TechKnowledge '04 -- Day Three

By the third day of an event like this, some participants are zombies; others are off to Disneyland (soon to be ComcastLand). This time they missed some great insights.

ASTD chair Pat Crull took the stage to introduce Qualcomm's Tamar Elkeles who was going to tell us about The Wireless Future and the Impact on Learning. Yawn. I expected a pitch about Kyocera phones. Or how people who refuse to read for very long on a 17" monitor are going to learn to love reading on a 2"x2" screen on a PDA. I've heard it and I figured I could wait until this stuff came of age.

Tamar took the stage and began to talk about "learning on the move." She told us how you can already use your phone as a voice-activated remote control for both your garage door and your television set. You can download a ring-tone that is an inaudible mosquito repellent. For $10 a month, SPRINT will let you watch CNBC and sports by phone.

Tamar's presentation

Consider how phones are woven into our lives. Ring! Ring! Ring! You feel compelled to pick it up to answer. Cell phones are a relatively new innovation yet they've become indispensible. Losing your phone is like losing an appendage to your body.

The Europeans are investing € 4,5 million in wireless illiteracy training for the homeless. Why? They may not have a home, but they surely have a wireless device. Gallo uses wireless phone learning to bring merchants up to speed on new products; at least they won't be interrupted by phone calls.

Pilot programs are investigating blends, discovery learning (museums), interpretation (info), and more. About then it hit me. My concept of "phone" had become obsolete.

A dozen years ago, speakers describing how gradual change can sneak up on you would recount a story of frogs and water on the stove. The legend said that it you pitched a frog in boiling water, he'd hop right out. However, if you put the frog in tepid water and heated it to a boil, the frog wouldn't sense what was happening and you'd end up with boiled frog. In my case, the phone had almost reached the boiling point before I woke up to the fact that we're no longer talking about Ma Bell's phones. Today's devices are not the same species as the phones I grew up with. (When I was a little boy growing up in Hope, Arkansas, our phone number was "2"; our town wasn't wired for dial phones at the time.)

It's the old saw that you can't learn what you already know. I was two years late appreciating the real value of storytelling because I thought I already knew most of what there was to know on the subject. Then I finally read Stephen Denning's The Springboard and discovered an entire new landscape. Ah, co-creation. Now I see why stories are great (your mind makes up its own stories in reaction to those of others).

I'd have caught on to M-Learning sooner if instead of phones and PDAs, the enthusiasts described the hardware as learning gizmos or TriCorders. That would have kept me from blocking out the potential with limitations that are no longer there, some kind of learned helplessness.

IBM's executive for M-learning, Christopher von Koschembahr, climbed to the podium to describe a scenario out of Sam Adkins' and my workflow learning playbook. Over the past ten years, the back-end of business computing has consolidated to the point that a mobile learner can connect into the central nervous system of the enterprise. (Chris's wording was much more elegant but I hope you get the idea nonetheless.)

The thought is that the only slack time available for learning comes in small chunks. You have ten minutes waiting in line? Pull out your learning gizmo and catch up:

Tamar came back on to tell us it's time to work on our M-Strategies. It doesn't cost anything to begin, it rides on infrastructure we've already built, and the time is now.

Lance Dublin, the impresario of TechKnowledge '04, came back on to thank everyone who helped put the event together. I found this event very worthwhile. I was happy to get the feeling that America is finally coming out of the economic dark ages of the last couple of years.


Posted by Jay Cross at February 12, 2004 07:21 PM | TrackBack

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