Leftovers & Oldies -- For deep research

How People Learn



For the introverted view...

Learning is changing one's mind by adding new stuff, repudiating old stuff, or by making connections. But how does one change one's mind?

Metaphors We Live By posits that all thoughts are relative. And most are expressed in words. This aligns with the popular wisdom that we learn from stories.

The Mind's Past talks about the internal conversation always going on in our heads. Listen for a minute. Yeah, that's it. The book also describes a mediator between the brain and the mind called "the interpreter."

Let's call the subconscious, autonomic brain simply "the brain;" it's attached directly to the senses. The conscious, aware portion of our gray matter, we'll call "mind."

The brain gets sensations first. It rejects most of this sensory input and makes basic decisions about what to do next. Later, "the interpreter" creates a story to provide a rational explanation. The interpreter weaves together a plausible story to bullshit the mind into believing it's rational and in control. In fact, most decisions are made before they enter consciousness.

Got that? Your don't make up your mind; your brain makes up your mind. Its interpreter spins yarns the way you do when recounting a dream. A lot more of the brain comes with mechanics "factory-installed" than we like to think. As Bernard Malamud has observed, "All biography is ultimately fiction." Gazzaniga says, "Autobiography is hopelessly inventive."

Changing one's mind consists of convincing the interpreter that the facts of the matter or memories of the past or one's self-image or the rules of the game haved shifted. The changed interpreter puts a different spin on the stories it tells, for those stories must seem internally consistent. The stories must also maintain the fiction that the mind is calling the shots, not the brain.

What might be the nature of this interpreter? Clearly, it needs an image of who its owner is and what the owner is capable of. I'll call this the secret resume, for like a printed resume, it's a very selective and self-serving sense of one's past. The interpreter also needs a worldview or meme library, the rules by which things operate. And the interpreter must retrieve memories, for this is the content of thinking. Changing either the secret resume, the worldview, or the memories changes the interpreter's stories. This is learning.

The Mind's Eye tells us that "the brain is not primarily an experience-storing device that constantly changes its structure to accommodate new experience. From the evolutionary perspective it is a dynamic computing device that is largely rule driven; it stores information by manipulating the value of simple arithmetic variables We are a finely honed machine that has amazing capacities for learning and inventiveness. Yet these capacities were not picked up at a local bookstore or developed from everyday experience." They were, as the author says, "factory-installed."

Our brains have a built-in macro library from which they select responses to environmental challenges. "We don't select sentences preformed, like Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls. Rather, we put together fragments to form the whole. So, too, with our thoughts. We think by selecting objects." Our memes are constructed from meme-objects, the grains that add up to a beach of thoughts.

Internet Time Group on eLearners

Ellen Langer's The Power of Mindful Learning profoundly shaped my thinking about how to improve education. Absolute truth is a fantasy. Look at things from different points of view. Change your approach, improve your learning.

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -Confucius
"If I hear and see and do and teach and practice, I understand even better." -Jay
Information is not instruction.

Distance Learning Professional Development Model




Lee and Bowers (1997) studied a group of university students to determine under which set of conditions people learned best. The participants were given a pre-test, they then learned the material, and then were given a post-test. Their learning was compared with the learning of a control group that took the same pre- and post-tests, but studied a different topic in-between. When compared with the learning performance of the control group, the people in the different groups always demonstrated more learning:

Hearing spoken text and looking at graphics ? 91% more learning,
Looking at graphics alone ? 63% more,
Reading printed text plus looking at graphics ? 56% more,
Listening to spoken text, reading text, and looking at graphics ? 46% more,
Hearing spoken text plus reading printed text ? 32% more,
Reading printed text alone ? 12% more,
Hearing spoken text alone ? 7% more.

"Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon." -E. M. Forster


"Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself."
-Chinese Proverb

"Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity a greater."
-William Hazlitt


21st Century Learning Initiative publishes wonderful, provocative, leading-edge white papers and articles on education, primarily K-12 in the UK but universally applicable.

Some Principles of Educational Reconstruction, Roland Meighan
"Effective teaching requires much more than being an instructor: welcome the 'learning coach' and the 'learning travel agent'."

Battery Hens or Free Range Chickens?, John Abbott
"You see learning has to do with a hunger to make sense of something. The whole brain, including the emotions, has to be engaged. If you separate emotion from intellect you court disaster."

Headteachers' Course (1999-2000). "New understandings about the brain; about how people learn; about the potential of information and communication technologies; about radical changes in patterns of work, as well as increasing economic inequality and social divisions within and between nations, necessitate a profound rethinking of the structures of education."

How We Want to Live Tomorrow, Portal on Global Digitalization
Enterprise Training: Helping Executives Get It (5/99) Datamation

: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century. loaded with stats. (Department of Labor)

Learning Outcomes, Center for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology

Review of Cliff Stoll's High-Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian (and crank)

"I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers."
-Kahlil Gibran

in Learning in Action, David Garvin posits four preconditions for learning:

  1. openness to new perspectives (the provisional nature of knowledge)
  2. awareness of personal biases (we see what we want to see)
  3. exposure to unfiltered data (not watered-down interpretations)
  4. humility (don't have all the answers)

these are really the same thing stated four times. essentially, "the truth is not out there." everything flows. nothing is certain. meaning is defined by context, and context is forever subject to redefinition. our senses are untrustworthy. what we see isn't really there. it's a construct, a creation of our mind. (consider the bandwidth required to pull in a high-res movie of what's going on around us.) bias (filtering) warps everything we experience.

this uncertainty challenges the individual to refine and internalize his or her take on things relative to his/her environs. this is what learning is - mapping a subject's relative position. this ties right in to the mindfulness work of langer: tell 'em it's uncertain and they learn more that if you tell 'em it's absolute truth.


  Schools That Learn
by Peter Senge et alia.

A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education

I read the Orientation and Primer to the Five Disciplines thoroughly. This book is 600 pp. and I was only interested in the parts that apply to adults as well as children. I flipped through the sections on Classrooom, School, and Community, sampling whatever appealed to me, perhaps a third of what was there. My reading chairs were provided by Southwest Airlines and Frontier, so distractions were few but sleep was an ever-present temptation.

Everyone remembers a "special connection" with their early teacher, a moment of respect, pride, and learning. Pity they aren't more common. Our schools are obsolete and we need to re-create them to serve students who will grow up in a post-industrial world.

The five "disciplines" are ongoing bodies of study and practice that people adopt as individuals and groups. I think of them as touchstones for Senge followers. Examples throughout the book identify which discipline(s) apply. The big five are:

    1. Personal mastery. Knowing who you are and where you want to go. This creates a personal gap awareness.
    2. Shared vision. Commonality of purpose.
    3. Mental models. Reflection and inquiry skills. I expected to find some nifty algorithms and rules of thumb. This is the least well-developed "discipline." The recurring model is the "ladder of inference." It's important to reflect with models because "in any new experience, most people are drawn to take in and remember only the information that reinforces their exsiting mental models."
    4. Team Learning. This is conversation, dialogue, discussion...what I call community.
    5. Systems thinking. Taking a holistic approach, understanding interdependencies, feedback, and complexity.

All learners construct knowledge from an inner scaffolding of their individual and social experiences, emotions, will, aptitudes, beliefs, values, self-awareness, purpose, and more. In other words, if you are learning in a classroom, what you understand is determined by how you understand things, who you are, and what you already know as much as by what is covered, and how and by whom it is delivered.

Senge gives a marvellous rif on the industrial-age heritage of schools. The world as a clock (Kepler, Descartes, Newton), an assembly of parts. Fred the great, fascinated by mechanical toys, wanted soldiers to perform as interchangeable parts. Industrial organizations bought the military model (hence, line and staff, chain of command, training). From 1770 to 1812, labor productivity increased 120 times over in the British textile industry. Schools took up the methods of the assembly line. Like any assembly line, the system was organized in dscrete stages (grades). Uniform speed (bells, schedules, fixed curriculum). The school factory was separate from daily life.

Human reason is a form of animal reason, a reason inextricably tied to our bodies and the peduliarities of our brains." Human cognitive development involves just as much "body knowledge" as it does "mind knowledge." Maturana and Vella: "All doing is knowing and all knowing is doing."

Life's interdependencies tend to remain invisible to the fragmented academic theory of knowledge. Reality is composed fundamentally of relationships, not things. (Somewhere today I read that "The most important things in life are not things.")

autopoesis = self-producing
double-loop learning = thinking about how you think, i.e. metareflection

Schools That Learn didn't meet my objectives. Great stuff for fixing up schools but not that useful for reconceptualizing adult learning. It also put me to sleep several times as I entered the land of diminishing returns.

Amazon's got 50 pages of the book for free.

From earlier notes, while reading the first section from a library copy of the book:

  • Knowledge is constructed, not transferred. It's built out of known chunks. It's always linked to the situation, thus "situated." Skills and knowledge do not exist outside of context. Everything is connected, in mental, physical, or social space.
  • Learning = constructing mental models. Bootstrap these by making them objective and analyzing
  • There are no empty vessels. Beware of fragmentation and malrules (buggy algorithms).
  • "The search for teachable, general learning abilities is as old as the history of education."



Learning on Internet Time, our presentation at Web Training (11/00)

eLearning from Different Viewpoints, Internet TIme Group for SmartForce (1999)

mid-1999: "eLearning" is a vision of what corporate training can become.

Its hallmarks are:

  • learning on Internet-age steroids: often real-time, 24/7, anywhere, anytime
  • learner-centered, personalized to the individual & customized to the organization
  • network-assisted, often assembling learning experiences on the fly
  • a blend of learning methods -- virtual classroom, simulation, collaboration, community, even classroom...
  • the whole learning enchilada, from assessment through testing and sometimes certification
  • online administration -- handling registration, payment and charge-backs, and monitoring learner progress

Bryan Chapman's Through the Eyes of Visionaries


History of Education

L3: Lebenslanges Lernen -- Weiterbildung als Grundbedürfnis" ist das Projekt eines Konsortiums von rund 20 Firmen unter der Führung des CEC Karlsruhe, dem europäischen Forschungszentrum der SAP AG.

Fast Company on Learning (10/00)

Learning 101 "Learn how learning is changing, how you can promote learning, and how you can become a better learner." Sixteen luminaries. A fast read. On target.

Cisco's Quick Study "Democratizing the creation of content does not imply total freedom in how Cisco distributes it. One of [Tom] Kelly's favorite slogans is, 'Content is king, infrastructure is God' -- and there's absolutely no question who gets to play God. 'We've decentralized content development back to the subject-matter experts,' Kelly says. 'But we've centralized deployment. We've told people, "You have the knowledge, but we give you easy access to the audience." People have to use our tools in order to reach our audience. That approach gets us the most impact.'"

Looking Back from the Future, Internet Time Group (10/99)

What is eLearning?, Internet Time Group presentation for Silicon Valley eLearning Forum

The Internet Time Machine, Learning in 2004, Internet Time Group (11/98), TechLearn presentation

The Power of the Internet for Learning, "the Kerrey Report" (12/2000), its Table of Contents

The "e" is for Elephant (response by Jay)

In Educating Wall Street on e-learning (6/00), W.R. Hambrecht's Trace Urdan identifies five success factors for B2B eLearning companies:

Brand In an immature market, a strong brand is the most important factor in determining fundamental value and long-term success.

Interactivity Regardless of price, if it doesn't improve training effectiveness, e-learning will fail.

Scalable Model High quality Web-based training courses are expensive and time-consuming to develop. ...market participants who license their solutions to organizations in volume, deploy a course delivery platform capable of supporting millions of users, and utilize multiple, effective distribution channels should achieve economies of scale.

Global Reach The large Fortune 1000 corporations targeted by nearly every e-learning player want to find ways to unite their globally distributed workforces.

Complete Offering Customers are struggling to make sense of the range of e-learning products and features, including IT and soft skills content, learning management systems, authoring tools, and live classroom tools. In this early stage of the e-learning market's development, customers prefer one vendor that can offer the best of these features.

An Overview of Online Learning is an encyclopedic outline of online technology and processes. Prepared as background for participants of Online Learning conferences.

Learn At A Distance, Online learning is poised to become the new standard, by Judith N. Mottl (1999), Information Week

Learning Portals, Internet Time Group (7/99)

The eLearning Manifesto, Internet Time Group (11/99)
Spoiler: This is not a "real" article. Noting the similarities between eLearning and eBusiness, we took a Big 5 white paper and substituted "learner" for "customer," "learning" for "business," etc. One eLearning publication sought to publish the piece in their inaugural issue.


Education focus

Internet Time's Universities page

New York Times: Education article archive

New Horizons For Learning -- wealth of research on education; see "Adult Learning" topic

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Distance Learning, in depth
Distance Learning Resource Network
Office of Educational Technology
, Department of Education
Online Learning Overview, Illinois Online Network
The Encyclopedia of Educational Technology
Videoconferencing for Learning

Learning is tolerated only when it affects immediate performance. This attitude, of course, ultimately undercuts performance since even optimal performance can't be maintained unless people keep learning.

"Learning to Learn," W. Timothy Gallwey


© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California