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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  1. Tom - I've been reading your posts the past few weeks and I think you are onto something....

    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:

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    I wish I more fully understood what you gentlemen are up to....

    It sounds really promising, revolutionary, and scary on a number of levels.

    I can't wait to see where this thinking goes.....

  2. 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?

    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!

    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.

  3. David's post captures some of my reactions to this on-going discussion.

    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.

    In fact I get all teary-eyed when I think of the really good teachers I have encountered, or that my children currently have. (And all glazy-eyed when I think of the 'less-good' ones).

    Call me Canadian, but I don't see the need to dump the hierarchy. (It'll just get replaced by a new one anyway).

    An employer certainly has the right to expect its employees to master certain content. How they get there is another question, to which the internet provides some alternative answers.

  4. Thanks for all the wonderful comments Wendy, David and Jennifer. I'm quoting all three of you in new posts so everyone can see what you've said.