Monday, June 30, 2014

Thinking openly

Image: osmar01, via
It's finally time to sit back and reflect on the Learning & Skills Group Conference, and I can't think of a better place to start than with David Price's keynote session. This session is particularly important for me since I am involved in both workplace learning and the education system, both of which are experiencing a massive change in the face of technology and the accompanying shift in peoples' attitudes and behaviours. David's book ties in well with a growing number of themes that I have been exploring lately.

For the workplace, we are experiencing a shift in the normal hierarchies, with smarter companies realising that learning has to flow up as well as down. Employees simply have to be trusted to think and adapt in a rapidly changing landscape, one where job security and trust are becoming scarce commodities. Even our relentless drive to get everyone a degree cannot guarantee success, as this actually seems to drive the cost of skilled labour down through the Dutch auction effect. The only skills that seem to have real value are those which are self-taught, and the value of knowledge has changed from economic to social.

The six imperatives of social learning:

  1. Do it yourself - we can share information amongst ourselves faster than our institutions can
  2. Do it now - immediacy
  3. Do it with friends - to share and reinforce learning
  4. Do it for fun - playfulness can be used to surprising effect
  5. Do unto others - generosity
  6. Do it for the world to see - high visibility

There's a lot in common here with the theme of personal learning networks, coupled with a growing understanding of how these diffuse interactions can slowly but permanently change society. In the emerging future, education has to move from pedagogy towards heutagogy, with an emphasis on learning how to learn - content may indeed remain king, but it will be created increasingly by the learners themselves.

With a greater sense-making network around them, people feel more able to take on the 'fail fast and iterate' approach of Google. Companies that operate this way have more in common with the 'machine shop' culture, where learning is social and horizontal, and learners are free to roam and combine their ideas with a 'freedom to fail'.

'Thinking that the role of leadership is to act and make short-term decisions misses out on how well fully functioning human networks can deal with most problems without intervention from above. When managers and executives get involved, they often make things worse for those doing the day-to-day work. This is even more pronounced when those doing the work are connected to their peers in social networks and communities of practice that have established and trusted knowledge-sharing practices.'

Harold Jarche, Good leaders connect

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Digital futures

As the World Wide Web turns 25 years old, common themes are beginning to emerge about the impact it has made, and continues to make, on global society. Tyler Falk (2014) highlights 15 predictions for the digital future, based on the findings from the Pew Research Internet Project (Anderson & Rainie, 2014), many of which show the massive implications for learning and education that stem from the presence of internet technology. In particular, the pervasive connectivity will threaten the existing business models employed by education establishments and publishers.

A global learning environment

Having the right information to hand at the right moment is crucial to learning - whether it's for a teacher explaining a new concept to a student, or having a timely reminder available as a new task is attempted. The seamless connectivity that is growing across the internet, and the availability of convenient devices to access it from, is lowering the cost of learning transactions everywhere. Disruptive movements are on the rise that take advantage of this ability to share information and ideas without the normal barriers of time and distance, exemplified by the Khan Academy and MOOCs.

How will this affect the traditional education establishments? Some of the respondents in the survey predict less spending on real estate and teachers - does this mark the demise of traditional education and educators, or an opportunity to adopt networked pedagogy to make our existing structure more powerful by adopting models of networked pedagogy (Wheeler, 2014)? Organisations will have to adapt too, learning to deal with bad acting and replace current norms with newer ones more appropriate for a digital age. Regardless of the final outcome, expect the technology to be continuously operating in the background, woven into the fabric of everything we do, as leaders chase the dream of 'a more informed and more educated world population'.

Social evolution

The rise of networks and their disruptive effect on society has been a subject of interest from many authors since the creation of the World Wide Web. Weinberger et al. (1999) put forward the Cluetrain Manifesto as a stark 
warning to corporations - the markets that they were used to dominating were rapidly becoming smarter than any corporate policies could keep up with. Corporate lifespans continue to deteriorate - the average lifespan of leading companies in the US is now just 15 years (Gittleson, 2012). This disruptive effect on the existing social order also echoes the model for social evolution put forward by Ronfeldt (1996, 2012), whereby the addition of a new form of organisation will subvert the existing structure before the full benefits are realised.

The ultimate form of the 'network' is a matter for ongoing discussion, as many people have their own definitions of what constitutes a network - it is likely that they will continue to be characterised largely by the disruptive influence that they exhibit, and the inability of our existing structures to adapt, rather than by specific organisational structures. As Nishant Shah observes 'It is not merely a tool of enforcing existing structures; it is a structural change in the systems we are used to'.

Persistence of time

From all the potential positive and negative impacts, one factor that may have the most powerful effect on education is the ability to create persistent institutions for the long term, as observed by Jerry Michalski. Moving to systems based on trust, rather than distrust, will be the crucial factor for creating a better education system - our present organisations lack the ability to overcome the minority who wish to harm others, but a system based on trust holds the promise to reverse this trend. The last thesis on the list holds the key here: The best way to predict the future is to invent it'.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Internet safety

Yesterday was Safer Internet Day - I find it interesting that this coincided with another campaign: The Day We Fight Back. Because the future of the internet is under threat from many different angles, all stemming from the darker side of human nature.

There are those who would use the internet to bully and harass individuals for their own gratification, as Steve Wheeler discussed in his post. We all need to consider how to fight back against these threats from those who just can't behave sociably, no matter the technology. But there are much more pervasive, long-term threats looming in the background.

Above all, the promise of the internet is that of free and open sharing of information, promoting an exciting future that supports development of knowledge without artificially imposed restrictions. But governments seem to be happy to bulldoze over human rights in the name of national security, and while we may feel safer for this, without some appropriate principles in place, none of us would feel safe in sharing any information, thus devaluing the potential of the medium.

There are also threats looming from the corporate sector - some have warned of an internet apocalypse with the US and EU ready to hand corporations the right to impose selective speeds on internet traffic according to ability to pay. This would erode human rights everywhere, from developing countries to global activism against greed and recklessness.

I hope you had a safe day with the internet - and may you continue to do so.