The Context Matter Expert

Here is an excerpt of a piece I am working on about partnering  with leaders inside the client company

Ernest Sirolli tells a story in his TED talk - a story of aid workers in africa insisting that a certain valley buy the river is a wonderful place to plant.They crop grow beautifully and the aid workers congratulate themselves on the job well done as they feel pride in teaching the locals something they didn’t know about their own land.

Then one night the hippos came out of the river and ate the entire crop.

The hippos were always there.The locals knew that they would eat crops, but the aid workers never asked them.They just assumed that the locals were not as savvy as they were.

This story is a nice parable for the education designer.Sometimes… No.Always we need a context matter expert.The SME is highly valued in our field, but the context is as important, if not more, than the content.

A colleague of mine recently said "Customization in Executive Education is really contextualization."His point was that his company doesn't radically change the content they teach between clients.Leadership is Leadership; Marketing is Marketing.The principles stay the same across industries, but the context of the participants changes how they might apply these principles and ultimatelyaffect their business.Context changes how we as educators present and make relevant the knowledge that we need to get across to participants.

So, where do we find context matter experts?And when found, what do we do with them?

Games and Completion

This is another post from the "Stuck in an Evernote folder" collection.  I wrote it in 2012, but it still resonates today.  Fortunately, the dissertation and the renovation are done.  Their are still a ton of errands to finish, though.

As I look at my blog with its most-recent post from ages ago, I think about the glory of completing things.  I have a renovation going on right now, a dissertation in its final version and a hundred and two errands to run for a household without a house.  Now the sad thing is that none of these things are completed, which is a drag.  

Conversely, finishing things feels excellent.  I'm not a checklist-er who obsesses about filling in every possible box, but I know that being done, achieving the end of a project, is a wonderful thing, even if that project is picking up milk at the store.  Maybe its only a relief of the tension that comes from lack of completion, but it still feels good.  

So, what does this have to do with my (admittedly loose) themes of learning and design and games?  It's the last one.  Games. Games are a buffet of completion.  Level completion makes you feel all good inside.  Beating a boss is similarly rewarding to cleaning your room, or finishing a chapter, or a long list of other pragmatic accomplishments.  Games are even better than those real-world* completions.  Because games are designed to be challenging but ultimately achievable.  Games have been worked on to tweak the level of frustration and balance them. (Especially those designed by Blizzard.)  Real life tasks aren't balanced.  Some are so boring that they are not engaging.  Some are so challenging that they are demotivating.  Life isn't very well designed.  

The lesson for education here isn't gamification.  At least, not the facile, score-keeping concept of gamification that is all too common out there.  As Ian Bogost describes it:  " Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity."  The lesson here is the progression of challenge rather than the awarding of points.  For education, its building activities with little wins and big wins.  With some easily achieved goals and some goals that require assistance. A good lesson works like a good game level - a series of small challenges and a big boss challenge that takes more work but is achievable, with work.  If it is done right, it pulls us into the next lesson, the way starting a level of a game pulls us deeper into the game.  

 

*Games aren't real-world, they are the magic circle

Art-treprenuers

This is a piece I wrote last fall, but didn't find a clear place for it in the world of education and design.  I'm putting it out because I thin k its an interesting insight, and because putting it out there i sin the spirit of this post. 

Art-trepreneurs

 

 Starry Night, because I have also become obsessed with it recently.

Starry Night, because I have also become obsessed with it recently.

Not people who make money from art.  At least not primarily.  It's people who make art, and make it in a way that entrepreneurs make business.  It seems funny to write that, because people 'just make' art.  At least, that's how we grow up, and people didn't 'just make' business growing up.  But the way that the art-trepreneurs make their work is a great parallel to entrepreneurs. 

I've been listening to the Nerdist podcasts by Chris Hardwick lately.  He talks with various performers about the need to just make stuff and put it out into the world.  Actors, comedians, musicians; they all benefit from putting their work out, and they all are surrounded by people who tell them why it is inadequate.  Not funny enough.  Won't hit with the right demographic.  Can't monetize. Art has become a big business, and success in art is often framed by that big business.  But the people that run that business aren't interested in the art, they are interested in exploiting it for profit.  That sounds harsh, and in some cases it is.  But the reality is that the business of art is business and not art. (How few words can I put in a sentence?) 

Hardwick didn't fit in this world.  He was offbeat. A bit of a nerd, if his podcast's name wasn't a clue. One day, he just started putting things out to people directly, without the machine of the big Hollywood business.  He started small: an hour long chat about life and current events with two of his friends on Superbowl Sunday. Then it grew to interviewing people he knew who were interesting, and now he is booked as a regular part of the 'social media' strategy for new releases.   The key in this is that the internet allowed him to connect directly with the audience that was right for him. Others have done the same.  Kevin Smith rejected the studios in promoting his 2012 film Red StateNeil Gaiman spoke about getting stuff out to people in a recent (and spectacular) graduation speech. 

How is this like entrepreneurship?  These folks knew what they wanted and either side-stepped the system or blew a hole right through it.  They weren't motivated by the bottom line, but instead motivated by how they could effect the world around them.  They went straight to the target instead of asking questions of others.  They faced rejection.  Not the idea of rejection, but failure after failure.  This is what's at the core of entrepreneurship - stepping outside of a system that both supports and constrains in order to   

Art and entrepreneurship are a lot alike, and its not about artists being entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs are artists rather than economic agents.

Near Peer Learning and Capture Your Flag

I'm partnering with a company called Capture Your Flag to develop some new online and face to face workshops.  This is a write-up to help explain the value of Capture Your Flag's library of interviews, and I thought it would be good to put this here:

 

 

When I have worked with teams throughout my career, they have asked me for my experience on certain topics – managing politics in a large firm, balancing work and family, dealing with poor leadership from management – and I have had to say “I didn’t have that experience.”  My career path was different than many of my participants.  I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost all of my career, and in training and development since I was a student.  This conversation left my participants wanting and me wondering what more I could do. 

Now I have an answer to those questions, thanks to Capture Your Flag.  Capture Your Flag is a repository of longitudinal interviews from managers and executives at various stages in their career.  It contains year-after-year interviews from leaders in all types of organizations at various stages in their career from first time manager to CEO.  So when I receive a question about a particular experience I don’t have, I can refer my participant to a Capture Your Flag video.

Why do the videos help?  Because participants see people like themselves struggling with the same challenges they struggle with.  More than that, it takes advantage of a phenomenon called Near Peer Learning.  In studying how learning happens in multiple contexts, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger discovered that most learning occurs not from an expert, but from someone who is a little more experienced than,  and slightly farther down the career path than you.  Part of this is accessibility.   We can access people who are close to us in development – we are more likely to be doing similar work and to be working together.  But another part of the draw of near peer learning is that the expert, executive or exemplar may have made the same decisions you are contemplating, but the context was very different due to the time that has passed since they made those decisions. 

Capture Your Flag provides access to a great group of Near Peer Exemplars.  A learner trying to find advice and experience can look for people in their field, at their stage in career, close to their age, with similar family demands.  And because Capture Your Flag is longitudinal, they can not only see that the NPE is struggling with something similar to themselves, but they can see what choices were made and the consequences of those choices.  

 

 

A further note on MOOC's

After reading this article on MOOCS as just an expansion of broadcast/banking model/top down education. (Hat tip to Erik Michielsen) I realized one of the key issues with MOOCS is that they borrowed the wrong letters from their inspiration, MMORPG's.  
MMORPG's are Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.  They are the most recent generation of MMO's that started with MUDS (Multi-User Dungeons) in the 1980's.  Possibly the most famous  MMORPG is World of Warcraft, a fantasy game that has millions of users.  Players take on the identity of orcs, elves, even panda-men and fight battles, search for treasure and develop their characters.  MMORPG's are not all fantasy, but they all do involve a combination of playing a game and playing a role.  It's that second par that is missing from MOOC's:  the RPG aspect.  
As a constructivist, I strongly believe that learning is about creating meaning, and sometimes creating identity.  MOOC's aren't great opportunities for this, as the format tends to be a combination of information from above and a large room of people talking all at once.  The real merit of an MMORPG for learning is in the RPG part - an experimentation about identity and meaning.  MOOC's miss this with their emphasis on Massively Open Online.   Of course, MOOC's provide a great fiscal benefit, leveraging the educator through the technology.  But good education is about effectiveness, not efficiency.  
Maybe MOOC's are useful, in some situations.  But education where we want learners to change their behavior and attitudes?  If you can't play with roles, you can't really learn that.  As of right now, MOOC's are about information distribution, and with that they only touch on a portion of deep learning.  

Quick thought on MOOCs

Mook!
MOOCS are getting a lot of attention lately, especially in the Higher Ed world.  I was talking ot someone about them in the context of corporate education adn realized that they aren't a good match for our clients.
A MOOC is a "massively open online course".  Of these four words, three make them problematic for corporations:
1. Massive - An organization need targeted learning, not broadcast learning as MOOCS use.  
2. Open - you need the right people in the class, and letting people chose whether to take or not take the class is not a strategic choice that organizations are ready for.  And frankly, not a choice that serves their best interests. Also, open implies that people can finish or not as the choose (look at the completion rate of MOOCS) which isn't good for companies, as they need to know people finish what trainings.
 
3. Online - This may be the only part that is really appealing.  
4. Course.  Courses imply a regular meeting/learning event that takes place over a period of weeks or months and has a beginning, end and an evaluation/certification at its conclusion.  Courses are a big time investment for participants and faculty.  Corporations typically want succinct, efficient training. 
There are benefits to MOOCS (thanks, Steve Mahaley for making me think about that.), but those benefits can occur in a different form. The key for MOOCS is to think about what the benefit is and how to apply them to corporate education.

Eureka!

I have been musing for the past few years about the value of noise in learning.  I don't mean loud volume, but rather noise in the system - the random fluctuations that are not considered part of the desired, useful information signal.  Noise is distraction.  Noise is time away from task.  Noise is surfing the Internet.  Noise is taking a bath.  
Archimedes' famous story of bathtub is a great example of noise in the system.  Archimedes was tasked with finding if a gold crown was indeed pure gold.  He know the mass of the crown, but that wasn't enough data.  He wanted to know the density in order to know if gold ad been swapped out.  
Archimedes was thinking on this problem while he was getting ready to bathe.  He placed himself in the tub and an amount of water flowed out over the rim.  Archimedes realized that this volume of water was the same as his own volume and he could apply the submersion principle to finding the volume of irregular objects such as crowns.  
As the story goes, Archimedes then screamed out "Eureka", and ran naked through the city to go tell the king.  This part has no relevance to noise and learning, but I think that all good science anecdotes should end in streaking.
 
So, Archimedes' found a solution in the bathtub.  Other stories abound of people realizing a solution to a problem while taking the dog for a walk, or playing with their kids.  Taking a step back from a problem helps with the learning.  But why? 
I may not know why, but I have an idea about how.  Noise in the system is a new experience, which provides new opportunities for analogical learning.  The power of analogical learning lies in finding connections between two contexts or concepts.  That connection can provide insight into similarities or differences.  In both cases, the noise provides a new way to look at an issue, and even if it does not a fruitful comparison, it has made the learner examine a concept more thoroughly. so it has its inherent benefit. 

My musing about noise is in response to people calling for education to be more efficient.  I'm pretty sure that efficiency in education is a wrong headed idea.  I think that good education, effective education, is harmed by valuing efficiency.  Education is design for learning, and learning requires reflection, it requires a pace that relents and accelerates, it is essentially inefficient.  There is noise in the system of learning, and that noise makes it stronger.

Completion

As I look at my blog with its most-recent post from ages ago, and I think about the glory of completing things.  I have a renovation going on right now, a dissertation in its final version and a hundred and two errands to run for a household without a house.  Now the sad thing is that none of these things are completed, which is a drag.  
The Finish Line - but also the Start Line (Dennis simpson) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Conversely, finishing things feels excellent.  I'm not a checklist-er who obsesses about filling in every possible box, but I know that being done, achieving the end of a project, is a wonderful thing, even if that project is picking up milk at the store.  Maybe its only a relief of the tension that comes from lack of completion, but it still feels good.  

So, what does this have to do with my (admittedly loose) themes of learning and design and games?  It's the last one.  Games. Games are a buffet of completion.  Level completion makes you feel all good inside.  Beating a boss is similarly rewarding to cleaning your room, or finishing a chapter, or a long list of other pragmatic accomplishments.  Games are even better than those real-world* completions.  Because games are designed to be challenging but ultimately achievable.  Games have been worked on to tweak the level of frustration and balance them. (Especially those designed by Blizzard.)  Real life tasks aren't balanced.  Some are so boring that they are not engaging.  Some are so challenging that they are demotivating.  Life isn't very well designed.  

The lesson for education here isn't gamification.  At least, not the facile, score-keeping concept of gamification that is all too common out there.  As Ian Bogost describes it:  " Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity."  The lesson here is the progression of challenge rather than the awarding of points.  For education, its building activities with little wins and big wins.  With some easily achieved goals and some goals that require assistance. A good lesson works like a good game level - a series of small challenges and a big boss challenge that takes more work but is achievable, with work.  If it is done right, it pulls us into the next lesson, the way starting a level of a game pulls us deeper into the game.  
*Games aren't real-world, they are the magic circle.