Meaningfulness

I may have invented the word, but I’m not that literate to know whether I did or didn’t. Doesn’t matter really…does it?

In any case, I have been researching brain physiology as of late because as far as I can tell there ain’t no (literacy 101) common understanding of the word ‘learning’ within and outside of the training and development community, sometimes referred to as the ‘learning community’ which blows my mind a little bit.

Aside: So who isn’t part of that community? Plants…altough I think they learn too.

I digress. I have as of late been researching what I believe to be the only fair definition of learning which is the physiology of learning. There is in fact specific physiological processes that go down in the brain when we are learning, and these processes can actually be observed if you have the right equipment. They can not however be observed otherwise and without testing using the right equipment, your not testing the right thing. So what I’ve been trying to wrap my craziness around is finding the right way to tell the ‘learning community’ there is no such thing as a ‘learning experience’ vs a ‘non-learning experience’. There are only experiences. There is no such thing as a non-learner because those physiological processes that I’m referring to are going on all the time even when you aren’t there! And so on…

Going back to experiences, the part that we can observe are the behaviors during and after the experience and try to associate ‘meaning’ to those behaviors….rest assured we’ll never be able to measure the ‘learning’. What we do is we try to find meaning in those patterns and infer learning. When we design those experiences we can not control the ‘learning’, we can control the design and there are things that we can comtrol that will help the brain make its synaptic connections. One of the most powerful things we can do is to stop compartmentalizing the experience into its components. In other words the experience as a whole will be ‘meaningful’ to someone not because there’s an avatar, not because we used audio and video but because we delivered ‘meaning’.

Thats right….thats the secret folks…make it meaningful and they will learn. To make something meaningful is a question I explored as a philosophy student many years ago. In my book ‘Learning on Demand, I talk about measuring the ‘value’ of content. I see now this is a big part of the equation as value is sometimes synonymous with meaningful, but not always. Something may make me cry but if I measured its value it could come back as inconsequential. If I measure its ‘meaningfulness’ I may get an entirely different story.

In any case its 2am, I’m rambling, I may come back to this….

 

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Taking on Goliath

The question I have to answer every day to myself and to an array of clients, partners and advisors is can I take on Goliath? My Goliath you see is SlideShare.com. SlideShare is wonderfully successful and boasts incredible numbers for its website and did incredibly well in its sale to LinkedIn. SlideShare has done an amazing job of centralizing presentations and providing professionals a way to share their knowledge captured in presentations, YouTube style. SlideShare is so successful and its web site traffic is so impressive that posting to SlideShare has become a part of a good SEO strategy since the Google loves the SlideShare.

SlideJar, my baby, on the other hand is relatively unknown. We are still working through technical issues and our website doesn’t get a blip of the same web site traffic that SlideShare does. Given that SlideJar seems like the same thing, why would anyone use SlideJar to get eyeballs on their content? The answer is they wouldn’t….yet. You see somebody asked me at dinner what the world looks like if SlideJar is successful, a question I found extremely intriguing, and the truth is the world doesn’t look the way it needs to for SlideJar to achieve the level of success I know it can achieve. The world where SlideJar is successful is a world that has come up with alternative paradigms for organizing information. Mind you, the world already embraces content management without hierarchy and without folders in its adoption of the Internet and the Google. Google parses through billions of web pages not because all web pages are nicely labeled, but because of how pages are networked to one another and to the people that consume them.

For SlideJar to be successful this very paradigm of how people are networked to the content we consume, must spread further into the content so things that were once entire packages of content, movies, presentations, animations can be indexed, searched and accessed at a much more granular level. Will this ever happen? I have no doubt. With the Western world already spending 25% of their day trying to find information, scanning through the web, through documents, through, media to find the one thing they need right now, we will need to change our access paradigms. Not only that but once found we need better ways of archiving and curating that content.

The other day I was surfing through SideShare and found a great slide, not a great presentation, a great slide on business models around ad revenue. Once found, by manually flipping through slides of a presentation, I needed to take a screen shot of the image, save it to my desktop and somehow archive it in a folder where I think I will know its location the next time I want to reference it. I like to call this the digital wasteland. This is where SlideShare fails and where SlideJar will succeed.

It is no longer acceptable to ignore the power of computing to sort, sift and find the information we need. When I look through a presentation, is it the presentation thats valuable in its entirety? If not, then don’t give me the presentation, give me the image, the slide, the pieces that are valuable and give me better tools to find that content. Allow me to store, curate and mash together content on my own. Let me create the value! The world where SlideJar succeeds is the world that has moved beyond file folders and has fully embraced the power of networking. In a presentation world slides from different presentations may have varying degrees of relationships based on the topics, authors, images, relationships, etc and when I’m looking for information, these things ought to be exposed. This is how our brain functions, this is how the web functions and that DNA needs to be further encoded into the technologies and platforms we use.

SlideJar was born with that encoding. Do I think we can take on Goliath? Hell yeah!

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Applying robotics engineering into instructional design

At DevLearn this year, I gave a session on Advances in Robotics and How They Apply to Learning. I reviewed the participant feedback on the session and although mostly positive there was one main piece of feedback that I got that I feel I could follow up on in this medium. Other pieces of feedback are equally helpful but more for me to incorporate into future presentations. By the way, shame on those who feel that the session was a waste of their time and failed to stand up and walk out. In any case, that one piece of feedback was that folks wanted practical examples of how to apply what I spoke about.

Here are a few things I think we can apply within our sphere of control as instructional designers. First a recap of the main points:

1) Change our problem statement from how do we train somebody to do a job to how do we help someone adapt to their environment.

2) Allow the performer to be the interface

3) Engage the body

4) What can we build to make people superhuman

5) Apply distributed networking principles

6) Don’t digitize the analog world, merge analog with digital

Its important to realize that all of these things work together at different times and will affect design in different ways, in different contexts. But lets get very practical. First off, I’ll tackle number 1. The difference between training somebody and giving them the tools to adapt to their environment can easily be seen in how we typically train employees on new software. We create simulations, animations, pages with information, tip boxes and some of us use robohelp to insert instructions directly in the software. All of these things are great as long as software doesn’t change. But all of them require rebuilds everytime it does and only robohelp doesn’t require somebody to leave the software itself if they need help. All of these things have chunked content in a way that groups entire processes together and gives everybody exactly the same information in the same way.

Easy alternatives to this type of training are:

1) Use virtualization technology that generates ‘images’ of software that people can play with using ‘guides’. As the software changes so will the virtual instance. The ‘guides’ should be written less as step by step, but more about try to accomplish ‘x’ in the system and here are signs that your moving in the right direction. Allow employees to access external resources for help

2) Something like Robohelp is good, but create a more robust search within the software that allows a search outside the software. Allow external resources to be generated by employees and create a web of resources based on employee contributions to knowledge pool. Employee contributions can be screen shots, movie grabs, wiki contributions, etc.

3) Send out challenges to employees asking who can get to ‘x’ in ‘y#’ of steps? This will engage employees in building their own efficiencies and allow postings to be part of external resources.

The impetus here is to trade a little bit of getting it ‘right’ the first time to building competence and allowing people to improve and adapt based on a collective pool of resources to which they are a part of.

What about #2, allow the performer to be the interface. In the world of motorcycling, I used a BMW to explain how the industrial engineers are building feedback loops into the vehicles themselves that get their feeds from the rider and feedback to the motorcycle, which in effect feeds back to the rider. So a rider starts by telling the motorcycle, I am inexperienced and I am riding in rain. The motorcycle starts to carefully monitor wheel slippage and lean angles to make sure the rider isn’t giving too much or too little gas for slippery pavement at a specific lean angle. The motorcycle, instead of cutting throttle power, will only give the rider the ability to go to a certain amount of throttle. As the bike gains confidence in the rider the rider is given more leeway and becomes a better rider as a result. So there is this marvellous system in place that allows for personal development between man and machine.

In practical terms, lets take selling insurance, and training sales people to sell insurance policies. Our programs tend to break down in actual selling skills (listening, body language, art of persuasion, etc) and information on the policies themselves. One way to build a feedback loop into this is to provide a way for sales people to log sales (ideally in the CRM of the company itself) in a way that allows them to see where they succeed and where they don’t. Allow a sales person to understand and see contextual patterns in their sales and provide the means for them to improve in specific contexts. Example: a sales person might be great on the phone but horrible in person. And what type of people are they horrible with? Casual, formal? What type of industry? Associate information with different contexts and allow the sales person to dig  in and improve. Can anybody say xAPI?

Moving onto What Can we Build to Make People Superhuman?

So I love to tell the story of how a Ricoh sales person sold us a copier for our office. The process took 3-4 weeks from the time he met us to the time we said ok. Why? Well, we had questions. Technical questions, process related questions, product questions, etc. Whenever we had a question that he could not answer on  the spot, it took a couple of days to get back to us which took us a couple of days to process, compare and get back to him with more questions. Its easy to see that giving a sales person access to tools that can help answer questions on the spot and prepare materials for his customer on the spot would make him superhuman.  My new venture SlideJar does this for presentations. It allows content to be searched and accessed outside of their original presentation based context. If I need an answer to one question, don’t provide me with a book, just give me what I need to get over this obstacle.

So time as it were has run out on me. Hope this has been helpful and hopefully folks that were at my DevLearn session get to read this.

 

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Education Reform

Education reform doesn’t just mean  creating a new business model for distributing the same shit we’ve been distributing since time immemorial (looking at you MOOC’s). I’ve long said that ‘corporate education’ will never change as long as the ‘education’ our kids go through doesn’t change. Know why? Cause most adults are far less open to their creative sides than kids and if we can’t do this for kids then we aint gonna do it for adults. This isn’t some post on creativity and finding our passion. I’ll leave that to Sir Ken Robinson.

I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m really tired of our industry’s so called thought leaders criticize things like Apple’s business model and their products yet endorse the tools and technologies that keep education and corporate education submerged in the depths of digitized classrooms (I have my eyes squarely on rapid development tools). The truth is we don’t know how to reform education because the business of education and the governance by elected and non elected officials over education’s direction is a puzzle we cant crack. That being said, its chilling to think about what Dr. Tony O’Driscoll pointed to during a keynote he gave where he compared various systems and technologies throughout the ages, showing the great progress that has been made EXCEPT the classroom where ancient images are exactly like the contemporary ones. Think about it. Look at cell phones. They’ve been around for what…20 years or so? Look at how much they’ve changed. The classroom? Any change? Any change from when your parents were in school? Any change since Aristotle?

So let me put a stake in the ground and propose some ideas for dismantling the spoken and unspoken bureaucracy of education. To me these are all things that happen before design, before development and are the disruptive ideas that future design and development should account for.

Rule #1 – Education and Life are not separate events – The classroom is part of life that we have to endure but life doesn’t seem to enter the classroom. Computerized technology is merging the biological with non-biological, has removed the proximity barrier for social interactions, has brought one’s personal life into work and the time to merge the classroom with life is now long overdue. Teaching and learning can happen anywhere. If education is to develop the minds, bodies and souls of humans then we must imagine ways to merge classrooms into life and life into classrooms.

Rule #2 – Learning can not be measured, but it can be inferred – First of all, the only definition of learning that I’m prepared to accept is the physiological description of changes to the brain as a result of the learning process. The end never justifies the means, since we’re only tracking what we measure not what we don’t. Physiological changes to the brain can be measured but they won’t tell us the what. So, lets stop trying to measure learning and lets start tracking to help us build inference. In other words I don’t need to know how much you’ve learned. I need to be able to infer that you are able to do whats needed and are developing into the perfect you.

Rule #3 – Hierarchy is bullshit. People play roles and being in a role doesn’t make you better. It gives you a role within a system. The job of every person playing a role within a system is to make the system stronger not themselves. There are teachers and students but only as roles within the system. These roles change frequently and people can play multiple roles in a single interaction. When playing a role, help others as a way to make the system stronger.

Rule #4 – The opportunity in education is not the distribution of a single voice to more people. The opportunity in education is to get rid of a single voice and connect a single individual to the global voice and harvest the many teachers around.

Rule #5 – People need to know they can be happy without following rules. So if you don’t like these rules, lay down your own but share em.

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And for what its worth, none of these ideas are entirely my own.

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Closing remarks at DevLearn

Here is roughly what I said or wanted to say as closing remarks at this year’s DevLearn:

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Its been an absolute thrill for me having chaired this year’s DevLearn. Having been involved in the process, having met all the people that I have this year and having seen the energy and enthusiasm we have been able to generate is a real honor.

As we prepare for our closing session I wanted to say a few last remarks.

Its easy being here talking with people that speak our language, getting excited about the possibilities, meeting new people and feeling like change is possible. Its difficult to go back to our base of operations and carry that same energy, that same focus on implementing all of these crazy ideas. However often its said to just do it, reality will kick in. We will go back to deadlines. We will go back to our families. We will go back to whatever we were doing before but now we’ve tasted what could be.

To shape whats next you need to do all the little things that make progress possible.  Sure it feels like sometimes a thing or a person forces a gigantic leap forward but the truth is more like there has been a build up, its just been underground. The breakthrough thing has probably been in the works for some time. And so something I’ve learned recently is to focus on the little things, get them done and keep your mind open to the changes around you. Everyone of us won’t shape whats next alone. It requires the ‘collective’ to communicate at that sub conscious level and just ‘know’ what needs to be done.

I think the most important take away from a conference is the network I’ve nurtured while at a conference. The collective network of which I am a part is what really matters since it is through that collective that I am most likely going to be able to make a difference. The web grew because people worked at strengthening the network. It is as powerful as it is because it is perhaps the greatest collective intelligence experiment ever. You are not alone in shaping whats next.

All that being said, we do need to act fearlessly as individuals and we need to begin making ourselves and those around us feel slightly uncomfortable with the status quo. The collective is always being driven forward by those who act with conviction and with a little abandon for convention. The education and corporate education market is so ripe for advancement. We are ready to craft our futures and we need people and networks to break some rules and make things work without anybody’s permission.

Shaping whats next requires the continuation of a collective and also requires a little anarchy. By ‘anarchy’ I mean a self directed collective who shun the hierarchy in place and who push a self determined agenda forward. It would be a real honor to think that this DevLearn collective are the people who make change and who succeed in shaping whats next.

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Opening Address at DevLearn

For all those who are interested, here is what I said at the opening general session at DevLearn. Glad the ‘Challenge Speakers’ caught on. At a recent conference, a fellow attendee referred to me as unprofessional and insulting when I challenged a speaker. I also linked to a Lorne Carpenter video that explains the ‘collective intelligence experiments’

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Thank you very much for making the effort to come to what I think of as the most progressive exciting conference in the online learning industry, DevLearn. I’ve been asked by the eLearning Guild to talk with you a bit about this year’s conference theme ‘ Shaping Whats Next’ and what it means.

I’m a long standing verteran of this conference. Been coming to this dance since 2004 or something equally impressive.  My first DevLearn conference was significant since I had a budding startup and coming to a show, with a booth and selling my wares at a conference like DevLearn was a huge milestone. It was exhilarating although I didn’t realize the burden of being eye candy. Since that first show I’ve participated in DevLearn as a vendor, speaker and was part of a program committee. By the way, my first conference I probably looked something like this: (show picture)

DevLearn always has a great mix of the current, the slightly ahead of the curve and some far out stuff that blow our minds and help us stretch ourselves. I’ve watched DevLearn grow from a niche conference to one that represents the spectrum of expertise in the online learning industry and in that time I’ve evolved, I’ve watched my colleagues evolve and I’ve watched the interests of our industry evolve.

When I signed up for program chair of DevLearn I felt the weight of continuing a tradition and the desire to leave a mark. There was no question that DevLearn had a secret sauce about it and I needed to make sure that this year included the sauce. My own desire for DevLearn was that it continued to be a progressive representation of our industry, AND that it became a catalyst for someone, a group, a company to innovate something new. I want DevLearn to help you not only plant a seed but nurture it to the point where one day that seed is on full display at DevLearn and is in fact a by product of having attended this show.

Have people heard of Lorne Carpenter and the collective intelligence experiments? He’s also the cofounder of Pixar and his wife heads up Cinematrix. The collective intelligence experiments demonstrated what happens when a group of people who don’t know each other come together in a place like this, have a common goal and purpose and develop whats refered to as a ‘hive’ mind. That is they develop a collective brain and sub-consciously work with one another to execute the task at hand. The bees do it, the birds do it and we do it.

This year’s tag line ‘Shaping Whats Next’ was not easily come by. We all bought into the idea that this year at DevLearn, more so than ever, we wanted to infuse the show with sessions and with opportunities that guided this collective mind to a new status quo of which we don’t necessarily know what it looks like but we do know what we want it to include. I’m not talking about some ethereal, philosophical concept here. We looked at future trends, we explored what was coming down the pipe in technology and we reached outside our own industry and pulled people in who can tell us whats happening in the outside world. This isn’t about portraying a future that isn’t attainable, this is about all of us together forming and shaping a future whose path we will determine together.

The great thing about this vision, like every path forward, it shapes our current beliefs and continues to morph and change what we want to see in the future. Now here’s the thing: all of this requires work. It requires us to challenge one another, to compromise, to compliment and to make sure that you are using the show as a catalyst and not simply a place where you come to listen. I encourage everyone to engage in discourse with the fantastic speakers we have here. That means not simply listening to them but also challenging them. Everyone here moves from teacher to student to philosopher to doer within seconds. Don’t be passive. Make this show your catalyst and the catalyst that changes this industry.

Lofty goals of course, which is why I will be playing with Lego.

 

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Changing business models to match buying patterns of consumers

So in March of this year (2013) I began a new venture with my brother Mike called SlideJar. SlideJar is an offshoot of technology my previous company edCetra Training built, called Anancloud. The technology was initially conceived while working with the Library of Congress and its purpose was to make legacy content readable by machines, so that people can create more valuable web assets from desktop blobs of information. As ‘Anancloud’ the technology was repurposed to provide personal and corporate PowerPoint management with a pretty standard business model of pay per month. That being said, alot of research went into designing Anancloud using a lean start up approach and its resulting format, aka the business model, was meant to match the expressed need of our target consumer.

However a really interesting thing happened. While almost unanimously people expressed to us the need to have a tool to ‘find individual slides’ at run time and that such a tool would be worthy, we learned that the pain it resolves is only palpable at the moment you can’t find a slide. In other words if I spoke to you now while you weren’t having this problem, you would agree that there is a problem and that it needs solving. If I said, give me money now to solve the problem in the future you would delay until the problem was at hand (we know this from our pilots and our analytics). However while experiencing the problem, our tool wont help resolve it since the slides weren’t in our system to begin with. And so, at the moment of pain you still need to resolve the problem and that makes your bandwidth for solving the problem in the future void. In other words you won’t sign up at the moment of pain because your too busy solving the problem.

With SlideJar we used a different approach based on the principles I first heard about through Julie Dirksen called ‘Hyperbolic Discounting‘. The idea is to allow planning for the ‘moment of pain’, ie buying into the product, to be practically obstacle free and that the sum of money you pay is consistent with how big your pain is. So we had to lose monthly plans because fixed costs against an defined scope (the problem) didn’t match the purchasing behaviours of our target audience. We incorporated a virtual currency called ‘beenz‘ into the system to allow for money spent by a consumer to be commensurate with the size of the problem. Users who are managing large volumes of slides need more beenz than those who aren’t. So virtual currency does two things. 1) There is no commitment to the problem on a monthly basis and therefore reduces the anxiety about making a commitment to a problem you may or may not have in the near future. 2) The size of the commitment is negligible and therefore allows the brain to ‘justify’ spending money now since the value justifies ‘waiting’ to actually use it.

The technology between Anancloud and SlideJar is relatively the same. The expressed need by our target consumers is still the same. The real innovation here was changing the business model to match the behaviors of our consumer.

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Why LEGO at DevLearn?

So  last year the eLearning Guild decided that I was going to chair the 2013 DevLearn Conference and Expo. One of the discussion points I had with the Guild was that as an attendee who was more than up to date with the technology, the trends and the general discussion points of the industry, the eLearning Guild DevLearn experience offered alot in the way of networking opportunities but didn’t fully explore how to make the conference education portion of the show relevant and meaningful for me. Now bear in mind that the eLearning Guild is one of the most progressive organizations out there not only delivering cutting edge knowledge but testing and implementing new technologies all the time. However, the membership probably follows a normal distribution curve for how ‘cutting edge’ their own knowledge is and so to throw a conference the size of DevLearn you must consider that normal distribution curve and deliver sessions that are going to be relevant for people who are not outliers but within the part of the curve not including the standard deviations.

As a new chair to this conference, I proposed an idea about what the conference should accomplish for the members that fall within the ‘normal’ range. The idea was ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have somebody at the conference have the opportunity to develop an idea, and have that idea materialize as a product that one day was on exhibition at the show on the exhibitors floor. In other words, how do we ignite an innovative idea and provide a space for that idea to cultivate. Truth be told, at last year’s DevLearn I believe this was kinda what was going on with the ‘Junto‘. However, I wasn’t really interested in providing a space for discussion, I wanted to provide a space to build something. Ideas around hackathons were thrown about but the logistics seemed slightly out of scope.

This year at DevLearn, there will be LEGO robots!  Enable Education has helped LEGO build out their curriculum for teachers, schools and other associations to run sessions for students on learning to build and program LEGO robots and they are coming to DevLearn to do the same for us. Why? Lets get serious for one second: the primary reason we’re bringing them is because I need to try this out! Truth. Secondly, everyone at the show will have a chance to ‘build’ something that they have probably never built before and will get a very tactile, very hands on, experience based opportunity to develop new skills. Jane Bozarth wrote a column for Learning Solutions magazine not too long ago about becoming a learner. Well this is an opportunity for us to become learners, to build something and to get an understanding of how ‘robotics’ can teach us a lot about design (a featured session on this is being done by me at DevLearn). Lastly, having a space for people to come and build robots, is also a space where those who are outliers, who are standard deviants from the curve have a place to go to to feed their brain when there aren’t any relevant sessions within a timeslot that they find. In fact its a space where great conversations can be had while building, where great networking opportunities may exist and where the start of friendly competition may blossom.

So game on DevLearn people! My robot will undoubtedly be the darling of the show. Care to take me up on that?

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The folder structure

We have been raised to organize information in file folders. They were great for trapping paper, they were pretty good in helping us ‘find’ documents, they weren’t so great helping us with version control and they were useless for finding anything specific within a document.

We have been raised to organize digital information in file folders. They are great for trapping digital documents, they are decreasingly useful helping us to ‘find’ documents, they are almost utterly useless for version control and they have nothing to offer in the way of finding anything specific.

In the future, the use of file folders will be rethought.

“Time” is our most valuable resource. It is the deciding factor in efficiency and efficiency is often a contributing factor for effectiveness in the workplace.

How does this grab you?

 

Untitled

 

“In 2015 it would take you 5 years to view all the video travelling across IP networks every second”

 

Folders? How are we finding the stuff? How will we find the stuff?

Would you rather use this?

siso

or this?

slidejar

slidejar2

 

 

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You can’t measure subjective experiences objectively

In his book ‘The Singularity is Near‘, Ray Kurzweil has this excellent discussion about ‘consciousness’ as a subjective experience, of which we can only assert knowledge of our own. There are signs and indications of other people’s and other animal’s consciousness that let us assume or make inferences from, but there can never be ‘objective’ proof. He makes this argument not to bolster Socratic argumentation and cynicism but as part of a larger discussion on what happens when we can literally transfer our memories, our feelings, the contents of our brains into a hard drive and reconstitute ourselves in a machine (you can say this will never happen, but you would only be lying to yourself). The question he raises is, will that machine be ‘me’?

I think its a fascinating philosophical discussion, but one that ultimately surfaces the issues of ‘objective’ measurements of subjective experiences. There is no measurement of ‘me’. The only ‘proof’ I have of ‘me’ is my own consciousness which does not mean I can prove you have ‘consciousness’. If I apply this same principle to ‘learning’ and I accept that learning is in fact a subjective experience, I am obligated to accept that there is no objective measurement of learning. This is a point I try to make in my book and one that I am constantly battling with other people on in general.

We need to stop trying to measure ‘learning’. Instead we need to pick and choose what triggers best represent our desired outcomes. This applies to our education system for youth as well as corporate learning. Percentages, pass/fail, complete/ incomplete are total nonsense. Measuring against learning objectives is nonsense. Setting real objectives, designing experiences that have purposely built data triggers that feed into those objectives and constantly monitoring and adjusting makes sense.

 

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