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“Technology” does not have a multitasking problem. Multitasking has a multitasking problem.

20 Feb

Any tool is a weapon — if you hold it right. Ani DiFranco

The problem with our always-on digital world is that everyone is trying to multitask. The less technology you use, the less that will be a problem. Or, so many people will tell you.


Technology has nothing, or at least very little, to do with it. Don’t blame the sunset for distracting you from your work. Anyone who does good productive, creative, inventive, inspirational work is able to solve this problem. By scientific definition, the executive function to focus on completing a task successfully precludes multitasking (from technology, or any other source). Executive function can only handle one problem at a time. (Oh, but were we wired otherwise!) So, the issue is not multitasking, but distraction.

Those who are easily distracted today by Twitter and Angry Birds and Facebook and Game of War are easily distractible. That is not a technology issue. (I freely admit I am easily distractible, too!) We all had friends in school who would suddenly fall behind the group, having stopped to observe an ant hill or sunlight through leaves or a pretty attraction, some object of desire. Same as it ever was.

What has changed is the manifestation of our distraction, in plain sight for all to see: those darn phones! When I am with my wife at a restaurant, she can (usually!) tell if my mind is off somewhere else, undeterred that she is trying to have a conversation. This is human nature. However, if I am equally (or even less!) distracted by looking at my phone, be it a text message or solitaire, she is all the more annoyed and lets me know in no uncertain terms. I can’t say I blame her—I feel the same way.

So, it is more the case that phones signal to others that we are not on the task we are supposed to be on, be it work or socializing. Ah, but the temptation is always there, that constant siren song of distraction. Can’t that be dumbing us down into mere entertainment consumers when we could have be having deep thoughts? As a recent New York Times op-ed column highlights:

The direst prediction offered by digital critics—our phones are really pocket-size deep fryers for the mind—may be untrue, but the alternative I’ve suggested sounds nearly as bad. The appetite for endless entertainment suggests that worthier activities will be shoved aside. We may buy Salman Rushdie’s book, but we’ll end up sucked in by Flappy Bird.

However, it goes on:

That doesn’t quite seem to be the case, either. Research shows, for example, that the amount of leisure reading hasn’t changed with the advent of the digital age. Before we congratulate ourselves, though, let’s acknowledge that brainier hobbies have never been that popular. There have always been ways to kill time.

And so we arrive at the point of interest. Our devices are not going away, nor all the “unproductive” ways we use them. Their ability to distract us seems limitless.

Woody Guthrie understood that an instrument or tool's power lay in the hands of the user.

Woody Guthrie understood that an instrument or tool’s power lay in the hands of the user.

However, their ability to engage us is equally limitless!

They can take our notes, capture our thoughts, connect to people and ideas, and answer our pressing questions, large and small. As with any tool that we have ever made for ourselves, from the wheel to the PC, it is only as productive as the person using it.

Productivity, creativity and motivation (or lack thereof) remain the essence of human action. I argue that as many people may be turned into entertainment-distraction zombies, an even greater number of us have been hooked into networks, hobbies, niches and communities through digital portals. I can tell you this: The hours I spent in front of the Gilligan’s Island and Hogan’s Heroes when I was a child would have been much better spent on Facebook and Twitter.

As a learning professional, I say rather than battle our little distraction machines, let’s redirect to make them little engagement machines instead. When I plan a learning experience now, I find a way to incorporate mobile devices into the flow of the activity (synchronously or asynchronously). People need to learn how to how to hold it right to make it useful for productive purposes.

Words With Friends will always be there when we need a distraction—but you can’t multitask that game, either.

Why tweet, and who gives a hoot? What Twitter does for me

30 Jan

I read, write and think about learning, knowledge management and collaborative work — it’s a lot to keep up with.

My Personal Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Knowledge Management/Mastery (PKM) practice has become vital to my professional growth . Of all the things I do in support of these efforts — blog, write articles, read, synthesize (what PKM calls “sense-making”), share, meet, respond and react — it is Twitter that I get the most questions, doubt, and even hostility about.

I want to share here why I use Twitter, and how it helps me.

I begin by saying I was late to it. I was skeptical, and more than a little derisive about those tweeters constantly tethered to their phones. I did not dive in: I was hesitant, lurking, dipping my toes in one digit at time. So, to you doubters, I was there with you not long ago.

Now, in two-years’ time, I can’t imagine my professional life without it!

With that said, it is NOT about Twitter itself. Twitter is a tool, like a hammer or a saw — they are useless until used purposefully. Twitter will be gone in 5 (or 10?) years, replaced by something(s) else. While I have found great value in applying Twitter to develop my PLN, it needn’t have been Twitter. It just worked well for me. You might find another tool that works for you. Great! It is the practice, not the tool.

Some ways I use Twitter to propel “real” work:

  • Capture thoughts and notes in real time, often with a hashtag (#, as in #learning) to help categorize it for myself and others.
  • Share and “favorite” useful tweets to let the most pertinent comments rise to the top and become easy to find.
  • Find like-minded people across the hall, or across the globe, with whom to share and learn. I have built my PLN from scratch, relying on Twitter for 90% of it. There is generally a true spirit of generosity and openness that’s remarkable.
  • Follow and learn from experts and leaders, to see what they are thinking, reading and see who they are following. Because Twitter is a-symmetrical (unlike Facebook, for example) you can follow anyone without the need for that person to reciprocate. (This difference was articulated nicely by Harold Jarche, which — and whom — I found via Twitter.) I follow @BarackObama, but he doesn’t follow me… yet!
  • Twitter storms. A synchronous (live) twitter event around a particular topic, these are generally moderated in a Q/A format with some opportunity for intros and self-promotions. Twitter storms are extremely useful to share and hear ideas, “meet” new like-minded people, and enjoy some PD time. Best of all, the transcripts are available after to remember and reflect on the storm’s activity.
  • Like Twitter storms, tweeting during — yes during! — live events, classes and sessions proves to be very useful. It creates a “back-channel” to help make sense of the information, and adds instant and long-lasting value by providing insights into what others make of it. In addition, it is a great way for me to experience an event even if I’m not there. It is so valuable!

The most common reservations I hear:

Who cares what I think? I care what I think (or thought last week or last year). You also might. And if not, that’s fine too. It is a micro-blog tool, a way to share thoughts and activities. The value is in the stream to reflect upon later, to discover others who cared, reactions to forming ideas and activities as they grow. When you share an idea or thought, you never know how others — or even you, after some time passes — will react. I saw Dr. deGrasse-Tyson stop, mid-talk, to tweet a thought. If it is worth noting, it’s worth saving. And, if worth saving, it’s worth sharing.

What can you learn from 140 characters? It’s not enough! Enough for what? To jot a note? Or ask a colleague a question? Or refer your friend to an article or video you found? 140 characters is plenty. In fact, I have found over time that the space limit actually helps sharpen my writing — and thoughts — down to essentials. Remember: It is not a replacement for other forms of communication!

It’s a fad that’s going away. As I say above, it’s true: If we’re still using Twitter 10 years from now, I’ll be quite surprised. The same is also true of Facebook, email (please, let it be so!!), and wired telephones (who has long phone conversations anymore!?). Tools come and go, but building PLN and PKM practice will remain.

It’s too informal. It’s frivolous. Depends on who’s wielding the tool. It can be feathery light or as serious as life-and-death (literally, as #BlackLivesMatter showed).

– I don’t have time. If you find it useful, you’ll have time. You don’t have time to change a tire on your car on your way to work, unless you need to change the tire.

Find me @BenCpdx… I’ll leave the bird on for you. If I’m the recipient of your first tweet, it would be an honor and I promise to reply.

bdc twitter

Stuck inside of mobile with the platform blues again

22 Jan

I hear it everywhere I go, in conversations with people who don’t know better and—more frustratingly—with people who should. Some variation of the themes laid down in this recent article from CMS Wire. Complete with a fine-looking infographic (which I’m a sucker for!), the author highlights trends in business communication. She points out the shift to a higher share of communications on mobile devices and internal tools (intranets and enterprise network solutions (ENS)), and away from face-to-face meetings.

She is correct on each point, and yet misses the point entirely.

The significant trends in our networked world aren’t about mobile, communication platforms and new devices. The “trends” in workplace communication are about why and how, not what and on which platform.

As I’ve discussed in this blog before, alongside and in the footsteps of those more expert than I, all that devices and platforms provide us with is a new gateway to discover, categorize, tag, share, synthesize and learn from the information at our fingertips. The hot new device of 2015, and whatever new platform your organization rolls out this year, doesn’t really matter. Devices and platforms are fleeting and will be gone by 2020.

The mental maps we create are the critical element in how we work/ learn.

The mental maps we create are the critical element in how we work/ learn.

The real change is between our ears, within organizations that are reconfiguring away from hierarchies and toward network-centered activities, and those who can learn—and make use of that learning—every day, individually and collectively.

I see this confusion raging even close to home in my own PLN in eLearning and L & D circles. “Mobile is the next big thing!” No, it isn’t. Mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous and we can’t ignore their significance in how we deliver learning experiences and performance support, but they are only a facet of what really is the next big thing: personal learning and how it intersects organizational and communal learning. The significance of “mobile vs. other” will be over by 2020 (along with email as primary work function, please!!), but the significance of learning practice as the tool for organizational and professional development is just getting off the ground.

Sooner or later, one of must know… sorry, couldn’t stop myself.

Thanks, Bob.

Thanks, Bob.

e-Liberate! Shall we agree to lose the e?

25 Nov


What does it mean to you? Check out the Wikipedia definition: Clear as eMud.

At some point in my career I was certainly an eLearning (e-learning? elearning?) professional, even an evangelist. Not anymore. Not that I think there is anything wrong with what eLearning has traditionally been, per se, but just that we have moved beyond the e’s usefulness as a signifier.

As I’ve argued on several occasions, learning is our job, and we all are swimmers in the vast digital sea. Whatever eLearning means to us insiders, a large chunk of our learners and sponsors(!) imagine
e-courses to be clicked through as quickly as possible (if at all) so work can resume. The saddest bit of all is that a good portion of well-intentioned practitioners also think that way about the products we develop.

The Zombie E has had its day, but it is time we kill it.  Jawboneradio via flickr (

The Zombie E has had its day, but it is time we kill it.
Jawboneradio via flickr (

However, the shift is underway. I see it in the conferences I attend, via the PLNs I find so valuable, and in noble efforts like the Serious eLearning Manifesto. We now speak of learning experiences, and programmatic efforts to capture and share informal, ongoing, and “back-channel” learning. Through xAPI’s positive influence (more influence than practice at this point), Twitterstorms and organized peer hangouts, the means for professional growth are expanding. We are grappling—and sometimes succeeding—with how to integrate all of our training and learning events under the umbrella of learning practice.

So, what does the e mean? I really don’t know at this point. I no longer think of myself as an “eLearning” professional, but as a learning professional. Courses (tethered to an LMS or not), blended learning, live events, social media feeds, WOL/Show Your Work opportunities, PKM practice—these are all levers to be applied as the learning, professional development, and organizational goals dictate.

Digital delivery, via screens large and small (perhaps “mobile” needs to go, too?), takes the lion’s share of our work. And when live events occur, we work to integrate and amplify the strengths of the two together. So, it’s just learning, right?

Well, then: It’s time to embrace the future by losing the e.

Learning Guild? Learning Manifesto? Learning Industry? Yes, that’s what I’m suggesting. We are learning professionals, implementing learning programs.

Who’d have thunk that AOL’s “You’ve got mail!” (never email) slogan was ahead of its time?

I very much welcome your thoughts, rebuffs, and ideas on this topic. Leave a comment here, or find me at @BenCpdx.

WonderWOL: Why Work Out Loud?

13 Nov

Next week, November 17 to 21 is International Working Out Loud Week (WOL Week). Education Northwest, my organization, is one that has struggled at times to identify and implement the best ways to share knowledge and increase transparency across areas of work. We are not unique in that. I am hoping that the activities we’re rolling out for WOL Week will advance the cause.

What is WOL, aka Show Your Work? It’s a practice of simply documenting work and/or thoughts about that work, as it is happening or immediately after as an extension of the task. I hear you cringing: Great, more work?! Two short answers before I get into the more meaty whys below. 1. Once in the habit, this will save you work. 2. It’s kind of fun.

There are four main factors that, taken together, I think make a compelling case for doing some form of WOL.

  1. The speed of knowledge: Content is everywhere, data is all around, information streams at us constantly. Knowledge and its application – synthesized information that we can apply in meaningful ways – can run incredibly fast. Not just knowledge of a topic, field, or practice, but also knowledge of how to do things, in this workplace, and with the right tools and processes. WOL can help us keep up, by prompting us to document what we do and how we do it, and to have insight into other’s practices, too.
  2. The movement of people: Very few of us stay at an organization across years and decades anymore (and in this regard, Education Northwest’s staff longevity is an exception to other places I’ve been). Even if we do, the job that we do today isn’t the same as the job we did five years ago or will do five years from now (and if it is, ask WHY!?!). WOL practice is a way to document what we do and how we do it, and helps retain institutional memory and accelerate best practices.
  3. Learning is our primary task: As I’ve argued on numerous occasions, learning is our job: Working is learning, learning is working. See points 1 and 2 above. If we don’t have a method to keep up and keep learning, we are left behind, as individuals in the workforce and in our organizations.
  4. Loss of people whose job it is to know how to get things done: Watch any TV show set
    They knew how to actually get work done, but that' s a by-gone era (for better, mostly).

    They knew how to actually get work done, but that’ s a by-gone era (for better, mostly).

    in the workplace before 1995, and you’ll see the cadre of people who actually know how to get things done. They were called admins, support staff, interns or junior staff. (In a way Education Northwest is an exception here, too – I’m grateful for the terrific support staff we have.) Need to pull reports? Send a letter to the board? Work the system to get a contractor paid? Now we are meant to be self-reliant. That is, responsible for our professional development and subject AND how to get things done. That’s our world. WOL practices are a great way to address that, too. People are notoriously bad at describing what they actually do to get things done – it’s tucked away between the ears. I don’t know how to get a contractor’s payment though HR and payroll, but surely someone in my organization does and may have shared that info. See? It saves you time!

There are all kinds of reasons to give WOL a try. Don’t worry if you don’t know your hashtags from your hash browns. Use whatever works for you – write a sticky note, take a picture of it, and send it to your colleagues. Join me and the (tens of?) thousands of folks who understand that we need new and better ways to share with each other in our workplaces and across our professions.



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