Questioning procrastination

I previously blogged about Changing Our Questions. This morning I discovered an ideal situation to apply this approach to creativity. Timothy Johnson has launched a "Creativity in Business" college class and has already encountered lots of student procrastination. Having taught beaucoups college classes myself, I'm no stranger to this problem, but I've played around with it many different ways. Here's how I've learned to change my questioning of student, or my own, procrastination.

  • At first, procrastination appears as an obvious, known problem to react to and deal with. In that case, I have "no further questions your Honor" and I'm dealing with lemons obviously. If I question all this, procrastination becomes a partially known problem (incomplete) to explore and get creative about. Then "I'd like to cross examine the witness your Honor" and I'm dealing with lemonade by choice.

  • Procrastination appears as a question of not getting work done promptly and falling short of steady accomplishments of tasks. I can then question how to play around with this, to see it in a new light, and to discover other frames of reference to use with this.

  • Procrastination appears as something to put a stop to, oppose without question and resist until it decreases. I can then question whether I am feeding the problem by opposing it or "persisting by resisting" it. I can wonder what difference it could make to give it "go" messages, ways to learn from it and permission to continue until it makes more sense.

  • Procrastination appears as deviant behavior when I'm in charge of policing conformity. I can question whether I am acting like a control freak when I could be encouraging different voices, viewpoints and experiences.

  • Procrastination appears as something losers do in a game with a clear cut way to win. I can question whether the context I've created is based on one way to win, one right answer and one rule to play by -- instead of many ways to win and many ways to see what's occurring.

  • Procrastination appears as a side effect of pressure to conform, comply and meet deadlines. I can question whether pressure is devastating the sense of balance, timing and freedom in this.

  • Procrastination appears as procrastination - no two ways about it. I can question the paradox being presented and wonder if procrastination is the flipside of incubating an inspired approach, perfecting a better approach or anticipating a combined approach (that kills two birds with one stone).

When we get creative, nothing is only as it appears. Everything is an opportunity to redefine the problem, change the meaning, or apply a metaphor. We get creative whenever we change the questions.


More on - Giving an incomplete

In the comments added to my previous post on giving an incomplete, David Harper said...

nice synthesis! Let me add one more example: O'Reilly publishes "Rough Cuts" of books while the authors are still writing them (e.g., I'm a few chapters into a book that will be published in April 2007). They aren't done. Plus the author gets feedback (in effect, the audience becomes editors). The "expert" is not production foreman, he does not need to be perfect and i don't need to wait for his perfect arrival.

Not only is this a great example, David is revealing a convergence of book publishing and Web 2.0. It's not surprising that O'Reilly would take the lead on this. It's surprising that publishers, editors and authors can abandon the Production Foreman role. This is inspiring to me!

Doc Searles wrote a post last year titled Ten Ideas About Ideas where he favors the participation that accompanies incompletes:

  • Ideas won't change the world unless others can improve on them.
  • Ideas grow by participation, not isolation.
  • Ideas change as they grow. Their core remains the same, but their scope enlarges with successful use.
  • Ideas have unexpected results. No one person can begin to imagine all the results of a good idea. That's another reason to welcome participation.

I suspect all of us bloggers have experienced Doc Searles' bullet points as we post, comment and get comments on our posts. As I read more of Jay's Informal Learning, I found another example of "giving an incomplete".

The offsite workshop began with two days of PowerPoint presentations in a poorly lit cavernous room. Then when the senior executives were on a coffee break, Sibbet and Wheeler taped the vision mural to the side wall .... As the executives began trickling back, they were immediately attracted to the spotlit cartoon and began congregating around it ...The energy level of the room shot up and the group became alive as they began suggesting changes and improvements. (p.124)

It occurs to me that every blog is incomplete. Nothing is the definitive final say. Many of our voices are authoritative and far from tentative, Yet everything is offered as a dress rehearsal or continual beta release. In conclusion, this post is incomplete.


Deep learning

When we get stuck trying to learn something, it's time to change metaphors. If we experience a "learning failure", a metaphor will generate a better diagnosis of our problem than some categorical analysis. When we continually experience the same difficulties with retention, follow through or motivation, the metaphor-in-use needs replacing. Here's another metaphor to play around with: Deep learning.

  • Water skiers are afraid of depth because it means they have fallen off their skis and are drowning. Divers love depth because they are equipped for delving below and often find treasures down when they get to the bottom of a dark issue.

  • Water skiers seek the thrills of constant variety, movement and speed. Skiers think staying in one place, concentrating on the same issue, is boring. Divers find skiing to be superficial, scattered, and lacking focus. Divers seek the insights and freedom that comes from below.

  • Water skiers treasure what they find on the surface, taking their experience at face value. Divers treasure what they find below the surface, taking their experience into hidden realms.

  • Water skiers approach learning actively and learn more by taking more action. Divers approach learning reflectively and learn more by drawing parallels, making connections or seeing the subtle significance of something.

  • Water skiers are motivated by buzz and their adrenaline rushes. Divers are motivated by discoveries and their fulfillment of purpose.

  • Water skiers need lots of costly inputs on the outside to stay interested. Divers need very little on the outside to stay interested.

  • Water skiers have very little going on inside as they assume they are learning. Divers have so much going on inside they get the idea they are creating their own experiences.

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Learning theory or metaphor?

I've just watched several parts of George Siemen's Situated Connectivism. He surveys many of the learning theories that have been accepted by academia and related to recent advances in neuroscience. His driving concern (read "push") appears to be the determination of an accurate learning theory. He states that a learning theory should do three things:
  1. Explain and predict observations

  2. Advance a research discipline

  3. Prepare for future needs changed by technologies and cultural advancements
I have a different purpose in mind when I've recently been blogging about learning like a healthy forest, botanical learning and a compost theory of learning. My underlying purpose (read "pull") also spawns my appreciation of Jay's wonderful book: Informal Learning and of the impressive learning that Toyota continually realizes in The Elegant Solution.

I also think a learning theory should do three things:

  1. Make learning fun, playful, and fulfilling instead of procedural, strenuous and dreary.

  2. Change the stories we tell about learning in ways that heals the damage from formal schooling and restores the curiosity, motivation and creativity for life long learning.

  3. Give learners permission to find their unique passions, discover their own learning style and gain confidence in those exploratory heuristics that flow most easily for them.
Given I have so little concern for empirical validation or academic legitimatization of a learning theory, I suspect I'm really in search of a bunch of learning metaphors. If we used learning metaphors, instructional designs would be more creative. We would naturally be clever in how we used the design models to avoid misdiagnosis, overuse of training or inadvertently reverting to content delivery.

Metaphors nurture creativity because they are not accurate. They are open to different interpretations and amplifications. In the process of wondering about a metaphor, wonderful possibilities come to mind for some troubling problem, obstacle or stalemate.

Theories work great when we want to be right. Metaphors work better when we want to be effective.

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Giving an incomplete

In the world of college or K-12 school grading, getting an "incomplete" is a bad thing. It signifies that the learner did not submit enough work to get full credit on the assignment. It operates inside a factory metaphor where the students are producing outputs and the instructor is a "Production Foreman".

I've recently come across three diverse sources that recommend giving an incomplete.

  1. Jay Cross and Clark Quinn launch their approach to "meta-learning" with a story of an experiment involving two groups of students. The group that is told the assigned paper "might not be true" -- scores better on the test of reading comprehension. As they say: "Uncertainty engages the mind".

  2. Kathy Sierra added a wonderful post to her Creating Passionate Users blog titled: "Don't make the demo look done". She explains for the feedback from users becomes much more insightful and valuable when the graphics are sketchy and the design approach appears undecided.

  3. Last night I watched the DVD of "In America" with the film's Director commentary playing. Jim Sheridan explained that he does not tell actors how to play a scene. He asks them for help in "fixing the script" and asks the actors to invent something better than what the script says to do.
All three examples get outside of the factory metaphor and the role of "Production Foreman". Each way of "giving an incomplete" undermines the superior stance of the "sage on stage", SME with slides, overbearing authority or unassailable expert. All three set up "learning from learners" and "transparent teaching".


Transparent teaching

When I checked out the book: Naked Conversations from the library last year, the librarian at the circulation desk blushed as she read the title. That won't happen again. The library system has changed over to self serve checkouts. Perhaps the librarian has also learned that the title refers to the ways that successful blogging depends on transparency.

Jay got me thinking more about transparency this week with his fascinating summation of the seminal books about the Internet culture. Over the past several years, I've been pondering several possibilities that have remained abstractions until this morning:

  1. There is no teaching at the level above learner-centered instructional designs, only mutual learning
  2. Whatever competence learners learn from another learner is highly contagious and subject to viral transmission through existing networks
  3. The more the instructor learns about the learner, the more the learner will learn by getting learned from
I've mentioned in a previous post that it's difficult to know what's missing. I suspect that transparency is what has been missing for me to translate these abstractions into actions and instructional designs.

What if content (facts, explanations, principles, procedures, policies, etc) could only be offered in the context of learning? What if we routinely worded instruction transparently as:

  • "This ___ answered a question I was asking myself",
  • "This ___ cleared up some confusion I was wrestling with"
  • "This ___ provided a solution to a problem I've been looking for ways to resolve"
  • "This ___ tied together two viewpoints that appeared irreconcilable to me"
Doesn't that transform instruction into learning from a learner?


A compost theory of learning

Ecologists have discovered that ecosystems go through successive stages in continual evolution. The current state is emergent from the last and sets the stage for the next. Each stage changes everything as if it depends on total cooperation and interdependence. This gave me a new way to picture learning and instructional design a decade ago.A lake is an ecosystem. There are obviously fish and aquatic plants that thrive in this environment. There are also particular insects, birds and bacteria that contribute to the health of the lake. Lakes eventually evolve into wetlands. Top soil erosion and decaying life forms raise the bottom of the lake to become uninhabitable to fish and aquatic plants. Plants that thrive in marshes take root. Reptile and amphibians find homes in the shallow water and dense foliage. The birds and insects change also.

Swamps choke themselves out by composting everything that dies. The decaying plant and animal life fills in the wetlands and a meadow emerges. The very rich top soil supports an amazing abundance of different grasses, wildflowers and fast growing trees. Mammals appear as the reptiles and amphibians disappear. Different birds and insects move in and reproduce. As the meadow life forms decay, the PH balance of the soil is changed. It eventually becomes ideal for hardwood trees, but lethal to all the meadow life forms. A forest then appears with ferns that thrive in shaded ground and fungi that need moist and dark places to grow. Different animals, birds and insects take up residence. Rotting logs and underbrush provide kindling for raging forest fires. This destruction creates clearings in the dense forest canopy for other life forms that need sunshine to thrive. The evolving is endless.

Learning occurs in successive stages like this. Movement depends on composting. The initial lake is like a briefing where we learn of ideas. We know what is being said. The composting takes over when we realize we only know how to talk the talk, not walk the walk. We can sound smart but not act smart. We know what the idea is, but we don't know how do it.

The wetlands is like ways we learn a new skill, procedure or workaround. We practice it until we get it right. We learn by doing and making mistakes. We get a better idea of how it make it work and how to get the results every time. The composting takes over when things go wrong and trying harder makes it worse. Our routine success feeds the failure. Our reliable habit becomes a problem. Everything we know how to do falls short of fixing the mess we've made.

The meadow is like the ways we learn to see the system, change the diagnosis, understand the cycles and close the causal loops. We understand why things happen, why our routines make it worse and why the system pushes back when we resist it. Our awareness expands to include all the stakeholders and all the interdependencies between them. The composting begins when we are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation. Our minds cannot cope with all the viewpoints, hidden agendas and long term interests. We feel defeated in our attempt to outsmart the system, second guess the emergent dynamics and control the effects we have on everyone.

The hardwood forest is like the ways we return to innocence. We value our questions more than our knowledge. We let go and go with the flow of happenstance. We prefer to "not know" to have the fun of finding out, realizing and relating to new discoveries. We've outgrown our fear of ignorance, mistakes and criticism. We allow for everything to be the way it is. Everything looks like a solution becoming a better solution, not a problem. Composting is essential. Without destruction, there's no change and change is life.


Great questions to ponder

My blog reader is brimming with wonderful questions to ponder at the moment. Here's a sampling:

Jay Cross is asking how to connect our understanding of "learning" to three eThought leaders' concepts:

The internet stew I've just cooked up is made of perpetual beta, the long tail, user-centered development, loose coupling, intangibles, connections, push the edges, power to peers, honesty, authenticity, and transparency.

Harold Jarche asks:

We’re seeing signs of this weakening of the industrial hierarchical model (see Wirearchy for more details), with workers dropping out of the “Corporation” and becoming free agents. Will this trend continue?

Jane Hart has launched a new blog for her WallerHart Learning Architects" venture and asks:

It is now common to hear that informal learning “is all around us”, that we learn over 80% that way but that we spend almost nothing on it. OK got all that. Could we now start to discuss please how we should spend money on informal learning without making it formal learning like all the rest?

Mark Berthelemy is blogging about a conference exploring the practical uses of George Siemen's Knowing Knowledge. He asks:

1. How do we design centrally-driven learning experiences that incorporate connectivist principles?
2. How do we make the process of collecting together our personal learning conversations easier.
3. How do we encourage individuals to take responsibility for their place within their own learning network?

Chris Anderson is asking when the big corporations in the music distribution industry will realize they are talking "user centric" but acting hierarchical?

I'm here in Cannes for MIDEM, the big European music conference/market, and can't help but reflect on how, in 2007, the music industry still treats consumers not just like criminals but also idiots.

Seth Godin is asking what comes after the semantic web with all those intelligent agents tracking down exactly what we need from search-compliant resources?

We need identity to build Web4, because the deliverable is based on who you are and what you do and what you need. And we need connection to build Web4, because you're nothing without the rest of us. Web4 is about making connections, about serendipity and about the network taking initiative.

Over the weekend, Dan Russell asked for insights in how we make sense of something unfamiliar to us. The comments from readers of Creating Passionate Users repeatedly point to the power of questions.

Happy pondering!!


Trade-off and no trade-off

Patrick responded to the January LCB question with The Big Question is how dumb the Big Question is. Tony is getting invalidated by Patrick's ingenious rant. Tony responded superbly with: Big Question Follow-up- Are there Trade-Offs? I agree with Patrick's AND Tony's responses in spite of the irreconcilable differences in their approaches. How can that be?

There is a world where speed and cost rule. Quality of learning outcomes and educational experiences is disregarded. Instructional designers are compromised and pressured to "tow the line" imposed by management or the client. In this world its a copout to say speed = quality or cheap = quality, even though that's the position of the customer and stakeholders in control.

The value of eLearning and ID has not been sold in this world. Training is being kept to a minimum because it's perceived as almost useless. It's a world where it's perceived that you don't get what you pay for. Managers and clients think: "Pay more and you get ripped off". The migration of spending on training from content developers to "rapid" software and "SME's with slides" suggests this dark world is growing. This world raises the question of the tradeoff between speed and quality.

There is another world where design rules. The quality of learning outcomes and educational experiences is the whole point. Instructional designers are trusted and empowered to consider all the options, respond to all the stakeholders, and develop creative solutions. The value of training is sold. The managers or clients think: "You get what you pay for and it pays to pay more". Spending on high dollar multi-media designs is one questionable option. Spending on informal collaborations, reusable templates and low tech solutions are likely to get "more bang for the buck".

In this world it is a copout to make a tradeoff between speed and quality. It makes sense to do both and add cost effectiveness into the mix. Reducing the complex design problem to tradeoffs between "fast, cheap and good" drops out issues of spontaneous, situated, social and emergent learning. The speed vs quality tradeoff or promoting better quality (like Patrick did before "the penny dropped") -- appear to over-simplify the issues, commit errors of omission and perpetuate the industrial, techno-fix paradigm. It commits the same "reductionistic fallacy" that destroys ecosystems, climatic balance and cultural diversity. This lighter world raises the question of how dumb the tradeoff question is.

Both worlds exist. Both sets of perceptions and priorities are valid. Both guys are right on.


Botanical learning

Playing along with Jay's approach to gardening learnscapes, here's how I've pictured the phases for understanding a new idea for hundreds of college students. I'll use examples from playing a new computer game, like I have been doing for the past two days.

A new idea begins as a seed that is very vulnerable to not taking root. Laying on the ground, it can be eaten by birds or rodents. It can be blown away by wind or washed away by rain. This is the phase of learning a new fact. Most of what I read in the game manual or saw in a new menu as I checked out the new interface -- is gone the next day. My lack of retention/recall is the failure to take root. Until I use it, I lose it.

A seed begins to grow away from the light, groping around in the dark, trying different directions to lengthen its roots. Some directions are blocked by rocks, other root systems or hillside exposure. This phase of learning is the experimentation involved with skill building. We don't know how to do something from knowing what the idea is. I can know that the game gives me five tools to use, but that's no indication that I can build with them or achieve the objectives of the scenario I'm in. I'm "in the dark" until I iteratively see what works, what makes a difference, what achieves my objective. As I learn how useful a new tool is, how to apply it and how it solves problems, my lofty conceptual understanding has taken root in the lower realm of action. I've gotten "down and dirty". The foundation is established to stabilize the next stage of development.

With root structure established, the seed launches a new direction of growth with leaves and stem. Growing toward the light, the plant can now be fed by the sun and ambient moisture. It's also vulnerable to insect damage, severe weather and foot traffic. This phase of learning is intrinsic, self-paced, idiosyncratic and self-taught. We make sense of the skill in the context of our uses, past experiences and ambitions. I'm comparing Version 3 that I'm now learning to all the games I played in Version 2. I'm seeing how the new tools and game mechanics make it much easier to achieve some objectives while heightening the challenge in others. Those are my own realizations that depend on my gaming experiences and my ability to reflect on those experiences. Like the plant, I'm getting fed and nurtured as I grow in my understanding. The process seems very organic, not at all procedural or mechanistic. I'm also more vulnerable to discouragement, criticism and comparison to others because my epistemic growth is deviant, spontaneous and creative.

The stem and leaves eventually culminates in a flower. This phase of understanding is the flow state where time stands still and action is effortless. I lose my self and immerse myself totally in the game. My actions make the differences I intend and emergent changes in the game scenario are welcome challenges. From this flowering of fun, satisfaction and fascination comes new seeds. I get ideas for other games to play, scenarios in this game and blog posts about the convergence of game play and learning.


Changing our questions

Each Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog brings out an abundance of creativity as each of us ponders how to answer the question. Then comes the detachment, perspective and insights to "question the question" as the varied responses form patterns. Tony and Dave have made that transition to "changing the question" with the January Big Question.
This is similar to a design principle where "half the work is done by redefining the problem". The lack of support for quality learning programs is an opportunity to sell, educate or demonstrate the value to higher ups. The problem with lemons is an problem with how to make lemonade.
In the worlds of coaching, mentoring and therapy, this is called "the gentle art of reframing". When someone I'm coaching is feeling weak, inferior or inadequate, I see how that is the result of being strong in another way. Sensitivity is a strength in the context of caring and a weakness in a context that calls for a "thick skin". Creativity is a strength in a context of deteriorating circumstances and a weakness in a context that calls for conformity.
I'm currently reading: The Elegant Solution - Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation. Toyota has changed the question from "can this be improved?" to "what is impeding the perfection of this?" Their relentless pursuit of perfection" is made possible by their huge, financial success. Toyota spent a billion dollars bringing the first Lexus to market. They give new meaning to Michael Schrage's notion of "Serious Play". It took:
...six years, 1400 designers, 3700 engineers, 900 engine prototypes, 450 test models. And nearly two million test miles. (p.43)
As we explore ways to improve learning experiences and outcomes, we could "face the facts" that the entire eLearning universe does not have a billion to spend on R&D. Bushel of lemons! Obvious weakness! Question answered!
Toyota's development process was highly technical, specialized and confined to experts. Automotive engineering is necessarily centralized and confined to competing in "red oceans" bloodied by rivals. instructional design is free of that.
It's possible to democratize the tools of production and distribution to generate a long tail of little guys creating diverse offerings for small followings. It's possible to spawn emergent citizen marketers, collaborative consumers and open sourced innovations. It's possible to nurture a gift economy of creative contributions with a leaderless, starfish-like, self-regenerating community. It's possible to use Web 2.0 tools to establish the connectedness that get all those contributors in synch.
Lemonade. Hidden strength. Changed the question!


Immersion in epistemic games

Yesterday I finished reading How Computer Games Help Children Learn. I can now offer a balanced critique. David Shaffer uses the concept of "epistemic frames" differently from the approach I use in mentoring entrepreneurs. I've revealed some of my perspective in previous posts: Getting framed by epistemic frames and Positions at the table. The thought leaders of my approach include Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature) Bradford Keeney (Aesthetics of Change) and Paul Watzlawick (Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution). My "coach approach" with entrepreneurs includes "reframing the problem", "correcting flawed epistemologies", and "getting framed by the contextualizing nature of questions".

In the last chapter, Shaffer cleared up my confusion. He contrasts epistemic games with GOD games where the player is all powerful and unopposed. He sees value in the political context of professional conduct. He sees authentic learning occurring when the solution meets opposition and requires understanding other perspectives, tradeoffs and agendas. He finds the playing to be more immersive and the value applying to more contexts when the games are "epistemic" in his sense of the word. I totally agree with his message.

I believe his book would be more readable and useful if the last chapter came first. His sequence did not hold me in suspense or deliver a punch line. Also, rather than use the concept of "epistemic games", his message would come across more clearly if he used concepts like: assuming a complete identity, facing the interpersonal challenges of professional conduct, deploying a new skillset within a politicized context or playing the part of a street smart operative.

His book explores numerous games that develop knowledge, skills and values emergently. The numerous empirical studies of outcomes can help convince skeptics. I'm encouraged by his findings. I realize David Shaffer operates in an academic context. My suggestions to rearrange the book and change the wording -- would weaken his academic legitimacy while increasing his applicability for designers of immersive eLearning experiences. Perhaps the book that is more useful for designers will be written by designers.

Learning like a healthy forest

Forests in Costa Rica are much better learners than forests in Hawaii. Costa Rica is constantly invaded by predators and parasites because it's a land bridge. Hawaii is isolated and devastated by the occasional exotic species making it ashore. As James F. Moore explained in The Death of Competition:

Overall the ecosystems of Costa Rica are much more robust and resilient than their Hawaiian counterparts. Unlike Hawaii's fragile ecosystems, Costa Rica's are notably resistant to disturbances ... (and) better able to restore themselves after an attack. (p. 23)

Biologists have suggested that most mutualisms in nature evolve from antagonistic relationships. .. An important lesson, then, is to create and promote mutualisms. (p. 46)
Costa Rica has developed more ways to grow, learn, change and create because it's ecologies are constantly under siege. The forests are immersed in a "World of Warcraft". The ecosystems are forming mutualisms from the antagonisms. Positional stances evolve into synergies and symbiotic relationships. Enemies become collaborators that realize the best of both intentions. Invaders join the community.

Forty years ago, George Leonard saw schools functioning like the vulnerable forests in Hawaii: keeping out contradictions and defending against incompatible invaders. He promoted the value of a "Rogue as Teacher" in his classic: Education and Ecstasy.

In these endeavors, men are sometimes freed to burst through the restraining barriers of Civilized living and become free-roving hunters again, going "beyond themselves" performing feats of endurance, skill, and clairvoyance they had no reason to anticipate. (p. 91)

Brent sees the same value today of immersion in adversity, forming mutualisms, getting taught by rogues -- in his recommnedation of David Shaffer's book and his post Learning2.0 is Web2.0 + Gaming:

Battlefield management is stressful and you often find yourself taking on a role as guardian of a location while your teammates are running off to battle over securing the next location. This can seem boring until you become assaulted by a pack of 2 or 3 characters from the other team. You battle valiantly while IMing for help. Others on your team abandon their posts to come to your aid. are you must wait 20 seconds in the graveyard before resurrection and you can get back into the fight.

How have you learned like a Costa Rican forest today?


Gravitational pull

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make the horse drink. Likewise for getting learners to internalize new information, to transfer book smarts to street smarts in use, to develop the intrinsic motivation for applying the skills and to gain the confidence for playing around with variations on the right way to do it. Pushing does not work. Pull works great.

In Informal Learning, Jay reminds us:

Learners need to be attracted to learning experiences, or not much is going to happen. IBM's Steve Rae posits three gravitational forces for informal learning...access ... quality... walkaway value. (p.18)

When "walkaway value" is taken over the top, the learning experience sells itself. There's no need to push. The gravitational pull "gets the horse to drink". Here's four ways to increase "what's in it for me?" when selling higher ups on slowing down, increased quality, more extensive evaluations or the use of gaming.

  1. Push selling says to identify the decision maker. Selling without pushing identifies the team of constituencies who can oppose the "buy", stab the decision maker in the back, and cause trouble if the "go ahead" is given.

  2. Push selling says to overcome objections raised by the buyer. Selling without pulling identifies the subsequent battles the buyer will face and offers ammo, arms deals and military advisors to win the battles with his/her constituencies.

  3. Push selling says to convince the buyer of the right choice and control the conversation to a favorable conclusion. Selling without pushing "hands off the final say" and gives control of the process to the buyer.

  4. Push selling says to simplify the buyer's decision to reach a favorable conclusion. Selling without pushing complicates the buyer's decision with added criteria, comparisons and scenarios to improve the customers' satisfaction with how they made up their minds.
The parallels to self-directed learning are left for you to make.

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Learnscapes really work

In his book: Informal Learning, Jay offers wonderful examples of what he calls "Learnscapes". They go beyond performance support aids and are more inclusive than going online to access resources. He has a new briefing to get a glimpse of the concept of learnscaping and I highly recommend the entire book.

I am living proof of how valuable Learnscapes can be. During my undergraduate years, I realized I was learning much more from my fellow students than I was from the faculty. Jay's insights into the ways physical environments support or interfere with informal learning -- make sense of why I learned so much from my fellow students.

I studied architecture at Carnegie-Mellon University. Each member of the freshman and sophomore classes had his/her own locked, drafting tables in a huge room that was open to us 24/7. We built small structures to break up the "sea of desks" into clusters of tables and pin-up walls. We brought in sofas to create places to hang out together. We pulled many all nighters (charettes) together in that drafting room. We had countless opportunities to talk, overhear, and watch each other learn, create and grow.

Faculty would come to an individual student's desk to give us a "board crit" on our work-in-progress during daylight hours. (David Shaffer's book describes the use of board crits in architectural training in some detail). Many of us were in earshot and would learn more than the student getting the crit. We were not under-the-gun and had more presence of mind to absorb the critique. We would then discuss the crits among ourselves, as well as how to interpret the original assignment, what we heard in class that day, and what to think of the designs each other were coming up with. The classroom instruction was included in our "learnscape" but the formal content did not take hold until we chewed on it together or put it to some use in a design project.

We were so inspired by this informal and collaborative learning experience, we took it to the next level. In junior year we were assigned to teams to design a new student union for the campus. We realized that we could design spaces, sightlines, circulation paths and seating to increase informal behaviors. We had in mind increasing the students' awareness and willingness to join campus activities, attend events, to meet other students and to take a moment to relax. Much like Jay's idea of Learnscapes that increase informal learning, we de-regimented the layout of the existing student union.

While I've been critical of the formal education I received, Jay has given me more appreciation of how valuable the informal learning experience was in that huge drafting room.


Selling higher ups on slowing down

When it appears that it will take more time to do an effective job of instructional design, higher ups need to sold on slowing down. Tony has asked how to pull that off? (pun intended!) Convincing execs to ease up and to take more time -- is usually a very tough sell; an uphill battle. Wendy made this clear in her response to the January Big Question:

I DO know that my organization is all about speed. Therefore, I am forced to build the minimum, get the training out there so that "training" box can be checked and the implementation project can be considered "complete."

There's very little that would convince higher ups of the merits of a less frantic design effort, as the Same Old Story observed. The search for selling points, empirical research or proven results can set up a sales pitch, hard sell, or "push" strategy. Rather than providing relief from the exec's anxiety or solutions to their problems, it can "put a gun to their head" that implies they would be wrong, bad or stupid to not buy into this. Pressure tactics breed objections and undermine relationships.

In both his blog and book, Jay has refined a forecast made by John Hagel and John Seeley Brown in The Only Sustainable Edge:

I’m not predicting that pull will replace push everywhere we get information, just that the balance will shift more toward the pull end of the spectrum than the push.

When a "pull" selling strategy is working, there is no need to push. The pull strategy has created demand. The customers want what is being sold and they sell themselves on it. We switch from presentation selling to consultative selling. What we're selling is a solution to the customers' problems. They want it because it's does some good for them. The value is intrinsic, just like it is with informal learning.

I suggested three ways to deploy a pull strategy in a recent post: Raising the Bar:

  1. Admit to different timing
  2. Confess your own limitations
  3. Speak the enemy's mind
I'll explore many more facets of pull selling strategies in my next post.


High performance networks solve the problems

In his book: Informal Learning, Jay says:

... "to learn" is to optimize the quality of one's networks.

Networks are comprised of nodes and links. The quality depends on both. In our minds that includes what we know and how well we've have made sense of those things, tied them into other understandings and increased the power of our mental models to explain, diagnose and anticipate. In our social lives, nodes and links includes who we know and how well we relate, call upon others as resources and provide value to their pursuits.

Low performance networks (suboptimal, low quality) create problems and respond in problematic ways. The problems Tony has distilled from the responses to the LCB January Question reflect instructional designers who are imbedded in low performance networks. All these problems get alleviated by more learning as Jay defines it: "optimizing the quality of one's networks.

In a low performance network, speeding up production will result in a loss of quality. The rush job will drop out the quality controls, review processes and time to think of better ways to get the result. The product is getting created heroically, in isolation by experts who cannot trust or involve their customers, communities and critics. The minds which are focused on rapid production have been closed by fears, deadline pressures and distanced relationships. No one is to blame or responsible single-handedly. Birds of a feather flock together. It's a network.

In a high performance network, speeding up production will result in higher quality. "If you want something done well, give it to a busy person". Instead of functioning in isolation, the network gets involved in many different ways. The contributions make the product more responsive, useful and valuable in context. Usability is judged by the users, instead of being second-guessed by quality controls. There's greater ownership, buy-in and engagement because the network contributed to product development. (See The Politics of Quality)

This contrast between the effects of low and high performance networks also explains:

  1. Iterations degenerating into perfectionism, feature creep, and excessive sophistication -- OR -- iterations evolving into elegant solutions, more immersive experiences, and greater value in the eyes of the beholder.

  2. Design professionals becoming their own worst enemy, using their free reign to run rampant, and acting like prima donnas stuck on their own need to be right -- OR -- design professionals evolving into collaborators, using their freedom to relate, and optimizing their networks.

  3. Instructional designers getting compromised by "what the client wants", acting powerless in the face of opposition to quality, getting coerced to relinquish control to "SME's with Powerpoint slides" -- OR -- Instructional designers getting invited to consult the client on better strategies, bigger paybacks and wiser investments, acting powerful in the face of challenges to their preferred solution, and helping SME's author their own formal instruction.

There is no solution at the level of the presenting problem and the thinking that generated the symptoms. The solution emerges from optimizing the cognitive and social networks.


Raising the bar

Continuing with the game of The Politics of Quality, the receiving side imposes a limit on what can be agreed to -- by the tradeoff they are considering (1 vs 0). To move toward a higher consensus, the delivery side needs to raise the bar. The tradeoff already under consideration (3 vs 2) is high enough. The receiving side needs to raise their sights and consider a higher tradeoff. This post explores how to get that bar raised.

Admit to different timing:
When we (instructional designers, eLearning consultants, etc) say to management "Now may not be the best time for a quality learning program", we engage their curiosity. We open the door to a discussion of evolving trends and changing constraints. We allow for the time when a SME with Powerpoint slides may be the right solution. We let go of always being right about the need for participation, immersion and experiential components. We set the stage for the receiving end to consider a higher tradeoff (2 vs 1).

Confess own limitations: In a comment on yesterday's post, Dave wisely suggested using a Johari window to develop trust between the two sides. When we admit we don't have all the answers, the other side will soften their stance too. It may prove helpful to admit how staff, budgets and time are limited, how rapport with the SME still needs to be developed, or how dependent the outcomes are on long term follow through and evaluations. When we lead this way, the receiving side may join in and reveal their uncertainty, vulnerabilities, limitations and dependencies.

Speak the enemy's mind: When encountering strong resistance to quality learning programs, it's usually time to practice empathy. Instead of trying to make our own points more convincingly, it often works to "shoot ourselves in the foot". We can say things like: "we don't know the material as well as the SME does", "it may look like we're trying to build an empire and deliberately engage in turf battles", or "you must get tired of hearing us relentlessly advocate higher quality when you know something faster is often good enough". Speaking the enemy's mind lowers barriers, opens closed minds and de-escalates adversarial tensions.


The politics of quality

The January question on the Learning Circuits Blog asks:
What are the trade offs between quality learning programs and rapid e-learning and how do you decide?
The decisions to make a big investment in quality learning programs depends on achieving a consensus. The delivery side may favor quality because it meets their professional standards, builds their stature in the organization and keeps them busy. This side opposes rapid approaches for the same reasons.

The receiving side may oppose quality approaches because it's too expensive, it misses the window of opportunity or it becomes obsolete too quickly. This side favors rapid development for the same reasons. These opposing interests typically result in a stalemate. Neither side wants to sacrifice their "right answer" or sees a way to gain from the other side winning.

Imagine this stalemate is an epistemic game. The delivery side includes SME's, instructional designers, trainers, and outside vendors/ contractors/ consultants. The receiving side includes trainees, immediate supervisors, coworkers and senior executives who all pay for the costs and experience the outcomes. There are four stances to take and three tradeoffs to make between them. Consensus is achieved by both sides making the same tradeoffs. Moving to a higher, consensual tradeoff wins.

In a worst case scenario (0,0), it's easy to reach an agreement on no ID at all. This is agreeing to make a tradeoff between rapid eLearning and no instruction, where nothing ends up being better than something. "Let's not and say we did some training." This makes sense in situations of extremely turbulent changes, no established SME's, new expertise getting formulated weekly and rampant informal learning occurring naturally.

Rapid eLearning can be agreed to (1,1) when large numbers need the information immediately, the instruction has a short shelf life and the competencies require hands-on practice to work out the details. This occurs where SME's have emerged, the expertise has stabilized, and informal learning runs the risk of dangerous errors or costly mistakes.

It's easy to agree to quality learning (2,2) when the instruction has less to do with expert information and more to do with taking insightful action, solving recurring problems and addressing situations resourcefully. This occurs when SME's lose their importance and the learned expertise emerges from interactions, simulations and coaching. The role of instructional designers rises to preeminence here.

Usability can be agreed to (3,3) when quality learning programs are too formal, structured and controlled. This occurs when individuals need to think for themselves, be trusted with increased responsibility and get their upper management to function as servant leaders, mentors or listeners. Learners teach themselves what they need and experience the tools provided as a support system for their self-directed efforts.

The most common stalemate involves opposing tradeoffs. The delivery side is debating between usability and quality (3 vs 2). The receiving side is making a tradeoff between no training and rapid (0 vs 1). The two sides have nothing in common and much distance between their stances, like the first stage of any new collaboration.

What usually occurs is a search for the lowest common denominator. It appears too costly to reach a higher consensus. Selling quality looks like an uphill battle and a tough sell. The phenomenal growth of rapid eLearning partly reflects this failure to achieve more value for the receiving side's investment of time and money in quality learning programs. Game over. Return to 0,0 !

A consensus in favor of usability (3,3) is a very different story. The approach sells itself. The value is intrinsic to the receiving side and idiosyncratic to each person. The learning program solves their problems, meets their needs and serves their interests. The quality is in the eyes of the beholder, rather than the professionals, evaluation schema or design models. The strategy is learner centered and customer driven. It avoids the problem of too much sophistication, feature creep or making enemies of the slow learners. It works with the receiving side instead of against them. Development is collaborative. The result is rapid quality, the best of both -- instead of the tradeoff between them. Winner!


Increasing professionalization

In his Ten Wishes for 2007, Geetha wants:

4. eLearning professionals take their profession (rather than just themselves) seriously.

In the book Brent recommends, David Shaffer explores how professional competencies can be acquired by playing epistemic games. Shaffer has developed a game for architectural students learning to design. I see many parallels to the professionalization of instructional design having been an architect and course developer.

Patrick brings many useful insights to this question of professionalization:

From Boundary person, but bored: Perhaps I shouldn't be so impatient; we are, after all, an evolving profession.

From Desperately seeking certainty: But even in more mature design disciplines - product design, architecture, graphics - it doesn't work like that. As many researchers have shown us, design is a journey of exploration. We discover and understand design problems by working on the solutions. We constantly uncover new constraints, issues, viewpoints and possibilities as we explore the design. It's an uncertain process in an increasingly uncertain world.

From Flair required apply within: By the time you’re producing programmes for mainstream TV you’ve probably worked with the equivalent thousands of man years of experience. Will you study theory along the way? Maybe a little. But most of the time you don’t need to because effective practice is embedded in everything that your colleagues do around you. TV people can afford to hold their theory lightly.

This isn’t the case in e-learning. E-learning design is in no sense an established profession. The average e-learning designer has less than 5 years experience, and in the UK almost none have any professional qualifications. If TV production is a grown up industry, then we in e-learning are barely toddlers. Like toddlers, we’re still trying to figure out how things work. In fact, we’re theorising. And we’re likely to have to keep theorising, and applying what we learn, and re-theorising, until we develop a critical mass of expertise.

More important still, research into creativity suggests that you can’t be genuinely creative without “knowing your stuff”. People who don’t know what they’re doing in any particular field have problems being creative, because they don’t have a base level of knowledge or skill that they can use to make new connections. So until we raise levels of design expertise in the e-learning industry, it’s likely that we’re going to continue to struggle to cultivate the kind of flair that’s common currency in other creative industries.

I agree totally. Thus I will be providing several posts soon that are targeted at raising the level of design expertise.

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Blogging as a gift economy

On the surface, blogging does not make much sense. That's one of the reasons I enjoy blogging so much. It's open ended, up for grabs and free to be what I make it into for me. Last month I was fascinated to read the questions Tony got asked about blogging from someone new to it and puzzled by the strangeness. I got asked similar questions in an email from Adele. Since then, Tony has been pondering blogging as a replacement for discussion groups and as in need of a companion forum.

Blogging is not making much sense to me as asynchronous conversations, especially compared to the forums I became so active in nine years ago. Blogging content makes more sense to me (and Jay) as memes evolving as they move around from one blog to the next and as a community with diverse voices getting assimilated. Blogging resembles the open source movement in software development and wiki. Blogging makes the most sense to me as a gift economy.

Blogging looks generous to me. It appears as initiative, volunteerism, and unrewarded contributions. Bloggers are going the extra mile and beyond the call of duty. It does not pay directly or extrinsically. It's the effective practice of giver's gain, enlightened self-interest or community maintenance. The rewards are intrinsic and indirect. This gives me seven ways to make sense of why particular bloggers, blogs and blogging topics disappear or flourish.

  1. Initiative is a result of win/win negotiations. Willing cooperation and follow through disappear in a win/lose deal. We take initiative when the benefits are reciprocal and avoid the sacrifice when the deal is lopsided or taking advantage of our generosity.
  2. Gift economies emerge from leaderless, decentralized, "starfish" cultures. They disappear when the culture becomes centralized, headed-up and spider-like.
  3. Generosity and shared creativity flourishes when the tools of production and distribution are democratized and the search portals access "the long tail" of innovations. The outpouring dries up when a pipeline restricts exposure, seeks blockbuster, top ten titles and dismisses the "little guys with small followings".
  4. Cooperation emerges when participants are getting validated and included in the formulation of a consensus by those who "seek first to understand". Cooperation vanishes amidst exclusion and imposition of a restrictive doctrine by those who "seek first to get understood".
  5. Organizations thrive on open systems design, permeable boundaries and functioning feedback loops. Organizations die when closed, self-congratulatory and oblivious to environmental changes.
  6. Students go for extracurricular research and self-motivated exploration when given permission to come to their own conclusions from a guide on the side. Students become passive and bored when told what to think and forced to comply with "one right answer" by a sage on stage.
  7. Arts communities and cultural creatives flourish in a post modern context of multi-culturalism and empowered diversity. These disintegrate in a modern context of dominant narratives, cultural stereotypes and normative standards.


How you learned to learn

The convergence of instructional designing and game designing is on the horizon. Now is the time to begin imagining what those immersive learning experiences will be like. Second Life (SL) provides a design vocabulary for one kind of mashup between gaming and instructional design. Multiverse is the start of giving us the tools to create cyberworlds of our own design. The tooling around we do will yield more valuable learning outcomes if we have envisioned the use of such tools in advance.

Imagine you enter a game through an Orientation Island like in SL. But instead of obtaining notecards and going through tutorials, you enter an obstacle course on the island. Each obstacle presents a failed learning outcome. There's a variety of misunderstandings, over-reactions and superficial comprehension that block your progress and challenge your abilities. You respond as you see fit. You rely on your own epistemic frames to "try harder or try smarter" to clear up each problematic learning outcome.

The game mechanics score your responses and determine which island to send you to next. If you learned how to learn by the passive learning of expert indoctrination, you go the Meaningless Life Island. If you learned how to learn by skill building exercises and habit formation routines, you go the Productive Life Island. If you learned how to learn by coaching others and helping others realize their own understanding in a "community of practice", you go to the Connected Life Island. If you learned how to learn by gaming and inventing your strategy as you play, you go the Creative Life Island.

On the Meaningless Life Island, you will experience being a slave to others' authority (as you can do in SL). You will comply with imposed directives, submit to their control, and subjugate your will to higher ups. On the Productive Life Island, you will build what you will (as you can do in SL). On the Connected Life Island, you will collaborate with others, form new communities and serve a larger purpose (as you can do in SL). On the Creative Life Island, you can create games like this and entice others to immerse themselves in learning by playing.

To move from Meaningless Life Island to Productive Life Island, you will formulate a life of your own while slaving away at imposed tasks and recuperating in the slave quarters. Once you've developed enough goals in mind to build productively, you'll be transported to the next island. To move from the Productive Life Island to the Connected Life Island, you will take time out from building to relate, listen, understand and serve others. Once you've repaired enough disconnects and made enough connections, you will be transported. To move from the Connected Life Island to the Creative Life Island, you will take time from collaborating to build an inventory of change models and developmental stages. Once you've established the epistemic frames to design learning games, you will wink out of the Connected Life Island and magically appear in the Creative Life Island.


The end of content

Z: I don't know what learning is.

A: You're doing it now by "not knowing what learning is" and finding out what learning is.

Z: Why make a thing of learning? Why pretend it's something to know and talk about? Why not simply explore doing it better and getting better results from doing it?

A: If you have a concept of "learning", then you can see that you're doing it and then consider other ways to do it and better ways to do it.

Z: Why can't I do it better by simply doing it, seeing what results I get and changing my approach accordingly? That's how I get better when I'm immersed in playing games.

A: If you are learning better without the concept of learning, you cannot conceive of how to change your approach. You can only change incrementally, inside the frame of reference of doing it now.

Z: That's if I am using the frame of reference of a machine, doing what I do consistently and repeatedly. What if I am using the epistemic frame of innovating?

A: What difference does that make?

Z: When I'm innovating, I am venturing into unknowns. I cannot proceed according to plan. I cannot "make a thing" of my process because I need to remain open to unforeseen possibilities. If I use the epistemic frame of a machine, I am blinding myself to opportunities, assuming this situation is the same as previous ones and relying on my concepts, tools and experience to produce results.

A: What are you relying on to produce results when you're using the epistemic frame of an innovator?

Z: My questions, my ability to read a situation, my continual experimenting, and my safeguards against falling for content, machine premises and limiting assumptions.

A: Do you see me falling for machine premises and limiting assumptions?

Z: Yes and no. By asking that question, you are learning without making a thing of it. You are challenging your assumptions and suspecting you are limiting yourself. You are using the epistemic frame of innovating. Yet when you talk about learning you are trusting your use of concepts to conceptualize, not to do something better and get different results. When you expect improvement from the content of your expertise, you are falling for machine premises.

A: Sounds like the end of content, instruction, education and formal learning.

Z: Let the playing continue.


Subscriber morphs into a blogger!

The subscriber, who last week asked me the questions about learning organizations, has launched a new blog: Learning and Development. A great way to start of 2007! Adele Lim has impressive expertise and wonderful insights. I'm expecting to enjoy reading her postings.

Welcome to the blogosphere Adele!

Leave it to the digital natives

What if the "digital native generation" is already learning to be tech savvy innovators? What if their playing "epistemic games" is giving vast numbers of teens the "natural ability" to create new tools, enterprises and communities?

What if we are "preaching to the choir" who already get it? What if all we are saying about informal learning and use of Web 2.0 tools is patently obvious to the under-20 population? What if they already learned what we're talking about by gaming, by doing in simulation and by iterative trials learning? What if their experience have convinced them to learn informally and use the tools before anyone told them about these "good ideas"?

What if we, digital immigrants, are having trouble getting it, making the transition, reinventing ourselves -- because we've been schooled? What if the damaging effects of formal instruction have crippled the over-20 generations? What if we are stuck in the talking stage -- over-analyzing what is occurring emergently? What if those teens dropping out are missing out on that damage? What if they will get out with their creativity and love of learning intact.

What if we are the last generations to understand content? What if the digital natives won't get it when we speak devoid of context: personal experience, experiments or expressions? What if they are becoming fluent in a foreign language of creative action? What if they are learning "epistemic frames" that make much more sense of how to create value, attract a following and monetize their contributions easily? What if they will create enterprises in the near future that will naturally implement the "starfish", "long tail" and "blue ocean" principles without having read the books?

What if we "bloggers about eLearning" are the transition team? What if we are in a perfect position to make sense of this wrenching transition? What if we can provide the change models, support systems and communities to help the over-20 generations make sense of the disruptions and to trust the discontinuous change process? What if we don't need to make the change happen, only serve others as these changes emerge?


Positions at a table

As I've used "epistemic frames" over the years to mentor entrepreneurs, I find we get lots of value out of picturing these frames. The most useful visual analogy I've found thus far -- is positions we can take at a table. Imagine these are places we can come from when facing what happened and choosing what to do next.

On top of the table: When we are in control and thinking we make things happen, we are dancing on the table top. We look down on people seated at the table and stand over anyone under the table. We cannot see eye to eye or allow others to be right. We are in a position to claim "winner takes all" and to overrule dissenters.

Under the table: When we are getting persecuted and thinking others make things happen, we are crouched under the table. We are playing small, telling victim stories and asking for more trouble. We cannot see eye to eye or endure other's abuse of power. We are in a position of getting kicked around, ignored or taken for granted.

Seated at the table: When we are relating to other points of view and thinking we make things happen collaboratively, we are seated in a chair at the table. We are sharing power, listening without fear, and teaming up to realize results. To our way of thinking, there are many right answers and different ways to win. We are in a position to nurture, empower and validate others.

Changing positions at the table: When we've been dancing on the tabletop, it's likely we we fall below the table. Once we've fallen enough times, we learn to take a seat at the table. When we've been trafficking in self pity under the table, it's likely we will over compensate with grandiosity, arrogance and manipulation. Once we've asked to get shot down enough times, we learn to take a seat at the table.


Getting framed by epistemic frames

In the Introduction to "How Computer Games Help Children Learn", David Shaffer promotes a change in education from delivering content to transmitting the epistemic frames of competent practitioners. He is seeking a way for all children to become innovators. In my mentoring of entrepreneurs, I am also nurturing creativity and cultivating innovations. Yet my focus is on changing the epistemic frames in use. In either case, it's helpful to understand what "epistemic frames" are and how they effect learning, performance and outcome measures. If I question "are you good enough?", you have been framed by evaluation in an elimination round. You are on the brink of being outcast, excluded or cut from the team. I am assuming this is a black and white issue with no gray areas. I am in total control of the rules and application of criteria. You are invited to be silenced, dominated by my power and subjected to other external authorities. I am using an "epistemic frame" of superiority over you while giving you an epistemic frame of inferiority under me. The long term effect on your learning, creativity and intrinsic motivation would be devastating.

If I question "how good are you?", you have been framed by the premises of normative evaluation in a series of contests. I assume you can be compared to others on the same scale and stats can be recorded. Without anything being said, you will compare yourself to others, get on your case if you don't measure up and compete to be superior to others. You are being cultivated to use an epistemic frame of superiority and to have a devastating effect on other's creativity. You will get the idea that learning is tiring work that depends on external rewards to make the effort.

If I question "how are you good?", you have been framed by my use of idiosyncratic evaluation. I assume there is no comparison to others and there is much inside of you to bring out. Without any explicit guidance, you will find your voice, express yourself, and bring your gifts to the world. You are being cultivated to use an epistemic frame of creativity that will nurture other's informal learning. You will get the idea that learning is a flow experience and intrinsically rewarding.

Thus any "epistemic frame" is where I'm coming from, what I am assuming, what premise I'm using, the context I'm creating, the basis for my outlook or the way I am acting as-if. The effect on learning, performance and outcome measures is profound.

See also: