A way with their hands

We bloggers all have a way with words. It's not easy for us to relate to those who have a way with their hands. I'm currently working on a presentation that relates PLE's to vocational training. (I'll say more about it once I'm back to my own computer where I can add links to my posts). If PLE's required a way with words, they would be unnecessarily exclusive.

One framework I'm considering is this: When we already know how to do something, we have the confidence to venture into unfamiliar territory. We can tackle problems that "were not in the book" or we're not covered in the modules on the LMS. We know more than "how to do it" which allows us to diagnose and troubleshoot strange situations. That gives us a lot to talk about with others and learn from what they see, how they think and filter out the noise.

When we're still learning how to do something, we lack that confidence. We are in need of a different kind of dialogue to get over the hurdles, realize why we keep making the same mistake, and change our attitude to welcome new challenges instead of avoiding repeated embarassments.

Having a way with our hands does not preclude the beneficial of a personal learning environment -- it merely takes a refined approach to utilize it.


Is your PLE on fire?

When we're not looking, we are in neutral. When we are searching and seeking, we're motivated. When we are finding what we're looking for, we are on fire.

Are you finding what you need online? When you think of something you don't know, does it transform into something you understand after a brief search? Are you finding you can get satisfaction without paying a big price or going to great effort?

What are you discovering by having such an easy time of finding what you want, need, seek or choose? Are you becoming more motivated to learn every day? Are you changing your ideas about what you enjoy, how you can change or what is even possible?

How are you connecting when you use your online connection? Are you connecting new answers to your question, fulfillment to your needs, meaning to your incident or resolution to your issues? Are to linking to fascinating people or communities of common interest? Are you finding kindred spirits with like-minded outlooks. Are you discovering support for directions you want to move in, changes that fascinate you and growth that comes naturally to you?

How much are you appreciating your successes at finding, discovering and connecting? How delighted are you with your efficacy, realized power and enhanced capabilities? How much goodness like this can you handle?

If you're in tune with these questions, your PLE is on fire. You are learning what you want when you want to with great satisfaction. You have made choices that result in successes on your own terms. Your motivation to seek transforms into finds with ease.


The L word in PLE

I previously wrote about the P word in PLE and considered this follow-up post at the time -- about the L word. We often take the concept of learning for granted or dissect it into an extremely complex issue. Neither serves our refinement of effective Personal Learning Environments.

I'm fond of the notion of PLE's because it captures the possibilities of free ranging exploration, self-directed choices and intrinsically motivated assimilation of new ideas. As I've mentioned before, my experience of blog reading, writing, commenting, quoting and subscribing seems to me like a PLE extrodinaire. What's missing in those listed features of my personal learning is all the reflection I do in between all that input and activity. When I consider how much time I spend chewing on what other bloggers have written, I realize a PLE could be a "car with no keys for the ignition". Having access to lots of information of one's personal choice does not cross the line from finding it to integrating it. The power tool is only as powerful as the learner putting it to use.

It's the learner, not the PLE that generates the questions, searches and selections from the finds. It's the learner that puts the new information into a context of personal use, meaning or further exploration. The PLE is usually given too much credit for the learning, just like the car that got us somewhere needed a driver with a place to go, not just a road and fuel in the tank.

PLE's seem like leverage for an intractable problem: the rank and file members of organizations who stick to their tried and true concepts, the same old approaches and some obsolete tools. The hope is the new tool will get them to open their minds, reconsider their asssumptions, formulate new questions and explore alternatives beyond their comfort zones.

I suspect a PLE is necessary, but not suffficient to induce free range learning. The L word takes a social context to encourage it, expect it, reward it and refine it. That context may be created by colleagues, managers, or customers. Learning can occur in social isolation, but its more likely and fruitful when contextualized by other interested parties. Once the intrinsic learning is activated, the learners will find likely find a online community of like-minded thinkers to nurture the continued explorations and ruminations


Changing expectations from gaming

Yesterday Karl Kapp insightfully characterized a change in learner expectations resulting from playing games:

If, while playing a video game, the player waits for instructions or information, he or she will fail. Decisive action must be taken immediately. The gamer generation has learned this and expects speed in answers and learning. If a gamer needs information, he or she inputs a question into a search engine and then demands accurate, up-to-date results. They seek rather than wait for information.

Rather than framing the students' condition as "impatient", "short attention span", "ADD" or "seeking instant gratification", I'm delighted with his diagnosis of "seeking rather than waiting for information" and " taking decisive action". Karl is giving us more indications that learners no longer need to be taught. Learners need to be given messy things to explore.

I see gamers developing other expectations that are unfamiliar to content delivery systems:

Expecting the unexpected: So much happens in games that is surprising, gamers would naturally learn to be open to the unforeseeable and serendipitous. There approach to formulating expectations would be more divergent and tolerant of ambiguity as I explored in this post.

Expecting to get it by going there: So much is learned in landscapes, learners would naturally expect to gain knowledge, clues or new avenues to explore by moving their avatar, eyes or cursor. Sitting still would equate with learning nothing, playing dead, pretending to be a zombie. Doing seat time in classrooms will not feel right to anyone who gets around easily in cyberspace.

Expecting to change strategy: Games teach us to stop trying harder with the same approach. We figure out what to try differently by what didn't work, what got us into trouble or what lured us into a trap. We challenge our assumptions easily from having so much practice rethinking how to  succeed. Gamers have cultivated an uncanny sense of strategic leverage, reversal, ambush and flanking maneuvers. All the while, content delivery system keep trying to cover the material, stick to the sequence and keep the experiences straightforward.

Expecting to learn by experimentation: Textbooks by experts report on completed experiments and empirically verified hypotheses. The fun is done before the class begins. Learning is assumed to be a process of consuming deliveries, not making discoveries. Games set up "finding out for yourself" better than textbooks, lab courses or practice exercises in classes. Games involve characters, settings and changing challenges. The experiments are imbedded in narrative structures. Immersion in the unknowns is easier and more captivating than content delivery systems can achieve.

As these changing expectations among learners becomes evident in drop out rates and other metrics of content delivery system failure, the changes we bloggers have been anticipating will emerge from the decay.


Two kinds of knowledge

There are two kinds of knowledge we can learn at any time. They can be discerned by their effects on our minds. Authoritative knowledge  leads to trouble and wisdom does not.

Authoritative knowledge makes us over-confident. We already have everything figured out. We know how to label the objective evidence "the right way". We see what we expect to see and don't realize how we did that to ourselves. Our framing of the facts is unconscious. We think we are being accurate with our appraisals. We don't see we are subjecting the objects of our attention to our subjective biases. We jump to conclusions and assume we are right.

Wisdom makes us unassuming. The more we know, the less confident we become in any particular viewpoint. Authoritative knowledge appears highly subjective, biased and one-sided once we see it with wisdom. We see how jumping to conclusions misses out on other possibilities. We see patterns, processes and unfolding stories where once knew what was what. Wisdom enables us to enjoy the available mystery, unknowns and suspense in the immediate situation.

When we use authoritative knowledge, we have been conditioned by our culture and condition our perceptions as a result. We think with answers instead of better questions. We categorize things by the way we've been hypnotized. We avoid cognitive dissonance that undermines our fragile sense of composure and self importance.

When we practice wisdom, we are free of our habitual categorical perceptions. We wonder what we're seeing with fascination and innocence. We know enough to not jump to conclusions or make ourselves right. We enjoy the moment rather than try to fix the future.

Learning wisdom is an inside job. We go within with questions in mind. We receive other ways to see what is obvious to us. We challenge our preconceptions and welcome complications. We embrace a pluralism of truths, outlooks and frames of reference. What we learn from authorities gives us the questions to explore by private reflection.

We take to heart what was given to our head trip and come up with wise ways to see what we were told, taught or trained to know.


Do we still need teachers?

I watched Mona Lisa Smile on DVD for the first time last week. On her first day of college teaching, the Julia Roberts character discovers her class has already read the entire textbook. She is instantly derailed as someone there to deliver content. She realizes her highly self-motivated students do not need a teacher. She changes strategies and creates an unforgettable learning experience for everyone, including herself. She learned from the unexpected and lead her students by example into further unknowns.

I'm convinced that K-12 teachers, college instructors and corporate trainers are in this same position. The students can find information when they need it online. They are becoming increasingly self-motivated from their experiences with handheld technologies, social networking, file sharing, gaming and shopping. They don't need a teacher to tell them what a book says.

In Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Roberts switches from covering the academic syllabus to exploring the subjective realm of perception and attribution. She challenges her students to see beyond the obvious and create meaning with their new ways of perceiving. She takes them on a journey into unknowns that she had traveled previously. She leads this adventure with uncertain outcomes, surprising turns of events and confounding mysteries.

As this exploration unfolds, her students are framed as capable of more than their stereotyped self-concepts. They are challenged to extend their range of possibilities like gamers changing avatars, venturing into new levels and exploring different strategies. Watching this movie clarified in my mind how there is still a role for human catalysts in the lives of learners.

Instead of teachers who deliver content, here's what I think we still need:

  1. Humans who are still learning, showing how it's fun and sharing their personal adventures into unknowns
  2. Humans who lead by example, demonstrate how to formulate better questions, revive their curiosity, and explore new areas of interest
  3. Humans who create common ground, share interests with other learners, help others succeed by lending a hand, insight or bit of encouragement
  4. Humans who frame other learners as capable, talented, resourceful and creative and watch these self fulfilling prophesies come to fruition
  5. Humans who get inspired while conducting assessments and avoid the pitfalls of judgmental thinking which creates losers, damage and inhibitions.
  6. Humans who take others' struggles and add a vertical dimension of freedom to their striving by exploring the overview and depth of possibilities, subjective perceptions and attributions, or intrinsic and idiosyncratic insights that redirect their overly persistent efforts.
  7. Humans who weave suspense, mysteries and unknowns into what they reveal, share and offer to other learners.

I wonder how enough humans will find their sense to act like this and touch the world in these ways?


White hot spotlights

In follow-up to my post: Transforming other educators, dave lee has insightfully proposed shining a "white hot spotlight" on the need for change--  in his post: getting others to follow.

To deal with these additional two factors, i'll add to tom's "vertical dimension" and "appreciative space" the need for a continued white-hot spotlight on the immediate realities of the workplace's true needs for learning. Finally, those of us who have been in the lead need to exert pressure on senior management to recognize the organic nature of organizational learning and to provide our colleagues with the tools and exemplars that will enable them to drive change from within.

Those of us blogging about the need of change are in the spotlight, see the changes clearly and call attention to all we're seeing. Those I characterized as "in the trenches" don't get it, aren't seeing it and are avoiding the necessary changes.

I wonder if the entrenched educators are in the dark or blinded by the light? Will a spotlight help or bewilder them more? Are they on the brink of changing and in need of convincing prod, or stalwartly determined to go down with the sinking ship? Will it help them to turn up the heat or are they already toast?

Nature is filled with examples where the obsolete organic system falls by the wayside as if it's cooperatively making way for it's replacement. It occurs at the level of cellular replacement, predator/prey interactions and vast landscape transformations. I've previously alluded to these dynamics as composting, winning without a battle, and replacing pioneer species.

There is so much glaring evidence that changes are required, that learning is organic and that enterprises thrive by learning from the changes in their contexts. How can so many entrenched professionals not take the hint, read the signs, or get a clue from their surroundings? Perhaps because they are not meant to catch on. Perhaps those who are changing are emerging with the next formulation and those who are not are getting obsolesced with their devoted structure.

When I proposed adding a vertical dimension to the experience of educators with one degree of freedom, the recipients are already making progress, taking action, moving forward. There are those with no degrees of freedom, stuck in their past, up against a wall of intransigent obstacles. Perhaps the white hot spotlight is meant for those "deer frozen in headlights".


Beyond straightforward experiences

Most reading I've done thus far about "experience design" seems determined to provide straightforward experiences. This is a logical thing to do considering the users' proclivities for getting lost, disoriented, discouraged and overwhelmed. By making it clear: where everything is, how to move through the options smoothly and how to formulate realistic expectations, the users will likely be satisfied with their experiences.

Storytellers avoid putting their readers, viewers or gamers through straightforward experiences. Straightforward is boring, derivative, predictable and disenchanting. Experiences need mystery and surprise. Storytellers want the user to be disoriented on occasion. By getting lost, the audience gets the experience of discovering and reclaiming their control. By getting faced with unknowns, the information provided becomes an experience of relief, support, or comfort.

I wonder why most experience designers don't mess around with reversals of plot and character?  Could it be they are driven by high control needs and a low tolerance of ambiguity? Are they afraid of user confusion, disorientation and dissatisfaction? Are they confined to the linearity of consistent content delivery models that necessarily forego detours and backtracking. Do they assume no one wants timeouts to rethink their "map in mind"?

When the character in a story suddenly gets upended after being on a roll, we're enchanted. When good fortune goes awry or a string of bad luck ends with a breakthrough, we find the story captivating. When we plod along in a predictable sequence of events, only to get surprised by an unforeseen change, we want to know what happens next.

I wonder if typical experience designers will experience a turnaround when they realize they're on a path that is too straightforward?


Expecting the unexpected

Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan gives us a way to expect the unexpected. As Roger von Oech suggests in his book Expect the Unexpected or you won't find it, there are many connections between our creativity and what we expect.

When we expect the unexpected, the unexpected is expected. Nothing is unexpected. We begin to expect what we cannot foresee -- by changing how we formulate expectations.

Conventionally, we expect what we are familiar with. We rely on our past experience to limit what we expect to rational, logical and objective forecasts. We become clear about what is impossible, impractical and ridiculous.

When we formulate expectations this way, we don't realize we have limited ourselves unnecessarily. The restrictions we see are self imposed. We are arguing in favor of limitations and winning the argument. We have it our way of small, confining, inhibited and oppressive options.

When we allow for black swans, find Extremistan and go beyond the Platonic fold of conventional formulas, we change how we formulate expectations. We stop limiting ourselves unnecessarily. We step outside our foregone conclusions, formulaic predictions and accurate assessments of what shows up in the rear view mirror. We expect anything and everything. All imaginable options are possible. Who can verify that the past predicts the future accurately. Why not anticipate breakthroughs, random influences and exponential repercussions?

On the other hand, when we expect the unexpected, nothing is really expected. Everything is unexpected. Life is a mystery and each moment is a surprise. We have no valid reason to confine ourselves to what we expect when the possibilities we're facing are actually so grand, panoramic and infinite.

Being creative, innovative and inventive calls for no expectations while expecting anything and everything.


Providing appreciative space

Appreciative space is a state of mind that transforms situations. This outlook sees so much good in everything that it all seems perfect. The space allows for anything and everything to happen within it without objections. This context of acceptance and appreciation has a very different effect from intolerance and control.

We cannot provide appreciative space by thinking about a situation. Our thinking is designed to deal with dangers, threats and enemies. Rather than allowing everything, thinking automatically maintains our defenses, attacks our antagonists and colludes with our apparent allies. Thinking resists what appears and has the inadvertent effect of maintaining what it finds objectionable.

Changing states of mind to provide appreciative space has been compared to changing states of H20: solid, liquid, condensed, and gaseous.

Ice: When our consciousness is like ice, we are solidly opposed to something. We are stuck on a position that cannot allow or accept contradictory evidence. Our ability to change our mind and see other viewpoints is frozen like a deer in headlights. In stories we are a blocking character that meets the protagonist with adversity at every turn.

Rivers: When our conscious runs like a river, we have a one track mind. We go after our goal with a vengeance. We stick to the straight and narrow rut, avoiding distractions and detours. We stay on course to make steady progress that opposes stagnation, stability and the status quo. Our ability to change our mind is in flight from dangers of being wrong, vulnerable or misguided. We are not stopped by ice or rocks in our way. In stories, we are the protagonist who heroically overcomes obstacles with determination and objectivity.

Clouds: When our consciousness is permeable like fog, mist or cloud banks, we allow for many points of view. We explore subjective interpretations and alternative ways of relating to the facts. We use metaphors, analogies and stories to capture the variety of perspectives coming into play. Our ability to change our mind is fighting against single-mindedness and over-confidence. We are not stopped by ice or torrents of water. In stories we are the wise counselor that drifts in and out of the plot unpredictably.

Humidity: When our conscious extends everywhere like clear air, we provide appreciative space. We include all possibilities as allowable and understandable. We see the inherent processes unfolding perfectly. We value all other states of mind as the harmless experiences they truly are. We can go anywhere and everywhere in our minds to get what we need at any moment. We give this freedom we found in abundance to others in our space.

Have a clear day!


Transforming other educators

Up until now, the corner of the blogosphere that is devoted to learning has done a great job of exploring issues, options and what's missing in the worlds of education. As others have observed, there seems to be a disconnect with the trenches of classroom teaching, corporate training, instructional design and technology integration. I'm sensing it's time for our blogging to enter its next phase where others are transformed by our presence, practice and purpose.

Those in the trenches of education, who are unaware and unaffected by us, are very busy. They are preoccupied with their very full plates and constant experience of being under the gun and falling behind. They don't have the time or the energy to read/write blogs, to reflect on their professional conduct, or to consider their effects on other learners. They can only try harder at what they are already pursuing. They have one degree of freedom that they are exploring with a vengeance.

There are two things I see we can do for these devotees of the status quo: add a new dimension to their work lives or give them the space of acceptance to outgrow their self-imposed limitations.

If their mad pursuit of professional obligations fills a horizontal plane, we are in a position to add a vertical dimension to their experience. We can rise above their struggles to see patterns, overviews, and panoramic possibilities. We can also delve below their full plate to help them discover their underlying purpose, unique perspectives and particular passions that nourish their pursuits.  This added dimension to their experience would give them ways to reflect on their efforts, a sense of timing to moderate their frenzy and a perspective that values how they are changing with additional experience.

We are also in a position to give the frenetic educators space to discover options on their own. When we see processes unfolding perfectly, we can validate their phase in the sequence. When we see how one development leads to the next, we can encourage them to do their thing. As we realize how systems yield wonderful changes emergently, we can let go of making things happen and enjoy the day to day process. In this appreciative space:

  • complaints become acknowledgement
  • intolerance becomes respect
  • pressure becomes trust
  • frenzy becomes moderation
  • meaninglessness becomes purpose
  • burnout becomes passion
  • anxiety becomes vision

Both the added vertical dimension and appreciative space in the lives of educators will transform them in these ways and more. 


Finding Extremistan

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb explores the possibility of improbable occurrences beyond our ordinary world. Our day -to-day existence supports our familiar categories and explanations. There is continuity and stability that gives us (false) reassurances that whatever happens next will fall within our expectations. Taleb characterizes this conformity to limitations as occurring "within the Platonic Fold". We idealize forms, models and formulas and assume the variations will conform to these. We live in Mediocristan with fallacious certainty.

Extremistan is home to Black Swans. Rare occurrences with widespread impacts are the opposite of a typical white swan. When we allow for these unusual and extreme occurrences, we are considering power laws, scalable dynamics, and the recursive propagation of responses. We have abandoned our familiar ways of seeing the familiar evidence. We stop predicting, controlling and applying techniques. We allow for the improbable to take off with a life of its own.

Taleb was trained as a securities analyst. He thinks about the improbable in the contexts of investments and sales figures. He grasps the dynamics of the occasional stock market crash or soaring valuations. He expects the skyrocketing book sales of J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown. Taleb was raised under siege in Lebanon during a 13 year war. He sees the robust ability of humans to take the most extreme occurrences and perceive them as more sensible mediocrity. We explain away the improbable instead of entering into it with open minds.

Finding Extremistan is the same challenge posed by countless stories that start out in the ordinary world. Dorothy realizes "she's not in Kansas anymore" upon her arrival in Oz. Wendy, Michael and John Darling leave Nana behind in Hyde Park to soar to Neverland. Frodo leaves the Shire to hook up with elves and dwarves. Lucy goes through the back of the wardrobe to find Narnia. Harry Potter vanishes through a column on platform nine to board the train to Hogwarts on Track 9-3/4.

Extremistan appears in other worlds besides high finance, blockbuster sales and violent conflicts. The highly improbable occurs in our minds. We we get an ingenious inspiration for what to write, we have left the ordinary world. When we receive a sense of what to do that proves to have occurred with an uncanny sense of timing, we are being a Black Swan. Leaving our ordinary mind requires a change of cognitive processing: from thinking to receiving the extraordinary in our minds. We work with our unconscious mind in appreciation instead of opposing it out of fear.


Escaping narrative fallacies

We can be a sucker for our own stories. We practice bad science and adopt unfounded beliefs. We misconstrue the complexity and assign causality mistakenly. We become trapped in an web of illusions that leave us exposed to the devastation of wild fluctuations in the phenomena we had "scientifically explained and predicted to not expose us to risk".

Let's take an example: Andrew tells a story about "how people learn". His story claims that people learn from authoritative knowledge delivered as formal instruction. When people fail to learn the right answers, methods and explanations, his story asserts that they have learned informally, freely ranging among unqualified sources. Any unqualified source of information provides self confirming evidence that his story holds up. Any indications that people are failing to "get it right" confirm the problems with learner directed, generated and motivated educations.

There appears to be no escape when we have fallen for our self-protective story. We are inclined to be right at all cost. We think we are being objective while our perceptions are filtered by our narrative fallacy.

Nassim Taleb hopes we can escape these fallacies by becoming skeptical of our knowledge. If we consider the possibility of our using flawed reasoning, distorted perceptions and mistaken convictions, perhaps we can escape our self perpetuating stories. In The Black Swan, he offers many different self-delusions to call into question before we assume we are right about what to expect.

I've not had much success with the strategy Taleb proposes. I encounter narrative fallacies every week as I mentor entrepreneurs. Rather than catch the narrative in use, I have more success with "choose your story" interventions. The taxonomies I've shared in this blog are choices between stories. My email address uses the moniker: "storychanging" for this reason.

When we are choosing between stories, we can get down the level of "where did that come from?" or "what's that about?". We deal at the level of story, below the levels of what happened?, what's wrong with that?, who's at fault? or how could they be so stupid? We see the situation as a reflection of how it's perceived and given meaning. The same setback can be seen from the perspective of four different stories. Change the meaning and the situation gets resolved. Escape the narrative fallacy and a different story accesses an unforeseen creative alternative.

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Unforeseen possibilities

Roger von Oech recommended The Black Swan to me a couple months back. He's since done a blog post on it when he finished reading the book last month. I finished the book yesterday. This the first of several I'll write on this provocative exploration of improbable occurrences by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

At any point in time there are unforeseen possibilities that have not previously occurred in our history. We can assume they won't happen-- like the well-fed livestock that is fat, dumb and happy about how well their dining experience continues to be. We can otherwise be open to the possibility without being able to foresee it, predict it or explain it. Since we cannot dwell on what the possibility is to foresee, we can only focus on how we are seeing.

We fail to foresee extreme possibilities when we are pursuing a sure thing. We play the game by the book, according to the formula and true to the technique. We allow for small variations that deviate from the accepted norm. We think we are minimizing our risk exposure with our top-down consistency and conformity to a plan. We feel betrayed and alarmed when when we encounter wild swings in the numbers, extremely random variations in events or clear signs of luck defying the calculated odds.

We are more likely to foresee extreme possibilities when we abandon a sure thing. What we are then doing could amount to nothing or something we did not expect. We play by the seat of our pants while learning from the evidence of what happens and minimizing our theorizing. We scout for hidden randomness and risk exposure. We notice where it's possible for network effects, exponential changes and tipping points to kick in. We piece together a way to build slowly, bottom-up from the evidence we accumulate.

Seeing unforeseen possibilities often comes down to our explanations. If we are convergently explaining the same old story, we will rule out the unforeseen. If we are divergently exploring many different stories, we are open to the unpredictable. If our explanations establish precise causality, we will become over confident about how and why things happen. If our explanations explore recursion and indeterminate system effects, we will humbly cope with the limitations of our thinking, methods and data.

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Degrees of freedom

There are different degrees of freedom in what comes to mind. Creative freedom is not available from every premise we stand upon. One of the significant incentives for changing where we are coming from -- is to experience more freedom right now from a higher ground.

On dangerous ground, we are stuck with no degrees of freedom. We are grounded in denials, victim stories and past history. We cannot change our history and thus cannot move in any direction. We are up a against a wall facing what happened to us that haunts us still. We are disoriented by progress, accomplishments and goals that others demonstrate. They make no sense because they defy the absence of freedom. If we slip off this ground, we experience a disoriented, psychotic break from physical reality.

On battlegrounds, we are free to move in one direction. We can move forward in time and take time to do it. This one degree of freedom creates oscillations in our minds. We have trouble making up our minds because we are free to decide between past and future, persisting or changing, antagonizing and accepting. We are grounded in a tunnel making progress, making things happen, and moving toward our goals. If we lose sight of the destination, get off track or distract ourselves with detours, we're back on dangerous ground. With this one degree of freedom, we are disoriented by meaning, individualized interpretations and self expression. They make no sense because we cannot go there by our freedom to move forward.

On common ground, we are free to move above and below our forwards and backwards oscillations. With two degrees of freedom, we can detach from our conduct, reactions and  interaction patterns. We have access to an overview that sees our big picture, destiny and panoramic options.  We get grounded in a depth of insight that shows us "where that came from" or "what's that about". We can reframe the evidence with a different metaphor or definition of the problem. If we make up our mind to fixate on one right answer, pure objectivity or "the facts mean what they say", we are back on a battleground with only one way to move around. With two degrees of freedom, we are disoriented by unlimited freedom and undifferentiated ground. We cannot go there without going out of our minds.

On infinite ground, we are free to move around in the space where all is possible. With three degrees of movement, we can transcend our subjective interpretations, meanings and differences from others to create any experience we choose. We have access to the source of all convincing appearances to experience ourselves in any way that serves us. We are oriented by all the previous grounds and lesser degrees of freedom because "we've been there -- done that!".


Questioning our understanding

When we confidently know something, we are in big trouble. Our certainty is missing whatever is far from obvious, off radar, unexpected or mysterious. We can only get out of this trouble with skepticism, suspicions and questions about our understanding. Our way of challenging what we're taking in will remain in the same trouble until we challenge how we are taking it in.

Our limbic system and neocortex are like the devil and deep blue sea. Both facets of our mind get us into trouble. The limbic system keeps us alive by jumping to conclusions. We develop "autopilot flight patterns" and "tactical assault maneuvers". In limbic mode, we can only react to appearances and obey our emotional urges. We feed the struggles, antagonism and anxieties with our limbic survival patterns.

The neocortex intervenes in our limbic circuitry. We develop emotional detachment and more evolved thinking abilities. We reason with rational logic and models that reduce happenstance to simple causal explanations. However, we stop over-reacting emotionally by falling into analysis paralysis. We break out of patterns of abuse by breaking into intolerance, condescension and self-righteousness. Our emotional confidence and rational certainty are prematurely convergent, overly reductionistic, epistemologically flawed and predicated on fear.

When we question our understanding, we look for these two kinds of trouble. We experience no relief and anxiety reduction to realize we are free of our limbic survival patterns. We stop placing confidence in our thinking abilities within  the neocortex part of our brains. We realize we've got a ways to go here.

When we then know not to freak out and also not know what to think, we are free of both troubles. Rather than lower our anxiety by rationally analyzing the danger, we get serene with our curiosity. Instead of rehashing our answers, we enjoy our questions. Rather than figure out what to do, we face the limitations of our limbic and neocortex processes.

When we really question our current understanding, a different understanding occurs to us out of nowhere. When we don't know what to think about this, more creative thinking dawns on our minds to see this in a different light. When we have the presence of mind to neither stress out or figure out our next move, we become presented with an unforeseen alternative.


Calls for creativity

When diversity is in decline as Roger von Oech expressed concern about last week, creativity is getting replaced by fear. Likewise when conversations become superficial, gratuitous and meaningless as Timothy Johnson playfully portrayed recently, creativity is getting weeded out by uninspired reactions to evidence.

We always have a range for tolerable deviance in our minds. Sometimes we define acceptable deviance broadly. We can handle all kinds of deviations from the norm. We experience fascination with variety and acceptance of others' experimentation. Other times we stick our own kind and shoot the messenger of our commonality. We freak out at weird hairdos, clothing and speech mannerisms. We "catastrophize, demonize and awfulize" qualities that are unlike us. How many people we consider "us" shrinks while the number of "them" increases dramatically.

How much tolerance we exhibit varies with our anxiety level, perceptions of danger and recent experiences with antagonism. It makes sense to me that our collective tolerance for diversity would have shrunk dramatically following the Columbine massacre, bursting of the Internet bubble, 9/11, and the invasion of Iraq. The news media keeps danger on our minds: "if it bleeds it leads". It naturally follows that we'd be on the lookout for disguised enemies, stranger danger, and signs of someone being "not our kind".

Narrow ranges of tolerable deviance are structured to be self maintaining in social situations. Once some traumatic incident becomes an obsession, the treatment of others demonstrates the intolerance that is a sure sign of danger. Intolerance manufactures the evidence to keep defenses strong, walls high and tolerance narrowed. Isolation seems preferable to exposure. Collusion inside a walled garden seems safer than open communities.

The way out of self-perpetuating intolerance is creativity. We must see the familiar evidence as unfamiliar: in a new light, with more insight, on the basis of different premises. We must also see the unfamiliar as familiar: in the same boat, facing the same pressures, just as human. Rather than play by the rules that qualifies an "us" from a "them, we play with the rules. We rule that people like us have two nipples and a nose. We play around instead of playing for keeps.

When we are on common ground, creative inspirations come to mind. We receive what to give others that will put their minds at ease, explore a different perspective, or give them a way to join in an reciprocal arrangement. Diversity seems better than collusion and significant conversations seem more valuable than chatter.

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What comes to mind

What comes to mind depends on where we stand and where we are coming from. To have different things come to mind, we simply change our ground. While staying on the same premises, basis or epistemological frame, the same kinds of things will come to mind. It's possible there are four grounds to choose between.

Two grounds are based on fear. They operate on the premise that fears will come true in our experience, because the dangers are so believable and strongly felt. They present life as a struggle that calls for acts of defense and desperation.

Two other grounds are based on love. They function with the premise that one good thing after another will come into our experience because we are open to all possibilities. They present life as the freedom to explore and enjoy each moment.

The first fearful ground is littered with dangers. It presumes we are powerless to change, helpless in the face of what confronts us, and victimized by how we get treated. On this ground, irrational urges, cravings, and emotions come to mind.

The second is a battleground also based on fear. It presumes when can win at other's expense, succeed at all cost, make changes happen and control other people. On this ground, vendettas, conquest strategies and ways to fix others all come to mind.

The third is common ground, based on love. It presumes we are in this together, floating all the boats,  and exploring mutual interests. On this ground, it occurs to us how to get creative about caring for and serving us together.

The fourth is undifferentiated ground, also based on love. It presumes we are free to label it as we choose, make it into whatever we want, and subject it to our subjective whims. On this ground, it dawns on us how everything that happens is perfectly useful and reflective of which ground is being stood upon.

Choose your ground.


Two can play this game

When we're threatened by changes, our thinking becomes frantic. We start problem solving on the basis of a misdiagnosis. We fail to see the opportunity while figuring out how to defend our position, justify our intentions and confront the opposition. Our goal is control and that's no fun at all.

When we can see the changes as a welcome sight, very different ideas occur to us. We change the diagnosis before thinking of solving any problems. We realize there are ways to leverage the opportunity, combine two approaches or utilize the apparent resistance to our intention.

The challenge is different than it first appears. We can see the others delivering the changes are playing a game. We get that there is a pattern to all of us. There are rules and a way to keep score. It's not chaos or out of control. We realize that "two can play this game".

Once it's clear that the others are pretending to be changed this way around us, we can have some fun too. It's time to change our tune, outlook and basis for making sense. We can take something from the pages of Harry Potter, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, or the Transformers.

If our act is one of being serious, we can shapeshift into a player. If we've been pretending to be an expert, we can morph into someone who is still learning about this. If we've been sold on ourselves as powerful, we can transform into disguise of hidden power and apparent humility. If we've been thinking like a SCORM compliant module, we can think like a scavenger hunt organizer instead.

When the others get the impression we are playing the game and free to change "our avatar settings", they will lighten up. They'll look more like the enjoyment we're now feeling --as if they are a reflection of us in some mirror. We'll come across as more interesting and interested in them. Minds will open, become receptive and collaborations will ensue. A teachable moment may follow.


Still serious about delivering content?

Yesterday, Mark Berthelemy gave us a comprehensive answer to "how is content dead?" This was not sweeping condemnation or diatribe. He nailed the coffin closed incisively and superbly. I'll simply throw a bouquet on the top.

Imagine your audience of learners, trainees, students or attendees already has experience. They have each role played over a hundred different characters. They have hours of practice outfitting their avatar with abilities and resources. They have experimented with different combinations of traits and observed how those choices affected other role players' interactions and one's own outcomes. They know what the letters "MMORPG" stand for (**) and know which ones are the most fun, best challenges and more fulfilling scenarios.

What are the chances they see real people are pretenders? 100%? How can they take their own act seriously when they have changed their traits more times and ways than they can recall. Why wouldn't they expect us to "act like we're acting" and stop pretending we're serious? They must wonder why we don't stop morphing into the same avatar with no settings to adjust, no combinations of resources to explore, and no recognition of other's game face.

So when we are covering material, presenting information or delivering content, they must be astonished. When do they get to pretend to be engaged this process? How do they get to strut their arsenal in the midst of this ordeal? When do they get to confront this assault to their agendas, do battle with this creepy monster, or test the strength of this somewhat clueless, but aggressive warrior?

Why are we in a position of power with no magic spells, weapons or exceptional endurance? What kind of Sim are we that insists on acting the same way all the time? How can we think we are succeeding when the way they keep score says we are accumulating significant penalties and no points in the game. Which beginner level are we still playing on and when will we face the next set of challenges on our own quests?

** massively multiplayer online role play games

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Thinking about assessment

In loosely coupled assessment Mike Caulfield bemoans the latest round of LMS vendors pitching the control of learner experiences.(Thanks for the link Harold!) Meanwhile, I've been reflecting on the differences between thinking and what occurs to our minds when we're not thinking. It's becoming clear to me how thinking limits us and often makes us part of the problem. Here I'm defining thinking as dualistic and as the opposite of reflective practice. I'll call what occurs to our minds otherwise: "inspirations".

Thinking assumes people are too incompetent to know how to evaluate themselves.  Learners are presumed to be in need someone smart enough to tell them how they did. Inspirations see people as smart enough to learn from their experiences by critiquing their own outcomes.

Thinking says learners need to be tested to measure how much they have retained of the material covered. Inspirations say learners need to test what they have been given to see if it works for them and makes the difference that has been claimed.

Thinking says learners don't have a framework to assess their partial comprehension because they are still ignorant. Inspirations say learners will upgrade their framework in the process of evaluating their own understanding.

Thinking says learners are not affected by the context of the evaluation, only by the data delivered. Inspirations say the context of evaluation has more impact than the content of the feedback.

Thinking claims the context of assessment is the objective evaluation of evidence using normative standards fairly and consistently. Inspiration says the context is created by the subjective premise of the assessment:

  • how this is wrong (half empty) or how this is right (half full),
  • how this fails to comply with imposed expectations or how this succeeds at making progress
  • how this is a deficient error to be corrected or how this is useful mistake for identifying a misunderstanding
  • how this is deserving of penalties for lack of achievement or how this is worthy of recognition for development of understanding
  • how this is non-compliant with standards or how this is expressing creativity

Thinking about assessment can function as a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we see the learners needing evaluation, they will think they need evaluation. They will not think otherwise or may not have it occur to them that imposed evaluation is misguided.

Inspirations about assessment also functions to create evidence of it's premises. If we see learners capable of self-assessment and improving their self-critique with practice, they will become self reliant and responsible. They will discern the toxic effects of imposed assessment and dismiss it out of their self-respect and success with self evaluations.

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Trusting reflective practice

Reflective practice is a very different process from pragmatic thinking. When immersed in reflection, we can go into irrational and undifferentiated regions of the mind. We are not limited to what is logical, rational and objective like our thinking must be. We can realize why we are avoiding professional development or devoting our experience to unthinkable dangers. We can login to our unconscious minds and receive what we need to consider, see or do next.

When we reflect, we become subjective about what is objective facts. We look for our spin, interpretation or story to apply. We validate our own point of view while allowing others to have theirs. We see the evidence from several different perspectives and incorporate that diversity into our understanding.

When we are thinking, we are insisting that we be objective about the facts. We are opposed to denial, delusion and unfounded speculations. We are decidedly pragmatic while we stick to the evidence. We want nothing to do with subjectivity, irrationality and illogical pursuits. We want to be right at all cost. We are afraid of being wrong if we deviate from consistent  lines of reasoning and accepted categories of evaluation. When we are thinking, we cannot trust our reflective practice. It appears dangerous and likely to get us in trouble.

We trust reflective practice when we are not afraid. We are appreciating what we're facing. We're enjoying the opportunity. We're seeing the good, the value or the lesson in situation. We're wanting to grow from the experience. We're looking forward to making more sense, seeing things in a new way and getting better ideas for how to proceed.

Reflective practice can be done many ways. Here are my favorites:

Investigative practice: When we reflect on a situation as a mystery, we become fascinated. We look for more clues. We suspect we have not begun to ask the right questions. We look for ways to narrow the possibilities of what to consider. Our exploration is panoramic and divergent at first. We are "living the questions" and piecing together a puzzle.

Creative practice: When we reflect on our condition as a design problem, we become creative. We realize that things are not as they appear and we are free to play with the meaning. We change the definition of the obvious problem and infer a hidden level to the situation. We reframe the facts with metaphors and analogies to make better sense of unexplored possibilities.

Imaginal Practice: When we reflect on a situation with different scenarios, we are using our imaginations. We picture how the existing condition could change into different outcomes. We explore different sequences of events for ways the problem could work itself out naturally or be transformed by a mere catalyst. We introduce other characters and plot twists to bring out different resources in the relationships.

Strategic Practice: When we look to leverage a situation that we don't control, we are reflecting on it strategically. Rather than take things literally, we see our weaknesses as hidden strengths and our success patterns as likely to fail. We look for ways our efforts may backfire. We wonder if there are opportunities we're not seeing or evidence we are over-reacting to. We are wary of the limitations of thinking, and avoiding falling into that trap.

Integrative Practice: When we reflect on opposing ideas, we are synthesizing winning combinations. We get out of either/or thinking into both/and possibilities. We realize the irreconcilable alternatives are two sides of one coin. We stop struggling and set up the two approaches working together in synergy. We formulate win/win solutions that bring out the best of both positions.

The more success we have with our reflective practice, the more we will trust it. We see the advantages it offers over our thinking. We'll discover that reflection does not get us into trouble like our objective thinking predicts. Rather, it realizes alternatives that thinking could never come up with. We learn from our experience of reflective practice to go there when we reach the limits of our objectivity.


Devoted to unthinkable danger

We may be thinking that professional development is a good idea. We may give it lip service as if it's our best intention to become more capable and resourceful. We may even try to pursue personal advancements and find we cannot stick with the effort. On some other level, we seem to be avoiding professional development with a vengeance.

Whenever we sabotage our best intentions, our logical thinking is disconnected from our routine conduct and feelings. What we are doing to ourselves is unthinkable. We cannot act rationally because the underlying dynamics are irrational and unconscious. We discover we cannot stop the behavior, change our feelings or break the habitual reaction.

It helps to use a map to picture the situation in our conflicted minds. At some point in our experience, we discover we are in some real danger. Professionally, this might be the danger of getting:

  • blamed for a problem
  • guilt-tripped for what we neglected
  • put down for a lack of concern
  • accused of being irresponsible
  • mocked for a lack of ambition
  • scorned for falling short of expectations

These dangers are not controllable. Our logical resources for rationally responding to manageable issues -- cannot handle this kind of trouble. We are faced with unthinkable dangers. We become traumatized from the experience of this danger occurring. We dread it happening again. Anytime we sense that a reoccurrence is brewing, we will be overcome with vague anxieties and specific apprehensions. Our minds will legitimize these feelings with confirmation of the unthinkable danger. We will then have the urge to do what worked before and avoid further trouble.

In this context of unthinkable dangers, professional development is asking for trouble and needs to be avoided at all cost. Learning how to perform better in our jobs could be taken by others as an admission of guilt, acceptance of blame or submission to their hostility. We would invite more of the unthinkable dangers we're trying desperately to avoid.

We discover ways to survive in these dangerous situations. We find out that people back off and leave us alone if we are:

  • already over-committed, over-extended, swamped with duties
  • clearly a martyr, giving one's all and getting nothing back
  • curtailed by imposed limitations, prevented from doing a better job
  • on the brink of burnout, reduced to a programmed robot
  • one of the crowd, thinking like the others, equally hostile
  • rejected for caring so much about the students or outcomes

These are defensive maneuvers, a flight response, an avoidance strategy. They are predicated on the perception of uncontrollable danger, like a "deer in headlights", frozen with terror. They only leave one other option: go on the offensive, fight for a change, be equally dangerous to others. That option embroils everyone in office politics, mutual contempt and a swamp of chronic problems. All the solutions are short sighted and make the danger worse.

Seeing all this is not logical thinking. It takes a kind of reflective practice that includes the unthinkable and irrational components of our cognition. My next post will explore a effective resolution of arrested development from unthinkable dangers.


Arrested development mapped out

Previously I've explored seven possible explanations for classroom teachers avoiding professional development. I've also considered how the "appearance of avoidance" could be misleading if the teachers are getting transformed by giving to their students. It's also possible there is no problem if their minds are closed in a state of flow and unconscious competence. Here I'll explore a psychological component of real professional stagnation and burnout: arrested development.

When we pause from our activities to explore our minds, we find there is a large terrain of thinkable thoughts within us. We observe that we can "go there", "think that through" or "explore that possibility in some depth". Within this familiar territory, we are rational and logical. We make sense to others if we share our thoughts from this region. We have confidence in these thoughts which allows us to think them through calmly and clearly. We are effective, reflective practitioners.

Beyond this realm, we become agitated when we go there. We've had experiences with this thinking getting us into the trouble we were trying to avoid. Our thoughts are frantic, unsettled and unclear. We obviously lack confidence in these lines of reasoning and dread going into these regions. We don't make sense when we blurt these thoughts out to others. We appear irrational, desperate and defensive. We go there when our hot button gets pushed, our identity gets threatened or a hidden self-betrayal gets exposed by others. We feel possessed, out of control and dangerous to ourselves.

We can also go "off the map" in our minds -- into a region of unthinkable thoughts. When we go beyond our irrational thoughts, we go blank. We are in the dark, lost or bewildered. We're speechless if we try to say what we're thinking. We've entered the realm of our emotional baggage. We have moved onto undifferentiated ground. We cannot think our way through this region because it embodies no distinctions to think with.

Arrested development is the result of living with this condition. We find our thinkable thoughts are surrounded by irrational impulses and a blank region beyond that. We choose to play it safe and stay within the familiar region of reliable, thinkable thoughts. Myths and fairy tales begin here. Nemo is hanging out with his Dad. Frodo is staying in the Shire. Harry Potter is enduring the Dursleys. If the protagonists suffered from arrested development, their story would end here. No venturing into unknowns, no leaving the comfort zone, no exploring the dangerous void. (to be continued...)