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Is It Really Property? What’s the Expense of Guarding It?

12 Mar
  • The future is unknown.
  • Specific goals should change frequently. Whatever you think you are working towards at present will be different a year from now (and if it’s not, ask some deep questions).
  • Learning is acquiring and applying skills so that individuals become skilled at sense-making from abundance.
  • Value is accrued by sharing freely across, between and beyond specific organizations.
  • Workers should discover, test, elevate and discard new ideas and processes.
  • Trust is the lifeblood of modern work.
  • Creativity > Skills: What you can learn above what you know; synthesis over distillation.

I have been thinking about these ideas for quite some time. I read, write, discuss and promote ideas about organizations, and the ways in which individuals move through and beyond them. The power of networks and worker mobility have altered the ways in which we need to organize ourselves and develop our professional skills.

I am not alone, nor breaking vast areas of new ground. I owe much to others whom I follow and learn from. (See @BenCpdx to see whom I connect with.) This is the model I build on.

Learning Age

As I consult with organizations, I get two common push-backs:

  1. What about protecting intellectual property (IP)?
  2. How can we (our organization) maintain focus on our goals if we allow a free-for-all of exploration and individual sense-making?

This post will focus on IP. I will follow up with the organizational goals in my next post.

I find people often confuse smart ideas and clever people with actual “property.” Property represents specific, recognizable, and likely commercial products. That actually limits the conversation reasonably well. Because a team within your organization is working on a new product or service line does not mean that you need to guard a specific property. In those cases, I argue that transparency and working out loud (#WOL) will benefit progress much more than expose it to danger.

IP should also mean In Progress. Whatever you feel may your organization’s secrets, or the guarded technology that allows you to out-perform your competitors, are likely much less important than you think. We live in an era of constant change, and the value of any given IP is also in flux. Context and connection reign. Thriving organizations are more concerned with culture and process than with particular property.

Even in cases where one feels the need to protect patent information, in fact the reverse is often true. Joerg Thomaier, Chief IP Counsel at Bayer: “Greater transparency on the patents covering a product would avoid situations where companies inadvertently infringe our patents… the whole industry will need to embrace the idea [of] greater transparency.” In other words, the considerable time and cost into protecting and fighting for IP could be significantly reduced by transparency.

The core of the push-back lies in the us v them industrial view of business and the traditional command-and-control mechanisms of the late industrial age. Those days are fading into the past. Creativity, synthesis and transparency are the new lifeblood of the connected age (what I call “The Learning Age”). The work, then, is to develop the skills for people and organizations to thrive in the new era.

Yogi’s Fork: Take it

8 Oct

Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, admired public figure and philosopher of the common man, recently passed away. Famous for his many aphorisms, there is one in particular that applies well to how individuals and organizations operate in the digital age (what I call The Learning Age): “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.”

While this could be interpreted a number of ways I suppose, I’ve always taken it to mean that action is better than inaction. Making a decision can be as important as making the right decision, at least in most circumstances. That is, if we do the work of reflection, documentation, and in so doing allow it to inform what we do at similar forks in the future, that is the most important action.

I wrote about this some time ago, but it is worth revisiting.

While it’s of course ideal to make evidence-based, informed decisions when possible, we live in a world of novelty and experimentation. We are constantly faced with decision points that are unlike those we have encountered previously. The worst thing we can do is to be paralyzed by indecision. Make a choice, note how and why you made that choice so that you can create your own evidence for next time. Then, do your best to make the decision work as best as possible. That way, once we are past the fork, we have a trail of actions and outcomes that we can reflect on the next time we face a similar divergence on our path (and there will be many!).

Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline and elsewhere, talks about a double loop of learning, and if we want to dress up our Yogi’ism we can overlay Senge’s principle to it. Take the fork, make the choice, but use the data you collected from previous choices to consider the assumptions and underlying reasoning that steer things left or right, and build your next decision on the knowledge (living in the people, the outcomes and the technology at hand) to create a constant updated loop of what you know and you apply it.

Individuals and organizations need to thrive in a constantly-changing set of circumstances. If we wait for the perfect choice to reveal itself before acting, we are doomed to the dustbin. Act based on the information at hand, and learn from the outcome(s) for the next fork.

There are no “wrong” choices. Mistakes are fine, just remember what Yogi said: Losing only happens because “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Rest in peace, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra.

A Manifesto (with Poor Graphic Design)

26 Aug

If you have been following my blog over the last couple of years (thank you!), you may have noticed some changes to the banner and template recently. Other than the aesthetics, which I like better, I wanted to have a banner image in my own hand that represents what I’m working on in this space, and in my professional life.

That said, I know that the graphics are a bit opaque. Allow me to explain.

For fully realized learners* to function across an organization and find personal satisfaction through professional development, three foundational elements must stand firm:

3 pillarsAcculturation & Alignment: Individuals must feel that their efforts are adding value to the organization, and that those efforts are nurtured in turn by coworkers, organizational leaders and professional peers. Tasks have meaning, and individuals should feel a part of something larger within a set of cultural cues that enable growth and autonomy.

Competency & Assessment: Workers need a measure of their own competence and a way of assessing and measuring the growth of new competencies over time. As we move to an increasingly automated workplace and rote tasks are replaced by automation, workers’ sense of worth (competency) must grow, adapt and change over time, in internally and externally measurable ways. Stagnation is the enemy not only of the human spirit but of organizational livelihood.

Skills and Knowledge: This is the core. Learners’ sense of self and their value to others starts here. “I know what I know!” and “I know what I can do!” are the essence of professional identity. The practice that needs to develop is how learners can share what they know, and do so in a manner that cuts across the other realms of competency and acculturation. Continue reading

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.

It’s a matter of words

28 Mar

What’s in a word? Well, quite a lot it seems. Recently, in both my personal contemplation and my professional discussions, I have been grappling with what to call this thing that we do. We are e-learning practitioners and we have an e-learning team. That is how we refer to ourselves and how our organization refers to us. That’s (mostly) fine for our internal reference, but it becomes problematic in a larger context.

Let’s try on some other words to see how they all fit:

"E-learning!?  You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

“E-learning!? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

E-learning: Setting aside the lack of standardized spelling (eLearning, Elearning, elearning, e-learning, E-Learning, etc.), what does e-learning mean? Per my previous posts, in a world where we are compelled to be life-long learners or risk “falling behind,” and in which we spend considerable hours in front of screens of all sizes, what is the “e”? Yes, we learn in many ways, but for many e-learning is an opaque, esoteric term. For others, it immediately conjures the dreaded “module” — pages of texts to click through and perhaps take a quiz at the end. Not exactly what I’d like to be associated with.

I know E-learning has stood the test of time: The eLearning Guild (in which I am an active participant), ASTD e-learning certificate, the great E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, and so on. But then again, times they are a-changing (and always will be). When someone comes down my hall to tell me that they need one of those e-learning things, somehow I feel that the term has failed to have our intended meaning.

Distance Learning: “Back in my day, we took a distance correspondence course to become a radio repairman. Then we were set for life!” OK, maybe that is a bit unfair to that term and those who use it. But, I also don’t think it comes close to describing what we do. Certainly a person in an organization can be learning while sitting next to another person who is learning and across from the instructional designer who created it. Distance is neither a defining condition nor a very apt explanation, any more than reading is a form of “distance communication.”

Virtual Learning: I admit this one really boils my butter. When I’m watching a show about the platypus, I’m learning. When I’m taking a course on the latest computer system, I’m learning. And, when I’m making connections between my colleague’s Twitter feed and the latest industry trends, I’m absolutely learning. None of it is virtual – it is all real! As real as 8th grade math class was (which was virtually useless, I concede). Learning is learning, no matter the media. So, until I put on the high-tech goggles and start learning to slay dragons, let’s put this one away.

Digital Learning: Hmmm.. this has potential. Yes, what I do is design learning programs that are (mostly, anyway) delivered through digital media: some combination of sites, courses, videos, webinars, online affinity groups and communities of practice, curated websites and content streams, etc. Would the larger world read digital learning to mean learning about digital technology? That is a potential problem, but it may not be insurmountable.

Holistic Learning: OK, I’ll put on the Enya and you get the crystals. Shame, because I think some word that implies a comprehensive program of adult learning, one that encompasses courses, social learning, performance support,


Enya wants in on our holistic learning.

professional development paths, etc., is a worthy endeavor. But I don’t think I could pull off calling what I do “holistic learning” – and I know my colleagues couldn’t. (Joking, dear friends! Sort of.)

Performance Support Programs: I do like the idea of leading with the purpose (performance support) rather than the delivery vehicle (courses, job aides, websites, webinars, etc.). After all, that is the purpose we undertake any adult learning program, isn’t it? For learners to apply what they know and what the learn in order to perform better. A bit more closely aligned with HR-speak than I might care for, but it’s not bad.

I have a close colleague here, though, who strongly objects to the term “perform” as it applies to people and their jobs. Actors perform. Trained animals perform. But free-thinking people have self-determination and agency beyond mere performance. While I don’t have that reaction, there seems to be enough folks out there who do to consider carefully how and where we use this term.

Online Learning: Online, that is connected to, well, something: The Internet, the web, the LMS, the satellite, the cell phone tower, the intranet. Even if we are still working in CD- or DVD-ROM-based training (it’s 1998 calling: It wants it’s CD back!), the notion that we are using a connected tool (the PC) on which to learn seems pretty solid. And, it sets personal or classroom learning settings as something apart from online learning. Do we have a winner?

Can we swap “online learning” for “e-learning” as the more succinct, less negatively connotative term? Perhaps I’ll take it up at the next eLearning Guild event.

I would love for your thoughts on this. Feel free to leave a comment.

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