Changing the debate

Debates like the one I've characterized between LMS's & PLE's naturally gravitate toward impasses. The debate becomes too serious and frightening for the participants to explore further. A stalemate ensues as the dialogue breaks down. George Siemens suggests that edubloggers are headed toward such a standoff with opponents to Web 2.0 -- in his: Pots Kettles and other small appliances of like appearance.

The language and imagery of conflict resolution helps to avoid stalemates. Reactions are more easily reconsidered. Process observations can be made about the misunderstandings and labeling. Both sides function with more self awareness. The debate changes through further dialogue without escalating tensions or sacrificing objectives.

Acknowledging the opponent: Practicing empathy de-escalates the adversarial context. We admit we understand the others' objectives, commitments and concerns. We see how they are: making sense to themselves, worthy of respect and engaged in a valid pursuit.

When we cannot be understanding, we are conceited. Our hubris blinds us to other viewpoints. We're stuck on being right at all cost.

Showing an interest in their interests: Beneath every stance, demand and tactic is an underlying concern. Seeing through the obvious drama to the hidden issues makes it possible to find common ground.

When we cannot share interests or see things eye-to-eye, we are encased in our own fortress mentality. We are defending ourselves from changing our minds. Our positional stance makes enemies of anyone with a different outlook. We are "the pot calling the kettle black".

Shooting ourselves in the foot: When we can admit our error, find fault with our oversight or be open to others' criticism, we transform the conversation. Our humility makes us approachable. Our vulnerability diminishes other's vehemence. We bring out the best in others by relating at a human level.

When we cannot find fault with ourselves, we shoot the messengers delivering corrective feedback to us. Our opponents take a bullet that shoots them down as defective, deviant and deficient.

Formulating win/win solutions: When we're thinking there's no escape, we float all the boats. We see there's no way to take advantage of the others without it coming back to haunt us. Since everything must come back around, we sow seeds of compassion. We want collaborative victories and reciprocal working arrangements. We work with, instead of against, our opponents.

When we cannot benefit from mutual satisfaction, we need a good fight. We want to make enemies to burst our balloon and shatter our idealism. We only feel safe in self-righteous isolation. We distance ourselves in order to survive foolishly.

With these frames of reference, we can see more clearly what we are doing to ourselves, the context, the dialogue and the likely outcome. It becomes easier to change our approach by changing our outlook first. We realize what to see differently and then act accordingly to change the debate.


  1. Hi Tom,

    My contribution to the symposium on decentralized systems at Ed-Media this year might be worth looking at as an example of the kind of thing you're talking about; its concerned with the organisational challenges and benefits of PLEs, taking an IT services view.

    PLE approaches offer institutions an escape route from escalating cost, legal liabilities, and management overheads, while offering IT service departments an opportunity to take a consultancy role that will offer staff a chance to use their skills at a higher level.

    Win-win is an entirely plausible proposition, and I agree entirely with the points presented here.

    Here's the URL:


  2. Scott: Thanks for your insights and the link. I had not considered PLE's as an IT strategy until now. You propose a very attractive way to meet in the middle. Where I've come at the PLE issue from the issues of autonomous learning (turbulent variety), in your paper, you're seeing the benefits for the centralized provider to offload its cost-intensive responsiveness to that variety (and it's attempt to compete with the online richness). Supporting the self organizing processes of individual learners and learning cohorts seems like an approach that could delay the creative destruction of content delivery institutions for awhile longer. You see the win/win between VLE's and PLE's clearly.