Eventually disrupting school work

Learning communities like I defined yesterday won't disrupt school work immediately. Students in pursuit of good grades and prestigious graduations will persist along with incumbent providers of schooling. The targeted demographic are those non-consumers we call college dropouts in a "blue ocean" uncontested market space. This community approach to learning removes the stigma from their misfit with academic pressures. It validates and utilizes their inclinations to use social media to the max. It supports them in becoming active members of a supportive community without setting up hoops to jump through, contrived incentives to chase after or stupid games to play. The community will acculturate and socialize them into uniquely contributing and benefiting like everyone else who has joined.

I suspect adjunct college faculty (part time contract employees) will migrate to these learning communities first. I know from first hand experience, as well as colleagues tales of woe, that institutions of higher learning show no loyalty to adjuncts and get none in return. They are underpaid and over worked like the pawns in any bureaucracy. Any love of learning, teaching and nurturing others gets fried by the onslaught of papers to grade, content to cover, requirements to comply with and student issues to resolve. Learning communities could easily look like a "dream come true" and a return to the reasons they sought teaching positions in the first place. They will see this as an opportunity to be a nurturing "guide on the side of the student" instead of an expert "sage on stage with a grade book in hand".

I expect institutions of higher learning and their student bodies will hold these "lowly" learning communities in deep disregard. Learning communities offer no quantitative proof of comprehension, retention and capable application of any subject matter. They provide no credentials for future employers, credit card issuers or graduate schools. They fail to cover any respectable body of knowledge with consistency, depth or reliability. They provide no safeguards against malpractice, fatal errors or costly mistakes in professional practice. They don't even impose enough academic rigor and workload to prepare students for slaving away in the confining cubicles of command & control environments. They glorify spontaneity, serendipity and socializing as if the future calls for massive improvisation and innovation by cultural creatives.

These put downs make no difference to drop outs who are already shot down, put out and disrespected. Any engaging learning community can make a big difference to them however. Where the mutual engagements do not support rote learning to goose up a GPA, they do encourage, respect and reward many other kinds of learning:
  • Learning by taking action, generating uploads into the community, creating contributions by working on projects
  • Learning from the interpersonal consequences of their actions, refining personal conduct using feedback from others' reactions to what they said or did
  • Learning by experimenting with different strategies to get results, debugging flawed attempts to solve problems by iterative trials
  • Learning by talking partial understandings out with others, getting clear by conversing about it, expressing oneself to realize more insights
  • Learning by reflecting on what happened, letting new ideas sink in, coming to one's own realizations
  • Learning by teaching others, connecting more dots as one tries to explain the concept to others, finally seeing the pattern behind methods
  • Learning by example, picking up new routines by osmosis, imitating exemplars of best practices
Anyone has learned by all these different approaches is well equipped for situations that make conventional college diplomas obsolete. They can learn from what happens that proves to be unexpected, disruptive or game changing. They can adapt to breakdowns in economies, institutions and delivery systems. They can launch new services, enterprises, and communities as they quickly identify others unmet needs.


By simply becoming

Conventional school work expects us to complete the assignments, take the tests, and get graded on both submittals. We hope we learned something in the process, but forgetting so much of it in only a few days time suggests otherwise. School work is finally getting disrupted by becoming engaged in comprehensive social networks. This innovation is made possible by software for setting up online communities. This latest generation of software combines wiki, blogging, social networking, search engines, discussion lists, voting, private messaging and chat rooms in one place. It's a far cry from LMS/VLE environments like Blackboard which perpetuate school work without disruption. As the book Disrupting Class says, this technological innovation "moves the goal posts".

If I were to give you an assignment in this new way of getting an education, here's what I'd say to you:
  • Become somebody to us in this learning community. Lose your anonymity. Establish an identity with a personal profile page so we can check you out. Show us what you want us to know about you in here.
  • Become searchable by us. Give us tags or keywords in whatever you upload that might show up in our search results. Help us discover what you say about yourself, how you see yourself and what differences you want to make in others' lives.
  • Become connected with others in the community. Find out who has something in common with you. Make it easy for us to find you, friend you, follow your updates or subscribe to your feed if we get into you.
  • Become creative for us. Generate some stuff for us to see, consider, relate to and enjoy. Create something you want to get better at doing while your among us. Let us know if the content you upload is something we can use, mash-up with something else or simply link back to when we mention it.
  • Become discerning about what we contribute here. Respond to our polls, rank our contributions, and comment on our latest input. Give us feedback, appreciation and other viewpoints to consider. Help us improve by not being over-sold or over critical about what we contributed.
  • Become receptive to tons of input from us. Use the variety of feedback you get from us to improve your game, sharpen your thinking and formulate new questions.
  • Become reflective about all this engagement. Take time to let it sink in and come to new realizations. Change your mind about something that has caught your intention by seeing it in a new light after some consideration.
  • Become transparent to us. Let us know some of what your thinking, feeling, struggling with, defining as a problem to you or possibly starting to get ideas about to explore further.
  • Become responsive to others among us. Mentor them if you see something they don't recognize yet. Converse with them if they need a sounding board to sort out their confusion. Offer other questions to consider if they appear stuck. Confront them if they are doing more harm than good. Validate them if their effect on others is helpful or possibly amazing.
What everyone learns by becoming all these things is prepared for a very turbulent future. Engagement in this communal intensity yields life-long curiosity, creativity, reflectivity, courage and compassion. The outcomes are not taught by instructors and graded for credentials. Topics get introduced by the learners and voted on by others. Most teens are already playing this game in other contexts. The desired outcomes emerge from this process of highly complex interactivity.


Foreseeing the forerunners

I'm finding it helpful to make a distinction between eruptive and disruptive innovators as I explore a possible transformation of school work. When we deeply commit to providing services to a demographic that is not currently served by incumbent providers, we naturally take our minds off the disruption. We create a new commercial system regardless of its effects on incumbents. We're not encumbered by the incumbents. We simply become eruptive with new value, effects and secondary benefits. We only need to respond to the "non-consumers" different needs, values, priorities and intentions which are already separated from the existing commercial system.

Here's the parameters I foresee serving which characterize those forerunners of the emergent economy (note they are described free of categorical labels):
  1. Walk with me, talk with me: If it's in print, it's old news. Content is lifeless even if it's digitized and accessible 24/7. Up-to-date information is conversational. If it's interactive, it's fresh and exciting. If we're still talking about it, it's changing and lively. Show me something about it I cannot see for myself.
  2. Give me something I can read: Give me highlights, headlines, bullet points. Give it to me in snippets, sound-bites or clips. Format what you've got to say so it looks like search results or package labels. Better yet, convert it to social media so I can listen to it, watch it, link to it, share it, embed it on one of my pages or mash it up in one of my projects.
  3. Whatever, it's only an experience: It's something that happens sometimes. It depends on how you spin it and set me up to hear it. Tell whatever story you want to about it. It's a mystery to me. I'm checking it out while it holds me in suspense. It might surprise me if it's not predictable, boring and stale.
  4. I'm not there yet: This is a continuing work-in-progress. I'm still exploring and finding answers. It don't have it figured out yet and don't expect to anytime soon. This still fascinates me and gives me lots ways to discover what really works for me. I'm creating a deeper understanding of this by playing around with it.
  5. Find the loopholes: If the system is cheating you, find a way to take advantage of the situation. If it's a stupid game to play, don't get played for a fool. Change avatars to infiltrate the scam and overthrow the oppression. Disguise yourself as an ally to get inside and get even.
  6. Give back to the community: Contribute to the good of the whole. Act like we're here for each other. Make a difference in other lives. Care for others before expecting anyone to care about you. Learn about yourself by giving with no strings attached.
  7. Use you brain: Chill out so you can think clearly. Give it a rest and get some rest. Give you mind a chance of come up with the answer. Work with the way you brain works for a change. Get some distance from worry warts, drama queens and pity parties. Don't shortchange your health for the sake of a buck, diploma or free prize inside.
When school work is designed for this demographic profile, a new approach erupts. It may disrupt classroom delivery systems in time without aiming to have that effect. It serves dropouts very effectively in the meantime.


Serving the non-consumers

Non-consumers of educational offerings are typically framed as having access problems. Getting schooled is regarded as an unquestionably good thing. Getting there can be problematic. People living in poverty cannot afford the costs or provide children with the nurturing needed at home. Children working long hours to survive cannot take time away from their labors. People in war torn or disaster areas lack the infrastructure to set up classrooms and provide safe passage to school locations. Solving these access problems would be sustaining innovations for the families, neighborhoods, local economies and regional governments. On the other hand, these same solutions could be disruptive to pathological enterprises such as child prostitution, slave trade, domestic violence, drug trafficking, and street crime.

There's another population of non-consumers in situations where access is available. These are learners who opt out, stress out, act out, cop out, flip out, flunk out or drop out. They cannot handle getting prepared for the real world by putting in seat time, reading for meaning or doing school work. They are a handful for teachers, administrators parents and law officers. They are wired differently, better acculturated to the recent wave of technological advances and ready for the future real world that is not here yet. For this population, getting schooled is "so last century" and as useful as a set of encyclopedias.

These post-literate, post-industrial and post-modern non-consumers need an education unlike any schooling can provide. They are already separate from the incumbent providers and consumers of schooling. They are ideal for a disruptive innovation to serve immediately. Redefining school work to match their profile could launch the new commercial system and subsequent advances. In time, this education without schooling could replace the hard copy, industrialized and modernized schools we now subsidize.

In my next post, I'll explore the profile of this dropout demographic as I foresee it.


User networks in the classroom

The delivery to P-12 school programs of a monolith of textbooks, standardized tests, educational software, computer hardware, classroom furniture and conventional instructors -- all occur through value chains. A series of steps add value to the previous phase and yield a consistent product. There's no way to respond to individual needs, interests or preferences. The value is produced by factories producing commoditized materials where high initial costs get amortized over a large sales volume.

In Disrupting Class, the authors expect many of these value chains to be replaced by facilitated user networks. Content-centric models of education will be replaced by student-centric approaches. The experience of value will change from taking what is offered to customizing from a vast range of modules to best fit each learner. The authors foresee the line of under-utilized computers against one wall of many school classrooms coming into constant use. I share their optimism about the possibilities of user-generated content, processes and experiences becoming mainstream.

There's another side to elementary, middle and high school classrooms in my experience. Those value chains delivering the same thing to every student are obscured by the phenomenal variety of experiences available in many school environments. This supply of choices and diverse offerings involves many other individuals besides the classroom teacher. The situation functions as numerous "facilitated user networks". Here's a brief summary of the key players and their roles in this collaborative production.

  • Teachers are famous for spending some of their own income to buy supporting materials for their classrooms. They spend time at home preparing for new thematic units, in-class demonstrations, and supplemental activities. They organize class trips and coordinate substitute teachers, teacher aids and guest presenters. They conduct individual parent conferences and special meetings when problems arise. When students are working on projects in class, teachers will float around to offer help or guidance to individuals. All this serves to break-up the monolith of deliverables.
  • The parents appear in classrooms as teacher aids and chaperones on class trips. They provide after-school transportation to sports, music or tutorial practice. They participate in the parent conferences and problem solving sessions. They often help with homework and outside research.
  • Other educators appear in the classroom to lend a hand to the classroom teacher. They may help to assist in mainstreaming special-ed kids or tutoring new readers. They may teach special subjects like music, art or theater. They may observe class activities to defend the teacher from criticism coming from particular parents, administrators or the elected School Board. They may observe particular students to make referrals to mental health services.
  • The students are often working together on projects or group tasks. They meet-up to coordinate rides home and after school activities. They may be involved in community service, helping kids in younger grades or roles involving school safety, cleanup and event coordination.
This phenomenal variety of activities and roles occurs by connections between people. The diagram only shows the kinds of possilble nodes, not the actual number. Two teachers that know one student may effect each other's self awareness and insights into the student. Two students working with the same teacher may grow to understand that teacher better. Two students can effect each other in a similar fashion. What occurs between them takes initiative, some creativity and a caring outlook. It's inevitable that both people will learn more about each other and themselves in the process. This "ecology of reciprocal value creation" has already obsolesced uniform textbooks, tests and teaching in many schools.

These emergent networks have not disrupted the value-chained delivery of uniform content. The introduction of all this variety and customization has merely provided sustaining innovations. Teachers like getting paychecks and paying their bills from their school districts. They enjoy the current rapport with parents, colleagues and administrators. They want to stay in the good graces of those who susepct they do not work hard enough at their duties. All this proves the premise of Disrupting Class that incumbents cannot disrupt themselves.


Goodbye college diplomas

Disrupting Class assumes we'll continue to need college degrees to get the best paying jobs and to enter the current professions. the improvements in elementary and school programs from the disruptive innovations mentioned in the book seem valuable if college degrees remain essential. However, I am very suspicious that diplomas will be worth anything in a decade or so. Here's why:
  1. It's been predicted that the current graduates will experience seven different careers in their lifetime. Their diploma will credential them for the first career. If they got an education as well as a degree, they might be prepared for a second career, but the proof of graduation will not prove they can handle the vast changes in how we live, work, pay for goods and contribute to our communities.
  2. College degrees are proof that students have been prepared for known jobs. Current industries and corporate employment are stabilized by the supply of petroleum and the global financial markets. There's nothing on the horizon to presume those will remain in their current condition for much longer. When oil runs into irreversible shortages, and oil exporting nations become failed states, everything changes. Multinational corporations will experience shrinking markets, assets in jeopardy of violent destruction and other instabilities. Exporting manufacturers and agricultural producers will also have a new playing field for their endeavors.
  3. The industrial era is coming to an end. Our planet cannot long endure the abuses of resource extractions, aquifer depletion, soil erosion, global warming and over-harvesting of useful life forms. Educations to perpetuate the abuses and conspiratorial policies, governments and financial institutions -- will soon be obsolete. Meanwhile we will make significant advances in healing without pharmaceuticals, agriculture without applied pesticides or fertilizers, micro lending to individuals in poverty, and entrepreneurship without the staggering failure rate.
  4. There have been economies of scale and other justifications for big business while information was scarce and difficult to move around. Big universities, lecture halls and graduating classes made sense too. Big college campuses prepared graduates for big companies, agencies and institutions. With the ubiquitous supply of instant information, it's now possible to transform economies into networked, distributed intelligence, democratized production/distribution and bottom-up initiatives. Peer to peer (P2P) production will mostly replace centralized, privatized, deregulated mechanisms. Small will be beautiful and difficult to comprehend for grads of Big U who worked for the Big Corporation to pay off their Big Debt.
With all this in mind, college dropouts appear savvy to me. They sense the future is not prepared for by more of the same expertise. They imagine how college could be a waste of their time and their costly diploma a useless document. That does not mean they know what to do or how to proceed -- only what to avoid and hold in suspicion of bogus value.


Disruptive innovations are inferior

Disruptive innovations are perceived to be inferior to whatever an incumbent enterprise offers. Both the buyers and sellers agree to look down on the disruption. The innovation poses no immediate threat to the provider and no temptation to the customer. Business as usual works for both sides of the established bargain.

Here's a disruptive innovation I've been brewing of late: The customers will be college dropouts and their grandparents. Neither have a use for a diploma, but they both need for some real education to cope with deep changes in world economies, resources and climate. Learners will become prepared to free lance, network and mentor others, not get a job in a "paycheck prison". The education process would not require reading comprehension or completing an assignment with no help from anyone. The natural ways the customers get value from this innovation will be as ecological as permaculture farming. The projects, relationships and enterprises they get practice creating will be inherently sustainable, adaptable and resilient. The community they learn within will be a lesson in itself. They will learn as much from how they learn without classrooms as what they gained better comprehension of and abilities in.

This approach is "obviously inferior" to the incumbent sellers and buyers of accredited degree programs. The innovation lacks credentials to confer on graduates who then become proud alumni making generous donations back to their alma mater. It lacks experts in the fields of academic research who convey the best findings from their exacting disciplines in lectures and textbooks. It lacks the quality control measures of rigorous solo examinations and uniform compliance with prerequisite course requirements.

This disruption is as lacking as early phonograph records were compared to live performances, as the first transistorized televisions were compared to big screen consoles, and as home video recording was compared to sitting in a crowded movie theater. It will never happen as a sustainable innovation inside incumbent commercial systems. It will only happen separate from the momentum of academia.


Disrupting the incumbents

Disrupting Class wisely states that an incumbent enterprise cannot disrupt itself. This is a similar basic premise of family system therapy: "a system cannot change its own rules". We stand on the ground that is going to shift and cannot move the ground from under our feet. This also resembles the pattern of spouses who cannot leave their abusive marriage on the premise that living alone would be far worse.

Christensen, Horn and Johnson give us some reasons why incumbents see the change coming but cannot formulate a disruptive innovation:
In the years when the companies must commit to the innovation, disruptions are unattractive to the leaders because their best customers cannot use them, and they promise lower profit margins. Therefore, investment dollars are always more likely to go toward next-generation sustaining innovations instead of disruptive ones. (p.50)
As I read this book, I realized that the authors did disrupt their profit margins either. A college professor, consultant to academia and a former college president maintained their own incumbent enterprise. While forecasting disruptive changes in P-12 programs, profitable college degree requirements, college prep classes and advance placement (AP) courses remained intact while they explored two significant disruptions to elementary and high school programs. [Update 10/26/08 The authors have a companion blog for the book where they are exploring disruptions to higher ed]

I concur with both disruptive innovations the book describes. The authors foresee a next-generation of online educational offerings. Where there currently is available a phenomenal variety and abundance of WHAT to learn, they expect we'll soon see a wave of alternatives in HOW to learn what is available. There will be more sensitivity to variations in how students learn, how much they already know, how fast they want to proceed and how they respond to help from others. The online access to tutors, learning buddies, experiential processes and group projects will free students from the limitations of classroom teachers corralling a large number of students.

The authors also consider their change model to be disruptive to conventional change management efforts. When incumbents have realized the implications on their own organization of this set of explanations, they saw how to separate the innovation from their current momentum. They stop expecting the employees to disrupt themselves. They perceived how the current incentives, goals, ambitions and responsiveness could not accommodate such a sea change. Rather than set up internal sabotage of the innovation, the leadership launched it under a separate umbrella.

I have in mind a far more disruptive innovation that will impact college institutions. Tomorrow I'll explore that possibility here.


Disrupting Class supports PLE 2.0

Last week I finished reading Disrupting Class - How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Harold Jarche has been helping us grasp this framework of disruptive innovation in Entrants and Incumbents as well as Non-consumers in education. The arguments presented by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson are very compatible with the possibilities of PLE 2.0 I've been exploring in depth here recently. The disruptions they foresee supports my vision of a mash-up of DIY and DIT learning. My next several posts will explore the value of this book in implementing PLE 2.0.

This history of public schooling in the U.S. is very telling. There's been a string of fear-based changes induced by rivalries with other nations. Most education between 1830 and 1900 was delivered in one-room schoolhouses. The rise of German industrialism at the turn of the previous century compelled the U.S. Congress to legislate the creation of high schools. This brought on a significant change in the enrollment and diversity of course offerings.
Whereas in the early twentieth century the typical high school had roughly 100 students enrolled, no the average high school enrollment approached 1000. From the 8 percent of students who graduated from high school in 1900, by 1960 that number was 69 percent. Both school size and and graduating numbers continued a slow climb. larger schools with more students generated capacity for greater diversity of courses and services. In 1890 there were only nine different course offerings across the whole of U.S. high schools; by 1973, high schools offered 2,100 classes under different headings... By 1973, more and more elementary schools had added the kindergarten year, and 60 percent of children we enrolled. (p. 56-57)
In the 1970's, the US felt pressured by foreign imports of autos, copiers, televisions, VCR's and digital electronics. The Congressional response to this threat produced the report "A Nation at Risk". This brought on more classes in science and math, and increased accountability for school-wide progress measures. Most recently, the U.S. students have compared unfavorably to individual test scores in other industrialized democracies around the globe. School days and school years have been lengthened as if more seat time in classrooms will increase individual test scores. No Child Left Behind shifted the accountability to improvement by each student.

Obviously the impact of this series of changes has been huge. That does not mean all these adaptations to Congressional legislation have been disruptive. In spite of how much has changed, all these changes are what Christensen calls "sustaining innovations". They maintain the same commercial system that was used prior to the change. In education, it's as if we're still buying vacuum tube televisions in appliance stores, oil changes from a gas station with service bays, and cheeseburgers from printed, glossy menus in sit-down restaurants. Schools still sell their value inside classrooms. They continue to hire qualified teachers to stand in front of those classrooms. They persist in utilizing textbooks, handouts and homework to make learning happen. They test the learning after students do something called studying or at the end of the school year when instructing those in seats has stopped. They send home report cards with so-called objective grades on them.

I've been anticipating a more disruptive innovation in education than Disrupting Class foresees. I explore those differences in the next post.


No longer alphabetized

It started to happen when the Phoenicians showed up in their boats at ports in the Greek islands. They had written down what exactly their boat had carried. They kept track of the costs with written symbols too. There were using an alphabet instead of committing everything to memory. The tradition of oratory was about to be replaced by the authority of printed words.

Once fluid speech could be parsed into fixed letters of the alphabet, everything else could be compartmentalized too. It became conceivable to have classrooms and to study specific subjects. It became necessary to study written words and assume learning had occurred by such focused attention by the eyes and mind. The control of learning, learners, topics and qualifications all made much more sense once the culture shifted from oral to print over the following centuries. Everyone learns to speak fluently and converse with others without schooling. Yet reading and writing did not come naturally to anyone. The use of an alphabet begat the formal instruction of youth. Those select few who graduated from this process were called "Men of Letters".

The "new Phoenicians" came along in the 1800's to replace the tradition of printed words with a return to all things acoustic and oral. They brought the Victrola that played phonograph records. They brought the Marconi wireless that made sounds without being hooked up to the maker of the sound. They brought talking pictures that added soundtracks to movies. They delivered portable radios and tape players. Then came compact discs that could be ripped into MP3 files and shared online, with flash drives or burning a disk. Now we have iPods, podcasts and remixes on YouTube.

When we get more information with our ears, our eyes change also. We no longer assume we have a point of view that comprehends perspective drawings. We no longer focus on small parts of the big picture. We no longer tunnel vision, categorize or block out portions of the panorama. We see panoramically, inclusively and peripherally. We take it all in as experience, rather than as content to be compartmentalized and analyzed. We return to the relational, creative and collaborative communities of pre-alphabetic goddess cultures.

As this change sinks into our times, we will lose our ability to make sense of topics of study, teachers trying to instruct us or experts in position of authority. Alphabet-dudes will be obsolete. We will become post-modern, post industrial and post-literate. We will easily make sense of anyone caring, sharing, giving, contributing, connecting, responding and relating with us. We will be somewhat mystified, bewildered and disoriented by people controlling, coercing or power-tripping us. We will dismiss what doesn't make sense to us and devote ourselves to all things significant, resonant and credible to us.


Reading comprehension not required

My forecast for the added functionalities of PLE 2.0 accommodates the decline in reading comprehension. There are many reasons for this decline becoming more prevalent in the past few years:
  • Media snacking and online reading instead of concentrating on printed pages in books, magazines and newspapers
  • Increasing time spent listening to phone calls, radio, MP3 players and podcasts with their ears while their eyes are free to gaze unfocused.
  • Reading photos, slide shows, picture books, films, TV and YouTube style videos with their heavy reliance on visual storytelling and rare insertion of text on the screen or page
  • Reading packages and signs in stores to go shopping successfully without reading the fine print, product reviews or blogs about the possible purchase
  • Succeeding at learning to use new technology and playing computer games without reading the instructional manuals or online help pages
  • Conducting captivating conversations with persons of interest via brief IM, Twitter and text messaging snippets -- not love poems, romantic letters and long emails
  • Keeping current by subscribing to RSS feeds of friends, getting updates on cellphones/PDA's and answering polls on websites
All this spells an end to reading assignments and learning that relies on reading comprehension. Reading for meaning will likely become a specialized skill learned by those with a talent or aptitude for the challenges. Meanwhile, DIY and DIT learning in PLE 2.0 can occur via the visuals, listening, and brief snippets of text that are already in widespread use.


Reading the deal being offered

We have a sense of any deal we're being offered. If it does not feel right, we may characterize it as a lousy deal, rip-off, unfair proposition, raw deal or lop-sided arrangement. We need to watch out for these when we're diagnosing problems with self-directed learning. Bad deals can shut down learning.

Learning is loaded with different deals comprised of what we give and what we get in return. We give our time, attention and energy. We give up freedom and other choices. We exchange what we give up to get something we don't already have. We may seek to get more informed, skillful, knowledgeable, discerning, strategic or creative. When we get very little compared to how much we gave, the deal feels unfair. We feel taken advantage of and much less inclined to give more, learn more or trust more.

There are several models that explain how these lousy deals can influence self-directed learning so toxically.
  1. Misunderstandings: We instinctively want to be understood by others who have power over us. Fair deals give us the feeling that the other side "gets us". When our getting understood is not coming easily, we seek added attention in hopes of getting understood. We may make a scene, make a nuisance of ourselves or make an extra effort to get their approval. If these tactics fail, we will escalate our attention-getting into revenge. We will get even with various forms of defiance, sniping, sabotage, blackmail and backstabbing. As we devote so much attention and energy to these attempts to get understood, learning is put on hold. There appears to be no point to getting more from someone who does not understand us.
  2. Betrayals: We resent win/lose deals that only worked out beneficially for the other side. We become cautious to see that we don't lose out like that again. We become suspicious of the other's intentions and perceptions of us. We become wary that we are being taken advantage of, abused or manipulated. Because we realize we are in danger, we close our minds to more creative options. We've set a course against the person who's taking advantage of us. We stop learning from that person or situation.
  3. Adversaries: We respond well to respect, permission and empathy. It feels safe to work with the people who treat us these ways. We resent being controlled, coerced and contradicted. It feels dangerous to expose our vulnerabilities to someone out to get us in these ways. When we're in a collaborative context, we can let our guard down. It feels safe to not have all the answers, to make mistakes and to change our minds. We learn as we go. When we're in an adversarial context, we act defensive. It appears naive and dangerous to still be learning, having questions and changing our minds.
  4. Distance: We want to learn from others on common ground. By having shared objectives, interests and outlooks, we can gain a lot from the other person. It seems like they can relate to our confusion, ambitions and current understanding. We can do likewise in return and value the reciprocity. However, when there is distance in the relationship, hard feelings or intolerance, we're a long ways from learning. We have to deal with the onslaught of suspicions, accusations and disagreements. It appears there's nothing in common to share. The standoff turns into a stalemate with no resolution in sight.
Learning on our own (DIY) or collaboratively (DIT) walks away from lousy deals. It introduces competition in a captive market. The rules of the game are changed in our favor. We recognize how to get our fair share by giving where it's appreciated. We work a different deal in PLE 2.0 than content delivery systems can offer us.


Detecting legacy narratives

Together in PLE 2.0, learners can diagnose why learning has stopped happening. Besides the previous five diagnoses we've already explored, there's the possibility of interference from a legacy narrative. We inherit stories from authority figures. We assume they know how the world works and how to get results. We trust them to be living their lives by a valid set of premises. We accept where they are coming from as a good thing. We become enrolled in their legacy narrative and ready to pass it on to yet another generation.

Here's some of the toxic legacy narratives that are easiest to detect:
  • Learning happens by getting taught. You won't get it right or get it at all if you try to teach this to yourself.
  • The best way to learn something is by getting taught it, not by teaching it to someone else.
  • The way you'll succeed with new knowledge is to receive it from an expert in that knowledge area, not some aspirant, newbie or amateur.
  • You'll really know something once you've been presented with it and passed a test on it, not when you can put it to the test in your practical use of it.
  • What you really need to know is what can be conveyed to you while you're seated: listening or reading, not when you're playing around or having fun with it.
  • If it's easy to learn it will be easily forgotten, and if it's an overwhelming burden to learn, it will stick with you for life.
  • Learning is a discipline that requires great rigor, not a natural process that flows from curiosity and intrinsic motivation.
All these narratives shut down self-directed learning. They invite us into a world where learning is elusive, difficult and dreaded. They tell a story about learning that obscures how PLE 2.0 could be effective, fulfilling, energizing and self-perpetuating.


Problems with presenters

Throughout my classroom schooling, I experienced spellbinding guest presenters. They exuded that winning combination of knowing their subject and knowing how to make it interesting. I now suspect they had honed their presentation with lot of practice in front of lots of students. They had the advantage of presenting only one or two topics, unlike the instructors who stood before us for a quarter, semester or entire school year.

Having been subjected to countless experts that don't know how to teach and trainers who don't know the material, we usually take it for granted that we will be routinely exposed to uninspiring educators. However, as users of PLE 2.0 become more sophisticated at diagnosing learning malfunctions, presenters will get considered as culprits. Here are four possible ways that presenters can do more harm than good:
  1. Most of the time, actions speak louder to us than words. We learn by example. We do as they do, not as they say. From preachers we learn to be preachy. From those who are all talk and no action, we imitate and replicate their approach. From those who can stay on message but freak out when asked a question, we learn to fear what is not already clear in our minds.
  2. As we learn from others we are hoping we can do as they do. Often we decide their expertise is out of reach and way above us. They come across as too sophisticated to be accessible to current abilities and level of comprehension. They make what they know seem so complicated that we cannot follow in their footsteps. We lose confidence in our potential and hope for our future.
  3. We get the impression from presenters whether mistakes are really good or bad. If they get flustered when they slip up, we learn to be equally horrified when we commit errors. If they lose their train of thought when they uncover some confusion in their minds, we also sense how perilous it is to not be right all the time.
  4. When presenters get in trouble with equipment, handouts, or visual aids, we learn a lot from how they handle the situation. If they ask for help and expect cooperation, we take that to heart, However, if they act like the "little red hen" and take care of it all by themselves, we'll unconsciously learn to go it alone ourselves.
In these examples, learning is not disrupted by a presenter being boring or disorganized. The damage occurs from the messages sent by their conduct, reactions and example. As learners become wise to the ways the world shows so much disregard for nurturing each others' learning, they can incorporate this vigilance to the ways presenters can be problems.


Critiquing instructional designs

PLE 2.0 interfaces with existing content providers, venues for formal learning and instructional designs. When learning is not happening, learners will diagnose the underlying dynamics of a breakdown in learning to identify problems and solutions. The design of the instruction will come under scrutiny. How could learners who are new to a subject area possibly critique how they are being taught? The same way gamers can recognize flawed designs for game play, music fans can identify whatever offends their ears, and sports fans can recognize patterns in an athlete's shortcomings. We naturally get better at critiquing what we devote attention to, value deeply and commit to without hesitation.

One way critiques of instructional design will develop among learners using PLE 2.0 is through consumer advocacy. Both of my blogs have sought to empower buyers of instruction with insights into the design of educational offerings. I've explored many different critiques of instruction over the past three years:
  • Recognizing defective course designs here
  • Discerning the difference between bogus and authentic learning here
  • Identifying harmful side effects of ineffective educational practices here
  • Changing learning strategies to really learn a topic, skill or approach here
  • Realizing the effects of instruction on curiosity, creativity, and courage here
  • Considering whether instruction is merely informative or essentially actionable here
  • Comparing set-ups for captivity and for experiences of freedom and meaning here
  • Framing educational opportunities as games to play here
  • Detecting the implied context of use for what is being taught here
  • Recognizing how the learners are either pushed or pulled and pressured or nurtured here
When learners are trapped in required educational settings without their own motivation and curiosity, the ability to critique instruction will be used for shifting blame onto authority figures. Fingers will be pointed at the "sage on stage" for failing to design more effective offerings. Expectations of a quality learning experience will be disappointed and revenge sought after.

However, when learners are self motivated and directed, these same critiques can be utilized in other ways. They help learners shop around for the best educational offerings. These critiques help them diagnose problems with their own learning and sort out how much personal responsibility to take for breakdowns. They provide a basis for appreciating good designs, valuable experiences and improved offerings. These critiques also assist learners in setting up effective educational processes for themselves and others (mash- up of DIY & DIT).


Conversations about content delivery

Inside content delivery systems, there is usually talk about what's being offered among the observant consumers of the content. The community of learners develops an understanding of which teachers to take the class from, which session to sit in before lunch, which book covers the material better or which presenter has better visuals. There's evidence of consumer sophistication and vigilance at the level of style and branding. The assessments are typically made about entertainment value and the attributes of effective advertising.

PLE 2.0 will breed a new level of consumer sophistication. The buzz about content providers will focus more on the harmful and helpful effects the content has on ongoing learning. Observers will use an expanded range of criteria to assess the impacts of the content delivery. The talk among learners (DIT) will raise the bar on which content is free of harmful side effects, debilitating impacts and lingering toxicity. Here are some possible talking points in future conversations among content-savvy learners:
  • Pretext of the content: "That content is harmful because it assumes I know nothing about this already, treats me like a newbie and belittles my comprehension". "This content is great because it speaks to what I already grasp and utilize in my own world from this subject area".
  • Purpose of the content: "That content is offered like there is no reason to bother learning it other than it's interesting to the presenter - so what!". "This content gives me a great sense of what's the use of knowing this and of what's the incentive to work at deepening my understanding of it".
  • Context of the content: "That content appears to be coming from some kind of arrogance, condescension and intolerance that puts me down and makes me feel small". "This content comes from a place of compassion for me, empathy with me and support for my endeavors".
  • Limitations of the content: "That content presumes to tell the whole story, leaves nothing out and expects me to passively swallow it hook, line and sinker". "This content mentions its limitations and gives me a sense of what's missing, debatable and yet to be resolved".
  • Strategy of the content: "That content stirs up my objections by seeming straightforward while manipulating my emotions, motivations and allegiances". "This content indirectly invites me to join it's outlook, share its intentions and value it's agenda".
  • Tradeoffs in the content: "That content goes to one extreme, presents a one-sided viewpoint and dismisses any other considerations". "This content reveals tradeoffs in reaching its conclusion, explores what else needs to be kept in balance with it and values a diversity of viewpoints to be truly effective".
  • Subjectivity in the content: "That content comes across like propagandistic brainwashing to get me to drink the Kool Aid without question". "This content reveals the presenter's personal bias and seems both transparent and trustworthy while respecting me to make up my own mind about it".
When conversations between learners take on this level of sophistication, PLE 2.0's will be safeguarded against harm from content. Learning will be kept "up and running" by vetting the content with criteria like these. Something that is offered as informative, accurate or expert will be challenged for the potential disruption it could induce in self-directed learning. The Do-It-Together conversations will nurture the DIY learning.


Suspecting the content to be at fault

In the world of content delivery, the content cannot be at fault for breakdowns in learning. if learning is not happening, it proves the learner has a problem. There is little effort made to diagnose any problem with learners and their disrupted learning because the system is predicated on delivering content. Content delivery systems usually operate at peak capacity without taking the learners' problems into consideration:
  • Facility and schedule constraints dictate when and where the content will be delivered in person, in print, online or on screen.
  • The complexity of the topic dictates how much content must be covered to convey an adequate overview.
  • The quantity of content that must be covered dictates the pace of the delivery.
  • The pace necessitates a cursory treatment of each topic which usually precludes Q&A, sharing of personal examples and open-ended debates.
When learning is not happening, it's assumed the learner was not ready for the material or the challenge of assimilating it. If any correction is made, a better pre-qualifying process is installed to keep out those who are not prepared for, available at the time and compatible with the content. Course listings or broadcast schedules spin the offering in ways to discourage those who will become dissatisfied with the content. Varied consumer preferences get accommodated.

In the context of PLE 1.0, the content is a choice. If it does not work for the learner, different content can be found to explore. There is no "right content" as judged by authoritative standards. All content is subject to personal relevance, as David Weinberger amplified superbly in Everything is Miscellaneous. The content gets selected provisionally by the learner while it 's determined if there is an enduring interest in the subject, motivation to explore it further and connection to other work-in-progress.

PLE 1.0 maintains the premise that learning depends on content. There is a shift from delivered to self-selected content, but no escape from covering the material, grasping ideas and connecting new information to existing constructs. This premise is evident in the numerous diagrams of PLE's that many bloggers created in 2007. Each is a picture of tools and sources gathered to access content for personal learning. The approach to learning has much in common with shopping for items online.

PLE 2.0 puts much more emphasis on problems with ongoing learning and remedies outside the frame of exploring content. Anxiety levels get reduced by resolving malfunctions. Diagnostic protocols can find fault with the content as well as the learner. The content is equally suspect when there is evidence of:
  • the content not getting considered in depth and reflected up for personal relevance, uses and comparisons
  • the content not sinking in or getting internalized for later recall and deployment in a applicable situation
  • the content not making sense and tying into current understandings, models and theories in use
  • the content not spawning further exploration, fascination, questions and hypotheses
In the next post, I'll explore how the content getting delivered or self-selected can induce any and all of these malfunctions.


Recovering from past histories

There's lots of past experiences that can make people convinced they are incapable of learning on their own (DIY with a PLE) or even learning from communities and collaborations (DIT). Here's four ways that past history can incapacitate learning which are all too common:
  • Internalizing the voice of a severe inner critic from parental control freaks, perfectionists or child abusers.
  • Enduring chronic anxiety from previous frightening experiences that continue to reoccur and attract threats of even worse incidents.
  • Failing at early learning challenges, tests and proofs of capabilities that becomes a rigid identity, fact of life and accepted curse of fate.
  • Adapting to pressures from parents and teachers to be talented in ways where there's no acceptable excuse for inevitable difficulties, setbacks or mistakes.
Problems like these appear to require professional therapists or licensed counselors. These challenges do not seem to be within the scope of PLE 2.0 with the beneficial effects of a DIT component. A large consensus assumes that the change will be costly, time consuming and repugnant to most "damaged learners". Recovery from past history would seem miraculous, exceptional and impossible to replicate.

However, there's a another way to frame this challenge of recovering from past history. Does it take a panel of paid experts to create an up-to-date encyclopedia? Can Lego only develop new products that sell like crazy with internal design engineers? Can a new PC/Workstation operating system only be created, upgraded and debugged by salaried programmers on the payroll of Oracle, Cisco or Microsoft? The answer is no to each of these questions. Perhaps the recovery from past history can get handled like every open source project and peer-to-peer collaboration. Recent books are filled with examples of solutions that emerged from voluntary collaborations:

Wikinomics - How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything / Don Tapscott
Outside Innovation - How Your Customers Will Co-design Your Company's Future / Patricia Seybold
Crowdsourcing : why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business / Jeff Howe

Another source of inspiration for this possibility is an inspiring book about therapy with children: Magical Moments of Change - How Psychotherapy Turns Kids Around / Lenore Terr. None of the delightful transformations of these kids followed a treatment plan or regimen. Each experienced moments when the time was right and something spontaneous occurred between them. The history between them made it possible to offer something unexpected and respond in kind. The prior history of the child fell away and no longer defined identity, apprehensions or conduct.

In all four books, the delightful outcomes emerge from improvisation and spontaneous collaborations. The chemistry in the combination of people takes over. There is some structure, expectations and defined roles, but not controls or imposed abuses of power. This suggests that adding a Do-It-Together component to PLE 2.0 can spawn unpredictable recoveries from debilitating past histories.


Responding to circumstantial stress

The mash-up of DIY and DIT learning that I'm proposing as PLE 2.0 makes it possible for breakdowns in learning to be self-diagnosed. One example is the handling of circumstantial stress that disrupts the functioning of a Personal Learning Environment. When a learner is rising above the situation and responding resourcefully, the stress can be identified and alleviated on a Do-It-Yourself basis. When the learner gets stressed out, the pressures can be addressed on a Do-It-Together basis. The system crash is averted or recovered from quickly.

Both PLE 1.0 and 2.0 share DIY advantages over educational delivery systems that cannot respond to the circumstantial stress of individual learners. Unlike imposed curricula, DIY learners own what they have chosen to explore, comprehend and put into practice. They can frame their stress as something "they are doing to themselves" or "choosing to challenge themselves by exploring". They are not entangled in "learned helplessness" or vendettas served by a disruption in their learning.

These DIY learners are also in control of the timing and pace of their learning. They can call a timeout to reflect on their stress, identify hidden choices and learn from the stress itself. They may also take the time to lower their stress level with any of the interventions recommended by health care professionals. The DIY mode of learning with a PLE frees the learner of being 1) confined to the time slot of the conference session, class, screening or webcast, 2) obligated to show up on time, 3) over-committed to excessive calendar entries, 4) compromised by schedule conflicts and 5) falling behind progress schedules. They are free to "chill out whenever they begin to freak out".

PLE 2.0 offers the additional advantages of DIT learning without the burden of additional transaction costs, institutional overhead or formal systems. Together, learners can recognize when learning has stopped happening due to circumstantial stress. They can diagnose the symptoms and respond to the underlying dynamics. The lack of resourcefulness of the stressed-out learner is not a problem -- it's an opportunity for the others to relate to their colleague, respond to the situation and learn from the experience too.
  • Others my notice symptoms of stress (fidgeting, furled brow, vacant expressions, awkward movements, halting speech etc.) or disrupted learning (insistence, persistence, resistance, indifference, etc) before the learner is even aware of a problem.
  • Others may initiate pattern-recognizing conversations about the current circumstantial pressures (global, political, economic, production, deadline, budgetary, peer, conformity, social, etc.) that may have induced stress reactions and inhibited learning.
  • Others may have the effect of alleviating stress by simply showing interest, becoming more understanding and responding resourcefully to the friend in need.
  • Others my provide an example of acting powerfully, confidently and effectively that gets the learner to "snap out of it", "lighten up" and follow the leadership example provided.
  • Others may contradict the fear-based rationalizations that justify elevated hyper-tension by reframing the circumstances as opportunities, useful lessons or potentially valuable experiences.
  • Others may redirect outbursts that inadvertently misdirected anger or took frustrations out on others, -- to realize a more respectful and insightful outlook.
  • Others may moderate stress and restore learning by putting the learner's mind at ease, reminding him/her of personal strengths and seeing the good she/he is getting accomplished.
When these functionalities of DIT components in PLE 2.0 take effect, it is very likely that circumstantial stress will be accurately diagnosed and responded to effectively. Any disruption of DIY learning will be quickly alleviated by Doing-It-Together.


Diagnosing learning malfunctions

When learning is not happening, there are many possible dynamics in play. In this forthcoming series of blog posts, I'll explore many possible systems that inhibit, prevent or frustrate learning.
  1. Anxiety induced by the current situation: Pressures in the immediate context can incapacitate the brain functions that respond to learning opportunities. Stressors may include every other system on this list -- as well as workload, schedule, budgetary, peer and conformity pressures.
  2. The learner's past history: Past experiences may have convinced the learner to keep his/her mind closed to any contradictions, further developments or new questions. Strategies may have been adopted to avoid risk-taking, fall prey to perfectionism or maintain a false impression at all cost.
  3. The content under consideration: New ideas and approaches to situations can create cognitive dissonance, values conflicts or disorientation which shuts down further exploration. What is being taught can come at a bad time, fail to appear relevant to the users' contexts or seem useless right now.
  4. Instructional design premises: How the learners are getting taught can send a conflicting message, set the opposite example, or get stuck in the talking stage in spite of good intentions to be informative, educational and engaging.
  5. Presenters and presentations: The people, lack of preparations and printed materials can invite contempt, cynicism and disrespect. The delivery can come across as pretentious, shallow, or inaccurate.
  6. Legacy narratives: The underlying story can evoke reactions like "here we go again", "this too shall pass" and "wake me up when its over". An established plot may be unconsciously maintained to "go through the motions", "spin our wheels" and "go nowhere quickly".
  7. The implicit change strategy: The use of new learning to change behavior, outcomes and effects on other people may backfire. The learning may come as "too little, too late", "overkill" or putting the fire out with gasoline".
Each of these seven dynamics run much deeper than the presenting symptoms in this list. There is much we will explore here in the coming weeks.


Native questioning of PLEs

Fish in the water of our digital culture will be the last to recognize what they are immersed in and are taking for granted. Fish out of water will have the benefit of being puzzled, disoriented and full of questions about these new cultural assumptions. Here's what I've imagined a "digital native" would question how this PLE thing is done if beached on dry land.
  • Does a PLE require tons of reading or is it more like "show and tell", "playing charades" and "role-playing"?
  • What's the point of a PLE if there's no visual storytelling and mash-up with some soundtrack?
  • Were PLE's invented after television? How do I watch and listen to a PLE and change channels in it?
  • How do I get updates from my PLE on my cell and send text messages to my PLE?
  • Is PLE just a download thing, or are there ways to upload the cool stuff I create?
  • Can others tag content in my PLE or is it a private thing?
  • What happens when two PLE's combine and share resources?
  • Can I get RSS or Atom feeds off of others' PLEs to stimulate my own learning and watch others develop?
  • Are there chat rooms, forums and wiki for creators of PLE's to support each other's development?
  • Is the PLE asynch, always on, 24/7 or does it have to be done simultaneously with others on some schedule?
  • Is there a PLE map where I can search for landmarks and find my own coordinates in it?
  • Can I save where I was the last time in my PLE and start there next time?
  • How do I create an avatar in my PLE and explore the different levels of terrain?
  • How do I block skanky invaders and griefers in my PLE?
  • How can I shout out to other PLE's that rock my world?
  • Is a PLE an account somewhere online that says "sign up or sign in" with a place to login my user name and password?
  • Is there a transcript of everything I do in my PLE that I can archive and search a later date?
  • Can I hold web conferences in my PLE and meet up with others to whiteboard ideas together?
  • Is there a mobile version of PLEs or does it only happen on a laptop anywhere there's a WIFI connection?
  • Are there widgets, skins and plug-ins to add to PLE that customizes the look and functionality for me?


Anticipating PLE 2.0

Last summer I wrote 31 posts on this blog which explored how Personal Learning Environments could be formulated, utilized and contrasted with other approaches to learning. In hindsight, that exploration resembles pioneer species taking root on barren ground. The initial development of PLE possibilities now appears to me as the first stage in a continuing evolution. PLE's, as they've been conceived thus far, function as an extreme solution which yields lots of unintended consequences. Here's some facets of the next phase of PLE's evolution that I'm anticipating.

A mash-up of DIY and DIT:
Do-It-Yourself learning can breed isolation and alienation, in spite of all the connectedness enabled by Web 2.0 tools. As Janet Clarey suggested, the self-service opportunities can become burdens that lose sight of the value of DIY. I've recently read four books that all identify emerging patterns in teens and twenty-somethings of Do-It-Together accomplishments, civic mindedness and reciprocal generosity.

Backwards compatibility:

Version 1.0 of a PLE functioned as a stand-alone application. It only worked with self-directed learning. Compatibility problems arose with:
  • LMS/VLE platforms for delivering and monitoring the completion of required content
  • Classroom attendance and synchronous curriculum activities
  • Digitized portfolio development and job-seeking with evidence of completed learning
  • Learning from printed materials that cannot be tagged, searched with keywords, pasted as quotations or subscribed to its feed
Version 2.0 will eliminate the these compatibility problems and integrate these other sub-routines into comprehensive learning processes.

Accommodation of declining reading comprehension and writing skills
Version 1.0 required robust reading skills, as well as new tools literacy. PLE's inherently disregarded the changes initiated by the video/conversational/networking culture. It assumed that print literacy is here to stay. Version 2.0 will embrace more of the storytelling and self expression conveyed by 9232 hours per day of new uploads to YouTube.

Self diagnostic and self healing
PLE 1.0 was vulnerable to system crashes. When learning stopped happening, the PLE was abandoned. It often functioned as a vicious cycle that drained the typical learners of their motivation, curiosity and creativity. Version 2.0 will evolve protocols for restoring learning when it's been disrupted by anti-learning ecologies. New safeguards will protect motivation, curiosity and creativity.