), this volume of 22 case studies from 8 countries documents the successes and failures of a variety of e-learning implementations. Case studies are drawn from the higher education, K-12, government, non-profit and corporate sectors. The book also contains a thorough review of the literature on elearning project management. To obtain your free copy, go to

This 192 page PDF from CeLEA covers dozens of case studies on e-learning management (focus = A-DDI-E). Almost all of the cases are academic situations, using the online course model, so this book would be best suited for those developing e-learning in higher education. There is little mention of performance support, knowledge management, communities of practice, or informal learning. Nor is there much reference to aligning the learning methods to operational or business requirements.

One exception is a case study on developing math skills for nurses at Mount Royal College. In this case, the work requirement, or gap, was quite clear:

According to a May 2004 study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, one in nineteen adults will be given the wrong medication or dosage upon a hospital visit.

The goal was defined, though too academic in my mind:

The goal of the online Nursing Math Tutorial was to ensure that nursing students were successful in their clinical courses without the need for so much time.

A better goal would have been to reduce the number of incorrect dosages. This is obviously the performance they were really trying to achieve.

The design considered the context of the work:

The intention of the tutorial was to provide practical information to the learner, that being the basic principles and illustrations of math sequences and their relation to practical clinical settings.

However, the ADDIE model seems to have been too constraining and resource-intensive:

In the creation of the online Nursing Math Tutorial, the successes arose from creative project management solutions, which conserved resources and maintained a higher quality of student learning as a result.

I’m wondering if a better approach in this case may have been to create a series of contextual visualizations on the necessary math concepts. These could then be placed in an online collaborative environment, such as Elgg, and the learners themselves could have constructed meaning around these visual artifacts, through discussions with each other and with facilitators. Some of the visualizations could also be the test objects, such as, “here is a case, calculate the dosage”.

For those in the thick of e-learning course development, you may find some helpful nuggets in these pages. Most of the cases discuss tools for learner-to-learner discussions, so we are seeing clear moves away from just information dissemination. However, if you’re looking for innovative performance-oriented alternatives to ADDIE, you will have to look elsewhere.

Whither ISD, ADDIE & HPT?


Here is the question of the month from The Learning Circuits Blog:

Are ISD / ADDIE / HPT relevant in a world of rapid elearning, faster time-to-performance, and informal learning?

First, some definitions:

  • HPT – Human Performance Technology
  • ISD – Instructional Systems Design [or Development]
  • ADDIE – a process incorporating Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation, stemming from the Systems Approach to Training (SAT)

SAT, ISD and ADDIE stemmed from the need to train military personnel for the Second World War. They were necessary to train lots of people really fast. My initial experiences as a military trainer were from the point of view of ISD, SAT, & ADDIE.

Later I became immersed in HPT, and found it a good method to analyse certain aspects of organisational performance. One thing that HPT does well is to ensure that training, which is costly, isn’t prescribed unless it addresses a verifiable lack of skills and/or knowledge.

SAT, ISD and ADDIE are excellent methods to develop training that is stable. I spent several years using these methods to develop helicopter training for aircrew and maintenance personnel. These methodologies were highly suitable for the task. These methods are not suitable for developing educational programming. The problem with using training development for education is that the performance objectives are not clear. What are you supposed to do at the end of this education and how do you measure it?

As I have said before, I think that one of the problems with our education system is that there is too much of a focus on getting quantitative data, like testing. These functions are more suited to a “training” system, where the performance requirements are clear, measurable and observable. In education, the performance requirements are fuzzy. There is nothing wrong with either a training focus or an education focus; each one has its merits. The problem is when you try to mix the two.

So, are these methodologies suitable for today? The short answer is yes, but not everywhere. Too often we see training as a solution looking for a problem. Training often worked before, or at least didn’t create more problems, when work processes and organisations were stable. As we move to more networked businesses, training’s weaknesses are becoming evident. These weaknesses are also evident when we don’t really know what the performance objectives are in a constantly evolving society, economy and marketplace.

Enter the two-way web and the ubiquitously connected computer. We now have several new tools to address other performance issues that training was never good for anyway:

  • Unclear expectations – collaboratively constructed wikis and up to the minute blogs
  • Inadequate resources – user generated knowledge bases through tagging and social bookmarking
  • Unclear performance measures – direct feedback from customers via blogs

The Web is also providing an open platform for people to connect and converse with others all over the world, expanding informal education opportunities for millions. Both training and education are being opened up and exposed as individuals create their own networks and converse with each in their personal searches for knowledge and community.

The Internet is forcing us out of our self-constructed disciplinary boxes. As work and learning become connected online, the barriers are blurring between organisational development, HR, training, education, HPT, etc. A new, amalgamated field of practice requires better tools and integrated theories from which to base our practice.

These models are relevant, but they’re not enough.

Elgg Spaces Launches

Elgg Spaces is the new offering from Curverider for hosted informal learning applications. I’ve used Elgg a fair bit and like the amalgamation of blogging, social networking and online portfolio applications on one platform. I also like the ability to control the access levels for each entry, so that Elgg can be used for closed group discussions.

Elgg Spaces offers tiered hosting, as well as a free, unsupported version. What I am looking forward to is the ability to “Allow your users to collaborate with those in other communities, both on Elgg Spaces and across the web”. Lack of integration with other systems has been the main reason that I haven’t fully adopted Elgg, even though I still recommend it for individuals or inside a “walled garden”.

Networked Work Needs Networked Learning

In a recent discussion on informal learning I was asked how it could be integrated into formal work environments. What I have learned so far about informal learning is that it is more of a cultural issue than about process or technology improvements. The key factor is control. To foster informal learning, organisations have to give up control. We see this with social networking on the Internet and that organisations that let go of centralised control are able to adapt quicker. The Dean campaign was one example, as is viral marketing.

The fact that small, loose organisations can adapt quicker has been evident for a couple of centuries, when you examine guerrilla groups fighting against large hierarchical military organisations. Guerrillas proved their worth against Napoleon in Spain in the early 19th century as well as against the US in Vietnam in the latter part of the 20th century. Many military experts now talk about network warfare, or netwar.

If network warfare was possible years ago, as witnessed during the Peninsular War, why is netwar something new? I think that the original guerrillas showed what was possible, but it took the ubiquitous information and communication network, the Internet, to make it the default organisational model. As a retired soldier, I always considered the military to be a conservative-minded organisation. If the military is seriously considering network warfare, then it seems that the need to understand networked business & learning is pretty obvious.

One example of networked businesses is the animation field, where creatives live all over the world. With some companies, the creative team is physically separated from the production team by several time zones, so that work can go on 24 hours a day, as the day’s work moves back and forth between teams. Even when they’re spread out, excessive control is not necessary. Christopher Sessums reports on why Pixar is so successful as a creative force, citing the fact there are no studio execs to control the process. Control is the enemy of innovation and flexibility.

Effective work and learning networks are composed of unique individuals working on common challenges, together for a discrete period of time before the network begins to shift its focus again. This is like small groups of guerrillas joining for a raid, conducting it, and then going their separate ways to reform as a different set for a new mission. If armies and businesses organisations are changing to networked models, then the best learning support has to be informal, loose and networked as well. We are shifting from a “one size fits all” attitude on work and learning to an “everyone is unique” perspective. If everyone is unique then there are no generic work processes and no standard curricula.

If everyone is unique, we need to seriously reconsider our models for training and education. Brian Alger has shown the severe limitations of standard curricula and Bill and Julie at NineShift sum up the issue as:

The issue is also about the biggest educational struggle in this early century: the switch from making every student “normal” to understanding that every student is not normal, in other words, unique.

In warfare, work and learning we are witnessing a major change in command and control and we will have to shift with it or suffer the fate of several defeated armies.

Formal education needs more informal learning

One of the reasons that I’m fascinated with informal learning is that it has not been studied anyway near as much as formal learning (education & training) and my experience with workplace performance has shown how important informal learning is in getting the job done. A ten year study of Japanese education methods by the University of Leicester has revealed, among other things, how important it is to link formal and informal learning as early as possible:

Dr. Jenny Rogers said: Moving between formal and informal situations causes major problems for learners as it demands transformations in the type of knowledge that they have already acquired. These transformations cause problems which are not only common but have proved intractable. They lie at the heart of difficulties with computation, performance and problem-solving that have dogged education, test results and employment over many years.

Our research here at the University of Leicester and nationally shows that these problems arise very early in children’s education and cause difficulties as much for the nursery as for education and employers. Children need to be helped to develop their talk and problem-solving to a far greater extent in informal, implicit situations during the formative years alongside the formal and explicit elements of lessons. This will enhance their flexibility and their ability to understand and deal with wide-ranging written texts as well as formal and real-life problems in the later years.

My own experience shows that some people who function very well in formal learning environments become rather disoriented in an informal environment, such as our series of online workshops on informal learning. In order to be successful learners, people need to be comfortable with their disorientation. According to Marilyn Taylor [PDF see page 51 for a reference to Taylor’s model], disorientation should be a natural state in formal education:

Stage 1 : Disorientation: The learner is presented with an unfamiliar experience or idea which involves new ideas that challenge the student to think critically about his/her beliefs and values. The learner reacts by becoming confused and anxious. Support from the educator at this point is crucial to the learner’s motivation, participation and self-esteem.

I believe that disorientation is an almost constant state in many workplaces today, so we had better prepare learners for it. Incorporating informal learning experiences in an ever widening variety of contexts could help prepare students to be better informal learners throughout their lives. In this study, formal education has been shown to foster dependent learners who have difficulty in the disorienting contexts that often accompany informal learning. If we truly want to foster lifelong learning, we need to create more informal learning opportunities in our entire educational system.


Learning how to learn, from the beginning

We may talk about being continuous learners, but the reality is that those who question the existing systems put themselves on the fringe. Christian Long cites the recent case of Pluto no longer being a planet and how this shows how brittle our formal education system is after some 100 years.

And let me get this straight: you want me to be a lifelong learner, but just not right-this-second ’cause that’s not in the rubric you mapped out this summer with the help of the study-to-the-test-consultants that did that workshop you sat through for credits to keep your job while you’d rather be teaching and inspring me and the rest of my buddies here in 5th period, because the textbook guys already struck a deal with teachers who don’t use the Internet and the worksheets were already printed and the tests were already evaluated for veracity and comparible student populations and big money was spent on all of it so we just sit here and read the textbook and take the quiz and all will be okay? Seriously?

But what about Pluto? They told that planet that all was okay and painted its picture in countless solar system maps and made little kids learn songs that rhymed the names of all 9 of them. And look what happened to that guy?

And is there someone I can call about this? Someone who has the answer? And isn’t worried about what the textbook says?

The same goes for informal learning in the workplace. After decades of being told how to jump through the right hoops and get all of the right stickers degrees, you now want all workers to think for themselves, but only enough to support the existing structure and not to question the status quo? Good luck, because all of this freedom to rip, mix & learn is very subversive.

Stay focused on the small stuff

A couple of recent articles reminded me about the importance of doing the small things well and possibly reaping large rewards. We often look for magic bullets or big systems to address big problems but it’s usually the little stuff that makes a difference.

Christian Long tells a story about teachable moments and how this statement from a student, “I have to go to the bathroom bad“, can be used for all kinds of learning about grammar. As Christian says, this is a “real glimpses of innovation inside the ‘learning’ space.”

Another case in point is an article from Green Chameleon about knowledge management that does not include expensive IT systems. This is a story about housekeeping and concierge staff at a hotel:

Each day, one staff member got to share in about 5-10 minutes a topic of interest just before roll-call which happens at the start of a new shift. The staff get to pick the topic and the day they would like to do the sharing. The topic could be on anything of interest or an incident they considered useful for others to learn from such as how to check-in baggage, how to deal with “weird” guests, where to buy foreign magazines, what Deepavali which is a Hindu festival coming up in October is all about, and so on – in short, topics that would help them deal with their guests better.

In either case, taking advantage of a teachable moment or adding a 5 minute sharing session, the cost of implementation is negligible. The key is in understanding the business, the issues and the organisational culture so that these kinds of informal learning activities can take place. The only way that I can see this happening is when those in charge remain connected to the day-to-day operations and when there is a climate of trust to try out new ways of working.

Analysis for Informal Learning

This is a follow-up to Informal Learning and Performance Technology. I’ve created this diagram to show a rather simplistic representation of how you would conduct an analysis to determine where informal learning might fit in to your organisation. This process is designed for larger organsisations, and there is much missing from this diagram that space won’t allow. Anyway, it’s designed as a conversation accelerator on how to start looking at opportunities for informal learning on an organisational basis.


My PKM System

Note: Latest version: PKM in a Nutshell (2010).

In response to a post I made on Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), Tony Karrer recommended that I look at his post on Personal Learning for Learning Professionals. This had me review my posts on PKM and reflect on how I go through my process of triage. As a result, I created this picture.

I’m starting to use some other web tools but this is pretty well how I move from “interesting stuff” to “this is what I think”. For me, PKM is more about attitude than any given tools. My system works for me because I’m curious and because I have got into the habit of writing down my thoughts in a public forum. This develops into some interesting conversations about things that matter to me at the intersection of learning work and technology. Having a defined field of interest helps stop this blog from spreading too far and wide and keeps my PKM manageable.

Update: The diagram was slightly changed in response to Loretta’s suggestion (see comments). I would also encourage a look at Dave Pollard’s graphic on the same subject.