Thursday, December 20, 2007


Much as I love technology and gadgets, they have their downside. Mobiles on trains are just ANNOYING, and bluetooth headsets mark the wearer out as, well SAD.

Following the advice of the great Bob Marley we can, for about $25, buy a device that jams annoying mobile calls. Click the switch and it sends out a blast of radio waves that stops the call. This has become something of a sport with jamming commuters. They wait until the caller gets through and jam it just one sentence into the conversation. "Wicked man.....CLICK, "Off to Tuscany tomorrow...CLICK. Wonderful!

On Bluetooth, I think it should be made legal to hit anyone wearing said device on the head, with a baseball bat. You might as well tattoo 'I'M A TOTAL PRAT' on your forehead. Note, of course, that this picture shows something you never see in real life - a woman wearing the device - never happens, they're far too sensible.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Are we outsourcing our memory?

When neuroscientist Ian Robertson tested 3,000 people he found significant differences between the young and old in the recall of personal information (telephone numbers, relative’s dates of birth etc). The differences were in some cases as much as 87% versus 40% recall. Robertson puts this down to fingertip knowledge retrieval. Why remember telephone numbers, dates and email addresses, when they’re stored online?

Put it in

In short, we’re outsourcing our memory. My blogs (e-learning, travel, art) are extensions of my brain’s memory storage, as are my stored photographs, papers, book reviews , powerpoints and so on. I’ve been blogging for years only to find that my posts form a sort of archive of thoughts that I often turn to for answers to questions I’m asked or reports I write or for items in talks I give at conferences. When writing or saving stuff becomes habitual, you find, years later, that you have an invaluable trace of personal thoughts and reflections. It’s also a powerful method of learning, as it makes you enjoy learning, focus your thoughts and engage in debate with others. I’ve loved receiving comments on my blog and engaging with people, many whom I have never met. Rather than locking up your thoughts, and inevitably forgetting most of them, you can get it down and it’s out there. I have also benefited from these outpourings and memory archives of others I admire – Clive Shepherd, Jay Cross, Seb Schmoller, David Wilson and many others. Their memories seem accessible to me.

Pull it out
What’s interesting about this form of storage is the power of retrieval. Rather than relying on my increasingly fallible ability to recall knowledge I can, wherever I am in the world, go online and pull it out in it’s original digitally perfect form. There’s no forgetting, filtering or distortion. My iPod has my lifetime’s likes in music ready to be retrieved from my pocket. Like many others I have searched for a topic on Google only to see my own archived blog entry appear on the first search page. This is as stark a comparison between the fallibility of biological memory, compared to the infallibility of my extended digital memory.

Pass it on
This retrieved knowledge can even be passed on with links in emails or messenger. It’s this instant access, looking up Wikipedia or Googling while on the phone, in a meeting or a conference call, that characterises this extension of memory. It’s retrieval with a punch – with replicability.

Truly remarkable
What’s remarkable about all of this outsourced memory is that’s it’s free. The tools, storage and retrieval are all free. It’s hard to see how astonishing this change has been, how absolutely revolutionary. And this is only the beginning. Our new digital identities will become ever-more important, possibly as important as our biological identities.

Christmas turkeys

Recent reports from the ASTD and Training Magazine saw e-learning at 25% and 30% of total training mix, well up on previous years. However, in the UK there's good and bad news.

The Christmas season has brought lots of bad news for e-learning companies Epic, Futuremedia and Copia. All three seem to have imploded. On the other hand, many e-learning companies have had a bumper year.

Futuremedia, who have split their shares more often than a log in a matchstick factory, are down to a value of around 250k (and falling). They get threatened with delisting from NASDAQ on an annual basis. The shareholders must be hopping mad to have seen all that cash creamed off by hopeless managers who know nothing about this market. They are so saddled with debt that it would be fair to describe them as the Northern Rock of e-learning.

Epic’s new CEO was mad that their 12 redundancies were posted on the Kineo website in December, four CEOs in two years, and hapless management by Huveaux have seen its revenues, profits and value plummet. At least the new CEO knows something about the market, which is more than can be said for their catastrophic Chairman who limps from one disaster to another (ex-Eidos) and obviously incompetent management. The lesson here is; don’t get bought by a bunch of crusty, old ‘paper publishers’.

Then there’s Copia bought up for 25k in cash and some shares, with liabilities of 46k. Real bottom of the barrel stuff.

The good news is that companies managed by people who know the market and know what they’re doing, seem to be thriving. LINE, Kineo, Brightwave, Caspian and others have all seen fantastic growth this year by innovating and moving with the newer trends in demand.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

10 reasons to dump lectures

I give a lot of talks at conferences but always make it clear that this no way to deliver learning. Unfortunately people are addicted to the format. Why? It’s easy just to turn up and listen. It’s a lazy format for lazy learners. Also, I’m astonished at the number of people who turn up for conferences talks and take no notes. It’s is like turning up for a tennis match with no racquet.

This brings me to the one-hour format. Conference talks, lectures in universities, periods in schools and the ‘one-hour’ of e-learning pricing model, all of these fall foul of the deep addiction to the ‘hour of learning’ delivered as a lecture.

  1. Babylonian hour: we only have hours because of the Babylonian base-60 number system. It has nothing to do with the psychology of learning.
  2. Passive observers: lectures turn students into passive observers. Research shows that participation increases learning, yet few lecturers do this (Brophy & Good, 1986; Fisher & Berliner, 1985; Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1984).
  3. Attention fall-off: our ability to retain information falls off badly after 10-20 minutes. The simple insertion of three ‘two-minute pauses’ led to a difference of two letter grades in a short and long-term recall test (1987, Winter).
  4. Note-taking: lectures rely on note taking, yet note-taking is seldom taught, massively reducing their effectiveness (Saski, Swicegood, & Carter, 1983).
  5. Disabilities: even slight disabilities in listening, language or motor skills make lectures ineffective, as it is difficult to focus, discriminate and note-take quickly enough in a lecture (Hughes & Suritsky, 1994).
  6. One bite at cherry: if something is not understood on first exposure there’s no opportunity to pause, reflect of get clarification. This ‘one bite of the cherry’ approach to learning is against all that we know in the psychology of learning.
  7. Cognitive overload: lecturers load up talks with too much detail leading to cognitive overload. In addition they often go ‘off on one’, with tangential material.
  8. Tyranny of location: you have to go to a specific place to hear a lecture. This wastes huge amounts of time.
  9. Tyranny of time: you have to turn up at a specific time to hear a lecture.
  10. Poor presentation: many lecturers have neither the personality nor skills to hold the audience's attention.

‘Lectures were once useful; but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary. If your attention fails, and you miss a part of a lecture, it is lost; you cannot go back as you do upon a book' Samuel Johnson

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Broken break-out habit

Trainers love a good break-out session but my heart sinks when it’s suggested at a conference or seminar. It’s a tired old fossil of a format.

Oh no - it's a break-out!
You ‘break-out’ into small groups, choose a chair (they usually choose themselves as it’s extroverts love this role), or worse a facilitator (who then dominates the discussion). This takes some time. You are all then asked introduce yourself to the rest of the group. Never ask participants to tell the others what they want to get out of the group, as there will always be one who drones on for hours. By now a good portion of the allocated time has been wasted. And what’s with Foxes Glacier Mints’ obsession?

The topic for discussion is usually some ill-defined, banal question, so the group spend a further ten minutes clarifying what’s expected. The time left is usually far too short to get anything meaningfully debated and agreed. Even then it’s often a random selection of thoughts, rants and personal beefs.

Feedback to group
Feedback to the group consists of a series of disjointed thoughts, often weighted towards the thoughts of the facilitator. These are scribbled up on acres of flipchart pages blue-tacked on the wall, thereby ruining the d├ęcor of the room. The problem here is that this is hardly ever distilled into any sensible points for action.

Don’t know about you but the chances of getting this distributed back (by email, posted on the website) is about
1:10 at best.

You’re generally left feeling short-changed. All of this supposed collaborative effort gets bogged down in procedural stuff and little is ever gained. What a waste of time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

500 reasons why I hate the office

Nice little book 'Why I Hate the Office' by Malcolm Burgess with some funny comments on why he hates training.

Training venues
“The venue must always look as if it’s been rejected by the Footballer’s Wives location manger as being to vulgar. If it’s Spanish-Ranchero-Georgian…you know you’ve got the right place”

Training course
“Another training course where staff have to tell colleagues they’ve sat next to each other for six years their names. Don’t forget the de rigeur warm up exercise that asks trainees which fruit or vegetable they identify with.”

Learning styles
“Geoff and Pam (trainers) claim to be responsive to everyone’s learning styles which is why they do a PowerPoint presentation and then read it out to the audience in case you, er, can’t read.”

“If coaching really works, why is the person your employer uses still hoping to move out of her garage? Whatever happened to their Unleashing Your Personal Power? We honestly think they’re keener to enter the ‘dependency situation’ than we are. Your coach will help you find your Way Ahead, and, if all else fails, you too can become a life coach just like everyone else.”

On dress codes for training courses
“Women are scared of anything that makes them look like Edwina Currie in civvies and keep to boring black; men usually end up in M&S chinos and look like they’re attending a barbecue in Weybridge

“It’s brainstorm hell in there as 35 people take six hours and 180 bottles of Badoit to decide the purpose of a meeting is to communicate.”

“it’s all about competencies – something has to justify your low salary. They’re designed to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet – just in case anyone shows a tendency towards creativity and expects to be paid for it”

“We’ve all done the assertiveness training (20 people in a meeting all saying, calmly and effectively, that they won’t do a thing).

“You do the induction course and receive the shiny handbook but wonder why none of it bears the slightest resemblance to what’s going on around you.”

“Trainers, incidentally, like to call themselves facilitators so they don’t have to take responsibility for what’s happening.”

Break-out groups
Brainstorming is just another name for flip-chart hell.”

Laugh or cry?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Marx and e-learning

What has Karl Marx to do with e-learning? Well, Marx showed, in the first chapter of Das Capital, that everything gets commoditised. What Marx understood was that commoditisation is not just about the depression of prices, it also has a profound political and social consequences. This is a relevant debate in education, training and e-learning.

Cheaper and faster
While I admire the efforts made by LINE Communications and Kineo to provide rapid development offers, we must be careful to see this as a useful service at the bottom end of the market and not the solution as a whole. It’s great that we can offer cheaper, faster content production by using smart tools, speedy processes and small teams. This is a very useful bottom layer in the market.

Tools not the real issue
However, a toolbox do
esn’t make you a builder, Word does not make a novelist, Excel doesn’t make an accountant, PowerPoint doesn’t make a presenter. Rapid Development Tools are not what makes Rapid development work, it’s having experienced people who can fast-track the writing, build and process. This is a state of mind.

Let’s push on with making the page-turning, basic stuff cheaper and faster, but let’s, at the same time, make sure we have quality content in the upper layers of the market with simulations, games and scenario-based learning.

Keen’s fascist outburst

Nice of the Online Educa organisers to give LINE Communications, a commercial organisation, a keynote. After watching Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur) give his rant against wikipedia, wikis and web 2.0 on the opening session of Day 1, I had the advantage of responding on the opening session of Day 2.

‘Monkeys, idiots and the inane’
Keen claimed that the web has been taken over by 14 year olds and amateurs, or in his own words “monkeys, idiots and the inane”. Hold on Andrew, this sounds dangerously fascistic, bad news in a
Berlin conference. I hadn’t planned to attack him but it sort of came to me when I was talking about Google. Anyone who sees Google, Wikipedia and blogging as three great evils, is chasing the wrong devils. There’s a debate here but there are other better thinkers than Keen in this area. Lanier’s Digital Maoism ideas are far more interesting and the detailed debate on blogs around quality content, spawned by the success of Wikipedia, is far more sophisticated.

Search and research
Unfortunately, Keen is not the debating sort. In my view there’s a great awareness among web users of the difference between ‘search’ and ‘research’. This is well covered in the education system and young people quickly learn to spot the difference. However, Keen served his purpose – he made everyone think a little.