By discovery - not delivery

In Clark Aldrich's recent outpouring of insights on his blog, he gave us a beautiful example of developing skills while playing a game:

In Half Life 2, as one example, there are creatures that are mounted to ceilings with long tongues hanging down that grab things and pull them up to eat them.

One technique to inform the player might have been an encyclopedia-like screen giving some information about these creatures. Another would be to have a virtual colleague say something like, "Careful - those tongue creatures are hungry and once they grab you, it's over."

Instead, Half-Life 2 carefully builds the skills in the player, and then pushes it. They first show the player what these creatures do by, in this case, having an unwary crow get scooped up. Then they expose the player to simple situation with a single creature. A few levels later, the player has to get through dozens of these creatures using increasingly clever techniques, including hybrid strategies learned from other parts of the game.

This is learning without being told, taught or kidnapped. The content is not delivered, it's discovered. When we are down in the trenches getting told to deliver content, we naturally live in fear of:
    • failing to deliver the content (transfer the skill, meet the learning objective)

    • sending the wrong message (getting misinterpreted, distorted)

    • getting criticized by managers (losing respect or credibility)

    • losing the learners' interest (boring, useless, preachy)
More often than not these fears come true. The fear locks us into the mindset that delivers content. There's no way to let the learner discover whatever is needed to solve the problem, avoid the danger or change the situation.

This new breed of designers that "create learning experiences" will put those fears to rest. They will avoid the "content delivery mindset" like they avoid getting shot at, falling into traps or running out of resources in a computer game. I suspect they will have lots of successful experiences playing games and changing strategies to advance to the next level. This new breed of designers will realize how much they learned and how they learned while playing around. They will set up the learners to discover what they don't know and how to get it -- while immersed in useful situations. They will set the learners free inside experiences designed for discoveries.

Be as you are

"Be as you are". "Do what you do". "Be yourself". "Respect that you're doing this for good reasons". "Accept that this is a good thing at some level."

When supporting anyone through a difficult transition, it works to speak to them of not changing. All who are making themselves miserable -- are already thinking of changing. Anyone getting feedback about causing problems or neglecting their duties has a change under consideration. People who need to change are already under too much pressure to change.

What we resist, persists. What we insist on or cling to -- make us miserable. What needs fixing to our way of thinking -- fixes to make us needy. When we are afraid they won't change, we cannot let them be as they are, and our fear comes true - they refuse to change.

Giving people "permission to persist" gives them the space to change when they are ready. Giving people respect before they change -- gives them the basis to change confidently. Giving people a picture of acceptability gives them the orientation to change for their own reasons.

Be as you are.


Making learning more game-like

Patrick Dunn recently wrote about Serious Games (SG):

One thing that keeps niggling me about the whole SG area: it feels like we're producing another "category" of learning experience (like EPS, course, scenario etc.). My view is that most things exist on spectrums, not in categories. Much of the value of SGs is how they can help us understand how to make other types of learning more game-like. There's a danger - given the already fairly low level of expertise within e-learning companies and their clients - that those responsible for commissioning and/or designing learning experiences will fall into the trap of always asking: "is it a game, or is it a course, or is it a....?" instead of producing a strategy with particular characteristics driven by what learners need.

Patrick has stopped using the term "instructional design" and changed to "learning design". He's a thought leader in by blog reader for creating learner experiences. I concur with his wanting to make other kinds of learning more game-like. This aligns with outgrowing the premises of content development and delivery.

In thinking about which kinds of learning are best suited to gaming, I'm particularly drawn to "psychological transitions". My recent "Playing the Contrarian game" is the rough outline of the arduous, emotional and mental transition from curmudgeon to contrarian thinking. This transition is inherent in the struggles of control-freak, front-line supervisors who were expected to reinvent themselves during the downsizing/flattening of organizations in the mid nineties.

Many other psychological transitions seem amenable to game-like learning experiences:

Obviously I'm not alone in being passionate about learners transitioning from passive and damaged to self motivated and free ranging. We are anxious for designers to transition from "kidnapping the learners" to freeing the chickens so they act like wild gamers exploring vast networks. (DIY, not DYI- do yourself in, DUI or DOA ;-)

Like Clark Quinn and others, I'm fascinated by a transition from practical knowledge to wisdom. We see the value in a transition from tactical thinking to strategic thought processes. We are anxious to see instructional designers transition from content driven (boring) models to learner centered designs (engaging, immersive)

Like Brent Schlenker and many others, I see ways to support parents and children who are realizing school is a stupid game to play and transitioning to more empowering games in life. We are loaded with avenues to explore with professionals who come to the point of "Game over - play again?" where continued confidence and momentum loses its meaning, purpose and value.

Like Jay Cross and cohorts , I am concerned with the high cost of the spending on formal instruction (snake oil) which cries for the transition to informal learning principles and practices. The middle men (and women) who fear getting cut out of the deal -- face a transition to being more creative, valuable, empathic and collaborative with the learners.

Perhaps our talking about "support for difficult psychological transitions" will get more attention, buy-in and monetization of innovations -- than we have experienced thus far with our talk of tools, techniques and pedagogies.

DIY in context

I booked my first DIY airline flight online in 1986 . The Sabre airline reservation system had developed an interface where Compuserv subscribers could log in and create their own itinerary and then pick up the ticket at the airport. What followed was NOT a tidal wave of DIY airline bookings. Instead the travel agency industry grew dramatically. There were suddenly many more little agencies that functioned as middlemen (intermediaries, go-betweens, instructional designers) for the customers.

Electronic reservations made it possible for the airlines to change their fares everyday and for travel agents to shop around like never before for the lowest fare, most direct flight and best departure times. Travel agents were not cut out of the deal until Expedia and Travelocity empowered to customer to shop around for themselves with far greater sophistication than my first venture into a DIY airline booking.

The Sabre reservation system is an aggregator of all the seats on all the flights of almost every airline. Fifteen years ago, Sabre was worth more than any US airline. Likewise TV Guide would have sold for more in 1990 than any US broadcast or cable network. Since then the "big brands" have mostly been aggregators -- not providers, manufacturers or content developers. Before the current: Google, Apple, YouTube, Wikipedia, Starbucks -- there was Home Depot, Best Buy, Walmart, eBay and amazon.

Aggregators provide "one stop shopping". They dramatically improve the DIYers finding what they are looking for - regardless of how specialized, unique or idiosyncratic their interest is. Aggregators also create a web of reciprocities with the suppliers and the middlemen they aggregate. Every provider of goods that appear on Walmart shelves is in a continual conversation with the Walmart distribution system about which product is selling, how fast it sold and how soon another shipment will be ordered. Amazon has similar networks of conversations with publishers, associates and marketplace sellers. Starbucks relates to coffee growers like family.

Similar to the favorable impact of the Sabre reservation system on travel agents, most aggregators increase the number of middlemen - not cut them out. Once it's possible and easy to DIY, lots of customers choose to use an intermediary. Home Depot has fueled a dramatic increase in the number of home repair and remodeling entrepreneurs. Best Buy has spawned the proliferation of home theater installers. eBay has nurtured the growth of "eBay stores" that do all the work for the seller.

Home Depot has not spurred the growth of small forged steel foundries where homeowners make their own hammers, screw drivers and wrenches. Starbucks has not turned suburbanites into coffee growers or roasters. Best Buy has not increased the number of home owners shopping for DIY kits of appliances, computers, game consoles or home electronics to assemble themselves.

Meanwhile iTunes has increased the number of indie music labels, bands, albums and fan sites. YouTube has created an avalanche of digital camcorder and desktop editing aficionados. Starbucks has magnified the number, and probably the quality, of P2P meetings (most of my mentoring entrepreneurs happens there). Google, eBay and amazon have created an explosion of sellers and resellers. There's more DIY creatives and entrepreneurs than ever before.

So the question for those of us who are excited about DIY brands rising to the top is: how much of our instructional design expertise, content development and delivery of modules -- is like forged steel hammers (that will remain controlled by centralized production), and how much like the handyman who gets called in to do it better, faster or cheaper after the homeowner discovers a professional can get it done better than DIY can do?


Playing the Contrarian Game (Part Three)

You've entered this level having been bombarded by feedback. Instead of getting shot at like happens in FPS (first person shooter) games, you're getting shot down by other points of view. Instead of learning information about the objective world from experts, you are learning about you -- subjectively through your relationships. What you are realizing are things that can be learned, but cannot be taught to you. The content is not being delivered to you, it's getting discovered by you.

In this final domain, there are four challenges that involve joining an ongoing conversation. Each conversation is created by real-life contrarians. Hanging out in this domain utilizes the seeing resources you acquired in the previous domain. If you drop out of a conversation, you drop back to the previous domain. If you cannot see things the way real contrarians do, it's time to go back and pick up the seeing resource that did not stick with you.

The first conversation is is exploring how to say things for effect. It appears to be a positively naive discussion to curmudgeons. If you can only see how you make people despise you, then you cannot join in the conversation. When it occurs to you that you can make a difference the same way you make enemies, you can join in. When you see how you effect people, you can say things for beneficial effect. When it makes sense that people can be hurt by you, you can comfort them through the same connections.

The second conversation is using a different cognitive strategy that has not been available until you reached this level: authentic positive thinking. The participants are positive about positive and negative thinking. They are practicing appreciative inquiries with an attitude of gratitude. If you can only see what bad comes from simple-minded optimism, you cannot join this conversation. When you realize what good comes from everything, you can appreciate conflicts, misunderstandings and problems. You can point out the value, purpose, and meaning of what appears senseless, useless or purely destructive.

The third conversation is exploring everything in-between the extremes. Curmudgeons can only see this as lightweight, non-committal, fence-sitting. When you can see how every idea needs another connection, you can join this conversation. You will see ways to take exception in order to formulate an clever combination of ideas. You will disagree with antagonisms in order to validate an emergent consensus. You will give respect to alienated constituents to extend the boundaries of the community.

The fourth conversation explores the practice of informal leadership. When you can see how you've failed to provide leadership, you can serve your followers more effectively. You will earn respect by showing respect. Your vision of a better future will come about as you validate others' contributions to the evolving conversations. It will occur to how to be the go-to person and how to go to bat for others. You will lend a hand and protect the fragile advances others make on your behalf. You will see the common ground and shared interests to nurture.

When you find yourself in all four conversations with people in your life, you've won this game. Everyone else wins to because of the differences you are making. Your mind is transformed into a real Contrarian. If you inventory your seeing resources, you can expect to find the following:

  • seeing how your reacting to others goes nowhere endlessly

  • seeing how you can effect others for better or for worse

  • seeing how your superiority lacks humility, respect, or empathy

  • seeing how you make problems stick around or disappear

  • seeing how you point fingers to avoid responsibility for your issues

  • seeing how you can provide leadership informally

  • seeing how you'll know what to do when you first let go
Congratulations Contrarian! Game over - play again?

In keeping with last night's Academy Awards (and the practice of contrarian conversations) I'd like to thank the following people who made "Playing the Contrarian game" possible:

Marc Oehlert for bringing his anthropological expertise to eLearning issues and conveying the value of contrarians.

Harold Jarche for sharing the link on Coyote Teaching and raising his own question about the tension between coyotes and free range chickens -- which led to my brainstorming every kind of trouble that coyotes get into.

Roger von Oech for his comment on my Four Coyotes post which reminded me of my use of curmudgeon and contrarian puppets in the 80's (when we met).

Brent Schlenker and Wendy Wickham for extolling the virtues of my own appreciative inquiries into their wonderful blogs and viewpoints.

Karl Kapp for quoting Brent and myself like a true Coyote Contrarian and getting an extremely valuable discussion going on his blog.

Kevin and Timothy Johnson for their encouraging comments on Part One of this three part series.


Playing the Contrarian Game (Part Two)

You've entered this level having selected the oppositional cognitive strategy in Part One. You have taken it for a test drive and found this strategy works for you. You can routinely dismiss positive comments and validate negative remarks with ease. You see this cognitive strategy offers many advantages over thinking like those numb skulls who claim to be devoted to positive thinking while reacting negatively to anything negative. You know that getting to the truth of a situation calls for something more than naivete, simple minded explanations and wishful thinking. When you've developed a strong sense that your oppositional strategy is the way to go - you may advance to the next domain which includes seven new levels/challenges.

The previous domain dwelled upon choosing and deciding. This new domain is about seeing. The first challenge in this new "seeing" domain begins with seeing how it appears that you're making progress and doing good when thinking like a curmudgeon. There is always someone to shoot down and something to contradict. There is never a dull moment with no stupidity or clueless ambitions to set straight. With so much to do, it appears you're on the right track. In this level you find out you're blind to what's going on here. When you can see that all your interactions are going nowhere, (really boring, more of the same-old-same-old, chasing your own tail), you may advance to the next level.

In this level you now see that what you say is highly repetitive. But it appears its necessary because there is a continuous supply of over-simplistic thinking to be corrected. It's a job that somebody has to do and it might as well be you. You learn in this level that your reliable use of the oppositional cognitive strategy is making enemies. You appear mean-spirited to others. You're coming across as malicious, wicked and vindictive to people that have to deal with what you see and say. All you need to do to move on to the next level -- is see how you can have that alarming effect on others and make those consistent impressions unintentionally.

You're seeing resources now include seeing how repetitively all curmudgeons act and how your conduct has a side effect of making enemies. It still appears that you are seeing eye to eye when you help others wise up. You assume your on the same level and sharing an interest in the truth. In this next level, you learn you are looking down on people. You appear conceited, arrogant and self righteous with the stances you take. You may advance to the next level when you see how you are lacking in humility, respect, empathy and rapport.

The next challenge is to sort out who's the problem. It appears you are solving the problem by taking initiative, speaking up and addressing the situation better than the others involved. It's obvious the "clueless wonders" are the real problem. In this level you find out you are part of the problem. If it weren't for you, the problem with work itself out or evaporate on its own. When you can see that you are escalating, feeding and enabling the problems you address, you may advance to the next level.

After seeing that you are part of the problem, the next challenge explores how you are feeding the problem. It appears you are objectively identifying what is wrong, mistaken or ignorant. You get feedback in this level that you are pointing you finger, blaming others and shooting the messengers who bring word of what you are not seeing. When you can see that you are failing to take responsibility for your part in this (pointing three fingers back at yourself, reclaiming your own baggage, stopping the projection of your own issues onto others), the next level will accept you.

You are nearing the exit of this domain. Your seeing resources include five new ways to see yourself and situations. The next challenge questions the leadership in these situations. It appears you are taking the lead when you avoid collusion with those simple-minded idiots. You discover in this level that you are failing to provide leadership. You are merely taking an extreme, one-sided, adversarial stance. You are unconsciously asking for trouble, battles or conflicts with those who feel attacked, dismissed and devalued by your outlook. When you can see your lack of an envisioned future, validation of others and earned respect, the gates to the next level will open.

Up until now, it seemed right to be confident in your outlook. You trusted what you saw to be accurate, objective and valuable. Each level of this domain has given you disorienting information. Your basis for trusting your own judgment has been questioned. You now see how to question your perceptions, challenge your conclusions and discern the effects of your conduct. The final challenge of this domain is to see the advantages of letting go (not knowing, returning to innocence, practicing emptiness, hanging out in limbo, suspending your need for certainty, moving forward with no ground under your feet). When the advantages of "not knowing how to proceed" become clear to your own mind, you may proceed to the next domain.

(to be continued and completed in Part Three)


Playing the Contrarian Game (Part One)

Welcome to the Contrarian Game (free ranger edition). The objective of this game is to become a contrarian. The game requires no software, web services or physical devices. You can play this game with people in your life or in your blog reader. You can stop the game anytime or change your strategy whenever you desire. The game begins with you in the role of a curmudgeon. The character on the right is your brain thinking curmudgeon thoughts. The characters on the left are your brain after you win this game. Get the picture?

The first challenge is easy -- to get you oriented and confident in your ability to play this game. Look around your life for some people who are acting naive, simple minded, unrealistic or wishful. Get provoked by their ignorance. Become opinionated, preachy and self righteous as you set the people straight, show them the error of their ways or deliver some expert content that makes them better informed. When you've completed this step, you can advance to the next level.

The next challenge is to think about what just happened. You need to be careful not to take responsibility, accept blame or consider the effects of what you've done. You need to think about those simpletons who provoked you in a way that justifies your outburst and outlook. When you've thought a lot about their simple mindedness, naivete and lack of realism, you can advance to the next level.

You are now ready to commit to a cognitive strategy to ensure your continued success. By locking into a routine way of thinking, you will free up your mind for more alarming, threatening and unfamiliar entries into your world. All you need to do at this level to move on -- is accept the obvious advantages of adopting a consistent cognitive strategy.

The cognitive strategy available at this next level of the game is called: oppositional thinking. Check it out and see if it works for you. When you see someone thinking positively, react with your own negativity about disadvantages, dangers and expected disappointments . When you see someone thinking negatively, react with positive thinking about advantages, opportunities and likely progress. When you've completed your test drive of this strategy, you can advance to the next level.

You now have a choice (it's a slightly branched story). You can elect to adopt oppositional thinking as your success strategy or choose another strategy that is available at this level. When you've made your choice, you can move to the next level.

If you selected another strategy, you become simple-minded. You rely on a reactive positive cognitive strategy. You think positive thoughts about people's positive thinking. You think negatively about people's negativity. You are hounded by curmudgeons who oppose your naivete. The game is over - play again?

If you selected the oppositional cognitive strategy, you advance to the next level. (to be continued)


Reinventing ourselves

I realized this morning that "cutting out the middle man" is so nineties. Ten years ago, front line supervisors were made obsolete by Demming's principles, weekly quality circles and self-managed workteams. Layers of middle management were cut out after Champy's "outside expert" re-engineering was proven to be an abysmal failure in the early nineties. Employees in manufacturing, hospitality and other service firms no longer needed a control freak to micromanage their efforts or top down reorganizations to improve their output. Teams discussed the problems, found solutions, changed the methods and improved their processes. The metrics all showed dramatic improvements: productivity, quality, cost reduction, attendance, accident reduction.

Some front line supervisors reinvented themselves. They became servant leaders. Instead of telling and controlling, they asked and responded. They became the go-to person for their team's issues that involved another shift, department or approval from higher ups. They went to bat for the team that needed more respect, resources or clout. They lent a hand and offered their perspective in ways that did not interfere with the team's self reliance and resourcefulness. They thought of the team members as learners to be nurtured instead of low lifes in need of instruction, direction and controls.

Hard core control freaks went through mid-life crises. Their lives lost meaning. Their identities as authorities, bosses and superiors were shattered. They lost their sense of how to contribute, what to do or which problems to solve. The more enlightened corporations offered a kind of rehab program for these superivisors. A support system was set up for control freaks to reinvent themselves as servant leaders. Very little of the change could be realized by formal instruction and expert content. The process was informal like communities of practice and blogging. The questions became more important and the conversations more valuable. The transformation occurred for some supervisors, not for all.

Brent Schlenker sees this crisis looming for instructional designers now. Game designers engage the learners better by questioning the value designers provide. Learners get the job of upskilling done on their own. The value provided by instructional designers and content developers is becoming obsolete. Brain science says to do it differently than it's getting done. Deployment of the Web 2.0 tools give us new ways to engage the learners in their self directed explorations. Digital natives expect to get immersed in unfamiliar situations, not boring disguises for delivered content.

This transition will go more smoothly if we take a page from the nineties. We can set up a support system for content developers to reinvent themselves as "digital experience designers" (Thanks Barton!) who see through the eyes of the learners. We can establish communities of practice and provisions for the informal learning to unfold. We can see it coming before it hits us and prepare to welcome the challenge it presents.


Four coyotes

Harold Jarche got me thinking about coyotes and free range chickens with his post and link to Coyote teaching. That calls for a story.

Coyote Appetite lives near a barnyard filled with stupid chickens. Coyote thinks there are signs everywhere that say: "Free Lunch". Coyote Appetite is extremely hungry. She knows she is doing the right thing to take advantage of the situation. The Rancher thinks differently. He shoots at Coyote every chance he gets. The Rancher appears to be one of the chickens himself. The chickens think "stupid Rancher -- stupid Coyote".

Coyote Curmudgeon is extremely clever, but he is too smart for his own good. Coyote thinks his size is an advantage wherever he roams. The more he knows, the more he can dominate, intimidate and over-power the free rangers and wild gamers. Coyote thinks his short tail is an advantage over long tail wild gamers like pheasants and road runners. Coyote Curmudgeon is his own worst enemy. Instead of getting shot at by a rancher for being hungry, he shoots himself in the foot by being clever. Coyote Curmudgeon gets beat by the little critters who take advantage of his determination and self righteousness. Meep Meep!

Coyote Contrarian is in between everything. In between over-simplifications and simplicity, Coyote complicates everything. Between today and tomorrow, Coyote travels in dreamtime's symbolism. Between struggling and quitting, Coyote gets it done with ease. Between convictions and clarity, Coyote is confusion. Between all or nothing, Coyote is a little of both and none of the above. Coyote Contrarian shows Coyote Appetite and Coyote Curmudgeon what is missing, mistaken, cyclical and wise.

Coyote Mind sees like a hawk and flies like an eagle. Coyote Mind can see what will happen next when being hungry or too smart for his/her own good. Coyote Mind sees the good he does and the difference she makes in between this and that. S/he gets the biggest picture and the smallest detail. Coyote Mind tells a medicine story of four coyotes.


Climbing out of the trenches

A comment on "Giving control to the learners" paints of vivid picture of instructional design down in the trenches:

I am seeking deliverance from ID and ADDIE which require me to centrally decide for the learner; freedom from SCORM wrappers that ask me to freeze the ToC; escape from objects and assets that I have to tag and laboriously incorporate within defined co-ordinates; and the sheer drudgery of 'click next to continue'. Despite innovations over time, my understanding is that content development and production remains a laborious and constrained process.

In this highly constrained context, our exploration of free ranging learners is not very helpful. It's too pie-in-the-sky, lofty and abstract. As the commenter says, it only explores why, not how to. Karl Kapp articulated this concern in his Value of Instructional Designers. Dave Lee raised the same issue before I launched this blog with his: Are we forgetting the forklifts? The commenter continues:

Assuming that most of us work for clients who define a set of skills and competencies and like learning solutions to deliver those, most of us are willing to take the 'what' as given, as long as 'how' is left to our imagination. Between moronic flipping of screens and instructor-led forums, and several pretences of innovation, how much of the unlimited world of Google and Wi-ki have we really brought into the learning solutions themselves, before we decide that setting the chicken free is the way to go?

This is an awesome Big Question for the Learning Circuits Blog. It's got to be on the minds of many of our subscribers too. It's possible that the wiki that Jay has launched will enlarge with ways for all of us to bring "the unlimited world into the learning solutions". Occasional posts show up in my RSS reader that get down to this practical level. All the postings and presentations about using Web 2.0 tools are telling how to get out of the trenches. Becky already added a helpful solution in response to the commenter's request. I believe the our collective wisdom includes answers and design solutions to this.

This is an ideal opportunity to create a pattern language for getting out of the trenches, for describing how to give control to the learners and for bringing the unlimited world into the prescribed learning solutions. A design pattern is formatted as an if-then-why statement. My response to the February Big Question is formatted as an abbreviated if-then pattern language without the "why".

IF you (designer, instructor,SME, self-directed learner) are faced with this (problem, breakdown, backlash, obstacle, opposition) THEN incorporate this (solution, method, strategy) into the design so as to realize this (benefit, effect, change, improvement, repercussion) which is WHY this works when it does.

As we develop a pattern language among us, our insights will be used in more instructional designs. The learning outcomes will be improved as a result. The adoption of Web 2.0 tools move ahead faster. The designers in the trenches will find ways to be more imaginative and fulfilled in their work.


Asking to be kidnapped

In his presentation on A New Knowledge Society, Stephen Downes characterized two kinds of learners that both ask for help. One has no motivation problems because the pursuit of knowledge is what she or he wants to be doing right now. These learners can be labeled free ranging, informal, self directed, intrinsically motivated and autodidactic. The other has to ask for help, does not want to be learning this and has motivation problems.

In a comment to my post: Giving control to the learner, Stephen provided a wonderful analogy of getting kidnapped in Rome. Any self exploration, guided tour, use of maps or asking for help -- is free ranging. Getting kidnapped is the learner's experience of formal instruction. Stephen began his comment with:

Free ranging is not abandonment. That is a malicious myth that completely misrepresents what is meant by the concept.

I believe the "malicious myth" is perpetuated by those learners who FEEL abandoned by the "lack of kidnapping". Abuse, domination, persecution are all highly addictive. Battered wives unconsciously marry another abuser after a period in a safe house. Breaking the cycle abuse takes more than giving the chickens freedom. The cooped up chickens don't want to be cut loose to forage. They want more chicken feed. Imagine the sequel to Chicken Run where the chickens are picketing: "Give us feed, not freedom".

I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here. Harold Jarche explored this issue as Sheepwalking. Brent asked David Shaffer about this in his podcast interview. It's The Matrix where every Mr. Smith is captivated by conformity. I'm joining this choir with the ways educational psychologists have framed students who "want to be kidnapped" as:

  1. Products of an assembly line, factory schooling

  2. Dumbed down instead of wised up

  3. Exhibiting learned disabilities, helplessness, passivity

  4. Displaying morbid dependency on authority figures

  5. Acting out internalized toxic shame, self incriminations

  6. Convinced to see themselves as defective, deviant or deficient

  7. Acting propagandized, indoctrinated, brainwashed

  8. Incapacitated, eviscerated, depleted, devoured

  9. Stifled, inhibited, given hang-ups, burdened with baggage

  10. Captivated by a dominant narrative, subjugated by a power structure
Implicit in my thinking that the bigger challenge is regard for the learners -- is the idea that most learners are wounded. Their condition calls for healing. They need the higher regard of empathy, understanding and freedom from the pressures imposed by the free range. They need to be weaned off of spoon-fed content before being released from captivity.

I'm not yet convinced of this "healing approach" I'm proposing. I share a concern with therapists who avoid using a "pathological diagnosis" like the ten frames I've listed here. Solution therapists suggest that a negative label keeps the learner out of possibility land where exceptional behavior can be amplified and chronic problems vanished easily. Post modern therapists suggest that a pathological diagnosis imposes a dominant narrative. The negative story fails to liberate the learners from a confining epistemic frame so they can create their preferred narrative in life. Brief/depth oriented therapists discover how any chronic problem is an indication of a "hidden solution in use" that utilizes the symptom to control a relationship or avoid a persistent danger. All these therapies are aware of the potential to do more harm than good; what is called an "iatragenic effect" in the medical field.

All these therapeutic approaches tell me my framing of the learners' problem is as toxic as disregarding their problem. Any thoughts?

Giving control to the learners

Just because it's a good idea to give control to learners does not mean every learner wants to be in control. Jennifer Nicol voiced this concern on The Bigger Challenge post this week:

For me, too, the revolution of the internet is one of time and space. That's what I can control now, and I love it. But I don't necessarily want to control the content that I fact, that's a quick road to crazyville; sometimes I go to bed with my head spinning from all the information I encountered that day.

I welcome the guidance of a teacher--someone who figures out what the learner needs and how to lead the learner there.

Jennifer's comment spawned on image in my mind of how easily it is to become overwhelmed by too much information, too many options and too many directions to explore. In that state of mind, cutting out the middle man is cruel. Free ranging is abandonment. We need the "guide on the side" and scaffolding for our preliminary understanding. Chris Anderson addresses this as the essential role of aggregators in The Long Tail. Without a search engine, user rankings, tagged search results and recommendations based on past purchases -- the glut of offerings out in the long tail is overwhelming and inaccessible.

Kathy Sierra explores this "user control" issue often on Creating Passionate Users. She wants the user interface to not be a distraction to the workflow. Yet she's aware of the tradeoffs in "how much control should our users have?" Letting the inmates run the asylum gives the learners too much control. When we are considering content offerings from portals at the magnitude of amazon or netflix, the guidance of a teacher is a very good idea.

Abandonment is not a problem inside game metaverses. Very few options are available at any given time. The gamer can work through the choices in the present situation without a teacher controlling the content in the game. The spatial context eliminates overwhelm. It's not possible to be on every level of every realm right now -- like it is in the blogosphere or web pages that Google searches. The "guide on the side" is built into the structure of levels. A spatial orientation prevents getting lost or confused by new options. Places look familiar. It's clear where danger is and how to go forward from here.

When gamers adopt that "epistemic frame", they are "good to go" without teachers. They can learn what they need when they need it and not get overwhelmed. It's great that content delivery is a thing of the past and middlemen are getting cut out of the deal. There's less interference with the fun of emergent learning by exploring, battling, strategyzing, building or creating both cooperatively and independently.

The Bigger Challenge redux

David Harper left a great comment on The Bigger Challenge post that helps grok more of the value of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

Thanks Tom, I am new to the blog and your long tail application here is interesting but I'm not convinced that "regard" is the key issue, if only because your x axis is loaded. Of course learners should be highly regarded (indeed, "learner regard" correlates with distribution: as participation distributes, learner regard is equivalent to, and requires, self-regard). Isn't more regard just always better instruction?

Thanks David. Inside the frame of "receiving instruction" or "consuming educational content" you are absolutely right. The only difference from classroom instruction is how accessible the learning is and how convenient it is to the consumer. The value, uses and benefits of the product are unchanged by moving it online. Your awareness of how "regard for the learner" depends on the "self regard of the instructor" suggests you are a self-directed learner (free ranger, wild gamer) yourself. You're not dependent on instructors to teach you - you go out and find what you need when you need it.

I wonder if the key is still in Anderson's original conception somehow: the long tail comes into being due to lower production & distribution costs. That is, great learning delivered in new mediums. To me, technology enables channels for delivery of great instruction. Sure, participation, resourceful contributors, two-way communication ..but great classrooms always had those. What's new is the breakdown of time and space!

Using broadcast television as an example: you're saying the delivery of great content has only been altered by VCR's and TIVO. The entertainment value of TV is not effected by time shifting your viewing or watching the show in the a different room at home. What about YouTube and volunteers joining production crews through MySpace? Chris Anderson is saying something more than the escape of time and space constraints -- as I read him. He's using concepts like democratization and aggregation in addition to the lower costs you mention. He's saying the long tail (asymptotic) curve is a paradigm shift from the short tail (bell curve).

Seth Godin has captured this change with his phrasing: "small is the next big thing". Short tail economics seeks the big seller, the one thing that gets the most viewers, buyers or learners. You're right that great teachers, content, products or services come about by regard for the learner/customer which yields some participation. Think: one of the biggest shows on TV -- American Idol where the viewers vote. Long tail economics thrives as "the little guy with the small following". Think: microbrews, indie music labels, bloggers and each tutorial on

To be tactical about it, my own little business was inspired by For $30/month, I can view software tutorials from at, from the best software teachers in the world. I can learn CSS from Eric Meyer himself, watching over his shoulder really (and truly it doesn't get any better, short of sitting next to him). Before, that would have been impossible (too expensive, etc). What has changed? Not control or regard. He still controls and his (their) regard for me, as the learner, is quite high. What's changed is that technology rendered time (i can watch anytime) and space sort of irrelevant.

What you're saying about cost, space and time is accurate, David. But what has also changed is:
    • who can author tutorials and get a following,

    • how soon after learning something they can turn around and teach it - before getting recognized as an expert,

    • how much better the instruction is because the new instructor recalls the difficulties in his/her own learning this,

    • how easy it is to create a tutorial compared to using the short tail distribution channels of book publishing, college degree programs or broadcast networks.
Anderson is saying the tools of production and distribution are getting democratized. Publishing, multimedia design, audio/video production, social networking, sales/subscriber management and Web 2.0 start-ups are possible on your desktop. That home-grown, prosumer, free agent productivity is replacing big business, hardware acquisition, staggering payroll/ marketing expense and costly venture capitalization.

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Feasibility of offering the free range

Wendy added a very insightful comment to The Bigger Challenge yesterday. Today was "mentoring Monday" so I am slow in responding, but glad to add to her ideas -- now that I'm back. Wendy wrote:

I see a number of levels that need to be considered when building this model / incorporating some of your / Jay Cross' / Stephen Downes' / George Siemens ideas:

Very nice! Anytime we look at a situation through several pairs of eyes (frames of reference, points of view) we will come up with better solutions.

1) Environment: How ARE the learners regarded? If the learners are seen as stupid dolts - the chances of even considering a "free ranging" solution is much less.

Yes! Like an audit to determine the feasibility of new financial investment: the current state of affairs, political context and obstacles to implementation would be revealed in how the learners are regarded. It could make or break the deal.

2) Learners: Are you working with a group of people willing to take responsibility. There's always at least 1 person per class (usually more) who will say "you never taught me that." As if it is the teacher's responsibility for making them think.

Good point. The more informal, uncontrolled and self-structured the learning becomes, the more the learners have to be responsible for what they learn. If they are blaming the instructor and shirking responsibility, they're not ready for free ranging. You can take a chicken out of the barnyard, but you cannot get the barnyard out of that chicken.

3) Instructors/Experts: Are the people "delivering" the learning more inclined towards "control freak" tendencies, or are they open. I think this has a lot to do with the instructor's experience with 1 and 2. Of course, in your free range scenario, this comment assumes that someone actually plays this role.

As you suggest, it's very likely that "control freak" instructors or instructional designers will occur in the same workplace as learners avoiding responsibility for their own learning and and managers regarding them as something less than resourceful contributors. They feed off each other and maintain their closed minded worldview with the evidence provided by the others. It's a self-sustaining ecosystem. Likewise for the workplaces that exhibit high regard for the learners will attract and retain professionals who are open minded, flexible and collaborative with the learners who take responsibility for their learning. That ecosystem of perceptions is equally self-reinforcing.

4) Clients: You mentioned that "free range learning" cannot be commoditized. Yet we have clients who expect something that at least resembles a traditional solution from their instructional designers.

Free range learning cannot be built. You cannot hire employees who are then assigned to create all the blogs, web sites, podcasts and videos the people on payroll will find and use. The sequence, pace, evaluations and interactions, while using the free range, cannot be designed. It's a question of letting go: "it's out there, go get it, take what you need and leave the rest, ask if you get lost, share what you find that will help the rest of us".

Clients who do not want all that are not wild gamers. Conventional clients have high control needs and a low tolerance of ambiguity. They are the opposite of free agents, cultural creatives and Web 2.0 entrepreneurs. Yes they want instructional designs by ADDIE, centralized and uniform content delivered through controlled formats. That's their loss and misguided attempt to survive by competing, isolating and defending their turf.

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The bigger challenge

When I wrote The Long Tail of Formal Instruction, I was thinking about all the forms of instructional design and the degree of control/conformity they impose on the learners. The next day, I explored how difficult it is for those in power to let go enough to trust an utilize more informal designs. That got me thinking about the psychological dimensions of learning outcomes.I've since realized I was naively assuming that a change of design would be enough to yield better outcomes. I now suspect that there is a bigger challenge: how the learners are regarded. I mentioned that in passing in the original post. Yet it now deserves to be placed "front and center".
How the learners are regarded functions as a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we're seen as people who are very talented, we will find it much easier to come across as resourceful in that light. If we're are pictured as a bunch of losers, we will fall into that incapacitated frame of mind more easily. I previously wrote about this as "getting framed".

In the context of instructional designs, if executives regard their employees as "clueless idiots", compliance training will make sense and be tolerated by most the troops without question. Any attempt to set up a community of practice, wiki or space for conversations will fail while the participants are regarded at anything less than resourceful contributors.

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Reflective Moments

Upon further reflection of my post: A time for every kind of blogging, I realized "unteachable moments" needed an upgrade. Wendy got me thinking about using blogging to process experiences. I realized I do that all the time and I would not call that "offline" or "unteachable". That tied into the premise of blogging transparency popularized by Scoble and Israel in their book Naked Conversations. Changing the diagram would be true to the principle of "giving an incomplete", "continual dress rehearsals" or "endless beta release". I also got the picture of us bloggers:
    • thinking out loud
    • sorting out our minds in public view
    • displaying what we're thinking
    • saying what we have in mind
So the diagram has been revised to follow teachable moments with reflective moments where we are revealing for the benefit of the blogosphere:

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Why I blog?

After adding a comment to Tim's blog about "how I blog" awhile back, he tagged me today with the meme of "Why I blog?". In the same week with my three posts about blogging, plus Tony's post about mine and the comments on both our blogs, the answer came easily. I've even been discussing my reasons for blogging with people in my real world this week. It's like Tim is a shill I planted in the audience to set me up perfectly for my next act. Seven reasons come to mind. Thanks for asking :)

Communing with kindred spirits: This is the only facet of my life where I hang out with people who are as articulate and creative as me. We not only are all good with words, we all think deep thoughts, reflect on our own conduct and add valuable insights into the world. I think we are a very caring bunch to give to the world this way. We seem to all be fascinated with changes and better ways to do things which makes for great reads and reasons to subscribe to each others blogs.

Robust cross fertilization: I am a voracious reader in a variety of fields. In the years I taught college, I was drawing parallels from ecology, filmmaking, counseling psychology, quantum physics, game design, etc -- to the management topics I was teaching. The blogosphere is cross pollination on steroids. The number of opportunities I get is staggering --to synthesize opposing viewpoints, see the hidden connection between stances or combine seemingly disparate approaches. When I'm doing this, I feel creative and very satisfied.

Role congruence: Being a blogger fits me perfectly. I repeatedly get told I'm a "natural born teacher" (can you tell?). Mentoring entrepreneurs fits me to a "T" also. Both roles call upon abilities I have and love to use. I feel like I'm doing what I'm called to do when I blog and mentor. I have major misgivings about classroom teaching and executive seminars -- that have been validated and amplified by the blogs I subscribe to. Blogging and mentoring are outlets with none of the controlling, damaging, or inhibiting side effects for the learners of formal instruction.

Therapeutic benefits: Like Wendy and Tim, I find blogging to have healing effects on me. Without the daily postings I love to write, several chronic problems occur. My writing voice becomes less readable. My writing production declines. My thinking becomes insular and unrelated to my readers. My development of new ideas becomes stale. My focus darkens and dwells on what is ineffective, incompetent, or unjust in the world. All those problems vanish when I blog. Write two posts and call me in the morning.

Clarifying vague possibilities: I am far more imaginative than grounded. I have the classic personality type of a visionary innovator. Most of the bloggers I read provide wonderful balance to my temperament. Lofty issues and fanciful possibilities that are on my mind -- become more practical and useful under the influence of my favorite bloggers. Unlike cynical naysayers who shoot down my ideas, I get the best of both out of blogging. I manage to keep my head in the clouds while my feet find the ground. Others may become more imaginative and possibility oriented under the influence of my writing. We both end up as "visionary pragmatists".

Credentialing each other: So many of us seem creative and visionary, it's likely there are collaborations in our future. Blogging is a great way to check each other out. Unlike job listings and interviews, blogging is a long term look with more realism brought into the picture. There's no hype or claims about abilities, just saying what we have to say. There's less fear of being misled or deceived. Abilities and values alignment are evident in our writing, reactions to disagreements and contributions to others blogs with comments. Unlike the business world where intimacy so often breeds contempt, I'm finding the blogosphere to mostly breed respect and admiration. Unlike brief encounters, the prolonged exposure we get to each other develops deeper insight into what we care about and handle gracefully.

Making a difference: I always want to make a difference in others' lives. Blogging is a great way to do that. Putting quality efforts into the world catches on contagiously and links to those who find them to be useful, valuable and beneficial. The blogosphere is prime real estate for "word of mouth advertising", unsolicited testimonials and the formation of of a fan base. Making a difference is a two way street here. There's none of that "give out buckets - get droplets back" deal we get into with needy parasites in the real world. The more difference I make in the blogosphere, the more difference you make in my life. Thanks!

In thinking about who I want to tag, I realized it was the entrepreneurs who I'm mentoring in Colorado USA. But none of them are blogging, so my question to them is "why not?"

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Transformed voices

As I mentioned previously, I've been thinking this week about the transformational effects of blogging. Brent's questioning the value of ISD is also outside the predictable, continuous box of "more of the same". Dave Lee's comparison of instructional designers to alchemists invokes the image of transforming lead into gold.

Tony is anticipating a transformation as he ponders where and how the next generation of tools requires a major leap, not incremental improvements. Tony relates this to The Innovator's Dilemma where a company needs to sabotage its success and cannibalize its current products to reinvent itself sufficiently. Wendy had some of this mind with her helpful post: Experimenting with Letting Go.

George Siemens also writes about transformation in his book: Knowing Knowledge:

The learner may engage in attempts to transform the ecology beyond his/her own network. Praxis, as a cyclical process of reflection, experimentation and action, allows the learner to critically evaluate the tools, processes and elements of an ecology or network. (p. 46)

I witnessed two transformations yesterday. I listened to Brent's Talkcast with David Williamson Shaffer, ostensibly about his book: How Computer Games Help Children Learn. What emerged from the dialogue between David and Brent was a transformation of the voice David used in his book.

If you've read my critique of the book, you know I found David Shaffer's concepts and organization to be inaccessible and difficult to apply.(Brent had a very different experience, that I'll make sense of in another post) This is a sharp contrast to Jay Cross' book: Informal Learning which is very accessible due to Jay's use of metaphors, personal stories and visual explanations.

Brent offered a different frame than the one David used in the book. David took advantage of the opportunity without hesitation. Brent's frame sought to continue an important conversation, fill in missing pieces of a new picture, get help with sticking points, see the nature of the change more clearly and value the book's message in other contexts.

David joined in and revealed his thinking about: reaching a wide audience, the objections of his publisher, the limited focus of his research and the arguments he makes in the book. This is not more of the same voice he used in the book. This is a transformed voice that is highly accessible, "readable" and captivating. David had to let go of his author role and reinvent himself as a facilitator of conversations and communities. He would say he is playing a different epistemic game now.

I'm currently reading Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors reveal how to make presentations sticky, in the sense defined by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. I have been disappointed that the opening chapters of Made To Stick are NOT sticky.

Yesterday I read the Heath Brothers' "bait to buy the book" at the Change This site: Talking Strategy. Their 27 page PDF is VERY sticky. Their voices have been transformed. They let go of the SME tone of the book and are practicing what they've been preaching. We can learn from their example, instead of their advice. The authors will likely "transform the ecology beyond their own network", as George Siemens would say.


A time for every kind of blogging

Harold Jarche's recent thoughts about Mike Newman's Teaching Defiance spawned a flurry of inspirations in my mind. I shared the first glimmer of those "lightbulbs" in my Free Range Chickens post as the way chickens eat when not getting fed by farmers. My two posts this week about blogging (Beware of Blogging and Learning Review) added another piece to the picture. Karyn and Dave both addressed the need for a less exclusive definition of blogging than the one I proposed. All that brings me to this way of picturing the times for different facets of blogging.

We enjoy occaisonal teachable moments where we are open to new content. We read blog postings, follow links, view slides, listen to podcasts or delve into books that were mentioned. We engage in Rational Discourse and make use of content providers and instructional designs. Formal learning occurs successfully. We are taking from the blogosphere. If we lose our dignity during these moments, we become addicted to being told what to think. We find "thinking for ourselves" (autonomy, defiance, critical reasoning) too painful to pursue.

We follow teachable moments with unteachable moments where we are open to personal reflections. We engage in Non-Rational Discourse where the realizations that occur to us cannot be taught to us. We've gone offline from the blogosphere. Learning occurs emergently. We may be constructing models and making sense if we are reflecting on explanations, theories, diagnostic protocals, or problem solving strategies. We may be free of conceptualizing if we are mastering physical or cognitive routines. If we get stuck in this phase, we are trapped in linguistic prisons.

We follow unteachable moments with expressive moments where we are open to words to write, pictures to include and diagrams to create. We are giving to the blogosphere with posts, quotes, links, and comments. We learn by teaching and teach what we need to learn. We take action to defend a viewpoint, challenge another's assertion or extend of line of exploration. We contribute to the group mind, idea space and dialogue. If we get stuck in this phase, we express our disconnection, self indulgence and conceit. We pump out postings that appear unrelated and uninformed by the blogosphere of other blogs and bloggers.

We follow expressive moments with conversational moments where we are open to changing our minds interactively. We are giving and taking --reciprocating with the blogosphere. We are getting feedback on what we wrote and changing our questions as a result. We are experiencing the blogosphere as a vibrant community of practice, learning landscape or unconference. We are learning where our own thinking is distorted and which is the right question to be asking right now. If we get trapped in this phase, we end up feeling persecuted and depleted by too much banter.

We follow conversational moments with teachable moments where we ...

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Learning review - Beware of Blogging

Adele wrote about and provided an example of learning reviews on her blog today. It responds in part to my post Beware of Blogging. I have "reciprocal effects" on my mind this week. So it came to mind to reciprocate and do a learning review of my post.

I intended to write about the transformational effects on me -- of blogging which I recently experienced with Brent and my sorting out the reactions to Stephen's critique of Jay's mixer analogy. My posting about blogging as a gift economy was recently quoted in an online school assignment. I found it in my blog reader was getting more trackbacks last week. That kindled my "meta-thinking" about the nature and benefits of blogging. That thinking is a level above what I'm reading, writing and realizing from the content of posts and links.

As I wrote the post, it took on a life of its own - mirroring what I was writing about. It grew into a post about recursive dynamics - which I stated as "Blogging is the repercussions and the reciprocities from responding to responses".

There we several indications that the post was valuable, but troublesome. Besides two comments, I had an email that alerted me to the reader's negative experience of it: scary, melancholy invoking, and "a bit put off by your belief that without people commenting on one's posts, a person really isn't a blogger."

Added clarification is called for about "the number of comments we get on our posts". It's less crazy-making to count the number of comments we give, than receive. We cannot know how our post reverberates through the minds of other bloggers or contributes to their writing. Besides comments, there are links to others' posts, quoting others' posts and writing about others or their posts. There's a big difference between reading an informative post and a post that gives us a mention, puts our words in another context, raises a new question from our insight or challenges our viewpoint to include another. I'm calling that transformational, and for me that's what my blogging is really about.

So I learned a lot:

  • My strategy of defining authentic blogging put out too much invalidation and set me up as some kind of judge - yuk!

  • Making a big announcement, without the transparency of this post, sets the wrong tone. We need more comfort, fewer wake up calls.

  • The emergence of "recursive value" at the end of the post about transformational effects shows me I have more to say on reciprocating, and a better metaphor to use.

  • Having pondered all this on and off today, I realized "ecological blogging" is a better way to convey what I'm seeing.

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Cutting out the middle man

Nick Kearney added a wonderful comment to Free Range Chickens yesterday:

Early adopters? I am not sure about that. Informal learning, from the free range perspective, has nothing to do with an incremental innovation that can be adopted by those already in the field. The two thirds are sceptical because however you dress it, informal learning is about cutting out the middle man, and those two thirds know that that is exactly what they are.
This is a profound sea change, that for many of those two thirds probably sounds like job loss. They won't be early or late adopters

Very nice! Learning from learners and learning without content delivery - offers "no further income" for centralized production enterprises. It's a similar problem that file sharing gives CD manufacturers, blogging gives print journalism and digital video gives movie houses. Perhaps a better term than early adopters would be 'early defectors" or free agents, cultural creatives, long-tailers or Web 2.0 entrepreneurs.

What happens when there is no middle man to organize the workshop, orchestrate the interactions or simulate the sequential stages of understanding? Jay Cross has some answers to this question in his book: Informal Learning.

  1. The learning is slow - It's like parking the car to get out and walk. It's not as efficient. It takes more time which is anathema to middle man enterprises where time is money and revenue is declining. Taking time means more is observed and appreciated. More is taken in and used later.
  2. The learning is spontaneous - It's like a highly productive conversation. The outcome cannot be planned or controlled. Much that comes about is fortuitous and a result of the particular gathering as it unfolds.
  3. The learning is improvisational - It's like a jazz band that learns to harmonize with different players' riffs that are different each time they play together.
  4. The learning is spellbinding - It's like sitting in the jury for the Vioxx lawsuit, being cast as the protagonist in a story that is being told visually and dramatically. The suspense is heightened by the unknowns, questions and conflicts.
  5. The learning is appreciative - It's like an unstoppable winner who learns from setbacks, rethinks his/her own strategies, casts threats as opportunities and welcomes the challenges posed by adversity.
  6. The learning is collaborative - It's like any solo learning will be extreme and out of balance - jumping to clueless conclusions. Learning is refined, moderated and balanced by communities, gatherings and teaming.
  7. The learning is networked - It's like what goes on inside your RSS feed reader. Bloggers are connected, responding to other blogs, combining what they are reading as they write and learn.
In other words, with the middle man out of the equation, the learning is dramatically enhanced.

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Politically radical - perfectly natural

The latest comments on Jay's post: All or Nothing inspired me to clarify my alignment with Stephen's rant. (Thanks to Mark Berthelemy and Donald Taylor). I have yet to link Stephen's use to my own of: traversing a network, the insubstantial nature of concepts and the role of pattern recognition in learning. Yet there is considerable overlap between us.

I've come to the conclusion that "free ranging learning" is a better name than "informal learning" for the kind of learning that cannot be mixed with formal learning. Free ranging learning is politically radical. Stephen addresses these political realities when he says:

What is happening here is that an attempt is being made to made what is actually a fairly radical position seem moderate by saying something like, "Oh no, it's the same thing you were doing, it's just tweaking a few variables."

Free range learning is also perfectly natural. It occur when its understood and supported, instead of devalued and opposed. Because it is politically radical approach, it cannot achieve academic respectability or commercial viability. Free range learning rules out key ingredients of either "marketable" approach in my understanding:
  1. Learning outcomes (comprehension, competency) exist as networks -- not as propositonal or linguistic structures. The combination of our internal and external networks comes up with "how to respond" without elaborate justifications or rationalizations. Chickens eat, digest and cluck without instructions.

  2. Delivered content, instructional designs and blended formal/informal approaches interfere with the ways learning occurs naturally and emergently. Chicken feed, additives and feed troughs mess up the natural balance home on the range.

  3. The premise of formal learning is not learning, but control. Informal learning is not different enough to change the underlying premise of control. Informal learning is a political compromise. Chickens can leave the chicken coup, but they have to stay in the barnyard.

  4. Free range learning happens when the learner is free to leave the classroom, opt out of the content, defy the control system and refuse to be fed. When freed of formality, they are free to learn naturally. Out on the range, chickens eat all they need when they need it without any professorial farmers in sight.

  5. Providing learners with this autonomous, discretionary, self directed terrain is similar to maintaining a network of resources and opportunities. Prairies are vast, inter-dependent ecosystems that maintain, repair and replicate themselves naturally.

  6. Slipping any amount of content, instruction or control corrupts the free range network (just like democracies falter with the loss of a few citizen rights). It cannot be combined or blended with any of those without signaling the learners that have been hoodwinked and betrayed. Put a feed trough out on the range and the chickens will know the barnyard is back.

  7. This terrain for natural learning (what Jay calls a learnscape) is more akin to wildlife ecology and game metaverses than gardens and landscaping. A garden overrun with weeds and invader species is more akin to the life of a free ranging chicken.
Hopefully this will help you relate to more of Stephen's critiquing Jay's mixer metaphor.

Beware of blogging!

You may be naively blogging, thinking you are becoming better informed and more knowledgeable. You may be reading and writing postings to keep current with changes and familiar with others in your field. If this is the case, you are unaware of being transformed by blogging. You are not the same person you were before you got deeply involved in the effects of blogging. You cannot go back to your former self. Mrs. Lot turned to salt when she looked back. All we can do is move forward from here.

Before blogging, you knew what you were good for and why you deserved to be paid. You understood how to get ahead and how to make a difference that got rewarded. You saw the problems to solve and the progress to make. You had convinced yourself of the game to play and the ways to win.

Blogging has trashed all that. You may find yourself apologizing for your past practices or confessing the habits of your former self. You may be bewildered about the future and what to do with your new found disorientation. You may be trying to go back into a paycheck prison, silencing your doubts and obliterating your heightened awareness.

Before blogging, you may have learned new skills and methods methodically. You probably gained confidence as someone who can pick up new technologies easily. You likely figured out how to set up and post to a blog like you taught yourself to use new software and e-commerce sites. You may have expected blogging to be useful like your shopping wishlists, browser favorites or office templates.

Now you're learning from other's examples. You're getting new questions instead of answers. You're experiencing leaps of insight, dawning realizations and spontaneous connections like never before. You may even be feeling less skillful and less capable of figuring new tools out on your own.

Blogging is not what we've been told it is. It's not a shortened word for web log. It's not something that happens when we post anything to our blog or passively read other blogs. It's not in the XML that ports so easily into readers, mobile devices and emails. Blogging is the difference that goes somewhere among us.

Blogging is in the blogging about blogging like this post. It's in the blogging about bloggers and their exemplary conduct, inspiring contribution, useful insights or productive collaborations. It's in the blogging about other blog posts that raise new questions, change the conversation, expose new possibilities or reframe the familiar facts. It's in the blogging about comments on a blog post that validate, contradict, challenge or stretch the previous thinking.

If a blog post does not feed back into the blogosphere, that's not blogging. That's merely informative -- or it's the formal learning we did before blogging took hold. If the value of your blogging is not endlessly recursive, then you can conceive of your value like before. If a blog post goes nowhere, that's a web log: an online personal diary.

Blogging is the repercussions and the reciprocities from responding to responses. That circularity transforms how you are valuable and how you learn. That's what emerges naturally by blogging among us.

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Game over - play again?

Books like Got Game? and Everything Bad is Good For You suggest that gamers are learning to see life as a game. This is a good thing. What wild gamers learn to accomplish inside a game -- gets redeployed in their real life. One of those "meta-skills" is the ability to start over, no problem! Successful serial entrepreneurs, free-lancers and frequent job changers --all exhibit this skill-set and worldview. Letting go and moving on comes easily to gamers.

Brent's response to the LCB Big Question for February is a wonderful example of thinking through the possibility of starting over.
"Do we still add value to the new learning equation?"
"Does your company really need you (me, us) any more?"
"..where's the added value from ISD?"
"What is it that we actually bring to the party?"
I spent most of yesterday with a home repair/remodeling entrepreneur I'm mentoring. He is also considering the possibility of "game over - play again?" The kind of learning occurs when we are questioning our basic assumptions. The learning is deep, emergent and free ranging. Marc Oehlert revealed how anthropologists learn this way with a culture whose rituals and humor appear opaquely incomprehensible.

This worldview and skill set is not an innovation of gamers. What's new is learning all this without being taught or formally trained this way. As Brent said playfully:

People learn just [fine] without us. And not only that, the web is making it possible for people to...GASP...learn from each other...WITHOUT us! Holy career crashers, Batman!

3000 years ago, this kind of "letting go" was called "emptiness". It serves as the basis for "winning without a battle" in Chapter 6 of Sun Tzu's The Art of War". It's a common facet to every enlightenment tradition that speaks of awakening from an illusion, entering a new life, transforming consciousness or becoming reborn.

Our contemporary culture speaks of this as starting from scratch, greenfields, tabla rasa or blank slates. This is the premise of sunset laws that expire on a predetermined date and zero base budgeting that eliminates programs on a schedule. Instead of assuming the law or budget is still needed and useful, it's assumed it's no longer useful. The burden of proof is put on the proponents of continuity. The value must be established on a new basis and with new reasons.

The only way to keep playing is to start again - game over!


Free range learners

Jay's fondness for "free range learning" appears to have been waylaid back into the barnyard by the polarized feedback he received in Las Vegas. Stephen is appropriately alarmed by the loss this implies for all us chickens. Perhaps I can show the way back to our home on the range.

The range is free of additives put into chicken feed. Thus free range chickens are free of coercion, co-optation, confinement and controlled movement.

Every happy chicken knows that continuums are better than positional stances. Chicken Little made his own misery by taking the positional stance of a true believer to insist the "sky is falling". Thinking that free range learning is a question of balance, blending and mashing appears wise. Yet Jay's offering of chicken mash is raising a ruckus and a balance between the henhouse and free range movement seems to be highly objectionable.

There is a different problem with farmers who are "pulling a fast one" on us chickens. They take chickens out of the henhouse and show them the barn, saying this is the free range. It's bigger and has more room to maneuver. But it's not free movement or free of the chicken feed with the additives. Less confinement is not free ranging. A free range is really something on its own. It cannot be provided partially or incrementally.

Compared to the henhouse, feed trough or barn, the free range is a paradigm shift. It's not a better henhouse or improved chicken feed. No amount of enhancements to the barnyard will result in a free range. Yet paradigm shifts move forward without looking back. Early cell phone providers had signal strength and interoperability issues to resolve. They did not need to disparage pay phones and landlines to get cell phone use accepted.

The technology speaks for itself when a paradigm shifts. The value was evident without pushy sales pitches when CD's replaced tape players, iPods/iTunes replaced CD's and TIVO replaced VCR's. Discontinuous innovations can let the continuous, incremental changes in the obsolete paradigm fall by the wayside. The new paradigm successfully pulls free ranging users into early adoption.

Farmers think chickens won't eat if they are not fed. That's delusional. Chickens feed themselves on the free range. Builders of barns, feed troughs and chicken coops think the free range has to be built too. They've never seen formal structures spring up like a meadow, stand of trees, blogosphere, wiki or social networking site. How could a free range for chickens come about emergently, naturally and ecologically?

Free range chickens do more than eat. They take time to digest and cluck about it all. It's a lot like learners who have teachable moments open to new content, unteachable moments open to personal reflection and conversational moments open to new questions. (Thanks for "Teaching Defiance" Harold!) The problem is with the chicken feed from the farmers, not chicken food on the free range.

Free range chickens take on the patterns of wild gamers (pheasant, grouse, guinea hens). The free range is more than where the deer and antelope play. Often is heard a discouraging word. There are griefers and gankers to contend with in their metaverse (wolves, coyotes, foxes). There are both levelers and raiders among the chickens (flocks and roosters). Free range chickens are sufficiently empowered and self reliant to fend for themselves in this vast network of challenges, opportunities and possibilities.

Free rangers: Carry On!