Posted tagged ‘smartfailing’

E-Learning = Innovation = Science

10 June 2014

Have you ever been to a conference where the presenter asks the audience, “Who’s implemented a mobile learning strategy?”, and only 2 or 3 people raise their hand?

Forgive me: it’s a rhetorical question. I know you have. Because everyone has.

Of course the question might not revolve around mobile learning, but rather gamification, or enterprise social networking, or flipped classrooms, or whatever the hot topic may be.

While a lot of talk is bandied around about e-learning, it’s evident that relatively few of us are actually doing it.

The e-learning panel at AITD2014

To help bridge the gap, I was honoured to moderate a panel session at last month’s AITD National Conference. I was even more honoured to share the stage with Helen Blunden, Matthew Guyan, Anne Bartlett-Bragg and Simon Crook.

The session was entitled E-Learning: Transforming Talk into Action, and the panellists were hand-picked from multiple sectors to share their insights and expertise with us. And that they did.

Simon explained how his science students are using their iPads in class to enrich their learning experience: “Engage me or enrage me”; Matt described his use of Articulate Storyline to develop online courses in-house; Helen shared her experience in using Yammer to cultivate a collaborative culture in a conservative corporate environment; while Anne dove head-first into MOOCs and ruffled a few feathers along the way.

Regardless of the specific technology or pedagogy discussed by the panellists, the overarching advice provided by each one was to give it a go and see what happens.

In other words, e-learning is innovation.

Graph

Now I realise that many of my peers will balk at this assertion. After all, e-learning is decades old, and today’s L&D pro’s are tech savvy and digitally invested.

So let’s take the “e” out of “e-learning” already – I’ve argued that myself in the past. However I put it to you that a great many among us still haven’t put the “e” into e-learning, let alone take it out again.

For these people, e-learning represents making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. And when you think about it, e-learning is that for the rest of us too – it’s just we’re more comfortable with it; or, in fact, excited by it.

For all of us then, viewing e-learning through the lens of innovation offers us a crucial advantage: it reframes failure.

You see, innovators don’t think of failure as most people do. Rather than see it as something to be ashamed of, avoided at all costs, and certainly not to be aired in public, innovators embrace failure, they actively seek it out – and most importantly of all, they learn from it.

They appreciate the fact that if you never try, you never know. A failure isn’t an error or a mistake, but a beautiful piece of intelligence that informs your next move.

The trick of course is to ensure that when you fail, you do so quickly and cheaply. You don’t want to bring the roof crashing down upon you, so protect yourself by taking baby steps. Pilot your innovation and if it doesn’t quite work, modify it and try again; if it tanks miserably, cut your losses and abandon it; but if it does work, scale it up, keep an eye on it, continue to modify it where necessary, and enjoy your “overnight success”.

Scientist

And still I wish to take this line of thinking further. Beyond innovation, e-learning is science.

My definition of science is “systematic knowledge”. If you want to obtain deep, scientific insight, get systematic.

Scientists frame failure in much the same way as innovators do. Again, rather than seeing it as something to be ashamed of, they see it simply as a result. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong. It just is.

The advantage of viewing e-learning through the lens of science is embedded in its methodology. Classic experimental design is based on two hypotheses: the null hypothesis, in which the treatment has no effect; and the alternative hypothesis, in which the treatment has an effect. By running an experiment, the scientist will either accept or reject the null hypothesis.

For example, suppose a scientist in a soda company is charged with testing whether honey-flavoured cola will be popular. He might set up two sample groups drawn from the target market: one group tastes the regular cola, the other group tastes the honey-flavoured cola, and both rate their satisfaction. After crunching the numbers, the scientist may find no significant difference between the colas – so he accepts the null hypothesis. Or he may find that the honey-flavoured cola tastes significantly better (or worse!) than the regular cola – so he rejects the null hypothesis. Whether the null hypothesis is accepted or rejected, it’s a useful result. The concept of failure is redundant.

The parallel with e-learning is readily apparent. Consider the teacher who allows her students to bring their mobile devices into class; or the trainer who delivers part of her program online; or the manager who sets up a team site on SharePoint; or the L&D consultant who supports a group of employees through a MOOC. In each case, the null hypothesis is that her new method, idea or product has no effect – on what? that depends on the context – while the alternative is that is has. Either way, the result informs her next move.

A baby taking a step forward

So my advice to anyone who has never raised their hand at a conference is that you don’t need to don a white coat and safety goggles to transform talk into action. Rather, change your mindset and take a baby step forward.

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 2

17 September 2012

Following the modest success of my first book, I decided to fulfil the promise of its subtitle and publish E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 2.

The volume comprises a collation of my articles from this blog. As in the first volume, my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of e-learning related themes in the workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 2•   social business
•   informal learning
•   mobile learning
•   microblogging
•   data analysis
•   digital influence
•   customer service
•   augmented reality
•   the role of L&D
•   smartfailing
•   storytelling
•   critical theory
•   ecological psychology
•   online assessment
•   government 2.0
•   human nature

Order your copy now at Amazon.

The Parable of the Monkeys

8 March 2011

BananasI was pondering the notions of innovation and adaptability the other day – nerd alert! – when I remembered the Parable of the Monkeys.

I’m not sure who invented this parable. I don’t think it’s a true story; at least I hope not (poor monkeys). Perhaps it’s a corruption of an ancient fable? If you can shed any light on it, please let me know.

Anyway, here’s the ryanised version…

The experiment

In a room there were 5 monkeys.

A bunch of bananas hung from the ceiling, and a ladder stood nearby.

Inquisitive and hungry, one of the monkeys climbed the ladder and reached for a banana. As soon as he did so, a scientist opened a port hole and drenched all the monkeys with a high-pressure hose.

After a few minutes, angry and dripping wet, but no less inquisitive and hungry, another monkey decided to give it a go. He climbed the ladder and reached for a banana. As soon as he did so, the scientist opened the port hole again and drenched all the monkeys with the hose.

After a few more minutes, another monkey decided to give it a go. This time his mates were having none of it. As soon as he touched the ladder, they rallied around and beat him up.

None of the monkeys dared go near the ladder any more.

Ladder

The next day, the scientist removed one of the monkeys and replaced him with a new one. Since this monkey was not aware of the consequences, he headed straight for the ladder. The other monkeys headed him off and beat him up.

The next day, the scientist removed another monkey and replaced him with a new one. Since this monkey was not aware of the consequences, he headed straight for the ladder. Again the other monkeys headed him off and beat him up.

This continued for few more days. Each time, like clockwork, the new monkey would head for the ladder and the other monkeys would beat him up.

Then on Day 6, a strange thing happened. Yes, the new monkey headed for the ladder and the other monkeys beat him up. However none of those monkeys was an original from Day 1. They all dutifully beat up the new guy, but they had no idea why!

Monkey business

I’m sure we’ve all had times when we’ve felt like one of those monkeys.

We do something a particular way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Monkey on a computer

That line of thinking is oft-derided, but you know what? Sometimes it makes perfect sense.

For example, if you live in northern Europe, it’s a good idea to build your roof with a steep incline, just like everyone else has done for centuries. You might not know why that’s the way it’s always been done, but if you deviate you will be sorry.

Roof collapsed under snow

Having said that, high performers like to challenge the status quo.

Suppose the scientist running the monkey experiment dies and is replaced by a gentle soul who would never harm a monkey. Or the laws change and mistreating monkeys is prohibited. If the monkeys continue to do what they’ve always done, they’ll never enjoy the bananas that are now freely available to them!

If I draw a parallel to the workplace, m-learning springs to mind. I admit I haven’t done much in this space over the years, but that’s because hardly any of my colleagues have owned a smartphone. My previous analysis warned me that any work done in this space would be a waste of time because there was no demand.

But times change. Now every man and his dog owns an iPhone or a Blackberry or an Android or an iPad. Phone plans are a lot cheaper, and download speeds are smoking. Returning my attention to m-learning this year is probably a wise idea.

Group of business people with smartphones

The moral of the story

For me, the moral of the story is to take a proactive but cautious approach to innovation.

Respect the fact that prior generations have done things a particular way for, in all likelihood, good reasons.

To be adaptable, however, you need to remain cognisant of the fact that the world changes and, hey, most things can be done better.

So give your ideas a go – but do your homework first; and protect yourself so that if you fail, you fail quick and you fail small.
 

Smartfailing the vintage future

15 November 2010

A little while ago, Ben Betts blogged about a wonderful book called 2010: Living in the Future, which was written by Geoffrey Hoyle back in 1972.

2010: Living in the Future (1972)

I love these vintage visions of the future.

Reading the book prompted me to seek other predictions from yesteryear, and I found plenty at Vintage Future.

Doctor consults a child via AV media

A woman obtaining ready-to-eat meals out of a machine

Space station

Some predictions were remarkably accurate (eg telemedicine, prepackaged meals, orbital space stations) while others were way
off the mark.

This got me thinking

Why do some predictions of the future pan out so wrong?

I remember as a child being fascinated by a 19th century illustration of space travel that depicted a steam train flying among the stars and planets.

Clearly at that point in history, the futurist was so convinced of the modernity of the locomotive that he did not conceive any other possible mode of transport – let alone the depletion of fossil fuels.

It was perfectly natural for him to expect that, one day, trains would be hurtling through outer space.

More examples

Consider these…

Mechanical servant vacuuming the floor

Why is a robot pushing the vacuum cleaner?

Because contemporary practice was for the housewife to do it.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to replace her with a humanoid.

Shoppers in a supermarket push buttons to bring items on a conveyor belt. (1964)

Why must the shopper be at the store?

Because contemporary practice was for the shopper to visit the supermarket in person.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to automate the system on site.

Dick uses his famous 2-way wrist radio in Dick Tracy: America's Most Famous Detective. (1952)

Why is Dick talking into his watch?

Because wristwatches were the contemporary fashion.

Naturally, then, the innovation was to add an audio channel to that device.

Why did they miss the mark?

In each of the above examples, contemporary practice prejudiced the futurist’s expectations of future practice.

They were wearing blinkers.

Of course they had no concept of jet engines, infrared sensors, the World Wide Web and smartphones. But without an audacious imagination that dared to consider the possibility of these technologies, their predictions were doomed to fail.

Not so fast

It’s easy to look back with a smug sense of intellectual superiority. How rediculous those predictions were! How primitive the science!

But are we really any better today?

I hear a lot about innovation in the workplace, but I doubt we have mastered the creative thinking that is required to forecast beyond our immediate future with any sense of confidence.

If we don’t wrap our minds around the stuff that doesn’t yet exist, our “innovations” will become the latest examples of charming vintage.


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