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Devlearn 09 - Day 3

Day 3 of Devlearn was a short event day, just 1 keynote and 2 breakout sessions. It started off really well with a keynote by Leo Laporte.

Leo is a wonderful storyteller. He told his story as a youngster trying to get into the mass media business. He described the difficulties and bottlenecks that the industry posed to people like him, from the high equipment costs to the very controlled distribution to the impenetrable bureaucracy. Only few people made it through the system, the rest were outliers waiting for their opportunity.

The opportunity came in the form of the microprocessor and the Internet. These two technologies lowered production and distribution costs and enabled mass media to be truly mass media—from many to many. The social media or Web 2.0 tipped this ability over. Nowadays it is easy for anyone to put up a video or talk station and reach out to the masses. Leo described how he started his Internet-based station with just $15k of equipment that reached out to hundreds of thousands of people.

Leo’s main idea is that the Internet and the social tools have lowered the barriers to entry for anyone who wants to work, play or learn on it.

My big takeaway from this conference is that I see the acceptance of a new form of learning, one that is very social and one that is very informal. The orderly well-defined structure of teaching and learning is breaking down and yielding to a more natural way that does not depend on a specific time and place for teaching and learning to happen.

My big fear is that people will take this new form of learning as the only natural way to learn. This is plain wrong. On the contrary this form of learning takes more from the learner, as now he has to analyse and filter from the hundreds of options and opinions that are available to him. The only natural part is that these options and opinions are coming from other people.

I can describe the situation like this: for many problems there is the possibility that the solutions are ‘out there’. Before the Web 2.0 capability came along it was difficult, if not impossible, to surface all of this knowledge from the community. Now with social media we are able to lower the barriers to this hidden knowledge. For example, don’t know how insurgents are using improvised explosives in Iraq? Well, we can ask the soldiers who are coming across this on a day-to-day basis. The New Yorker has a wonderful article on this type of knowledge at work.

But this is not the only way we learn. Sometimes we don’t know the discipline, sometimes there is just too much to be learned, sometimes it is all too complex. In all such cases we require detailed and serious study. It is how we become good at things. Assuming that all learning can take place through social media will do more harm than good. Let’s not forget this when celebrating Learning 2.0.

Devlearn 09 - Day 2

Day 2 of Devlearn was much better for me. But it did not start out that way.

The second day keynote was by Eric Zimmerman, game designer and author of Rules of Play. Now Eric is a very smart chap, but his keynote was a mess. There was no structure in his presentation and his incessant “ahmmm” and “ahhhhs” drove me dizzy. I was not the only one who felt this way apparently. The Tweetboard had many tweets by people having this same feeling. After the dizzy spell, I was behind a couple of people leaving the conference room and this is what I heard: “Did you find it useful?” “Nah! There were both cute and confusing moments but mostly it was distracting”.

Cammy Bean has captured the essence of his keynote if you want to go through it.

Next I attended a very crisp and clear presentation by Dave Ragan who is responsible for training at Taco Bell.  He showed how Taco Bell is using an avatar (from CodeBaby) to present the courses and maintain consistency. He also showed the level of media and interactivity that these coursers have. But more importantly he showed how all of this training is helping Taco Bell meet its business objectives. Not fancy courseware here, just plain and simple—learn it; try it; and then show it to me—type of training.

The highlight of the day however was meeting Mark Oehlert from the Defence Acquisition University. Mark is someone who gets social media. He is using many, many different tools to re-engineer processes to make them more efficient. His focus was on using these Web 2.0 tools in serious applications. The centre of his universe is Twitter and he uses it in many different ways from seeking out options available out there to searching for knowledge from his staff.

They key theme I observed was that all these applications are built on the assumption that there are people who will constantly feed these applications via their tweets, blogs, comments, etc., and there are people who will constantly watch and respond to this stream of information. If there is no ‘social stream’ then it seems we’re talking of the Web 1.0 paradigm. 

To put all of this in perspective, the entire social media thing is working under the assumption that if there is a problem, we can throw the social stream at it and it will somehow get solved. How? Some like Mark seem to have figured it out while others choose to use the word “by emergence” or in simpler words, by magic.

Devlearn 09 - Day 1

I’m in cold San Jose this week attending Devlearn 2009.

The first day keynote was by Andrew McAfee. He is the author of a recently published book, Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges.

I’m not going to describe the subject of his talk; there are many blogs that have done that already (here and here).

It was a nice talk and he gave many pointers. But he made no attempt to bridge the gap between Enterprise 2.0 and Learning 2.0. Or answer questions like ‘how Enterprise 2.0 can be used to leverage Learning 2.0?’

Maybe the breakout sessions were meant to do just that – and there were many, many sessions that had social media and especially Twitter in their agenda. This surprised me a lot, in a negative way. 

I found that there is a very big hype on using social media for learning. Many are talking about it and there seems to be a divide between those who have experimented with it or have a program for it and those who are just trying to grapple with their day-to-day learning challenges. The 2.0ers feel elevated, hip, trendy and scoff at the those who are still trying to make the best of taxpayer or shareholder money by being conservative and seeking out what works.

But all of this talk on social media I heard had a lot to say about the media part but very little on the learning part. They are still advocating the creating and access to content with very little attention on why this is being done and how is it going to help learning and improve performance in the long run. The systems view I think is missing here. The mantra seems to be “get social and you’ll learn”. This has a lot to say about the maturity of Learning 2.0.

Talking about maturity, there were many talks that were just blasts from the past – “How to grab attention”, “How to use video effectively”, etc. All I can say is, WOW!

Here is my frank opinion on the first day – the talks did not excite me but they did give me a good picture of the e-learning landscape in the US. It shows me what people are busy with and what they are experimenting with and what we can expect to see in the next few years. The total experience is more than the sum of the parts I guess.

But I can tell you what excited me – meeting Jay Cross. Here we are, two individuals on opposite sides of the planet, engrossed in each other’s work for over 10 years but never having met face-to-face. Then I finally see him and what a joy it was.

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Attending Devlearn 09 and KM World 09

The good folks at Devlearn have given me a journalists pass to attend Devlearn this year. So I am going. While I’m there I’ll also be attending KM World. I think it will be a terrific opportunity to meet the community and make new friends. If you are going as well and if you like to connect do mail me at maish-at-elearningpost.com. Looking forward to these events.

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