What We’re Missing When Discussing MOOCs: Unintended intentions

20 Aug

There is much talk about MOOCs already, so I needn’t rehash the pros, cons, exemplars and far-more-common horrors as MOOCs reach their fifth birthday. MOOCs for fun, for hobby, for education, for egalitarianism—even MOOCs for corporate purposes and MOOCs for profit. And yes, (Silly Rabbit!) MOOCs for kids!

MOOC completion rates, in the mid-single digits last I saw, get a lot of press. What an uninspired question! But what I have read very little of, and to me is the most interesting question, is why do people sign up for MOOCs in the first place?

Put another way: What are people’s intent when they sign up for a MOOC? If we can begin to capture that, those of us in the learning game might be on to something.

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Millions have taken the time to peruse course offerings, register for a class and attend the first session or two—at least until they are asked to complete tasks and participate in online groups. That is no small act. Those millions are hungry for learning of one kind or another, demonstrated by the act of choosing and signing up.

Is it for hobby? Professional development? Work-related skills? Life skills? Intellectual curiosity? Social pressure (“You’ve never read Moby Dick!?”)? If MOOCs fail to fill most of those hungry minds, that’s a golden opportunity lost.

People want to learn. We yearn for new knowledge, desire (sometimes require) new skills. What if we could offer our people—that is, the folks for whom learning is our responsibility—a vast array of choice, but direct them to learn it in ways that they can actually be successful? When I (and many others) talk about self-directed learning, this is where my imagination runs.

Get our folks to understand that the content they need to learn just about anything and acquire many skills they may lack is there at their fingertips. What an age we live in! They just need the skill to see it, use it, learn it, share it, connect to others through it, incorporate it, grok it. The world is our MOOC, and we can all be our own instructor.

Our jobs need to shift to where we are the facilitators and coaches of self-directed learning, breaking down learning into systems and practices they’ll want to complete … eventually realizing that learning is an ongoing process of their own design that never is complete.

Completion rates? That’s the wrong question! Intention rates? That’s where we need to direct our efforts. Where there is intent to learn, there is shell waiting to be cracked. Where there may even be no intent, there is opportunity to introduce curiosity and growth.

Can you MOOC it, man?!

Working in the Age of (Digital) Exploration: Part II – Navigating the digital high seas

13 Aug
Set your course and head for the high seas. (yachtpals.com)

Set your course and head for the high seas.

There you are, navigator of your solo vessel, heading for discovery, terra incognita, riding a sea of digital waves. In my last post I argued that we all should head out in search of adventure, discovery and limitless exploration. While that may sound inviting, it is hard to know how to navigate through unknown territory, to keep going even when the next port is unknown. Indeed, it is unknowable!

In an earlier age, travelers learned to navigate by understanding the natural markers around them. At its most basic, the sun and moon provide cardinal direction. Gazing at the night sky compelled people across the globe to draw patterns, and from those patterns, to note how they could guide movement: The northern star, the southern cross, the big dipper, the tropics and the planetary ecliptic. Later, with the advent of the sexton and (eventually) accurate timekeeping, global circumnavigation became so commonplace that the age of exploration drew to a close. Arise the age of commerce, of global trade.

The Learning Age, a new kind of age of discovery, requires a similar sort of basic navigational tools in order to keep going and to judge the value of what you find: To sort out gold and spices from flotsam and jetsam. Instead of gazing skyward, we need to work from within outward, and back again, in order to make sense of our known world.

And that requires a system, a method by which to navigate and then to make sense of discoveries.

  1. Know your cardinal directions. While there is no limit to what you’ll discover, you need to always have a general sense of your course. Rather the compass direction, the cardinal orientation here is purpose. What assets or artifacts do you feel lacking? What areas could help you intentionally improve your profession or craft? What people or knowledge would be of most help to you (and you to them!)? For every next shiny object you come across, measure it against your purpose. That will tell you if you’re headed in the right direction.
  2. Be in practice; navigation is your profession. By practice, I mean be in process. Once you have a general sense of your cardinals — where you want to go, and why – the key is to know how to move in that direction with consistency and deliberate action. The process through which you encounter potential treasure, measure its worth, and then keep or discard it is the way to move through the digital world. The more you practice, the more intuitive and natural it becomes.
  3. Patronize the trading posts. Our networks and the Internet as whole are essentially a marketplace of ideas and connections. Share freely: blog, tweet, post, react, write, question, discuss. Sometimes others will pick up what you share, other times not. Have no expectations for reciprocation or immediate return. It’s a process, right? Also understand that there is no way to attend to everything that you encounter – there’s too much information and far too little time. The important thing is picking things up to see if you
    The market is open, 24/7. Make your own discoveries, measure their worth, assemble your inventory as you like.

    The market is open, 24/7. Make your own discoveries, measure their worth, assemble your inventory as you like.

    can use it, and not to sweat about the vast majority of wares you’ll never see. You build what you can out of what you find valuable; don’t fret about the rest.

  4. Attend to your cargo. Is what you carry in your SS Learning worth the effort of transport? Knowledge, adaptations, applications and members of your networks will come and go. Take the time for useful, purposeful pruning. In all likelihood you’ll carry a few ideas, partnerships, and methods to the ends of the digital seas and back. However, the majority of what you put into your hold will at some point become outdated, no longer useful or even dead weight holding you back from the learning velocity you need to maintain. Only you can determine value, but be prepared to reassess and let go on a regular basis.
  5. Move on. If you find a great port, a trove of useful knowledge and ideas, consider yourself lucky. Glean what you can, and return to it as you need to, but keep moving on. What’s precious today may not be tomorrow, depending on changing conditions in what you find useful. The Learning Age is about ongoing learning, adaptation, exposure and network maintenance. Don’t let a beautiful moment in port lead you to settling for a stale life of safe harbor! Gold today may be straw tomorrow.

Choose the life of exploration and set your course, always on the lookout for what is yet to be discovered as you push into the horizon.

Working in the Age of (Digital) Exploration: Part I – Exploring our digital world

11 Aug

Ferdinand Magellan. Marco Polo. Leif Eriksson. Christopher Columbus. The big names of the Age of Exploration traversed land and sea in search of adventure, discovery, glory and wealth. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. Timbuktu. New York. Samarkand. Goa. San Francisco. Great trading cities of the last 700 years (or more), where peoples, cultures, ideas, trades and goods came together and combined in new ways.

We know even less about our digital world than Ptolemy knew about his physical one, circa 1470.

We know even less about our digital world than Ptolemy knew about his physical one, circa 1470.

I say we’re entering a new age of exploration. One in which we are all explorers pushed by digital trade winds to find a new type of discovery, wealth, culture and trade. This new exploration age (what I call The Learning Age) brings together three interrelated facets:

  • The Do It Yourself (DIY) movement overlaps with the “sharing economy,” the “maker movement” and the “hack revolution.” DIY arises from the fact that we don’t need permission to find and use whatever shiny object we happen upon. We can create our own processes, find our own learning opportunities wherever we find them, creating our own Professional Development paths. Intellectual property (IP) rights are in an upheaval, and artifacts that we find in abundance are there to be used, combined, repurposed or discarded—such is our new age of discovery.
  • Digital communities are emerging in ways that allow us to meet people that would have otherwise been impossible, and share ideas exponentially farther than was possible for all but a handful of very famous people in previous generations. The digital trading posts are everywhere, bringing ideas, cultures and wealth of knowledge (along with the same number of hucksters and swindlers, I acknowledge). When TIME ran its person of the year issue in 2006 as “You,” I thought it nothing more than a gimmick. In fact, they were prescient. Who would have guessed?!
  • Learning is the work (not the job): As is increasingly recognized by economists, technologists, strategists, learning professionals and keen observers, the traditional job-based economy is morphing into the “gig economy.” Tasks that require automation and repetition will increasingly become the domain of machines. Economic buoyancy depends on our ability to change, adapt, create and add value. That’s learning, my friends!

But that necessary learning doesn’t happen when we sit behind our desks performing the same tasks in the same ways, and relying on the same information and interpretation as we did yesterday and five years ago. Time to set on a journey of discovery! When we meet new ideas and people on our excursions near and far, traversing the marketplaces of ideas for novelty and gems, we are very much akin to explorers of old. The biggest difference is that we don’t risk our lives at sea, count on the generosity of the moneyed or monarchy, or rely on a crew of many to journey the globe. No, we don’t need the purse of monarchs and financiers to take our trips, nor will anyone command we leave port.

Marco Polo and the extension of the Silk Road into Europe.

Marco Polo and the extension of the Silk Road into Europe.

We are all able to set sail to New Goa or caravan to Nova Samarkand on our own exploration, to ride whatever winds we catch to carry us into unknown regions of knowledge, culture and application. In my next post, I’ll share ways to navigate this new world without knowing exactly where you’re going to land.

The Blimage Challenge: Just use your blimagination

27 Jul

I’ve been watching the #blimage activities from the edge, but decided it was time to jump in and test the waters. I read Clark Quinn’s response to Jane Hart’s challenge last week (nicely done!), and decided to take him up on his open challenge to join the pool party.

The #blimage (blog image, I suppose) idea is a kind of Rorschach test. An image is presented as the challenge, and the responder conjures a way to make sense of it as metaphor or interpret it as a way to look at our work. This process works well for me, as it aligns with my own approach to working, thinking and learning (all the same things, really): 1) the key is acting, not the prompt for the action, 2) artifacts don’t carry their own meaning, only the meaning the observer assigns (why curation is so critical) and 3) we should share ideas transparently before they have a chance to set into solid ideology or methodology (#WOL/#LOL).

So, here is the image:

maze

Watch your step!

We all work through the maze of our professional and personal lives. Obstacles present themselves in the forms of walls to overcome and holes to avoid falling into. The danger is in planning moves too far in advance.

Here, our figure seems prepared, alert, and ready to take on his challenges. His gaze is up and to the right, on where he’s headed. He’s prepared to execute his plan to navigate to his goal, quite unaware that he is one stride away from falling into the hole directly in front of him.

He’d… we’d… OK, I’d… be much better off focusing on the task at hand and negotiating the small work-arounds as they present themselves rather making long-term plans to achieve a goal that may very well be an ever-moving target.

The skill, then, is to have a navigable path, or at least a direction in which to set sail by setting a few easily sighted principal points of orientation by which to measure progress. (I wrote about navigation by stars here a while ago as a similar metaphor, but perhaps it’s time to revisit that theme.) Then, be prepared for what lies directly at the fore, and have a plan should you find yourself falling into a hole.

So, chart a course by which to navigate. Avoid the pitfalls that you may not see directly in front of you. Be prepared should you need to pick yourself up after you fall.

From Auckland, a charge to curate

24 Jul

Nigel Young, a professional colleague via my Twitter PLN, pointed me to a live broadcast from eLearnz 2015, a New Zealand eLearning conference that I could watch while at my desk in Portland, Oregon. Randomly, and quite fortunately, I saw some of Nigel Paine’s remarks. (A classic case of serendipity, but that’s a topic for another time!)

Wait! I was watching a live broadcast of a conference happening in as far away place as could possibly be! That, in itself, should highlight how very different our world has become. But, that’s not what I want to discuss in this current post — just a rather amazing set up.

A comment he made, among many important comments on MOOCs, neuroscience and some serious debunking of “rubbish,” that really made me sit up and pay attention was his discussion of the wastefulness of content creation for almost all learning programs.

L & D, training providers and their kin serve their clients’ needs, whether they’re internal or external. As a service provider, I think we do our clients a disservice if our first thought is to

Create your own learning boutique from the abundance around us. Or better yet, let your learners put together the collection themselves!

Create your own learning boutique from the abundance around us. Or better yet, let your learners put together the collection themselves!

create something new for the learning need (real or imagined). For the vast majority of topics, there is nothing we could create that does not already exist. Like a good librarian or boutique shopkeeper, the value is in the careful curation of artifacts that take the customer (learner) on a journey of discovery. If I ask a librarian to help me learn to fix my bicycle, I certainly would not expect him to write me a guidebook! He will find the best existing materials to recommend.

As Nigel Paine said, people will yawn their way through a corporate training event, and, later that evening, happily turn to YouTube to repair their dishwasher. Can’t we learn from this new reality? The feeling among some of our colleagues is that our learning problems are so complex, so unique that no video or website could adequately address them. That may be, but in aggregate of sources, via a collection of various bits and parts? I’m guessing we could get just about all the way there. Our own sense of importance becomes our blinders.

The key is to make sense of the overabundance that exists in our digital, connected world. The skills adults need to find, connect, synthesize and share content are not instinctive. It’s not a matter of some “having the knack” and others out of luck. It’s a learned skillset.

Taking this to its logical conclusion: For your next learning activity, direct your cohort to curate their own resources. I had discussed this once before, in a much earlier post. While my thinking and practice have evolved quite a bit in the two years since then, I think that the idea remains valid. By learners curating their own learning, then sharing it back with a cohort, it allows for learning skills, reflection, demonstration, defense, social interaction. That’s how people learn!

You’ll not only have a great collection of learning resources, but you’ll help your learners learn the skills of the digital age at the same time. Oh, and you save your client a lot of time and money, too.

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