What's missing

Sherlock Holmes solved a mystery by noticing "the dog that did not bark in the night". It's much easier to notice a dog that did bark than a dog that did not. Knowing what's missing requires a sense of the big picture. Teaching twelve different college courses gave me an opportunity to discern a big picture of patterns in the student enrollment. I began seeing what was missing in most of the students enrolled in Employee Training & Development or Human Resource Management. I saw how this differed from students enrolled in Small Business Management or Organizational Behavior. Clark Aldrich brought all this back to mind yesterday in his post on the Learning Circuits Blog:

2. Your clients, be they sales teams or management, live in a world of results. That is the language they speak, and you are too removed from them if you are not speaking this language.

I experienced the reverse problem. When I spoke of results, metrics, outcome measures, impact or value, I lost my HR students. I was not speaking their language. It appeared most students drawn to the HR and T&D professions are process oriented. From a results orientation, they appear to be "going through the motions", "spinning their wheels", or "stuck in a rut". From their own process "epistemic frame", they are complying with management directives, conforming to policy requirements and implementing "change management plans".

When I talked of metrics with students in management courses, I spoke their language. They are preparing to "live in a world of results" as Clark says. Yet I eventually saw what was missing in their results orientation also. The focus on results can escalate adversarial contexts, reward shortcuts, disrupt ecologies and harm informal communities. Their results orientation needed to be combined with a system orientation that considers side effects, context and widespread repercussions. (Geetha's comment on Clark's post adds some context that was missing)

As I further explored storytelling, game design and uses of the theater metaphor in business, something else appeared missing from all the process, results and systems orientations.

Everything we do is creating an experience for ourselves and others. We are always telling a story with our words and actions. We relentlessly create a game with our "epistemic frame" that sets up others to score points or get penalized. We continually succeed or fail at being immersive or engaging. We are either perpetuating "more of the same old same old" or transforming our world.

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What's the big idea?

I've been asked for further clarification on something I said yesterday:

"Learning organization" is too big an idea. It's most popular with enterprises that cannot learn and need a cover to "look like they are trying".

An analogy may help here. Someone who is immersed in job hunting will be generating leads, setting up interviews and learning of other employment possibilities in the process. She may take a trip to another city in the midst of all this. She would describe the trip as "following up on some leads and interviewing at two companies". No biggie.

Someone else who is supposed to be job hunting will not be immersed in the day-to-day process. He may take a trip to another city to see his favorite band in concert and hang out with some friends. Yet the pressure to be finding a job will require that he "look like he is trying". So he would describe the trip as "a Job Hunting Expedition". Big ideas are a sign of miniscule implementation. People who "get it done every day" say very little about it.

When I'm not blogging, I'm mentoring entrepreneurs. Everyone of them is learning from happenstance, customers, employees, rivals and contractors. Yet none of them call their start-up a "learning organization". They do every kind of learning without mention. They do not need to look like they are trying. They need the results of their learning to better serve their customers, establish a unique market niche and develop viable systemic solutions.

Large bureaucracies, government agencies and corporations need to look like they are learning. Taxpayers, shareholders and legislatures are watching them closely. They expect this learning to be occurring to fulfill the public mandate or to improve quarterly earnings.

Large organizations that "think large" do not want the results of learning. That would mean enduring disruptive innovations, getting changed by outsiders, being proven wrong and "wimping out" from a big fight in public view. Making a show of learning works for them. Really learning does not.

Using power tools wisely

Dave recently related to Kathy Sierra's insights into the dark side of Web 2.0 tools. In spite of how useful they are, these tools can take on a life of their own -- overpowering the capable user. This gives me an opportunity to reveal more about "epistemic frames" in the process of learning. Feel free to make your own connections to the IPO craze, merger mania, military madness or excesses of any other kind.

When a tool is new to us, we are powerless in relationship to it. If you've recently attended several family gatherings like I have, you've seen lots of evidence of this. People who have not heard of blogging would be intimidated by the software and sites we use everyday. Those of use who are computer savvy get called upon to diagnose problems with "that PC" in the guest bedroom". I've recently started exploring Moodle and Sloodle. I'm also using the epistemic frame of a noob (newbie, neophyte, beginner). This phase gives us a hunger for power, efficacy and control because we are deprived of those experiences at first.

We change epistemic frames once we are capable and somewhat competent with a new tool. We flip flop to the opposite extreme: from acting powerless to overpowering. We become the kid with the hammer in hand where everything looks like the head of a nail. We get into the same trouble as Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Our new solution dictates which problems we solve. We assume we have found the "one right answer". We cannot stop because the power we get from using the tool competently -- is intoxicating. It appears the tool relieves our anxiety and builds our confidence. We depend on it relentlessly and desperately.

Any over-zealous effort eventually hits a wall. Bubbles of infatuation get burst. Conceits get humbled. Over-confidence gets shattered. We regain our perspective. We see the tool as something we might use, but we are now wary of getting used by it. We question the value, effects and costs of the tool, having experienced all that to an extreme. We find our center in between powerlessness and grandiosity. Our power becomes self-contained. It's not about the tool anymore.

After all this, we get back to the mission. If we were designing an immersive experience, we use the tool in the design. If we were creating a support system for informal learning, we see how the tool can enhance the learning. If we are forecasting a change in strategy, we see how the tool plays into the bigger picture. This final epistemic frame is the most effective. The tool gets put to wise use and the results get produced.


Bogus learning organizations

One of my subscribers asked me the following today:

Would you spare some minutes then to share your views on a learning organisation? Is it a myth or fallacy? In your experience, which major companies have you seen successes and failures in its implementation and why?

Large organizations that "think large" cannot learn. They can perpetuate themselves and fortify their defenses, but not really learn. This has been labeled "arrested development", "pseudo learning", "bureaucratic stagnation" or "organizational learning disabilities". It's been mythologized as the frog that gets boiled alive by the very gradual increase in the water temperature that overrides the instinct to leap out of boiling water.

Large organizations that "think small" can learn. They do what successful entrepreneurs do. They learn from customers, employees, rivals and suppliers. They learn from their successes and failures. They regard their happenstance as their teachers. They assume they don't know how to stay in business, to keep up with the times or to replace their current success with a new approach. They operate with "eyes of wonder that are clear of fear".

Most large (and many small) organizations cannot put this kind of learning into practice. The management hierarchy "shoots the messengers" who deliver bad news from customers, employees, suppliers or rivals. Getting close to a source of bad news is a "kiss of death". An advocate for the "lesson to be learned" is viewed as a traitor or saboteur of the mission -- not a teacher, guide or scout. The lessons are threats to dismantle, not opportunities to rethink, reinvent or renew. "Learning is for sissies". It's always time to fight back and to insist on being right. "Outsiders cannot tell us how to run our business".

"Learning organization" is too big an idea. It's most popular with enterprises that cannot learn and need a cover to "look like they are trying". Peter Senge was amazed how popular his book (The Fifth Discipline) became in academic circles. He was still thinking his first book would lead to change. He later realized that book mostly led to "talk of change" and needed a sequel to engage the "dance of change".

Academia is especially ironic in this regard. Institutions of higher learning are supposedly dedicated to learning. Yet they do not learn from their students, their 50% dropout rate, the employers of their graduates or the alumni who "got a diploma without an education included". I've blogged about that irony extensively at Clues to the College Blues.

Rather than get distracted with talk of "learning organizations", I recommend creating a balance between discovery and delivery systems. Learning is disruptive to the zero defect, quality-controlled production. Consistent, reliable delivery systems are lethal to the questioning, exploring, changing, and growing that discovery systems introduce. Many organizations rely on occasional retreats to rethink strategy, learn from experiences and recognize emergent resources. A discovery system operationalizes that into weekly conversations, blogs and wiki.

When an organization is as good at learning new things as at reliably producing the same things -- the learning becomes informal, spontaneous and contagious. Unlike learning from SME's and formal instruction, the learning is modeled, imitated, shared and supported. Learners learn from learners. It's unstoppable.

Comments on "Changing is The Work"

Last week my posting titled "Changing is the work" received three insightful comments.

Stephen gave a wonderful example of "being the change", "tooling around" and "proceeding as a visionary leader" when he said:
I tell people, I am doing now with my current work what I think teaching professionals will do in the future - not courses and classes, but living the discipline, documenting the work, participating in community.

I reap almost daily evidence that it's working.

Brent has opened the door on one of my favorite ways to conceptualize learning, healing and personal growth when he said:
I think what we are talking about is exactly the same thing that David Shaffer is putting forth in his book, How Computer Games Help Children Learn. Don't let the title fool you. This book is ALL about the things we are all currently blogging about...The Epistemic frame of any given profession, or professional endeaver is what needs to be learned for anyone to be successful. Learning that frame by engaging with those who practice it daily and "becoming" a peer, if even for a short time, has incredible learning value. I'm excited for others to read the book so we can start formulating our discussions around it in the concept in the new year.
An "epistemic frame" is how we know what we know, our basis for perceiving and reacting the way we do. When we change our frame of reference, problems vanish, competencies emerge, and learning occurs contagiously. Amazon shipped a copy of the book to me yesterday. To be continued...

Dave is using a learning strategy I find very useful: wondering what two separate things have to do with each other. He's thinking through ways to combine diffusion models with the forecasts offered in response to the LCB December question. He said:

I've long been a fan of the Diffusion of Innovation model first put forth by Rogers and the popularized by Moore. But I think Chris Anderson may well have it right, at least as Web 2.0 technologies may evolve, with his long-tail theory.

As I understand Everett Roger's model, he is using an "epistemic frame" of the product category getting accepted by different minded buyers. The product and producing is a given. Chris Anderson is saying there is a diffusion of innovating, producing and distributing that creates a long tail of citizen creativity. Roger's is "diffusing the outputs" of the factory and
Anderson is "diffusing the factories".

Thanks for the great comments!


I got that wrong

I thought Blizzard was the company that created World of Warcraft and manages that online game better than Linden Labs manages Second Life. It turns out blizzard is what happened in metro Denver this week. We got an inch per hour for 26 hours. You do the math.

I thought DiggIt was a Web 2.0 tool for tagging cool postings, videos, pics and web pages. Digg it is what I've been doing for the past two days with a snow shovel and the assistance of some wonderful neighbors.

I thought some of the ice on the walks and driveways would melt when the sun hit it this morning. It's 12 degrees Fahrenheit now. I don't think so.

I thought the grocery stores might run out of perishable produce and dairy items with the airport and interstates closed for two days. Both grocery stores I visited yesterday were completely sold out of potatoes. We got lettuce, bananas, tomatoes and milk - no problem.

I thought a white Christmas in Denver was a long shot considering An Inconvenient Truth, global warming, a 60 degree daytime highs a week ago, and a long range forecast for a drought through February in Colorado. The four foot drifts will probably last through Valentines Day until St. Patrick's Day in March.

Joyous Holidays and Happy New Year! (I got that right!)


Changing is The Work

Brent added a comment to yesterday's post (thanks Brent!):

I had a similar feeling recently when I read about Toyota in FastCompany. Change isn't an 'event' at Toyota, its THE WORK! It makes so much sense today as the rate of change is increasing so rapidly.

Tony's further thoughts about how the change to full use of Web 2.0 tools will come about (man the jib Stephen!) came to the conclusion:

Even after reading what Mark, Karl and Tom had to say about the possible role of academia, I still feel like we shouldn't expect academia to lead the charge until we (a) experiment with different models, and (b) begin to identify patterns that work.

What if blogging the way we are blogging is that pattern that works. What if we experimented with different models (listservs, forums, IM, chat rooms, etc) and have found how blogging works best. Are we not changing as we blog, read, quote and comment? Are we not providing living examples and change models by our use of Web 2.0 tools?Gandhi is often quoted for saying "Be the change you want to see in the world". We bloggers about eLearning are the change we want to see. Our blogging is not idle chatter. It seems to me we are creating "actionable blogs" by the criteria offered this morning by Dave Pollard:
  1. Offers ‘how do I’ solutions, rather than theory
  2. Offers ‘who knows about x’ referrals to experts
  3. Offers ‘have you thought about’ problem reformulations
  4. Offers ‘we agree that’ validation of perceptions and intentions, or
  5. Offers legitimization of intentions by adding approval and hence the weight of authority
Keep up the good work everyone!


Tooling around - no problem

Change is a problem for those of us concerned with tools. It makes perfect sense that we see slow adoption rates, resistance to change and missed opportunities to take advantage of the tools. Coders who are debugging beta.blogger, WordPress, Typepad, Technorati, Feedster, LiveWriter, SecondLife, etc. - will naturally forecast a difficult transition because that is their experience. Their change model looks at change, not changing. They are thinking about the tools, not tooling around.

Changes occur easily when we stop thinking about changes and begin changing. Tools gain widespread adoption when we outgrow talking about the tools. Then we continue tooling along and tooling catches on. "Tool" is a noun. "Tooling" is a verb. Using nouns says we're stuck making a thing of it. Using verbs says we're doing it and being an example to imitate. Things are a tough sell and slow to change. Changing is already happening. Changing sells itself and catches on contagiously.

I learned to ski in my twenties with difficulty. I recall the six year olds in "ski school" who were learning to ski also. They skied past me without poles like I was making skiing unnecessarily difficult. I was relying on formal instruction to change while they were learning informally and changing without effort. For me skiing was a noun; for them it has always been a verb.

When we think learning (or blogging, tagging, subscribing, etc) is a noun, we torment ourselves with structuring the formal process. When learning is a verb, we are learning informally as we tool along. Verbs have uses for nouns. Nouns have difficulties with verbs. The words in the title of this blog end with "ing" for a reason. It's better to "be doing our thing than to thing our doing" -- especially when we are wanting more changing to happen.

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Providing a change model

Last week, Tony was wondering how the change to widespread use of Web 2.0 tools would come about. On his blog I confirmed his conclusions that it will not come about through gurus, college professors or conference attendees. On this blog, I'll explore further how changes like that come about .

I imagine people need a map to get where they are going when changes come along. Without a picture of where they are at, where they are going and a way to get there, people get lost. If people cannot picture how the change is going to unfold, they get stuck in the past. Rather than imagining people resisting the change, acting stubborn or opposing progress, I find it works to see them "in need of a change model".

We continually tell ourselves stories about disruptions in the status quo as they occur. These stories are called news, rumors and buzz. Most people see changes as "being coerced against their will" or "getting pressured to leave their comfort zone". They tell these "victim stories" to solicit sympathy and commiseration. They cannot tell a story about the progress being made, opportunities coming along or the benefits getting realized. A change model offers another story for people to tell themselves.

As I researched my forecast for the LCB December question, I found that software developers have a change model in mind for the widespread adoption of Web 2.0 tools. They think it will never happen. Their model sees the Web 2.0 tools as a passing phase, a beta release of 3.0 tools. The bugs discourage the majority from changing the tools they use. Yet the heat is on to work out the bugs now -- as the early adopters find problems with dysfunctional interfaces, corrupted links, errors while uploading, failures to update, stalled processes and unexpected feeds "marked as new". They say debugged 2.0 is Web 3.0. Widespread adoption will naturally follow the 3.0 buzz about ease of use, reliability and freedom from bugs.

With this (or any other) change model in mind, it's easy to understand the time it will take, the challenges getting faced and the benefits that will be realized in the future. The story prevents discouragement, cynicism or indifference without spin doctoring the difficulties ahead. It shows the way to be patient, to let go of over-zealous ambitions and to trust the change process as it unfolds. With the change model in mind, it's possible to switch from frustration to anticipation while the problems remain prevalent.

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You're already a winner!

If you're not already a winner in the informal learning game, you're a loser, a lacker or a slacker. If I picture you as a winner, you're chances of acting like a winner are improved. If it appears to me you're failing to learn informally, you're chances are diminished. Likewise, my seeing you as lacking what it takes to learn informally or not trying hard enough to do it competently interferes with informal learning occurring naturally. The flow will be inhibited.

Perhaps you didn't know you're playing the informal learning game. The prize is knowing things without getting taught them. The game begins when you think you cannot know something unless you were taught it. The stuff you learned on your own do not count. You depend on formal instruction to learn everything. You make progress in the game when you notice how much you know that you taught yourself. You win when you realize the only way you could know anything is to have incorporated it into your "idiosyncratic mental model". If you didn't mess with it's meaning, use, or connections to other insights, you spaced it out. If you can recall it, you took it from where you got it and made it into your own understanding: informally, uniquely, usefully.

George Siemens (and originally, Peter Henschel) has said:

"Informal learning is too important to leave to chance"

I agree. So we better leave it to something else. How about replication? If we leave informal learning to a thriving ecosystem as George explores, it will reproduce naturally. Informal learning will feed on other learning in the habitat. Your informal learning will mate with other's learning and produce offspring. Those new ideas, skills, and frames of reference that survive will be the fittest. The ways you know it, use it, or combine it will be more adaptable than other ways of knowing in your changing environment.

So how do we make that change from "leaving it to chance" to "leaving it to replication"? I suggest: "you're already a winner!" -- you're not a loser. You've already got what it takes -- you're not a "lacker". You're already doing enough for it to occur naturally in your blog reader, your own blogging, and your mind -- you're not a slacker.

Perhaps you're ideas about "informal learning" can mate with the idea you're already winner and with the premise that it happens by replication. No losers, lackers or slackers could come of that breeding. The flow might even be accelerated.

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I found it inside my blog reader!

There's informal learning happening inside my blog readerI All these bloggers I subscribe to appear to be learning without formal instruction. No one is showing signs of rote learning, acquiring books smarts without street smarts, or regurgitating a repository of useless facts. All these bloggers are self directing their own learning proceses, motivating their own progress, synthesizing their own meaning and constructing idiosyncratic mental models.

How did all these bloggers get so resourceful and practiced at learning informally from the blogging they are doing? Was there a workshop or webinar I missed on how grow and change from blogging? Is there a sim where the branched story guides the learner to make the right learning choices? Are all these bloggers learning informally (from reading, writing, linking, subscribing, deleting, quoting and getting quoted) without being taught how to do that? Aren't they (and me) in danger of making costly mistakes to have taught themselves how to learn from blogging?

Are there leaders running this show? It there a design for this community in my blog reader provided by someone else? Maybe there is one of those servant leaders that leads by following, serving and supporting the followers? But I'm thinking I'm the real leader. I decide to subscribe and delete RSS feeds and control the membership and agenda this way. I create new folders and dictate which bloggers go in each. I give the folders names of my choosing, like I'm doing some Web 2.0 folksonomy tagging thing.

This might be an unconference. I don't recall flying to my blog reader, renting a nearby hotel room or signing up for the conference. But the latest postings in my blog reader seem like that whiteboard of potential conference sessions. It's that same process where the agenda cannot be set in advance, but emerges from the collective expertise that is gathered together. Whenever a blogger stays with a topic for several postings, that's like a conference session. When other bloggers join in via comments or links to their own blog, that's like a panel session in my blog reader.

My blog reader is like Nancy White's diagram for a "topic centric" blog community where there are many shifting overlaps between blogs. None of the bloggers are boundaried and ruling out the overlap with my interests. It reminds me (Nancy too perhaps?) so much of the new TV show (Fall 2006 inthe US) called "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip". The flux within the community comes up with a program schedule from scratch each week, abuses a team that writes comedy sketches in the basement while coaltions and stances constantly change among the characters. The show gives a fascinating portrait of an amorphous / structured community in action, just like the amazing show in my blog reader.

All these contributions appear to raise the water level and float all the boats. It's functioning like the open source movement and gift economies. The decentralized, democratized governance nurtures staggering amounts of initiative, creativity, and enterprising spirit among the bloggers in my reader. There are no privitized tax breaks, kickbacks or subsidies for blogging. It's as amazing as the quality of wikipedia entries or the generosity of each Burning Man festival attendee.

What's the effect of all this. It appears highly contagious to me. We're talking "network effects" like every blogger is linked to every other blogger. Changes can move through this system without making it happen. Unlike controlled distribution systems, confining pipelines and hierarchical power structures, this is the long tail of phenomenal numbers of artisans at work. And it's all inside my blog reader right now. Wow!


Balancing structure and process

When I teach college classes, I announce on the first day that I do not give a grade for class participation. I explain that I did not speak up during class when I was a student. I know from experience that silence can mean someone like myself is thinking deeply, reflecting on what is being said and tying new information into other understandings. In classes with participation grades, I've seen students make comments "just to get a grade". Their contributions are contrived and pressured. With no grade for participation, the students' inputs are valuable, thoughtful and insightful.

In my view, a grade for class participation imposes too much structure. It derails initiative and sets up a system of compliance. The natural process of contributing to the common good is corrupted. Participation deteriorates into compliance and people pleasing. This is a problem in architectural, instructional and community design as well.

A house may be designed with a large formal dining room and a small eating area in the kitchen. This is a good structural design for a family who's dining process involves lots of entertaining and eating out. It's a dysfunctional design for families that routinely eat at home, informally and everywhere but the dining room. The process of the family dining dictates how effectively the design functions, not the designer.

In a blogging community, there are bloggers and commenters who show up on a blog posting page. There are also quoters and linkers who take the ideas further in other blogs. It's the lurkers who go unrecognized or get blamed for failed communities or instructional designs. They don't eat in the dining room "like they're supposed to" according to the structure that overrules their process. Their silence is seen as a problem, rather than a contribution. The structure of instruction or community formation was designed for participation only, not for processes of silent reflection and assimilation.

Self-directed learners naturally balance their own active and passive processes. They have a natural sense to take timeouts to question their thinking, troubleshoot their misconceptions and challenge their assumptions. They do not impose too much structure on their learning process by requiring themselves to disregard their confusion and forge ahead regardless of feeling overwhelmed.

Effective designs for instruction or communities give learners lots to think about, easy ways to discuss it, and time to sort it out on their own. The process of the learner rules. They experience the freedom and support systems to silently absorb the input and contribute when and how it works for them.

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Liberating the learners

Workplace and academic learning has been privatized for centuries by the idea that people need to be taught. Formal instruction is justified by the assumption that learners cannot be: self taught, naturally curious, intrinsically motivated or guided by their own intuition. The oscillation between the "sage on stage" and the "guide on the side" maintains that expert delivery of controlled content.

Workplace and academic learning can be democratized by the creating support systems for learners to teach themselves what they need to know when they want to learn it. Elementary school students take two years to get up to a "second grade reading level" when getting taught to read. An unschooled eight-year-old can learn to read at that level in ten weeks if s/he waits until the desire is felt, peer pressure from readers is prevalent and the mentor can nurture the rapid development of competency.

Socrates said we cannot teach someone something they do not already know. The idea of "liberating learners from instruction" has been around for thousands of years. What's new is the software to support that liberation. Until now, it took a learner with the mind of a tinkerer or a mentor who refused to answer questions directly and did not speak without being asked a question.

Now a whole generation has learned to use new technologies, play complex games and express themselves creatively without formal instruction. The paradigm of liberated learning has been assimilated in the process of teaching themselves to blog, link, ping, post, publish, send, upload, subscribe, comment, favorite, bookmark, mash, rip, filter and wishlist.


Bloggers come in flavors

I've been reading and rereading Nancy White's profound insights since Sunday. This is the first in many postings that will validate and add to what she is seeing in her white paper/posting: Blogs and Community.

Nancy is using a "strategic lens" to look at blogs as a means to an end of designing online communities. In her words:

By beginning to explore their shape and interaction patterns, we can begin to think about how to intentionally nurture blog based communities for specific purposes. Much like the lessons for forum based communities which emerged in the late 1990s, we are now discovering what works, why, and what might happen next. It is still new. The patterns are not stable. But they suggest ways to think about the role of technology, power, identity and content in designing online communities.

She has discerned three kinds of blogs that Tony Karrer has found useful in his exploration of shifting online identities. Her idea that there are kinds of blogging communities got me thinking further about kinds of bloggers and their differing contributions to blogging communities. I previously wrote about different voices that come together as a community heals itself. Using a "strategic lens" myself, I propose there is a significant difference between bloggers that gets perceived three different ways.

Like the blog communities that are "boundaried", bloggers can be focused on their expertise. Typepad features one blogger like this everyday. These bloggers drill down in their chosen topic and become a deep resource for a community that relies on their expertise. They are valued for sticking to their topic and not getting distracted by comments or getting quouted by other blogs.

Other bloggers are free to shift off their focus. These bloggers tie other blogs together, comparing ideas, connecting voices and developing commonalty. They are valued for nurturing a community, breaking stalemates, softening stances and deepening mutual respect. These bloggers effectively form loose affiliations as the need arises, like the structure of film productions and conferences.

This difference between bloggers can have a polarizing effect on a community. The thinking is dichotomous, judgmental and exclusive. Members take sides and only value their own kind of contribution. The diagram illustrates these stances in black and white. Fears come into play as they do in the first stage of a new collaboration. These communities can break down into "ghost towns".

The difference can also have a unifying effect on a community. The thinking is accepting, grateful and inclusive. Members value the diversity of contributions. The diagram illustrates this stance in green. The seemingly incompatible differences get resolved as it occurs in the third stage of a new collaboration. These communities thrive, evolve and become more valuable over time.

Achieving this unifying effect (the green stance) depends on the process of the participants. How are the members growing in, changing amidst, learning from and creating their community experience? Those processes are the theme of this blog.


Challenges posed by my forecast

The most memorable aspects of 2006 for me involves blogging. On two previous occasions I had started blogs that never got beyond five postings. Reading Naked Conversations last summer gave me the needed insights to dive into daily posting. In August I launched Clues to the College Blues . I was not finding blogs to comment on until November when I suddenly appeared on the Learning Circuits Blog. As I wrote previously, I began learning so much from the exchanges among us that this second blog came into being easily. I had 253 unique visitors on the first week. The "power of community" had shifted from an abstraction to a vivid experience. That reinforced what I had written about on this year about The Starfish and the Spider, The Long Tail and Blue Ocean Strategy . 2006 has been a year of enlivening convergence for me.

My forecast for 2007 suggests that those of us in instructional design, delivery and software development have some "discontinuous changes" to assimilate:

  1. I expect we will jump from refining instructional designs to following the learner's lead in how to approach what is next to be learned.

  2. I anticipate we will transform the value of what we offer from "better than rote learning" to "cooked up on the spot from an infinite arsenal of resources".

  3. I foresee a shift from experiential learning modules to the delivery of performance support snippets, just-in-time, through mobile computing devices.

This forecast poses challenges to our comfort zones, self confidence and familiar outlooks. Discontinuous changes (paradigm shifts, playing with the rules instead of by the rules, going outside the box) have that effect. We cannot go on thinking the way we have, relying on our past experience to cope or imagining the future as comprehensible. This challenge presents itself as four choices:

  1. Are you going to connect to activities you have never done before -- or disconnect by continuing what you're already good at doing?

  2. Are you going to open your mind to receive inspirations and intuitions that guide you through these unknowns -- or close your mind with opinionated thought processes, compartmentalized reasoning and "hardening of the categories"?

  3. Are you going to imagine scenarios where these changes could become a "dream come true" for you -- or imagine a nightmare where your situation goes from bad to worse and paranoia is justified?

  4. Are you going to proceed as a visionary leader that takes us where we have never been before -- or as an erudite historian that lives in the past and tells the same old story?


Version 3 in 2007

The December Big Question asks for three kinds of insights that generated lots of ideas for me. It makes the most sense to offer my forecast first, since that defines the challenges we will soon face, as well as making sense of my personal highlights from 2006.Software developers believe there is predictable growth pattern reflected in the original progression of Microsoft Windows 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. In their view, the first two versions were buggy, but necessary phases to work out those bugs. Widespread adoption did not occur until 3.0, the first of the phases that does not crash, contaminate or lose data. They think Web 2.0 tools and web sites have loads of problems that are easily debugged, just like Windows 2.0. My forecast for eLearning changes in 2007 uses this "three version" frame of reference. I forecast that Version 3.0 is "due for beta release" in 2007.

Use of software tools for instructional design and delivery

1.0 - The premises of early CBT tools (Macromind Authorware anyone?) appears to be still prevalent in most course development software and open portals for eLearning. The software is used to structure the sequence of content, optimize the learning and reliably test the retention. This version calls for an engineering temperament.

2.0 - Social networking tools (blogs, wiki, RSS, bookmarks, etc) have been gaining acceptance and use in instructional design and delivery, as we all know and write about often. Techies are using these tools to the max and driving themselves crazy, as Kathy Sierra illustrates. This version calls for the temperament of diplomats, community builders and team leaders.

3.0 - Software as a service puts the users workflow front and center. There will eventually be no more need to open software, login into web sites or upload to remote servers. Everything will be available instantly and used without distraction. 2007 will bring the first tools (or vaporware talk of tools) for eLearning that serves each learner's unique flow of: intrinsic curiosity, imposed need to know, personal obstacles to comprehension/application and situational opportunities to learn socially, actively and/or informally. This version calls for the temperament of gamers, ecologists and multi-taskers.

Changes in the concept of "educational value"

1.0 - The value of an educational offering is like a Google or Amazon ranking. It depends on the quantity of hits, purchases, or users in the installed base. This thinking supports blockbuster hits, best sellers, and playoff championships. It's playing "King of the Hill" on the bell curve of mass consumption, one size fits all and follow the herd.

2.0 - The value of an educational offering is like a Netflix, eBay seller or Technorati rating. It depends on the assessed quality, number of links between blogs or the accumulation of contributors. This thinking supports the quality of wikipedia articles and the automatic recommendations based on your wishlist, queue and past purchases/rentals. It's playing at the democratization of production and distribution; allowing for the long tail of innovators, niches and small suppliers.

3.0 The value of an educational offering is like search results ranked by relevance -- that uses sophisticated AI to drill down deep into XML resources to come up with the astoundingly perfect finds. This thinking supports on-demand, mass customized, and personally configured eLearning modules, links and coordinates to visit in virtual space. It's playing like a continually updated dashboard widget and PDA with broadband access. 2007 will bring AI wedded to Web 2.0 tools that will gain adoption faster than the Web 2.0 blog, wiki, and bookmark tools.

Changes in free online educational offerings

1.0 Content is offered: Books, articles, research papers are offered for free download. PDF is the preferred format, though Microsoft Word is widespread also.

2.0 Instruction is offered: Individual modules, lessons with embedded sims, animations or SCORM compliant testing are offered for free use in course development. XML is the preferred format and Adobe Flash is widespread also.

3.0 Performance support is offered: Job aids, troubleshooting guides, diagnostic assistance and intelligent tutors are offered for free use in improving conduct on the job. 2007 will bring a shift from "preparing to perform" to "dive right in and figure it out as you go". Support for "learning by doing" will seem more useful, applicable, valuable (than content or instruction) to adults pursuing "continuing education" to further their "careers" and promotion potential.

Challenges we will face and my highlights from 2006 will follow in a separate posting.


Engage me or enrage me

In follow up to yesterday's post: The Feasibility of Forecasting, I just read Rick Nigol's latest posting on his blog: Breakthrough eLearning. He writes about Marc Prensky's recent talk:

Prensky's thesis is that many kids are thoroughly bored and uninterested in school because the nature of schooling has not changed much in hundreds of years. The digital natives face the same old rote memory approach to learning that we did. However, in their lives outside the classroom they are using digital tools (e.g. WWW, wireless text messaging, electronic games, MP3s, PDAs, high end software) to be creators and active participants in activities, not just passive receptors and regurgitators of information. Hence, their rallying cry at school is "engage me or enrage me."

He concludes:
I am not advocating a games-based approach to eLearning merely so that learners can be entertained. The point is always about realizing learning outcomes in the form of changed behaviour. It's just that you are more likely to get there if your learners are engaged in the learning.

If the folks experiencing your training are not yet yelling "engage me, or enrage me," remember that it's just a matter of time before the digital natives start outnumbering the digital immigrants.

In other words, the learners will provide the evolutionary pressure on instructional designs and designers to change before it is manadated by upper management.

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How changes come about

Whenever we forecast what change will occur, we are assuming how changes like that come about. When we question our assumptions about the inherent change process, we can refine our forecasts easily. Here are seven different ways that changes come about that you can use to challenge your assumptions and refine what changes you're anticipating.

1. Compensation for the opposite extreme. Careful conservation of cash induces a reckless spending spree and vice versa. Practical, left-brain analysis brings about impractical, right-brain imaginations until that's too much and pragmatism swings back again in favor. Every dichotomy exists as a pair that oscillates from from one extreme to the other.

2. Convergence of separate enterprises. Shopping happened predictably in brick and mortar stores or by mail order. Computers used their slow modems to routinely email and play text-based games. Stores and computers had nothing to do with each other and nowhere to turn for breakthroughs. Then e-commerce combined the two into amazon, eBay and the long tail of small online vendors. Dead ends come together into breakout changes.

3. Discontinuous change that revises the rules. The change from wired phones to cordless phones was a continuous change that maintained the twisted pair outlets in the wall and the phone booth. The introduction of cell phones was a discontinuous change that did not add features to cordless phones or play by the rules of phone booths. Discontinuous changes solve existing problems and limitations without more of the same.

4. Ongoing cyclical process entering the next phase. I recently showed how democracy follows piracy which leads to bureaucracy that is opposed by aristocracy. Groundwater evaporates into water vapor that forms clouds that condense and rain down to collect again as groundwater. Any cycle accurately predicts what step comes next.

5. Transition from embryonic forms to full realization. Another post explored how collaboration takes form in stages. Caterpillars get fat, disappear inside cocoons and then emerge as butterflies. Sequential growth phases also predict what comes next.

6. Emergence amidst sealed fate. The hero is trapped with no way out of a perilous predicament until she or he changes character. New traits appear, new determination emerges, and new resourcefulness comes into play. Cauldrons with no exits bring out surprising capabilities that lay dormant up until now.

7. Transformed contagiously by network effects. Innovations catch on "like wildfire", if they are "sticky", if they connect through a centralized node, or if they generate buzz among early adopters that "crosses the chasm". Recent viral adoption patterns of new technologies, artists and writers reflect the high level of interdependence made possible the Internet.

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The feasibility of forecasting

I've recently read two blogs, (Clive Shepherd and Patrick Dunn ) that suggest that the future will be the same as the present, if it's left up to instructional designers.

Clive writes:

"I think the challenges remain much the same. In my view the corporate learning and development community is inherently conservative. If you strip away the warm and cuddly layer, underneath are people who are running scared of change and burying their head in the sand."

Patrick writes:
  • Traditional trainers have to abandon the moral high ground. They have to grow beyond defensive beliefs that technology is a threat to their established ways of working. They have to develop some humility, and move beyond a patronising view of technology-based learning as the preserve of nerds and simpletons, offering little more than optional support for their far more sophisticated work.
I find both comments insightful and probably accurate. Yet if that's all that is true, there's no purpose in forecasting. Changes will get talked about, but not implemented, just like the failed attempts of colleges to upgrade undergraduate programs. Forecasts will be the stuff of dreamers, authors and bloggers while the workers grind out more modules. Instructional designers will change when they receive management directives to change. The profession is inherently in service of business agendas and not free to innovate, upgrade or reconceive its purpose.

Both go further and become more optimistic:

Clive writes: "I know this doesn't apply to you, dear fellow blogger, but it's those other people out there, you know who". Patrick writes: "Although most e-learning can hardly be described as innovative, a small proportion of e-learning organisations thrive on innovation and invention".

So one possibility that makes forecasting feasible, is innovation emerging from bloggers, visionaries and consultants in the field. I also foresee another evolutionary force on the training profession that will bring many changes soon: the culture of the trainees. As their media diet and tools continue to get transformed, the learners will pressure the instructional designs and designers to "keep up with the times". By keeping an eye on changes in the "big picture", forecasts can be made that take no initiative from instructional designers.

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Democratizing elearning

What if workplace learning became democratized. The needs of the learners would rule. The learners would have the right to learn what they needed when they needed it in a way that served their level of understanding. There would be a safety net to catch those that fell short of the performance outcomes. There would be support systems to nurture damaged learners back to being self-motivated, curious, reflective practitioners.

Democratization of workplace learning would over-rule the imposition of most mandatory training requirements. There would be a decline of compliance training driven by policies or fear of competitive rivals. Informal, social, and distributed learning would provide the learners with freedoms, not further accountability pressures. Blogging would enhance workplace learning, (as Dave Lee promotes) rather than increasing the monitoring of blogs by "thought police".

Democratization is part of a natural cycle of governance. It follows a phase of piracy. When the democratizing of citizens, employees, students or patients becomes an established thing -- the closure brings about the next phase. Democracies become bureaucracies. Protecting the rights of the citizens then calls for layers of management, mountains of paperwork, countless committees and oodles of budget overruns.

The staggering costs, inefficiencies and stagnation provokes a privatization phase. An aristocracy takes control, consolidates power, imposes standards, and adds short-sighted incentives. This phase takes away rights of the citizens and expands the ranks of the abused, over-ruled and exploited peasants. This launches a counter-offensive of piracy, Robin Hood tactics, and guerilla warfare. The aristocratic controls are dismantled and democratizing comes back around.

Thus democratizing is on the rise whenever piracy dismantles the aristocracy. Most of the current corporate cultures appear aristocratic to me. Companies have become lean, mean revenue machines with drones making Powerpoint presentations. Needs of the learners are "off-radar". Demands of the manager are "front and center". (as Geetha Krishnan mentioned in his reply to the December Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog)

Piracy has broken up the consolidated control of the music and film production and distribution aristocracies. Are you seeing any signs of corporations losing their control of: workplace learning, "staying on message" and conformity of employees?


Designing effective remediation

eLearning provides opportunities to remediate a learner's misunderstanding better than books and linear classroom processes. Typical remediation adds circuits for each wrong answer to a test question. These corrective processes stay "on-message" and keep the thinking "inside the box". This convergent approach works effectively for procedural and compliance training where mistakes are useless, costly or fatal.

Soft skills training calls for getting "off message" and "outside the box". Otherwise the remediation feels like propaganda, silencing of all dissent and control of the conversation. Soft skills are learned by making mistakes, exploring deviant alternatives and discovering what works personally. Thinking about leadership, communication, teamwork, problem solving, even instructional design -- needs a more open-ended approach to corrective circuitry.

Four questions need to be addressed when designing remediation for the cultivation of soft skills:

  1. Is the learner lost, confused by this, disoriented and overwhelmed?
  2. Is the learner antagonistic, opposed to this, defending a different approach?
  3. Is the learner pensive, questioning this, raising additional concerns?
  4. Is the learner satisfied, valuing this, seeing benefits in using this?
These questions are not necessarily linked to wrong answers in a test question. They suggest the use of timeouts in the exposition to check in with the learner. They support the cognitive challenges getting faced by a learner who struggles to make sense and use of the instruction. The questions shift from "getting the answer right" to "working with each learner's experience of the instructional design".

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Sending congruent messages

Clark Aldrich wondered whether it is self-defeating to offer a formal book about informal learning or a closed-structured book about open-structured simulations. The content seems to demonstrate a way to be contradictory, self defeating and hypocritical whenever the topic gets discussed. The book says "follow my advice, but don't follow my example"

This issue has been more troublesome with the advent of Web 2.0 interactivity and citizen creativity. Authors are offering books for free download under the Creative Commons License. Content developers are making sense of digital piracy as the end of content delivery. Seth Godin has concluded that books are only souvenirs of richer experiences co-created through blogs and live encounters.

In struggling with this as a writer, educator and instructional designer, I've realized how mixed messages are avoided by changing my own premises. If I come from a better place, my messages are congruent and achieve the intended effect. I've discovered four different premises to play with when creating instruction.

1. I assume this is something you already do, but you don't realize you do it. Let me show you how you do this sometimes and have success with this. Then you can amplify this exceptional conduct of yours, call upon this internal resource more often, and feel more confident about your capabilities

2. I assume this is something that can be learned, but cannot be taught. Let me support you in using your experiences to change your mind, access other choices or respond more effectively to your particular challenges. Then you can utilize what you realized yourself with your intrinsic motivation and ownership of your understanding.

3. I assume this is something you'll do quite naturally once it makes enough sense to you. Let me share some of the ways that I've made more sense of what happens, different ways to approach this and why some methods backfire. Then you can make sense of what happens to you and come around to seeing the value of doing this thing on your own.

4. I assume this is something you'll discover on your own like I did. Let me walk you through the process of my setbacks, forks in the road and battles with naysayers. Then you can take your own journey and adventure through the maze of misleading cues like a detective in a mystery story.

When I use any of these assumptions, I steer clear of numerous pitfalls without needing to be careful about misteps:

  • I'm not telling others what to think and subverting the content into indoctrination, propaganda and control of their choices.

  • I'm not pathologizing their "lack of expertise" and feeding a misdiagnosis that frames the learner with dependency on my expertise.

  • I'm not removing the learner's experience from their education and dismissing their "theory-in use" that they still rely upon every day.

  • I'm not thinking I'm superior to those who are "still getting educated" or thinking I have "no further questions your honor"


Four phases of collaboration

It's human nature to come together with strangers one step at a time. Often we get stuck halfway and never realize the full potential of a collaborative relationship. As I've suggested in a previous post, Web 3.0 may assist us in "going all the way" to phase four. As Tony Karrer and I have explored on his blog, it's unlikely that Web 3.0 will have much effect on phase two. Rather, Web 3.0 will likely facilitate getting through all the phases faster. Here are the four phases of collaboration.

1. Distanced by fear: When faced with potential new collaborators, we usually know too little to silence our fears. We distance ourselves from potential rejection with mild paranoia. We think thoughts like "I'm not good enough", "I'll fall short of their expectations" or "I'm not compatible with their personalities". We end up far apart on issues that could easily be worked out: like schedules, preliminary exchanges of information and interest in each other's previous experiences. This phase is easily bypassed if we are familiar with the potential collaborators or they come by positive referral from a colleague. We can get stuck in this phase if their negative reputation proceeds them or the initial contact is awkward.

2. Jockeying for position: Once we are aware of the collaborator's expertise and experience, it's natural to become competitive. The conversation may exaggerate past accomplishments in order to impress or intimidate the others. The tactics used against the new collaborators regard them as a potential rival, threat or enemy. The tensions bring out the aggressive and controlling sides of each personality. This phase is bypassed if there's "enough in common to appreciate each other's differences". We get stuck in this phase if there's too much in common and turf battles ensue.

3. Exploring common ground: Once it's established that each brings different resources to the table, there's an immediate need for overlap of interests. There's a balance to be found between the centripetal and centrifugal forces. Differences can be divisive and commonalty can be unifying. Collaborations fly apart if the differences run deep, violate moral standards or betray other relationships. Commonalty can be suffocating if it silences dissent, imposes collusion and overrides feelings. This phase occurs quickly if the compatibility is balanced from the start. We can get stuck in this phase if the balance is never found.

4. Playing off each other: Once it's clear that issues can be worked out, the synergy kicks in. Each collaborator gets inspirations from the other's reactions and responses. Using each other as sounding boards clears up vague notions and confusing explanations. The discovery of better questions speeds up the construction of shared mental models. Additional criteria applied to the work-in-progress accelerates the refinement of preliminary schemes into final output. Getting "stuck" in this phase is an energizing experience. This reciprocal way of making a difference feels more satisfying than any materialistic pursuit.


After blogging - collaboration

Recently, Tony Karrer wrote about Web 3.0 and asking better questions. He previously blogged about collaboration here and here. This morning I realized how all three topics tie together.

Web 1.0 was about reading, surfing, searching, shopping, bookmarking, and changing passwords. Web 2.0 is about writing, contributing, expressing, commenting, tagging, feeding, pinging, subscribing, and linking. Web 3.0 is likely to be about relating, collaborating, co-creating and synergizing.

When collaborating reaches its full potential, there is so much to appreciate. Communication is open, honest and trusting. Learning is significant, disruptive and deep. Coordination is handled impressively and negotiated intelligently. Cooperation is healthy and respectful of boundaries. The process is open ended, surprising and fruitful. The result is inspired, 2+2=5, and better than originally conceived.

Collaborations can also be contrived and realize none of those potentials. Communication can be superficial, defensive and controlling. Learning will reinforce justifications, opinions and labels. Coordination will give each the feeling of getting ambushed, compromised and betrayed. Cooperation will degenerate into people-pleasing to avoid conflict. The process will be predictable, mechanized and barren. The result will fall short of expectations and fit a story of "I told you so".

Realizing the full potential of a collaboration involves the evolution of the questions being asked. When we are desperately seeking a collaboration, any collaborator will do. We are questioning whether a collaboration will every happen and whether we are qualified or worthy enough. Our questions arise from a basis of powerlessness and survival.

We then change to a consideration of power, control and quality issues. We question how much the collaborator brings to the table and whether there is enough to produce a quality product.

These questions then evolve into wondering if we are doing enough to reach out, cultivate the rapport, understand the other and take responsibility for the atmosphere. Our latest questions arise from a basis of compassion, reciprocation and service.

When we realize the full potential of a collaboration, we wonder what will come of this synergy and how to trust the process more. Our questions arise from a sense of mystery, appreciation and fascination. When the technologies of Web 2.0 become second nature, it's likely the occurrences of highly evolved collaborations will be commonplace.

Collaborations with Web 3.0

Four forecasted transitions from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 appear likely to make online collaborations more fruitful, easy and rewarding.

1. Getting to know you: Recent successes with mobile content delivery and subscriptions to feed readers suggests that content on the web will be transformed. Perhaps there will be no more web sites -- only databases of XML that can be searched and read anywhere. Advances with Google Desktop searches and caches of all text, tagged media, PDF and HTML on PC hard drives offers the possibility of that content will continue to be produced in a variety of formats, but accessed uniformly. In either case, it will be easier to learn quickly about a new collaborator by searching for his/her previous digital explorations and creations. Out of this, mutual trust, respect, and better questions will emerge faster.
2. Working harmoniously: Advances in software development toward dashboards and widgets offer another benefit to collaborations. The goal is to put the user's workflow front and center, and line up the numerous applications in service of that process. This is a similar transition to the redesign of formal instruction to be learner centered. Some predict there will be no more discrete software programs to open and close. All functionality will be as accessible as the pull-down menu items within current software packages. As this becomes realized. the workflow of an online collaboration will be supported and enhanced as well.
3. Walk with me - talk with me: Real time conversations via phone, Skype and chat give collaborators a deeper sense of engagement and empathy than asynchronous communication like blogs and email. The democratization of world and game building tools by Second Life and Metaverse suggest that collaborations in Web 3.0 will be between avatars. The benefits of synchronous communication will expand to include a sense of companionship. The feeling of walking together, exploring as a team and taking time outs from movement - could all heighten the emotional dimensions of the collaboration.
4. It's only a movie: The extensive piracy of digital content suggests that future collaborations will become less concerned with producing products together. The explosion of desktop audio and video production also changes the inclinations of many consumers. The experiences of collaboration will lend themselves to being shared as interviews, films and stories. The sense of "an unfolding narrative in working together" will lend itself to public disclosures of plot, tensions and character arcs. It's likely there will be a shift from "what we came up with" to "how we are working together".

Web 3.0 is a moving target that will no doubt change as we get closer to it. In the meantime, it helps identify trends in the more immediate changes and ways we may benefit from those developments.

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Community healing

One way to comprehend the possibility of "working in a healing way" is to watch healing occur in online communities. Those of us with subscriptions to the RSS feeds of many blogs are situated in the diverse voices of several communities. Reading the variety and interactions of these voices reveals a kind of healing that can also occur in workplaces.

Communities usually take shape with an exclusive, narrow focus. The educators in Second Life appear to be supporting each other in finding resources and building basic elements (prims) for their students. Their narrow focus in on the tools themselves -- necessitated by the steep learning curve to function inside Second Life. The community exploring the use of Web 2.0 tools in instructional design appears to be focused on numerous processes that use those tools. The frequent mention in blogs of informal learning, social learning and distributed learning indicates a community focus on how to use the tools more than on the tools themselves.

The successful formation of a community results in exclusivity and conformity pressures. Deviance from the focus is ruled out. Dissent gets experienced as disruptive if it invades the community of legitimized voices. The invaders appear to wound the community and the community's focus invalidates the "off-mission" voices. The community moves from "forming" to "storming".

Communities fizzle out if they fortress themselves and silence dissent. This dysfunctional posture maintains pleasantries, superficial compatibility and a luggage room full of unresolved issues. Communities only thrive if they move from "storming" to "norming" by integrating the adjacent and tangential voices. Expanding the focus heals the previous divisiveness. Including the dissenting voices restores the authentic functions of the community. Changing the rules for "getting respected" has a transformational effect on all the members.

This morning, I imagined a diagram that pictures this healing in the community using Web 2.0 tools in instructional design.

One dividing line separates voices with a short term, tangible focus from voices with a long range, unsubstantiated focus. The other dividing line polarizes analytical, categorizing thought processes from exploratory, synthesizing cognitive patterns. These lines create four camps that are coming together into a vibrant, balanced, fruitful and energizing community of diverse contributors. Watching this coalescing take shape will give you a picture of "working in a healing way".