The next killer app?

Harold Jarche just asked: Is education over the Internet already the killer app? He goes on to say:

Well, I think that Chambers was right. We're just measuring the wrong things. Education over the Internet is huge. ... Step outside the box of academic courses or training departments and online learning is growing and not looking like it will stop. As learning becomes essential for our knowledge society, we will become like fish in water, not realizing what it is we're swimming in. One challenge for learning professionals will be to remain relevant as all of the action moves beyond their traditional turf.

Harold's post brought to mind questions I've been wrestling with. Killer apps are usually not backwards compatible. Internet apps may need broadband connections and Java supported browsers. Software apps may require dedicated video cards, newer-than-Pentium II chips, or the Mac OSX Unix framework. This pattern of compatibility requirements has been getting me to wonder: What are the client side requirements for "education over the Internet" to be installed as the next killer app?

My first hypothesis was that informal learning is an essential prerequisite. The free ranging, self-directed, intrinsically motivated exploration by learners has to be functioning to support online learning. Otherwise, offerings that are free of LMS sequencing and monitoring will only seem like more content to be learned formally and compliantly.

I then conjectured that support for this killer app depended on reversing the effects of getting taught. Products of schooling and playing the grade game, no matter how successful, could not get a real education off the Internet. Getting taught content sets up learners to be: terrified of freedom, asking to be kidnapped, and deprived of their sense of wonder.

It made sense that there would have to be a transition like the installation of a new operating system (like Vista) or frameworks (like .NET) to change the learners' ability to learn. I proposed an M.Ed. in Informal learning to have the opposite effect on learners that formal schooling provides. Affecting the learners would take precedence over delivering content, testing comprehension or requiring practice exercises.

It has also been making sense to me that the youngest gamers are getting exactly what is required to support the killer app outside of school. Gameplay learning provides a very different set of meta-cognitive skills, problem solving strategies and a robust tolerance of ambiguity. Gaming changes our epistemology, self concepts and confidence to play out different roles.

More recently, it appeared to me that Personal Learning Environments could be set up to use the Internet as a killer app in education. The organizing of personal searches, subscriptions and relationships with authors of RSS resources -- could detach each learner from getting schooled and empower autonomous/social learning.

After reflecting deeply on the functions and varieties of PLE's last month, I've concluded most recently that using the Internet to get an education depends on reflective practicing. Learners have to be able to learn from what happens as they:

  • find what they are looking for and delve into deeper interests
  • change the questions they have in mind and directions they're pursuing
  • discover others who reveal different perspectives on common interests
  • create content for others that gets quoted, debated or disparaged

Successful blogging appears to thrive on reflective practicing. We are making tons of uniquely, personal sense from what shows up in our feed readers. We are sharing our insights among ourselves and learning more from how our content plays out in other readers' understanding as they reflect on what we offer. Perhaps we've got what it takes and only need to figure out a viable way to share our basis for using the killer app already.


  1. Thanks for taking my post to the next level, Tom. Once again, an excellent synthesis.

  2. Thanks Harold for your post and appreciation of mine. Your recent blogging about business models has me reflecting on more to say and link back to you too.

  3. Tom - so much learning seems to occur in the processing. After reading your post, I'm thinking that what we really need to look at is how to encourage people to PROCESS what they are taking in.

    This seems to be beyond the "opportunities for practice" that we focus on when we create courses or think about education. And maybe beyond the "contextual exercises" that those of us in corporate environments inflict on people when they sit in our classrooms (either virtual or actual).

    In my environment, maybe I can encourage people to think about their prior experience and have them help develop context rather than just GIVE context to them.... I gotta think this through a bit more.....

  4. Wendy- Thanks for taking this further. I sure agree with you it takes more than opportunities to jump start reflective practicing. Your reflections today on the loss in your fragrance group, and several weeks ago on the anguish & adjustments your cats went through - are vivid examples of "leading by example".

    Your idea of the learners developing their own context is rich - I too will ponder that one some more :-)