Sizing up the opposition

Stephen Downes has added a wonderful comment to Education Reform that challenges my thinking about the ways the changes will come about. His thoughts are well worth reading in their entirety. I'll be quoting his comments extensively in the next several posts.

When we are in favor of any change, we encounter those who favor stability. In these situations, it's tempting to misjudge the opposition and fall for their deceptive tactics. It's even possible to "bark at the decoy" and miss where the real resistance lies. I agree with Stephen's assessment of industry's role in the resistance to educational reforms:

The existing state of education, rather than being one in which the "engine is government" is one designed and controlled to a large degree by industry, with the willing compliance of government.

Industrial democracies have let down "we the people" by their courts giving rights to corporations. Their legislatures are under-funding policy enforcement and the leadership forsaking their oversight role to prevent the harmful effects of corporate irresponsibility. It appears that corporations are in control of social priorities, debates and legislative agendas. Industrial democratic governments have been reduced to lapdogs, hand maidens and co-conspirators. All is not as it appears, however.

Sometimes a show of strength reveals real power and control of the situation. Other times, a show of strength is a sign of weakness. Bullies overcompensate for their troubling insecurities by being obnoxious. Immobile predators put on a display of prowess to intimidate their enemies. Sharks are vulnerable to flank attacks by dolphins bludgeoning their rib cages.

In business, when "size is the prize - the game is over". The next innovation will come from a garage somewhere, not the R&D labs that have been bureaucratized into making slight improvements. Big business is asking for trouble by its size, harmful side effects, and propensity to make enemies.

I see industry's obstruction of educational reform as mere intimidation tactics. Industry has many reasons to be really insecure, vulnerable and inherently powerless. Their bullying sends a loud message about how much they are in peril. Stephen continues:

Industry will not easily let go of its control of education. Nor will it easily surrender to "distributed and democratized methods." What industry preserves is not merely a certain way of doing things but also a social order in which the 'captains of industry' enjoy disproportionate wealth and influence.

I agree that industry will not let go and will think it can preserve a social order of inequality and exploitation. That's how they will lose out in the end. The way to catch a monkey is to put a banana in a sealed box with a hole large enough for the monkey's hand to slip through. The monkey will cling to the banana at all cost, just like an invader that cannot withdraw from foreign territory while depleting every available resource.

Reversals of fortune occur when the big shot gets over confident. "The first become last" when hubris, conceit and arrogance overrule humility, sensitivity and responsiveness. Clinging to pride and past successes proves to be the winner's undoing.

The way to achieve a "Cinderella victory" is to count on the predictable victor succeeding by clinging to what has always worked. Coming from behind, defeating the giant with a slingshot, tricking the witch to break her spell -- all occur by relying on the opponent's tenacity. The tyrant's inability to let go -- proves to be his or her downfall.

So I agree on the existing appearances of power and control, but not what that means or implies for educational reforms. (to be continued).


Educational reform

It's not possible to reform educational systems. That's been proven time and again during the past century of failed school reforms. Talk of change gets stuck in the idea stage because education systems are "the exhaust coming out the tailpipe". The engine is government and education is a side effect of how the governing happens. Education will be transformed when governments change regimes.

The industrialized world is governed by industrial democracies. They consistently create results that cannot be produced by agrarian and nomadic societies. Industrialized economies proliferate solutions made possible by centralized controls, applied metrics and systematized efficiencies. Mass production joins co-dependently with mass consumption. The lifestyles in these democracies are materialistic and addictive. The harm to the planet and the disruption of communities are regarded as insignificant: a small price to pay for all this manufactured splendor.

The inability to educate effectively is built into the industrial paradigm. Individual attention is inefficient and too costly. Allowing each student to develop uniquely is a quality control breakdown that lets deviant and defective components out of the factory. Giving the student freedom to explore independently is a regression to nomadic and agrarian (primitive, uncivilized, peasant) paradigms.

The perpetuation of industrial democracies lies in the conformity produced by "big business" delivering textbooks and standardized tests. The unyielding devotion to classrooms, tests, grades and certification is built into every post-agrarian democracy's need for industrialized education. Without that, the jobs would be filled by "a bunch of farmers" who have no clue how to vote in elections about sophisticated, technological and industrial issues.

We are currently in a transition to networked democracies. Corporations will see their charters rewritten as the principles of Capitalism 3.0 (PDF)take hold. Centralized production and distribution facilities will be replaced by distributed and democratized methods. Journalism and broadcast media are currently undergoing that change from consolidation by conglomerates to citizen rejuvenation by Web 2.0. Democracies will evolve into more direct participation with less centralized representation that gets tainted by industrial lobbyists. Quality control will be emergent from the networked, leaderless, distributed participation.

The new institutions that emerge will fit William Strauss's and Neil Howe's model of a "first turning". A preliminary disintegration is a necessary part of the process. Dave Pollard provides a constant supply of insights into this fourth turning. His recent "A crooked broker society" characterizes much of this darkness before the dawn. As Dave says:

It is evidence of a culture in the terminal stages of decline and disintegration.

All this leads me to the following conclusions:
  1. It is futile to reform education. It will change naturally when we shift to networked democracies.

  2. The democracies will change as the economies, systems and premises of capitalism change.

  3. These changes have been initiated by technologies, but will take hold when the next generation takes them for granted as they come into power.

  4. The ways industrialized democracies have governed and educated their citizens will not make sense to children raised in the freedoms of vast networks.


Influencing self-confidence

People gain self-confidence in our presence when we are curious about them and their thought processes. By being interested in their lines of reasoning, they become more interesting, resourceful and capable of acting confident. If we are also curious about how their confidence grows, we will explore different ways to have an effect on their esteem, resolve and efficacy.

People with self-confidence can make choices on their own. They rely on their better judgment. They have broken an unhealthy dependency on others' advice. They have discovered their own priorities to be a better guide. They go within to get a sense of direction. They have experienced being reliable in relationships that trusted them, saw their potential and valued their contribution. They have outgrown their hysterical, fearful and guilt-based ways to lack self-confidence.

You may choose to disagree with this. Some people think they can build another's self-confidence without being curious and inquisitive. Others think confidence is something fascinating that people grow on their own. It's up to you to choose between fixing people's broken self-confidence with your advice or trusting the effect of your showing an interest in their growth and experiences.

There's two ways to send a message of encouragement to people in need of more self confidence. One way is very direct and tells them to take pride in their efforts and to act more confident. The other way indirectly sends a message that increases their confidence by trusting them to make choices on their own. As you make up own mind as to whether a direct or indirect approach works best for you, consider which approach I'm using with you.

Some people see self-confidence as highly contagious. When they have enough confidence in themselves to show confidence in other people, the others become more confident. They let people catch on to where they are coming from, how they come across and how they see those others.

Others see self-confidence as highly elusive. They are plagued by people oscillating between self pity and grandiosity; too little and too much confidence. They cannot get others to find the middle ground or get the pendulum to stop swinging wildly. They know that other's self confidence has nothing to do with them or their own outlook. They disregard where they are coming from personally, how they come across and how they see the others.

I'm confident you can work through these issues and choose the ways to have a positive effect on others' confidence that make the most sense to you.


The effects of business models

Harold Jarche has been encouraging us to question the industrial models for business that are still in use. (It's the model stupid, Management is the problem, How our structures shape us). As more people discover the effects of current business models on themselves, their communities and the environment, the impetus and support for change will increase. Meanwhile the proponents and defenders of the "big business", "shareholder wealth" and "corporate greed" models will continue to spin their self-congratulatory story.

The effects created by antiquated (centralized, command & control, top down, hierarchal, short tail) models are very similar to the negative effects of formal instruction on learners. Let's see if you can discover what those similar effects are.

If a model is closed to outside inputs, criticisms and contradictory perspectives, does that have the effect of increasing stability or the effect of inviting disaster?

If a model is providing consistent information from a centralized source, does that have the effect of getting everyone on the same page or silencing the community of diverse contributors?

If a model is generating wealth for shareholders, does that have the effect of enhancing market reputation or increasing public resentment?

If a model presumes to maintain control over "powerless pawns in the system", does that have the effect of structuring effective lines of communication and accountability, or the effect of eviscerating most people's curiosity, confidence, motivation and creativity.

For more about changing models see:

The Long Tail of formal instruction

Moving into the long tail

High performance networks solve the problems

Well marked exits

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More curiosity

I wonder how learners come by more curiosity. Do you suppose it's contagious? Perhaps they get to wondering when someone else wonders out loud when they listen or in print as they read. I wonder if curiosity can be learned by example. Perhaps there is more curiosity after someone has demonstrated being curious and full of questions.

I'm questioning the effects we have on learners' curiosity. I don't know what makes people have more curiosity. I don't even know if we can make learners be more inquisitive. Perhaps curiosity is an autonomous function that cannot be influenced by others. On the other hand, curiosity might be totally dependent on how the learner is seen, related to and treated with information by other learners.

I'm amazed at how inquisitive youngsters are. They are full of questions and undeterred by a grownup's lack of fascination. I wonder if curiosity is a natural born trait that gets stifled by socialization and testing. I'd be amazed if teaching people "there's one right answer" does not have an effect on their curiosity.

I wonder if curiosity is irrepressible and we're merely pretending to be disinterested and bored. I wonder how it's even possible for someone to have their mind made up and say they have no further questions. Isn't everything too complex and mysterious to ever be so confident and closed minded?

I wonder if all this has made you more curious than a list of bullet points about having the effect of "increasing curiosity" like:

  • think with questions
  • wonder out loud
  • say what you don't know
  • demonstrate fascination and innocence
  • raise doubts a dilemmas
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How the revolution occurred

Guardians of established institutions (educational, economic, governmental) were all on guard for threats to their stability, continuity and viability. They knew to watch out for powerful opponents that might gain notoriety in the public press, positions on boards or seats in legislatures. They remained vigilant against those that sought revolutionary changes, disruptive revisions and chaotic situations.

These guardians failed to watch out for powerless, under age citizens. They saw no harm in creating technology, products and sales to those insignificant members of society. They never imagined the revolution could infiltrate though picture phones, text messaging and broadband connections. They did not see the warning signs in the use of remote controls, email and P2P file sharing.

This revolution went undetected for another reason. It's a transformation of the kind Marshall McLuhan characterized insightfully. A subtle revolution is a bias of the popular media or an effect of using a ubiquitous technology. It changes everything because the extension of human abilities created by the technology is so powerful, pervasive and easily taken for granted. These particular technologies are uncontrolled like sounds we hear and tribes that distribute power to each member.

The powerless, under age citizens do not feel powerless. They have learned how to learn in their world of cell phones, online resources and games. Their tools support them acting resourceful, adventurous and collaborative. Their need for delivery systems is minimal. Their potential use of discovery systems is phenomenal. They are being raised on self realizations and personal finds.

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Regarding the recent revolution

The infiltration was very successful. There were no casualties reported. The revolution occurred off radar and undetected by the vigilant gatekeepers. The new regime won the war without a battle. The changes have already been accepted in the courts of public opinion, diplomatic channels and economic alliances. The outcome was not deterred by the obstinacy of failed states, systems or reforms. The "post-war" education system, economy and multi-lateral governance structures are emerging.

As Pete Reilly suggests, the situation calls for outreach, diplomacy and new-found respect. Battles, counter insurgencies and escalation of hostilities is senseless. It is also senseless to act as if the revolution has not happened. We do not need to make the changes occur. All that really remains is to get on board, see how everything has been transformed for us and join in the fun.

Citizens of the revolution are "under-age". They cannot vote or drive cars yet. They do not yet have control of the education system, economy or governance structures. Their impact is low profile among power brokers and corporate control systems. These revolutionaries can text message and take pics with their cell phones. They can go online to play games, shop and socialize like it's second nature to them. They are "listening to the beat of a different drummer", inside a new paradigm and living life on different premises.

Respect for these under-age revolutionaries and the mostly undetected transformation -- is a big challenge. Those of us with pre-revolutionary outlooks have a lot to learn. We will do a better job of that if we approach what we're not seeing -- with curiosity, self confidence, self-motivation and creativity. If we think of ourselves as learners, discoverers and adventurers, we will fit in much sooner than identifying ourselves as powerful experts and defenders of correct stances. Thinking with questions will get us a lot further than thinking with familiar answers.

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Affecting other learners

What effect do you have on the readers of your blog? What other ways could you affect them? What effect does it have to think of yourself as a learner like the rest of us? How might other learners affected by your thinking "you're not a learner: you're an expert, author or professor?"

These are questions about affecting other learners. The effects you're having on learners is something that can be learned, but cannot be taught to you. These effects have to be discovered for yourself. If you're a totally free range learner, that's all I need to say. You can take it from here and discover answers to every question about the effects you have on other learners.

If you're like me, you experience value in the combination of structure and personal freedom. I like guides on the side of my own exploration. I have many uses for frameworks to organize my discoveries. I don't need to be told what to think, but it helps to be given structures to think with. I am more likely to uncover what effects I am having on other learners if I have some ideas about what I'm looking for and how to discern what I find. Frameworks even help me formulate better questions for my own explorations.

Here's the first of many frameworks for discerning our effects on other learners. This one is the most straightforward. It deals with the most immediate effects on learning. This framework raises many questions.

Effect on curiosity: After we say or do anything, other learners will be more or less curious. We can feed or starve their sense of wonder and fascination. They will show signs of inquisitiveness or boredom. We can make their future seem like a mystery or the same old story.

Effect on self confidence: Our conduct can change how powerful other learners feel. What we say can increase their sense of efficacy, validity and self respect or diminish all that. Other learners will end up feeling more resourceful or more insecure. We can strengthen or weaken their capacity for feedback, criticism and contradictory outlooks.

Effect on self motivation: The way we come across can free people from seeking approval or make them more needy, dependent and reactive to dispproval. We can restore their intrinsic motivation or dismiss their need to be inspired. They will show signs of doing their own thing with satisfaction or playing our game out of desperation.

Effect on creativity: Whatever we say and do can either inspire variety or conformity. We give permission to deviate or threaten penalities to eliminate disagreement. We make it seem right to play with the meaning they create or right to play by the rules, established evidence and verified facts. We allow inventiveness or require adherence.

Having said all this, I'm now full of wonder about the effect that reading this had on your curiosity. I'm confident I can use what contradicts my understanding and wonder how resourceful you're feeling too. I'm curious how your motivation has been affected too. I wonder how creative you'll be about learning from this, making your own sense of it and inventing a personal approach to discovering the effects you're having on other learners.


Vanishing distinctions

I'm pleased with the progress I've made over the past three days in developing a working prototype of a learning experience that focuses on effects. Yesterday Jay added another facet to the metaphors about free range learning: a ubiquitous chicken house. That sparked a series of inspirations in my mind about vanishing distinctions.

A bit of background first. When we gain a distinction, we become judgmental. We draw a line, tell the difference and separate the one into two irreconcilable halves. When a distinction vanishes, we become non-judgmental. We embrace the paradox, speak of the whole and see both halves as two sides of one coin.

Here are four distinctions that appear to be vanishing now:

Mobile computing is removing the distinctions between being somewhere and being on the move, being inside and outside, or being in a location and being everywhere at once. Thus Jay's ubiquitous hen house.

When we are capability developers on that shared mission, learning is instructing and instructing is learning, or SME's are learning and learners are SME's. The distinctions created by expertise give way to the predominant unknowns about how each person will become capable in their own way, in their own time, with their own sense of purpose, motivation and value.

When we adopt a post modern worldview, content is feedback and feedback is content. Objective data is subjective and subjective impressions are objective data. The clear distinction between fact and interpretation is replaced by the overwhelming variety of different outlooks, frames of reference and personal narratives.

When changes appear cyclical (like the four seasons, phases of the moon, tides, etc), change is stability and stability is change. The more things change the more nothing changes. The unchanging patterns of change replace the evidence of changes.

Thinking cannot handle paradox. Thinking is based on distinctions. Thinking goes into dilemmas, conundrums or circular contradiction when "either/or" becomes "both/and". Paradox can only be grasped holistically -- without thinking. Non-judgmental awareness is a mindless way to see things.

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Disqualified gatekeepers

In a comment on yesterday's M.Ed in informal learning, Pete Reilly asked: "Any ideas on next steps?" I'm foreseeing four steps before academic credit for this approach will be given serious consideration by the gatekeepers:

  1. Rethink trust and credibility issues in order to get buy-in from early adopters and eventual gatekeepers

  2. Rapidly develop a working prototype that achieves the intended effects and transitions the learners successfully into this unfamiliar approach

  3. Offer free trials to learners and instructors in order to provide first hand experience of the effects to them and feedback from them to refine the working prototype

  4. Archive (using blogs & wiki) the personal experiences, perceptions of value, concerns raised and flaws identified by users of the prototype.
Future postings will explore steps 2,3 and 4. I'll focus of the first step today: getting buy-in by establishing trust and credibility. This approach implies a very different set of credentials than those admired by academia. Consider the following list of pedagogical qualifications:
  • Nurtures the cultivation of better questions, deeper thoughts and broader horizons by the attention to context instead of the relentless delivery of content.

  • Restores interest in subject matter by pulling for the learners, taking an interest in the students' viewpoints, concerns, confusion and self-interest

  • Takes partial responsibility for a student's loss of motivation, curiosity or creativity

  • Devotes time to learn from her teaching experiences, to change his own conduct, to revise the personal example being provided and to restore her own curiosity.
Instructors with these pedagogical qualifications would have the effect of increasing informal learning. In their presence, students would become more curious, exploratory and free ranging. The learning will be more valuable. Instructors with these qualifications would trust others who produce these same effects. These same qualifications would give others credibility and prove they were not hypocrites, scam artists or spin doctors.

Instructors without these pedagogical qualifications undermine the learners' curiosity, creativity and self motivation. The instructor's attempts to generate interest in the subject matter backfire. They set an example of someone who "talks the talk but cannot walk the walk" of effective learning. They cannot provide a living example of doing the right thing because they do not practice what they preach about learning from students, experiences and setbacks. These instructors do not earn respect or trust from students. They experience huge credibility problems by appearing so contradictory and hypocritical.

Instructors who fall short on affecting students favorably -- focus on their own academic credentials. They trust those who are qualified by research in the same area of expertise. They value peer-reviewed publications and insular accolades. They would not consider the qualifications they do not have. They would stick to their own kind and circle the wagons from anything different.

Gatekeepers with academic qualifications will remain opposed to M.Ed degrees that replace formal instruction with support for responsible learners. They are gatekeepers that can be disregarded as obsolete. Trust and credibility need only be established from gatekeepers with pedagogical qualifications, in order to move forward with offering this approach.


M.Ed in informal learning

What if there was a M.Ed. degree program in informal learning. It would have to be learned informally -- so as to not breed hypocrites who "talked informal learning but walked formal instruction". The emphasis in the program would shift from what the graduates know -- to the effect they have on other learners. Each participant would upgrade the examples they provide for imitation learning by others. Everyone would be responsible for their contribution to the community. The educational experiences would be initiated and nurtured by staff who think of themselves as learners; not as professors, published authors or experts.

A program like this would have a mission and stay "on mission" naturally. The mission might be "cultivating the ability to affect other learners in ways that yield more informal learning". Everyone would be in the same boat, working on the same mission together. Each would be discovering how to affect others to learn more, to be more curious, and to enjoy learning more. As I mentioned previously:

"Distinctions fade away between instructor and learner, SME and designer, or formal and informal learning... Everyone is committed to developing capabilities and the process effects everyone significantly."

Compare this to conventional college degree programs. There are clear distinctions and power distance between the experts and learners. Instead of working toward a common purpose collaboratively, the students and faculty are working at cross purposes competitively. Professors are also in silos of specialization, fighting turf battles within their academic departments and schools within the university. Examples are being demonstrated to lose sight of the mission, engage in tactical skirmishes and struggle against potential collaborators. Formal instruction is heralded as the way to win, while its effects are obviously toxic, dysfunctional and disheartening.

Most current faculty are teaching in the way they were taught. The cycle of ineffective, formal instruction is endless. There's no way out until a new cycle of informal learning breeds a new generation of capability developers who are "on-mission" and collaborative.


Responsible learners

Most students in classrooms are like migrant workers getting transported on the back of a truck. The driver cannot be responsible for the bumps in the road that send a few workers flying off the truck. The driver cannot slow down or take time to listen to a worker's questions, concerns and worries. The truck gets where it's going regardless of how many workers stayed on board.

This becomes a stalemate. If the classroom instructor cannot be responsible for each student's experience, then the students will not be responsible either. Everyone is acting irresponsible for each other and for what could be learned from their mutual torment. This lesson of irresponsibility gets ignored repeatedly, even when the lesson is extremely tragic like Columbine High School eight years ago and Virginia Tech this week.

I expect most classroom learning will vanish in the coming decade. The web is an ideal technology to support responsible learners and mentors. Returning to the analogy of the truck of migrant workers, here's what will be different when classrooms get replaced by the next generation of online learning. Each migrant worker will have:

  • a steering wheel to turn the truck where they want to go immediately, to spend some time or to explore for the first time

  • a gear shift to back up and go over the same ground, to cover familiar ground quickly or to proceed cautiously

  • a brake pedal to slow down, stop and park while going off somewhere else

  • a gas tank that gets refilled with fuel for the progress they are making
Imagine if each student would not receive any instruction unless she or he asked a question, made a request or sought guidance. Nothing would happen until the student took responsibility for the next learning experience. No question -- no instruction, no forced feeding, no passive consumption. Once the student's request was handled, everything would ground to a halt until the student asked again.

Classroom educators pale at this thought. They assume (correctly IMHO) that students would quickly evacuate their classrooms. By taking responsibility for what they learn, how quickly and when, students would have no further use for classroom delivery systems. Why turn over the truck to an irresponsible driver when the freedom to take responsibility is supported by eLearning systems? Why be bored when learning can feel like an adventure? Why stand around in the back of the truck when every learner belongs behind the wheel?

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PLE's in context

"Personal learning environments" has taken on the contagious quality of getting tagged with a meme like "why I blog?" In reading all the posts about PLE's in my RSS reader of late, I've gained some insights into a larger picture. Here are four contexts for considering the value of PLE's.

In a policy enforcement context, a PLE would be filled with misinformation. Like office grapevines and vicious rumor mills, information gleaned from outside or internal underground sources would be considered counterfeit, toxic and corrupting. Any PLE would undermine the transition from non-compliance to conformity. A PLE would be useless in this context where compliance training and policy enforcement meets the mandatory objectives.

In a problem solving context, a PLE could be used as part of a blended instructional design. Learners could subscribe to relevant feeds, tags and searches in order to deepen their understanding of the content being delivered in the classroom. The PLE could support the transition from mindless conformity to professional productivity. Abilities to problem solve, handle different use cases, and troubleshoot setbacks -- could be enhanced by calling upon outside, online resources. A PLE could function like outside reading, field study projects and practicums in conventional, offline classrooms.

In a person liberation context, a PLE could give the learner the independence to explore the knowledge domain informally and collaboratively. This context addresses the change in regarding each person: from a means to an end, as Stephen Downes and Wesley Fryer recently considered. Learners could take initiative to discover what they needed when they needed it with the support of their PLE. These experiences would prepare them for functioning as free agents, entrepreneurs or community builders. The PLE would bring diverse "live bodies" into their experience, transitioning them from controlled interactions to uncontrolled participation in diverse communities.

In a process nurturance context, a PLE would be in a continual state of flux. Instead of maintaining subscriptions to reliable resources, the PLE would be reconfigured every time there was a different question, unknown or mystery being explored. This fluidity could assist the transition from supporting "the personal access to resources" to supporting "the personal process of reflecting, internalizing and synthesizing contradictory inputs".

With these four contexts in mind, it possible to comprehend why PLE's has no appeal to most CLO's, appears to be going mainstream, and is getting so much buzz among us eLearning fanatics.

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Learning from feedback

We are all inundated with feedback continually. We could all be learning from everything that happens. Most of us only acknowledge delivered feedback and fail to discover the abundance of other useful feedback. We don't see what we're missing or how to grow, change and learn from our latest experience.

Delivered feedback comes in two flavors: objective and subjective. We cannot argue with objective feedback. Formal systems of evaluation are based on this. All the stats in professional sports, scores in computer games and grades on college transcripts -- deliver objective feedback.

We can argue with subjective feedback. It's not based on fact. It's subject to interpretation and frames of reference. Informal learning and relationships are based on delivering this feedback. Referees, juries and critics all make judgment calls about our conduct. We get told we are out of bounds, guilty or breaking the rules. We also receive word that we are exceptional, valuable or likeable. It depends on who says it, how they see us, which mood they are in at the moment and what we've done to our relationship with them.

Discovered feedback also includes objective and subjective varieties. We cannot argue with what happens, what works or how things turn out. Outcomes provide objective feedback if we discover the results that occur, the effect of our actions or the fallout from our efforts. We fail to discover objective feedback if we rely on fragile or fortressed cognitive structures. We then talk ourselves out of considering the bigger picture and long range consequences.

When we discover subjective feedback, we are interpreting our selective perceptions. We are aware we are framing the evidence, skewing the data and biasing the diagnosis. We discover how we are focusing, spinning or storying the evidence. We use a post modern outlook and appreciate the subjective nature of everything we perceive. We adopt a worldview where "we reap what we sow" and "what goes around, comes around". We look at the outside world as a reflection of our inner psychological condition. We discover countless ways to grow from adversity, change our outlooks and learn from the evidence of our state of mind.

Discovery systems support the use of discovered feedback. Where a delivery system is saying: "now hear this!", a discovery system asks: "how is this useful?". Without being told what to think, learners think for themselves and serve as the best judge of their experience. They learn from how they are treated, framed and allowed to deviate the norm. They discover feedback in everything.

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The price we pay

We are always in the act of one thing or another. Our actions lead to consequences. We can ignore the feedback and persist in our endeavor -- or we can learn from the consequences and change our actions. When we routinely learn from consequences, life is like a game. We discover what works without being taught formally. We figure out how to change from the panorama of options and likely consequences we're facing. Instead of getting taught by teachers, we learn from feedback.

When we learn from what works, we develop a chart in our minds. We figure out what we get when we pay a price. We become smart shoppers and clever gamers. We also become keen observers of other people's conduct. With this same mental chart learned from feedback, we can see what game others are playing and what price they are paying. We can predict with surprising accuracy how they will react to getting caught in the act by inferring the kind of structure they rely on.

When control freaks, bullies or tyrants show up, those are consequences of relying on a fragile structure. Being easily embarrassed, ashamed or apologetic attracts abuse. Offering a presence of powerlessness brings on power-trippers. The price we pay for our neediness is persecution by others.

When arguments, disagreements and stalemates appear, those are consequences of relying on a fortressed structure. Being bigoted, opinionated or bossy attracts people in our face and on our case. Offering a presence of control brings on opposition. The price we pay for our arrogance is intolerance from others.

When teamwork, shared responsibilities and trusting others comes about, those are consequences of relying on an open structure. Being attentive, inquisitive and patient brings about people with differences to learn about. Offering a presence of acceptance brings on diversity. The price we pay for fascination is many interesting people to explore in depth.

When gratitude, generosity and reciprocity appear, those are consequences of relying on a fluid structure. Being creative, collaborative and synergistic brings about the same in return. The price we pay for non-judgmental awareness is zero.

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Caught in the act

Our actions always occur within a structure (mental model, neural network, cognitive construct, etc.). How we act depends on which structure we are relying upon. Some structures are threatened by getting "caught in the act" and others welcome getting acknowledged and characterized by others.
Most college professors and corporate trainers I've met were ashamed of how they conduct their classes. They were either too strict or too lenient, but never effective at supporting self-directed, reflective learning. Learners who were aware of how they were being taught would catch the instructors in the act of ineffective conduct. The instructors would be devastated and defeated. They relied upon fragile structures that only supported acts of desperation. They acted powerless to change, afraid of feedback and intimidated by realistic assessments of their conduct. They were shattered by feedback on their desperate pursuits.

Most front line supervisors I met during consulting gigs were arrogant about how they managed others. They were too distant or were micromanaging their subordinates, but never effective at supporting initiative and teamwork. Employees would catch those supervisors in the act of mismanaging them. The supervisors would be hostile, intolerant and spiteful toward their subordinates. They relied on fortressed structures that supported acts of determination. They acted overconfident in order to control others, afraid of dependency and intimidated by contradictions. They were determined to maintain their closed minds.

Most entrepreneurs I've mentored are concerned with how they act with their customers. They are either overly responsive to others or overly critical of themselves, but never effective at creating mutually beneficial deals. Customers catch the entrepreneurs in the act of customer service. The entrepreneurs are taught a lesson, shown a better way and encouraged to strike a better balance. They rely on open structures that support acts of integration. They act genuinely concerned, afraid of trashing relationships and intimidated by abuses of power. They are integrating insights about their own conduct and their effects on others.

Most creatives I've collaborated with at length are creating how we act together. We are balancing how we respond to each other and meet our own needs too. We catch each other in the act of nurturing our collaboration. We respond in kind, practice appreciative inquiry and recognize the issues that have been resolved. We rely on fluid structures that support acts of inspiration. We act continually creative and afraid of nothing that could happen between us. We are flowing with what comes to mind and circumstances in the collaboration.

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Too much of a good thing

When we're getting high approval ratings from our conference presentations or instructor-led training sessions, there's no possibility of too many high ratings. When we are getting lots of subscribers and movement up in rankings while blogging, there's never too much of that success. When a corporation gets on a roll of increased revenue, profits and quarterly earnings for shareholders, more is always better.

When there's never too much, we cannot question how much is enough, when to stop and what to include as a counter-balance. We can only do more of the good thing we've got going.

We don't realize it, but we are functioning as an addict. We cannot stop without going through a painful withdrawal process. We are acting compulsively in a downward spiral. We have no choice and are captivated by our confining premise. We are sabotaging our long term success by being so successful in a short sighted way. We are doing more harm than good to ourselves and those we serve.

Most content delivery is excessive for this reason. It cannot be stopped without a crisis. There's no way to consider pulling for the learners, democratizing the learning, or giving an incomplete. The feedback about increasing narcissism is dismissed as misleading, misinformed or mean-spirited. More of a good thing is called for without question.

The context development of content discovery systems is full of questions. When should we switch to the opposite? What indicators tell us reliably of the learners' need for more freedom, self control and discovery processes? How much is too much of a good thing?

Two ways to be successful

Most of the time we're succeeding, there seems to be one way to proceed. We are clear we're doing something in a way that works. We are steering clear of the ways to fail. We have in mind doing more of the same because it is succeeding. We figure anyone who criticizes or demonizes our success is a loser, envious outcast or worry wort.

When we are succeeding in this way, we can "do the thing right". We cannot "do the right thing". We cannot make wise choices about which thing to do. This is a problem for the entrepreneurs I mentor. It's the same problem for big corporations that injure third parties, local economies and the natural environment.

Changing to "doing the right thing" is threatening. It puts our success in jeopardy. The possibility of changing like this -- questions our intentions, conduct and sanity. It challenges everything we did that got the job done and steered clear of failure. It appears to be an invitation to act like a loser, validate the critics and submit to condemnation of our good intentions.

When we can "do the right thing", we've opened our closed minds. Our determination to succeed is replaced by the interpretation of outcomes. We consider more points of view and potential consequences. We realize the effects of our actions on the bigger situation. We weaken our resolve to strengthen our sensitivity. We expand the boundaries of our system that "does the thing right". We become more responsive, inclusive and community minded.

All these changes we're exploring are threatening in this way. Context developers who create discovery systems are "doing the right thing". Content developers who perpetuate delivery systems are "doing the thing right".


Context developers get it right

A context developer has something different in mind from a content developer. This different frame of reference sees the customers (learners, students, subscribers, trainees, audience, enrollment) differently and starts from a different premise. Here are some ways that a context developer differs from less effective content developers.

  • Content developers think about what they do and how good the product is. Context developers dwell on what the customers do with the product and how the process is good for them.
  • Content developers act like inventors who fail to penetrate their market with their "better mousetrap". Context developers are like inventors "with a hit on their hands" who gave customers a way out of their dilemma, freedom from an adversity or a change in their routine.
  • Content developers think like media buyers who cannot respect the customers or seek their permission to deliver information. Context developers think like consultants who help the customer get past "what they are buying" to consider "why buy it?", "how to use it?", "what it compares to?" and "how much it will cost in the long run?".
  • Content developers act like hostile negotiators who take a positional stance, intimidate the opposition and create a legacy of resentment for future dealings. Context developers de-escalate the adversarial context, establish common ground, and explore the customer's secondary objectives.
  • Content developers speak like propagandists who seek conformity and silence dissent. Context developers speak like advocates who open up community membership, validate diversity of outlooks and welcome dissenting viewpoints.
  • Content developers spin the features and package their deal to get impulse purchases. Context developers nurture the conversations and pose the questions to get loyalty, buzz and further explorations.
  • Content developers sour the deal with requirements, restrictions and penalties. Context developers sweeten the deal with respect, choices and guarantees.
  • Content developers give the customers finished products. Context developers give the customers pictures of different uses, processes to reach a good decision and protection from potential pitfalls.


Content discovery and delivery systems

Delivering content to learners resembles the factory models of enterprise created two centuries ago. The premises of manufacturing are becoming replaced by the premises of blogging, tagging, searching, subscribing and authoring. We are transitioning from content delivery systems to content discovery systems. Here's how the two kinds of content differ:

  1. Content discoveries looks like solutions in the eyes of the customer. The content answers a question, resolves an issue or solves a problem. -- Content deliveries look like a problem: to have to deal with it now, to handles the cost of it or to rearrange schedules to accommodate it.

  2. Content discoveries come at a perfect time. The content gets found whenever it is needed, has an immediate use or responds to a pressing situation. -- Content deliveries get purchased when they are available, put in the calendar or convened in real time.

  3. Content discoveries serve the context of the customer. The content fits the situation, applies to the actual use or comforts an individual concern. -- Content deliveries maintain the context of the manufacturer, conformity with specs or enforcement of standards.

  4. Content discoveries get shared by the customers. The content generates buzz, inspires further exploration and gets easily recalled. -- Content deliveries test endurance, generate regrets and get easily forgotten.

  5. Content discoveries involve an adventure. The search that finds the content seems fun, immersive and suspenseful. -- Content deliveries resemble boring stories, predictable plots and repetitive conversations.

  6. Content discoveries put emphasis on how the content is used. The content is only a means to an end, the tool for a job getting done or catalyst for a change. -- Content deliveries regard the content as an end in itself, the job to get done or the change provided.

  7. Content discoveries transform the customer's experience. The customers feel more successful, competent and satisfied with their uses made of the the content. -- Content deliveries perpetuate the customers' experience of being coerced, limited and controlled.
Digital natives take content discoveries for granted when they are online. Classrooms seem antiquated because they perpetuate the content delivery paradigm. Content delivery systems will fall by the wayside as they no longer make sense to their customers.

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Perceiving networks subjectively

My post Vertical and horizontal networks received several comments that have helped me a lot. (Thanks Charles, Harold and Stephen!). I've realized that I was indulging in dichotomous thinking (either/or, black & white, dualistic). That kind of thinking yields opposition and contentions because it's one sided and extreme. I was attempting to apply modernist objectivity instead of post-modernist subjectivity to my understanding of networks. Once I could see what was missing in my distinction between "horizontal and vertical" networks, I developed this taxonomy to describe the learning curve involved in getting the whole picture.

Isolated nodes and exclusive boundaries: When we are outside a network and powerless to join in, two features of the network will dominate our perceptions. We will notice the exclusive boundary that forms a separate group. Within this group, we will perceive the nodes (individuals, members, functional units) as isolated from each other. This perception is a projection of our own isolated condition and inability to relate. We will fail to discern the connections between nodes because we are outsiders. We tell a story about the network as "99% them against poor little me".

Causal links and inclusive boundaries: Once we identify with the group and submit to its norms, the boundaries appear inclusive of "us". We see how one thing leads to another inside. We watch incidents set off chain reactions. We discover our power to get a reaction, cause a stir and solve a problem within the group. The nodes appear to make transactions that provide extrinsic value for other nodes. The nodes compete for attention, react to other nodes and squelch non-conformity. The links are unilateral to deliver, push and make things happen. These perceptions are a projection of our affiliated condition and ability to take action in the group. We tell a story about the network as "us exclusive winners doing it to a vast network of losers, learners, customers, patients, viewers, etc".

Inter-group linkages and cyclical dynamics: Prior to all the social networking made possible by Web 2.0 technologies, we slowly formed connections between the groups we joined (family, friends, classmates, work colleagues, etc). Now we experience this phase sooner, more often and more easily. Once we were free of a single group identity, we can see that identity with a detached perspective. It seem like a mask, false self or cover-up. We play the part of a character in a story or an avatar in a game for the intrinsic worth, intangible value or personal meaning for us. The boundless, infinite quality of the network enters our perception. Our links to others transcend many confining boundaries and provides a vast variety of experiences for relating, giving, serving and caring. The dynamics inside groups appears predictable, as if it's going around in circles, going nowhere quickly, or perpetuating the same old story. These perceptions are a projection of our fluid identity and freedom to play many parts. We tell a story about the network as "many ways to see everything and each other -- depending on where we're at".

Network effects and captivating stories: When we outgrow the previous phase, we are immersed in the all-encompassing network. Everything imaginable seems connected to us. We are "one big us" with no one excluded. It's no surprise when a single flap of butterfly wings creates a tornado half way around the globe. It makes more sense when something goes viral than when it goes unnoticed. Every condition appears to be in flux, continually changing, delightfully impermanent. There is nothing to make happen and everything to let happen. This outlook is a projection of our disidentification with any shape we're in or form we take. Looking back on the previous phases of this taxonomy, it all looks like captivating stories we told ourselves until a better story came along. All there is to do is" live a story by choice and see what effects that has in the ubiquitous, boundless network".

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Post modern feedback

"Content is feedback". Content developers and instructors misunderstand "giving feedback and learning from feedback" because "content is not feedback" in their world. Content developers and instructors can only give feedback after an evaluation to objectively identify the condition of their subject. Pretest and post-test results occur on either side of delivering content. Content developers and instructors are modernist and behind the times.

Content developers would be fired from a job in a game development company. Content developers would be kicked off the team writing TV shows or film scripts. Content developers would be helpless in a gathering that is developing of an open community, a Web 2.0 business or a viral marketing campaign.

When a gamer has no idea what to do next in unfamiliar territory something happens in the game that helps, hints or guides the next experiment. Games that handle the gap with formal instruction don't sell. When the audience does not understand a protagonist's motives or hesitation, other characters get into conversations or conflicts that reveal what was missing. Stories that "crawl on the fat belly of exposition" (Robert McKee) don't sell. When members of a new community act confused or disoriented, dialogue ensues to support, comfort and listen. Communities that tell the members what to think, how to act or the rules to follow --then fall apart.

Content is feedback. We learn more from how were taught, pictured and related to -- than what we're taught. We get louder signals from where the instructor is coming from than what is being delivered. We take personally what is meant to be taken as impersonal information. Subjectivity overrules objectivity. Post modernism is here. Content delivery sucks.

Four people are instructed: "The sky is blue". It's assumed to be an objective fact delivered as informative content.

  1. Joe takes the content as rejection. The feedback he takes from it is "I'm an idiot", "I missed out on this", "I don't have what it takes to get this on my own". Joe feels dismissed, isolated and shot down by being told "The sky is blue".

  2. Jill takes the content as criticism. The feedback gives her an argument with her thinking the sky is gray when cloudy, black at night, pink at sunrise and purple at sunset. Jill will try harder to conform with the "true blue" answer in the future.

  3. Jack takes the content as a complication. The feedback gives him a way to relate to the instructor and to pursue further dialogue. Jack is developing an understanding of the instructor, the teaching methods, the basis for evaluation and the framing of the learner, as well as integrating the material. Jack is a gamer, post modern critic, and reflective learner.

  4. Jane takes the content as the instructor's very subjective story. The feedback gives her a way to anticipate surprise, welcome the mysterious developments in the instructor's character and watch the reciprocal storylines play out over time. Jane is living her story, changing every day and enjoying the ride.
Modernist feedback imposes a narrative about "objectively identified gaps" in knowledge skills or abilities. This narrative dismisses the receivers' inherent freedom to take the feedback subjectively, to reflect it back on the deliverer and to contextualize the content as "command and control" or "disenfranchisement". Post modern feedback expects the receivers' subjectivity to overrule objectivity, to play with different meanings and contextualize it as "unfolding stories". We learn more from feedback than instruction.

Thanks to Wendy Wickham, Valerie Bock and Tony Karrer for reciprocating with Leave a clean corpse and Preparing for changing opportunities.


Preparing for changing opportunities

On the Learning Circuits Blog, in response to my Leave a clean corpse, Tony Karrer asks:

Is this whole industry really obsolete? Is there some other kind of business that someone who is a SME and used to doing courses and courseware can get into? Should we stop offering ID degrees?

I'm foreseeing four different kinds of business opportunities in the training field for the coming decade. Each has a congruent form of education to prepare for it. Each follows from the significant obsolescence (but not the elimination of the whole industry and ID degree programs) of vendor delivery of instructional content.

Compliance training: Bureaucracies will never disappear entirely, though I expect a significant shrinkage is in progress. Layers of mismanagement will always spend 50% of their training budget on administrative overhead. They will continue to test for conformity with ineffective policy requirements and user manuals. The best way to prepare for creating "check the box after you check your brains at the door" materials -- is doing time in academic bureaucracies. Sit in college classrooms until you get a degree in ID. Take notes on boring bullet points prior to cramming textbooks covered by machine graded tests of your short-term memory of the one right answer.

Systems consulting and implementation: Performance problems that cannot be fixed with compliance training -- call for outside consultants (like Tony) and inhouse liaisons (like Wendy). System wide diagnoses and interventions get developed. Blended solutions install new technologies while developing skills of the system users. Preparing for all this in college -- calls for faculty who use game-like instructional designs (like Karl). Cases, simulations, contests, and in-basket exercises replicate the politics, changing rules, conflicted constituencies and unforeseen consequences -- that are the daily fare of consultants and liaisons.

Game design and development: When an industry is dying or a product line becomes obsolete, systems implementation fails to fix the problems of the clients. Creative talent ventures out as free lancers (like Jay). Nothing in a college classroom prepares for thriving on a network of contacts, learning informally from happenstance or making a difference by prolonged conversations. The sensibilities to thrive outside the machine comes from playing games (and the college experiences outside of classes or sales experiences in the field). Games will get designed to epistemically adopt a role, go out into the long tail and monetize one's personal network. Gamers will create those "serious games" from their countless experiences with playing games and networking.

Market innovation and co-creation: Once there is a critical mass of free agents available to create innovative instructional designs, new support systems and aggregations of their ID offerings will emerge. Networks will reciprocate with a vast number of small providers like Walmart does with manufacturers, Microsoft does with .NET programmers and eBay does with sellers. Each developer of educational value will be listed, searchable and ranked like blogs, shareware and digital content. Each provider will learn what does and does not sell -- by being listed, searchable and ranked in a global, online marketplace. Developers will "prepare for this" by diving in and doing it, just like us bloggers and all those Web 2.0 entrepreneurs. Customers will contribute ideas, questions, alternative directions. The value of the offering will be tuned by the market and co-created with the users. The market will teach these developers to stop delivering content and switch to enhancing feedback, longitudinal evaluation, conversations, subscriptions to internal resources, etc.

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LCB April Question - Leave a clean corpse

The big question for April on the Learning Circuits Blog is: ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What Should They Do? My answer: Leave a clean corpse.

Now that we realize that most learning occurs from conversations and coaching, there appears to be no more use for outsiders: delivering content or helping us to talk among ourselves.

Now that we've gotten far better results from giving us more feedback and less instruction to build skills, it makes no sense to pay instructors to give us no feedback -- and then give them feedback on how they performed.

Now that we know that intended learning outcomes depend on long term evaluation, it's far cheaper to shortchange the classroom segment and spend more money on follow through with the team, supervisor or internal customers affected by the outcomes or lack of results.

Now that we've had so much success teaching ourselves how to use lots of new toys, technology and software, it seems quizzical to act like we need to be taught methods by someone else or another click2death module.

Now that so many of us have built up meta skills (for problem solving, changing strategies, collaborating etc) in online and computer games, it seems silly to teach a concept, skill or policy change as if it's not something everyone can figure out for themselves or team-up to knock out in a jiffy.

Now that we've had years of experience getting better at most everything we do, it's astonishing that someone we've never met could identify our shortcomings, break our habits and overcome our inhibitions -- better than our colleagues, friends, mentors and ourselves.

Now that we are on a roll of learning from internal blogging or subscribing to RSS feeds, tags and searches -- it seems antiquated to pretend that identified skill gaps from a training needs analyses could have a clue about what can be cooked up today, between us, to get better results than yesterday.

Now that "communities of practice" has taken on new meaning (as we find so many others with parallel passions in the horizontal city called the blogosphere), the struggle to make formal instruction more informal, immersive and interactive seems futile.

Now that I have pictured ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors as obsolete, the question remains how long their customers will pretend the world has not already changed this dramatically.

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Vertical and horizontal networks

I'm proposing a distinction between vertical and horizontal networks to clarify our discussions of networks and communities. Vertical networks are confining, imposed and physical. Horizontal networks are expansive, self controlled and non-physical. This distinction replaces the two meanings of "groups" used by Jon Dron and Stephen Downes. It replaces the concept of a network being "contained by a community" as Ray Sims suggests or "within an ecology" as George Siemens proposes.

I finished reading John Naisbitt's (Megatrends) latest book last night: Mind Set! He forecasts a change from tracking the Gross National Product of each country to monitoring the Gross Domain Product for each global industry sector. Automobiles are assembled in one country using components manufactured in dozens of other countries. When a country adds the finished automobile to its GNP, it misrepresents and shortchanges the contributions from other countries. It makes more sense to cut across the borders to account for the health of the global auto industry.

This gives us a way to better understand "learning networks" that Ray Sims explored yesterday. Each of us work in a physical location where other people are present that we did not choose and do not control. This vertical community is imposed on us and establishes artificial borders. The vertical community may silence dissent, as Stephen Downes explains in his rant against small groups. This imposed gathering is not fully open, as Ray explores in his distinction between learning networks and communities.

Inspired by Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat", Dave Gray (CEO and Founder of XPLANE) pictures the blogosphere as a horizontal city. Dave sees similarities to the process of meeting new people, making new friends and frequenting new places. The people who find us online and link to our blog postings share similar passions. These connections are made regardless of locations and schedules. This horizontal access cuts across vertical locations, differences and restrictions.

Horizontal networks also cut across the lines of vertical networks in workplaces (teams, groups, reporting relationships, memberships, etc.). Etienne Wenger defines communities of practice this way. He distinguishes them from matrix organizations where an individual wears two hats and reports to two different supervisors. Communities of practice cut across project or job-assignment lines to confab with peers who have similar technical expertise. Wenger suggests that the community of practice may prove to be more stable and continuous than the changing job assignments, reporting relationships and accountability structures.

Inside a vertical network, we are limited in what we can learn, who we can relate to and how we will grow. Inside a horizontal network we are unlimited and free to explore, choose and change our minds.

Note: I wrote a followup to this post the next day: 4.07.2007

Perceiving networks subjectively

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Terrains, communities and secured platforms

Ray Sims recently posted to his blog about the broad expanse of eLearning alternatives in: Fortress, Gated Community and Free-range learning. That follows our discussion of Blogs vs. Discussion Groups which led me to this perspective -- on when to use the different metaphors we've had fun with lately.

When we think about all the resources made available, searchable and subscribable by Web 2.0,-- landscape metaphors make sense. There is a vast terrain to cover and use as we see fit. There are tools and methods to make those resources easier to access and find again. The learners are in DIY mode if they are freed of formal instruction, forced fed content and elaborate "just in case" preparations. The landscape is ignored or under-utilized if the learners are confined and controlled.

When we think about all the resources we can create, share and discuss together, community metaphors make sense. DIY evolves into DIT (do it together). Interactions, exchanges, and conversations nurture each others' evolving creations, innovations and self expressions. Members feed off of another's thought processes, comments or a quote in another context. Finds get shared via tags, links in postings and additions to wiki online. Boundaries take shape that identify commonalty and exclude incompatible voices. Some communities are more tolerant of deviation and open to diversity. Others are more restrictive, exclusive and guarded.

When we think about developing capabilities, effective practices and skill sets that get results, metaphors of "secured developer platforms" make sense. Distinctions fade away between instructor and learner, SME and designer, or formal and informal learning. Open source development puts all contributors on a level playing field. The developer platform is protected from the abuses of power and powerlessness. Everyone is committed to developing capabilities and the process effects everyone significantly. Capabilities are developed and results get produced.

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