October 31, 2002

The Book

When Elliott encouraged everyone to read. Zealous participants went to work on it immediately.

Lance Dublin's and my book, Implementing eLearning, had just arrived from the printer.

It sold out! More about the book here.

Am I happy about this?

Does a dog have fleas?

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Visualizing TechLearn 2003 (1)

For those of us with nonlinear tastes, here's a Mind Map I created for my own assessment of major themes.

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Collaborative Learning 2002

This morning I recorded a 15-minute presentation for Collaborative Learning 2002. According to sponsors iCohere and Replay Rich Media, "Leading industry experts will be accessible from your computer: e-Learning managers from HP, Lucent and American Express. Pioneers like Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, early directors of The Well. And Marcia Conner, Editor in Chief of Learnativity and LineZINE." (I wonder what I have to do to achieve pioneer status.)

Through their interactive, mixed media presentations, you'll explore the emergent trends in creating effective collaborative training and education for online and blended venues. As part of a living online learning community, you'll also network with diverse professionals from business, non-profits, government and academia.

What's in this for Jay?

Glad you asked!

Admission to the virutal conference is $199. I get to give away five free registrations. To enter the ticket lottery, email me your first name, last name, organization name, and email address, plus one line on why you're interested. Make the subject: collab2002 so I can separate your email from the two or three hundred SPAM that arrive here every day.

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TechLearn Photos

A few mementos. I'll add more after I get some sleep.

If you can't afford the Coronado hotel (or don't feel comfortable sleeping in a place that's patrolled with Disney stormtroopers), you could stay 10 minutes away, in Kissimmee, for $35/night.

Dave Barry and Diane Hessan comparing Miami and Boston.

Cathie, Stan & Elliott

An ominous twist: Joe thanks the Supporting Sponsors before welcoming the audience.

The Raspyni Brothers, phenomenal jugglers and terribly funny comedians, explained that they had worked with the Masie Center to select this year's presentations from among hundreds of submissions. They presented their TechLearn Top Ten List of the worst of the rejects:

Eileen Clegg interpreting the keynote graphically.

Lance Dublin and I gave the first presentation Monday morning. This is what the presenter sees. The left and right monitors display what's on the big screens; the center monitor is what's on your PC. We were more than pleased to have 15% of the participants turn out for an 8:00 am presentation -- and not fall asleep. The presentation was based on our new book, which we saw for the first time later that day.

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TechLearn Community

The TechLearn community convened in Orlando this Sunday through midday Wednesday for the sixth time in five years. Why do I say community instead of conference or show? Because Elliott Masie and his acolytes have created a culture replete with rituals, castes, customs, expectations, and entertainment.

I asked two-dozen people, half newbies and half old-timers what they thought of TechLearn. Every one -- every single one! -- said TechLearn was the best show they’d ever attended. New people are attracted by Elliott’s reputation; his broad contacts are an early warning system for the industry. Old hands come to find out what’s going on, to sniff out business, and to renew friendships. This was my fifth consecutive TechLearn, and I felt like I was returning for a club meeting.

1452.5 people from 37 countries came to Disney’s Coronado Springs hotel to pass the talking stick this year. (The .5 is a prenancy.) This year’s group was more senior in their organizations, perhaps a reflection of budget restrictions on travel for the junior folks. About a third were first-timers. A large contingent were members of the consortium (whose employers kick in $5,000 a year for membership.)

How do Elliott, his wife Cathy, and his partner Stan, pull this off?

  • Elliott instructs the “faculty,” i.e. all presenters, in their three roles. First, they give their presentations – as free of jargon as possible. Second, they are to raise the level of enthusiasm. Third, if they see some forlorn soul, they are to introduce themselves, get this person engaged, and introduce him or her to others.
  • An energetic faculty member (this year Beth Thomas took on the role) leads orientations to get people in the mood, to create a safe space, to encourage camaraderie, and to have fun.
  • The agenda is chock full of breaks, social events, table exercises, and entertainment to encourage schmoozing. People have a choice of buttons to wear as conversation-starters. Seating is round tables, not rows of chairs.
  • The content is top-drawer. Now that eLearning is more than a dream or a pilot, organizations are presenting real case examples. It’s exciting to see the major strides many organizations are taking.
  • Vendors are present but are kept in check. Some of us feared that Advanstar’s commercialism might tarnish the atmosphere. It turned out that the small expo hall was quite contained, appropriately occupying the space where the resource center (filled with PCs in prior years) had been. Years of practice running thousands of events have taught Advanstar the ropes. Their professionalism showed in their unobtrusiveness.
  • And of course, there’s Elliott himself, larger than life. (Joke!) “Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me? E-L-L-I, O-T-T, M-A-S-I-E.” Get this. At the entrance to Disney MGM, Elliott, Cathie, and Advanstar’s Joe Flynn shook hands with everyone attending TechLearn.

Another tradition: Booz Allen’s Mike Parmentier, assisted by his former colleagues at ADL, prepares a trip report summarizing the entire event. I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. Besides, with as many as 25 concurrent sessions, it’s impossible for any one individual to take part in more a small fraction of the show. Download the trip report for the facts. The Masie Center is working away right now to post presentations and streaming audio; I'll note when things start to appear.

Here on the Blog, I’ll add color commentary, opinions, and a few photographs.

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October 27, 2002


More than twelve-hundred people will participate in tonight's opening session of TechLearn 2002 in Disney World's Coronado Resort.

TechLearn's theme this year is The Futures of eLearning, an improvement over last year's Now More Than Ever.

The Limited's Beth Thomas modeled one of the futures of eLearning, making like a Disney interpretation of Judy Jetson:

eLearning vendors are in such a slump that they didn't stuff many goodies in this year's famous TechLearn wheelie bag. A couple of pens, an Element K potholder, a Thinq t-shirt, a DDI pencil case, a 4" rubber bear, and a stack of cheesy brochures and product spec sheets On the other hand, the variety of buttons has grown. A few from last year seem odd when taken out of context ("Bullied as a kidl")

I'm going to head back over to the Coronado. The Learning Showcase opens soon. I want to catch the reaction to this first in-your-face commercialism at TechLearn, especially as the kick-off event.

Reviews of the two previous TechLearns: TechLearn2000 | TechLearn2001

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October 26, 2002


Click for Lake Buena Vista, Florida Forecast

Click for forecast.

This morning I'm off to TechLearn in Orlando. Watch this blog!

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October 25, 2002

Authoring Under the Radar

There's a whole lot more eLearning going on in the world than meets the eye. No one's keeping track of the tens of thousands of modules being authored in PowerPoint, Word, FrontPage, Dreamweaver, or even HotDog.

Friday I ate lunch with a fellow from Impatica. His firm's software converts a narrated PowerPoint presentation into a web presentation, complete with streaming sound and fancy transitions -- and no plug-in required. I've touted this as a dirt-cheap authoring environment. Most SMEs understand what it means to narrate a PowerPoint show.

Who's buying? More than two hundred colleges and universities, particularly community colleges. More than 300 businesses, a clear majority of them small businesses. Some large organizations use Impatica, but mostly it's the small fry who couldn't afford a full-blown LMS if their lives depended upon it.

Many of the major eLearning vendors are facing tough times. Impatica's revenue is running ten times the rate of a year ago.

To download a 30-day free-trial version of Impatica, simply fill out this form.

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October 23, 2002

Butts in seats

An article by two academics, Moving Past Time as the Criteria: The Application of Capabilities-Based Educational Equivalency Units in Education, suggests that the "Carnegie unit," which equates college credits with hours spent in class with a qualified instructor is hopelessly out of date.

I couldn't agree more.

The Carnegie Foundation for Advancement in Teaching defined a college unit as 750 classroom hours back in 1909, long before the advent of the Internet, the computer, television, tape recorders, or the ballpoint pen. It's no surprise that simulations, distance learning, and online collaboration count for naught in the Carnegie scheme.

The researchers propose the Capabilities-Based Educational Equivalency (CBEE) unit as a replacement. The say the CBEE "offers an approach that is not time-dependent but is responsive to emerging technologies, supportive of systematic instructional design, and focused on the achievement of learners."

    CBEE units are supposedly based on educational outcome instead of duration. Looking for a way to make CBEE units consistent across courses and institutions, the researchers bring in Gagne's taxonomy of human capabilities.

    For each course, CBEE units are determined from Course Objectives (Given appropriate resources, learners will be able to…). Type of Objective (Gagne type) and Instructional method (text, online reading, async chat, etc.)

Colleges face a huge problem. They have no way to recognize what students learn outside of class.

I don't think these authors have the answer. Outcomes are outcomes. How one reaches them or how Gagne would pigeonhole them is irrelevant.

On a practical level, implementing competency-based education would probably involve more voodoo than what colleges are saddled with now. If a student learns three times as much in a Princeton course as in a Podunk U. course, does she receive three times as many credits? If not, why not?

I've assessed experiential learning for college credit in university assessment centers; it's the intellectual equivalent of touring the sausage factory.

I won't say where, but I've also developed lists of competencies for accredited off-campus degree programs. Most of the time, we developed the course before writing the competencies. This is like Charlie Brown painting the target around the arrow he has shot into the wall.

And what would happen if to courses that rate no CBEE units? A story in the August 14, 2002, New York Times reported "One day in 1931, Hamilton Holt, president of Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., startled his colleagues at an academic conference when he declared that Yale and Columbia, which he had attended in his youth, 'taught me virtually nothing.' The reason, Mr. Holt explained, was that the lectures delivered by his teachers, as with those delivered by professors almost everywhere, were examples of 'probably the worst scheme ever devised for imparting knowledge.'"

Your comments on my perspective are welcome.

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October 22, 2002

eLearning is not important.

This morning I assembled a new presentation entitled eLearning Is Not Important. It's only fifteen minutes long, so if you've got a soundcard and want an eLearning wake-up, please listen in. And then come back here to give me feedback.

This is another experiment with Impatica; for more information on their technology and a demo copy to play with, press the big red button on my home page.

When you return to add your comments, note that I am already aware that I need to upgrade my microphone, although I've grown quite attached to my six-year old $2 Labtec.

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October 21, 2002

What's Knowledge?

This paper on KM, The Duality of Knwoledge, strikes me as important. Knowledge is not the codifiable subject matter of AI. Nor is it the tacit and explicit categories described by Nonaka which have served as my intellectual overview of KM. The authors, Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble, state flatly that Nonaka's spiral of knowledge creation is flawed. Tacit (soft) knowledge simply doesn't translate into explicit (hard) knowledge as Nonaka proposes. Take soft knowledge out of context and it becomes meaningless, "lost in the unfathomable depths of obviousness."

If soft knowledge poses the main challenge to KM, then in order to manage soft knowledge more successfully we should move away from a representationalist view of knowledge towards a more constructionist view. To move towards the management of soft knowledge we need to understand the processes that govern its construction and nurturing in an organisation.
Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest that a process called Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) in Communities of Practice (CoPs) can assist the creation and sustenance of such knowledge.

For Lave and Wenger (1991) LPP defines a CoP. Newcomers learn the practice of the community by being situated in it and from its established members. LPP is part of the process by which a newcomer becomes an established member of a CoP. LPP allows the development of both hard and soft knowledge. Hard knowledge can be articulated and may be exemplified by tasks the members of a CoP perform. Soft knowledge is that knowledge which the newcomer cannot learn simply by demonstration or instruction. It includes learning the language and unspoken conventions of the community. Soft knowledge is developed and learnt through being socialised into the community and through interaction with the existing members.

Orr's 'war stories' (1997) provide a good example of this as well as demonstrating the process of legitimation in a CoP. The utterance of the story itself is an externalisation of the teller's inner thoughts, although the knowledge held by the teller cannot be wholly externalised and passed as information. The members' of the CoP soft knowledge is necessary for a complete understanding the story. An outsider or a newcomer who has not yet developed the appropriate knowledge will not have the same level of understanding as an old-timer.

Thus, CoPs are more than environments in which soft knowledge is developed - both hard and soft knowledge are created and shared. The implication of this is that it is pointless to seek soft knowledge on its own. Knowledge is not made up of opposites; regarding knowledge in these terms is a false dichotomy. Rather than seeing knowledge as opposites, perhaps we should think of it as consisting of two complementary facets: a duality consisting simultaneously and inextricably of both what was previously termed 'structured' and 'less structured' knowledge.

But there's more to it than that. All knowledge is part tacit and part explicit. It's a duality.

Quoting Cook and Seely Brown,

    "We act within a social and physical world and since knowing is an aspect of action it is about interaction with that world. When we act, we either give shape to the physical world or both. Thus 'knowing' does not focus on what we possess in our heads it focuses on our interactions with the things of the social and physical world. (Cook & Seely Brown, 1999: 388)"

Finerty (1997) points out that technology has a role to play, but that the emphasis needs to move from trying to package knowledge as an object to using technology as a way of sharing experience. This view is supported by Davenport and Prusak who emphasise the potential of technology as a means to create links between people:

    ...the more rich and tacit knowledge is, the more technology should be used to enable people to share that knowledge directly. It's not a good idea to try and contain or represent the knowledge itself using technology. (Davenport & Prusak, 1998: 96)

Back to Wenger's communities of practice.

Learning is social participation, that is, defining oneself in the context of the professional group, but it's more than that. Any community produces artifacts from its values, a process Wenger calls "reification." He writes that he uses reification "...to refer to the process of giving form to our experience by producing objects that congeal this experience into thingness. This is the creation of sacred cows, rules of thumb, war stories, professional jargon, and the like.

KNOWLEDGE = a balance of participation & reification

The authors point out that "the key attribute of knowledge: that it exists in people's heads. Once explicit knowledge has been committed to paper, (or any other medium) it becomes information. The original knowledge remains in the mind of the author and (in an ideal world) is only transmitted to the mind of the reader through this medium."

Can stories capture the dual knowledge? Not necessarily, because "knowledge taken out of context is just noise."

...Rather than simply attempting to implement technological solutions, a key part of the management of knowledge is facilitating communication and interaction between people.

This shows us that the role of technology must be substantially different from the earlier technology-driven approaches. The problem with these approaches was that they ignored the soft side. Therefore, at best, such systems were Information Management Systems and at worst simply Data Processing Systems. Where the softer side of knowledge has been ignored, the wrong approach is often taken. The idea that a company can capture tacit knowledge is clearly misleading because in essence embodied knowledge cannot be extracted.

There's a discussion list for taking these thoughts further.

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Euro links

eLearningPost points to Content Village, a page of useful links to eLearning, mainly in Europe (although Internet Time is there, as well as Meta-Learning Lab).

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October 20, 2002

The 22 Laws... of Branding

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries, Laura Ries.

A branding program should be disnged to differentiate your product from all the other cattle on the range. Even if all the other cattle on the range look pretty much alike.

Successful branding programs are based on the concept of singularity. The objective is to create in the mind of the prospect the perception that there is no other product on the market quite like your product.

Marketing is what a company is in business to do.

That's about as deep as this book gets. The "Laws" could be termed the "Observations." Most of them say one thing, "Focus." Less is more. Don't try to be all things to all people.

Oh, by the way, don't name yourself this:

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Time by Design

Time by Design makes watches and on-screen clocks that are intriguing but difficult to read.

Their site is a charming collection of quotes and observations about time.

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October 19, 2002

Thinking about 2012

What should business be prepared to address in the next decade? The Global Business Network asked fifty well-known people and has shared selected quotes on their site. The whole lot will appear in What’s Next? Exploring the New Terrain for Business.

These quotes grabbed my attention:

    If you made a model of the ideal global economy, does it make the most sense to have only a few specialists make the things we need and have them ship those things to wherever they’re needed, or does it actually make more sense to have many local origins for those things? Kevin Kelly

    In China, they’re discovering that when you redecorate your bathroom and get ten pairs of platform shoes and a nose job, you’re still unhappy. Orville Schell

    The way to create healthy, vibrant economies and societies is through diversity. We know that scientifically. Any system that loses its diversity loses its resiliency and is more subject to sudden shocks and changes from which it can’t recover. The corporatization of the world is the loss of diversity—it’s forcing uniformity upon people. Paul Hawken

    That’s what this Cultural Revolution is about: How everything fits together than now appears disconnected. It’s the search for coherence in what is increasingly incoherent. We’re trying to get into the box. We are trying to create a new box. Thinking outside the box turns out to be so yesterday. Joel Garreau

    You can’t have part of the world where there’s a small, aging bubble of Western elites and then this massive, throbbing, younger, and increasingly impoverished group of people. Jaron Lanier

    The question is whether we’ll have a youth culture with old demographics. Youth culture, geezer bodies—does that work? Kevin Kelly

    I believe we are heading toward a single global culture. That’s a very scary thought to most people because they see that if they’re not part of the dominant culture, then their culture will be wiped out, their values will be wiped out, the things that are important to them will be wiped out. Yet, I think that it is absolutely inevitable. Danny Hillis

    There’s a perfect storm coming at the 100-nanometer level. Information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are all converging on that scale. Stewart Brand

    Education is where medicine was about 100 years ago. A hundred years ago, most of medicine was empirical—somebody tried it and figured out whether it worked or not. Gradually, over the last century, medicine has become half scientific and half empirical. Over the next few decades, I suspect the same thing will happen with education. William Calvin

    If you get microbiologists drunk, or at least a few beers into them, it’s not rare for them to say they’ll have aging solved in 20 years. Robert Carlson

    I think by any rational standards you’d have to say that the proposition we call China is a mass of almost insoluble contradictions. I could be wrong, but 1.3 billion people trying to have a lifestyle like Orange County? Can you imagine just the environmental consequences of that? Orville Schell

    I think this may be a theme for the decade—that we’re going to take packages of things and unbundled them and reassemble the parts. It happens with cultures and biological organisms. It also happens with governments. Danny Hillis

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October 18, 2002

Family timeline

26-year family timeline

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October 17, 2002


InfoRomanticism on the Internet
Romantic sensibility in the design of online content

To stimulate the visualization of potential answers, apply the art of drawing. This takes the form of hard sketches. Other synonyms include models, diagrams, renderings, thumbnails, storyboards, flat prototypes, studies, and "wireframes" (a term that I recently picked up). The benefit of drawing is to quickly provide a relative map of elements, text and graphics, in a playful format to expedite exploration of ideas. Drawing promotes an organic growth of concepts. Toggling between risk-taking and discovery-making is inherent here. Such a conceptual evolution provides an engaging platform to determine distinction and relevance of a variety of approaches. This, in turn, streamlines a concept's approval and translation into code.

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October 14, 2002

Clear Sky, Pure Light

Clear Sky, Pure Light

Clear Sky, Pure Light is a collection of Henry David Thoreau's writings compiled by Christoper Childs. It's a beautiful little book physically, with a striking wood engraving of Thoreau on the cover, rich paper, and printed letterpress in an edition of 2000 copies. When I found it in mint condition for $4 at Pegasus Books, I couldn't resist. So for the last couple of weeks, Thoreau has entertained me whle sitting on the porceline throne in the scullery adjoining my office.

I must say that I do not know what made me leave the pond. I left it as unaccountably as I went to it. To speak sincerely, I went there because I had go read to go; I left it for the same reason.

I learned this, at least, by my experiement: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavoers to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him,, or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the uniververse will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Asked upon his deathbed if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau replied "I did not know we had ever quarrelled."

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This evening I read Bill Horton's Illustrating Computer Documentation, the Art of Presenting Information Graphically, On Paper and Online. (1991)

What a practical book! Now out of print, you can buy an electronic copy for $20 from Bill's website. Such a deal.

Most animals are color-blind. Only human beings, a few other primates, day-active birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, and bees see in color. Frogs, salamanders, dogs, cats, horses, and sheep are all color-blind. Color helps us deal with a complex, ever changing environment rapidly and surely.

Bill goes on to give lots of information about color, some of it, ah, eye-opening. What freaks me out is how little use of color one finds in books, cases, "white" papers, and so forth.

The next chapter, Enriching Graphics, describes such things as how to number graphics and captions. Captions! Authors will spend hours getting the words just right or diddling over a comma, but dash off captions as if they were a useless bother. I have news: People read subheads, then captions, and then, if they're still on board, the body copy.

Captions are some of the most important words an author can write.

Pictures are more powerful than text. When a page contains graphics, they are noticed first, studied longer, and returned to more often than text. Labels, annotations, and captions to graphics are read more often than body text or headings. Yet most page designs used in computer documentation and other technical documents treat graphics as secondary and even as an unwelcome violation of the pure design of the page.

Fortunately, ...enlightened writers and graphic designers now realize that their job is not to put words on paper or to make pretty pictures but to communicate. They are taking steps to put text and pictures together into effective pages."

So many reminders. Page design. Cultural nuances. Symbol libraries. On and on. Illustrating Computer Documentation is chock full of rules of thumb and practical advice.

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October 11, 2002

Engineer's UI

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October 10, 2002

So much depends...

An Introduction
to the hard Semantic Web...
...in simple Haiku

A precious present,
Poetic semantic web
Everything flows.

from Stephen Downes

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Communities of Practice

Etienne Wenger and Bill Snyder

A hundred of us are tuned in on Saba Live (AKA Placeware), listening to these two champions of communities of practice (CoP). This month's installment of Saba's Human Capital Live!, hosted by Saba CLO Brooke Manville. I found this quite worthwhile.

We're talking about professionals. One definition of professional is "active member of a professional community of practice." Brooke: "In the knowledge economy, learning is doing." Trust is required to make CoPs function, but this isn't honesty so much as authenticity in relationships -- being reliable, making a contribution, and upholding community standards.

There's "more."

Looking at how communities spread and grow, small groups connect with others through people whose role is linking them. (Think of the people Malcolm Gladwell calls "connectors" in The Tipping Point. Think of communities as the informal learning objects of larger professional organizations. You can string them together into meta-communities, i.e. communities of communities.

This isn't so much a matter of technology, for communities can work with video conferencing, application sharing, listservs, websites, and the standard bag of Internet tricks. The telephone. Rhythm and ritual are key to keeping a community strong. The technoogy can be simple but the social aspects can be quite complex.

CoP is the formal organization recognizing that the informal organization exists. The formal organization should nurture and listen to the CoP, not try to control them. (I wonder how many traditional organizations will be able to facilitate CoP without unduly messing with them.) 2/3 of the participants just surveyed don't recognize community participation in indvidual performance reveiws.

CoP is knowledge up; KM is knowledge down. Experience validates the CoP.

Johnson & Johnson has maybe a hundred CoP. They look at how well they support their communities. Sponsorhsip, resrouces, barriers down, cultural issues, and technology. This is sort of an audit of CoP.

The "Tech Clubs" at Chrysler evolved into more strategic entities. In time, the Clubs helped Daimler and Chrysler come together as one organization.

What are the incentives that make a robust community work? In the SafeCities program, showing up at the teleconferences was the ticket of admission. F2F meetings reinforced the social context. These people are practitioners. They are accountable for improving their craft.

Strategic knowledge management cycle. You must identify the domains of knowledge that are critical to your strategy, find the communities, tie the learning to achieving results, and feeding the knowledge back into the business strategy. Brooke: Does the strategy feed the domain, or is it the other way around?

Metrics? Sometimes there's simply an intuitive belief that this is what to do. At Xerox, they calculate how much value is added. At HP, where they collect stories, they let the community tells its stories. At Shell, they tell the story of revitalizing a dry well -- the benefits pay for the donuts and travel forty times over. You need the stories to generate the numbers. The results come back on the job. If you save a few weeks, you can put a number on that.

Critical success factors: Domains energize core group: Executive sponsorship from client organizations. Enough support but not too much.

CPsquare is a CoP on CoP, a meta-community. (This strikes me as a community of prospects for Etienne and Bill.)

The CoP story has a familiar ring. Deja vu. You see, at Princeton, I majored in Sociology. Our topic was culture. CoP and traditional cultures have much in common. A "Tech Club" at Chrysler has parallels to a camp of Trobrian Islanders. Sociologists in my department were more interested in aberrations than normalcy. Crimilnology (AKA "Sluts and Nuts") was extremely popular. We spent a lot of time looking into the dysfunctions of Soviet society (which included an entire underground economy to circumvent the failings of official society.) Russia would have ground to a half without the role of tolkach, the fellow who bartered under the table and off the record to swap carrots for tractor parts and so on. Food for thought: CoP as small group psychology in a wired world.

Brooke Manville, Saba's Chief Learning Officer, has conducted a dozen of these one-hour sessions, including Peter Cappelli on Next Generation Employee Development, Jon Katzenbach on Motivation and Performance, Doug Smith on Value and Values, Laurie Bassi and Karen McGraw on Measuring Human Capital Capacity, Marcia Conner on Informal Learning, Tom Davenport on Baking Knowledge into Work, and Clark Quinn and yours truly on Applied Meta-Learning. On November 7, Wayne Hodgins will speak on New Process Models for Enhanced Productivity.

Archived presentations are available on Saba's website.

I don't have the patience for much of what passes for eLearning, but Human Capital Live has always justified investing an hour of my time. Check it out.

A tech note: With Placeware, you see slides on the web in your browser; the sound comes from a toll-free telephone call. This provides a measure of redundancy. Thank goodness. My browser dumped me -- I could see the frame around the content, but not the content itself. The speaker phone kept me informed while I fired up my laptop to look at the slides.

Why does Jay bother to document stuff like this? It helps me learn. And it's my contribution to the eLearning Community of Practice.

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October 08, 2002

Legislating the last war

The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act passed the Senate and awaits the President's signature. The American Library Association describes the law and its implications for Distance Education.

"The new law is, nevertheless, built around a vision that distance education should occur in discrete installments, each within a confined span of time, and with all elements integrated into a cohesive lecture-like package."

"In other words, much of the law is built around permitting uses of copyrighted works in the context of "mediated instructional activities" that are akin in many respects to the conduct of traditional classroom sessions. The law anticipates that students will access each "session" within a prescribed time period and will not necessarily be able to store the materials or review them later in the academic term; faculty will be able to include copyrighted materials, but usually only in portions or under conditions that are analogous to conventional teaching and lecture formats."

So. What about learning objects? What about learning as a process, not an event? What about learners building personal portfolios of lessons? What about replacing courses with short learning events?

By the way, the passages above were quoted under the doctrine of fair use.

How is TechLearn changing since Advanstar bought it?

For one thing, Elliott didn't hire telemarketers to twist my arm once a week.

LMS Purchase

This morning a colleague told me about several learners in a recent seminar he was leading who faced a tough challenge. Their organizations had spent almost their entire budget buying and installing learning management systems. They had next to nothing left with which to buy content.

This is like spending so much building the new library that there's no money left over to buy new books. Geez.

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October 07, 2002

Knowledge "Management"

Criticizing Knowledge Management is about as challenging as shooting ducks in a bathtub. Nonetheless, it's fun to look at the extremes, and Darwin magazine has a humorous take on why KM isn't K or M.

When Bad Things Happen to Good Ideas BY ERIC BERKMAN begins with this apt description of the KM show in Santa Clara:

It's a gorgeous early fall day in northern California, but you'd never know it on the air-conditioned expo floor at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The KMWorld2000 trade show constitutes a full frontal assault on the senses: software vendors sporting corporate-logoed golf shirts pounce from all directions, promising knowledge management nirvana. All you need to do is spend megabucks to install their portal-vortal-intranet-extranet-search-engine-interactive-collaborative-commerce e-solution. Bob Armacost, director of internal knowledge management at Bain and Co., likens it to the swarms of souvenir hawkers who greet incoming boats of tourists. "You go to one of these shows and you feel like you're stepping off a cruise ship in the Bahamas," he says. Unfortunately, this is knowledge management (KM) today—a good idea gone awry. KM has fallen victim to a mixture of bad implementation practices and software vendors eager to turn a complex process into a pure technology play. The result: Like many a business concept, KM has evolved from a hot buzzword to a phrase that now evokes more skepticism than enthusiasm.

By 1997, those in the know realized that this was because knowledge management wasn't about technology; it was about people and human behavior. By this point, however, it was too late. "Working with many customers who have struggled with this concept, I can tell you that [the vendors] have confused a lot of people," says Dan Schimmel, CEO of OneSource Information Services, a content provider in Concord, Mass. According to Schimmel, vendors have made a lot of customers think of KM in terms of working forward from a tool rather than looking at their knowledge needs, figuring out how to solve them and then finding the right tool.

Generic Corporation

I've been thinking of writing sales literature and a dazzling PowerPoint for the generic 21st century enterprise. That last paragraph contains three or four universal truths and generic gripes:
  1. It's the people that count, not the technology.
  2. It's best to decide what you're trying to do before selecting the way to accomplish it.
  3. The vendors are out to confuse you. (Surprise!)
  4. Being an honest fellow, I feel compelled to warn you about the vendor charlatans. Trust me on this.

Another vendor warns, "It's mostly techie snake oil. They tell you, 'Enter a keyword and something will happen.' And that something is one of two things. Either they'll find a document for you or they'll go find a human with some sort of profile matching the keyword. But who cares? The information could be out-of-date."

Generic Corporation could use this paragraph to describe eLearning or Quality Management or the study McKinsey did for us or the Atkins Diet : "I don't know of a vendor out there willing to say, 'This is the business value you'll get, and I'm willing to be compensated based on how much value you'll receive,'" he says. "That's not how the industry works. It's, 'Buy my software and good luck.'"

Low-tech works.

And maybe that's why KM works at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., in Atlanta, where KM uses very little technology. At the Ritz, it's all about people sharing their experiences, says CIO Pam Angelucci. In fact, her most successful KM program uses no technology at all. It's a "green book" of best practices collected from the top performers in every department in the company, from corporate management to housekeeping. The hard-copy volume is updated annually by a vice president of quality, and the expert content is chosen based on quality scoring procedures. "[Knowledge management at Ritz-Carlton] really has little to do with any kind of technology," says Angelucci. "I suppose we could look at putting it into a database and automating the pieces, but it's just not high on our priority list." The system appears to work: Ritz-Carlton is a two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "When it comes to technology, we'll never put it in just because it's available, new or there," she says.

Let's close with a few more truisms for Generic Corporation:

  • It won't be easy, says Davenport. "Organizational and behavioral change is the hardest part of implementing anything," he says.
  • Isolate a business need. There's no point in trying to manage knowledge if you have no idea why you're doing it. So find out where the ability to capture and reuse knowledge will prove most profitable. You should make this evaluation based on how your organization conducts its current business and on your existing technology infrastructure. "You need to hammer down what your business drivers or goals are," says Jim McKinley, director of knowledge solutions for Net Perceptions. "If you don't know your end result, there's little chance you're going to get there with whatever decision you end up making."
  • Measure business impact. The point of knowledge management is to make your business more valuable, and you need to find ways to ensure this happens
  • Reward knowledge sharing. In most companies, you benefit by hoarding what you know. After all, you become the resident expert on a subject and enjoy the status it brings. Trouble is, hoarding knowledge leads to duplication of work and turf wars. You need to teach new, collaborative behaviors, and that's where rewards come in. "Think about incentives for sharing," says Davenport. "And remember, if you don't have them, knowledge management technologies will never create them."
  • It's all part of changing your culture. And if you don't change your culture, you'll never manage your knowledge—and KM will truly be a bust.

Don't forget: Buy low and sell high. Collect early and pay late. Start with the end in mind.

October 11, 2002

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Blah, blah, blah

I mentioned yesterday that I'm assessing whether or not to take a daily hit of Distance-Educator.com. I just followed a link in today's issue to "An Assessment of the Effectiveness of e-learning in Corporate Training Programs" by Judith B. Strother of the Florida Institute of Technology.

    This article is drivel. Thoroughly worthless. It addresses but one aspect of eLearning: lower delivery costs. It finds value in smile sheets. It brings up Jack Phillips' ROI approach (which I find anitquated) but cites only one application of it -- and the example is not eLearning.

    The conclusion is the usual call for more study of the matter.

    C'mon. Why no mention whatsoever of RESULTS? Outcomes? Meeting the objectives that justified conducting eLearning in the first place?

I rely on publications to screen their recommendations and save me time. Strike One.

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Time Inflation

It shouldn't be a surprise, but it never fails to grab my attention: a one-hundred year-old menu listing steak for a dollars, scrambled eggs for a quarter, and beer for a dime.

The surprise comes from confusing the value of 1902 dollars with that of 2002 dollars. Thanks to the ravages of inflation, one 2002 dollar is worth one 1902 nickle. Expressed in today's values, the old menu's steak goes for $20, the eggs cost $5, and the beer is two bucks. No surprise there.

We live in a world that has sped up since 1902. A hundred years ago, my great grandfather might spend half an hour writing a letter and half an hour each way carrying it down to the Post Office to mail. These days I dash off an email in a matter of minutes. An hour is worth more to me, at least in business terms, because I can do more with it than in the past.

So, what's the time equivalent of the obsolete prices on my old menu? Is time really more precious now than it used to be?

At this point, all I have is questions.

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Walking saves time. Huh? It's true. The Washington Post says so.

People come up with some incredibly creative excuses for not walking: "My feet are in the shop." "I don't want to destroy the delicate first layer of topsoil." "I can't find all my toes." "No thanks, I walked in my sleep last night."

Okay, we admit we don't have good comebacks for any of those. But for the rest of the excuses -- the more common ones you're probably using and that keep you in the high-risk category for just about everything you don't want to happen to you -- we offer the following irresistible rebuttals.


Yeah, right. Do the words "computer solitaire" ring a bell? Just how many "must-see" TV shows do you have on your list this season? How about all that Web surfing for . . . what were you looking for again?

Ah. We thought so.

The important thing to understand regarding walking and time is that, when properly done, walking is actually a time generator, giving back more time than it consumes. We know of nothing else in the universe with this incredible ability.

For starters, walking lets your brain do something else while your body is moving: talk, think, connive, dream, plan, negotiate, work through the budget numbers, relive a vacation, recite epic poetry. Walking is essentially mobile multitasking.

"After millions of years of evolution, we are programmed to think while we walk," says Ellen Vanderslice, president of America Walks, a national coalition of pedestrian advocacy groups. "Walking keeps you organized. It actually puts more time in your day."

(Walking is, however, not compatible with talking on the cell phone. We refuse to provide any cover for those people you see on hiker-biker trails, suburban streets and city crosswalks yakking into the digital tin can like some schizophrenic bond trader. In fact, if you see them, tell them we said to cut it out.)

Then there's the idea that walking time makes the rest of your time more productive. It clears your brain and makes it work better when it's devoted to work later on.

"Walking increases blood flow to your brain," says Wendy Bumgardner, walking guide for About.com and a reformed sofa spud. "Studies show clearer thinking in seniors who walk for exercise versus those who do not. I find that going for a walk, you usually, first, stop thinking about the problems at hand. After a while, you can take up those problems with a fresh perspective and can prioritize them better."

Ron Looper, president of the Chesapeake Bay Country Wanderers, measures the extra time walking provides differently, even cosmically, by looking at the dividends it pays on the back end of life.

"Time is all you have," he reasons, "and walking for exercise probably will help extend your amount of time on earth."

All of which is to say: You don't have time not to walk. Next excuse?

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October 06, 2002

Jay's Overview of eLearning

Last Wednesday, I gave a guest lecture on eLearning to a group of seniors in the business program at San Francisco State University. Aside from the fun of it, preparing something like this forced me to evaluate where we are with eLearning. Today I chopped back on the slides (the talk on campus was two hours; you don't have the patience) and narrated a description of what's what. Cut on your speakers and listen to the talk .

Please drop me an email if you hit any glitches listening to the presentation. Thanks!

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October 04, 2002

New Definition of Literacy?

Stephen's Web features an article today entitled The New Literacy.

Academics are wringing their hands over the decline in student literacy. Professors lament that their charges can't write a sentence, follow the rules of grammar, or read a complex passage. Last year researchers found that most of the students on the campus of a California State University lacked the skills to read the textbooks in their heavy backpacks.

Perhaps the current crop of students fill in for reading with other forms of literacy. They are "polyfocal."

That is, very rarely do they direct their attention in a focal, concentrated way to any single text or medium. When they watch television, they also listen to music and read or carry on conversations; traveling on the bus or Mass Transit Railway they read and listen to music-most commonly they 'read' while chatting, watching television and listening to music on CD." Observe a teenager, and you'll see what we're talking about.

Stephen Downes says,

It seems to me that for an information age student the most definiing characteristic of written text is that it is slow. Not quite as slow as listening to voice mail messages, but when compared to the rapid-fire pace of information transfer most of us are used to, it is achingly slow. The words struggle to pass from one to the next, a disappointingly linear presentation of what would more usefuly be a multi-streamed layering and threading of information, context and content. Today's students see no reason to wait. If there is a lull in the information stream coming from one direction, they quickly shift focus to another.

Stephen purports that

What the critics of new media are missing is what may be called hyper-grammar. Textual language is bound by rules of syntax and semantics, with reference and meaning tightly constrainted by systems of representation. It is not a thought, in text, if it cannot be articulated without a subject and a predicate. It is not related to another thought, in text, if it cannot be logically conjoined. Waves of meaning are washed aside when the experience is rendered into words. That experience, so quaintly called "filling in the gaps with your imagination" by the literati, is lamented by the older generation when it is lost. And frustrating for the young, who would like to know what the author really meant with just that turn of a phrase.

Today's reader works with a much wider grammar. Even such simply typographic conventions, such as the use of italics, bold and capitals, can add new meaning to a text. The addition of symbols, such as smileys, convey emotion or sentiment. The breaking of linguistic rules - like this - can add urgency or clarity. The dropping of nouns, verbs or pronouns can express coreference (essentially, placing two separate thoughts into a single context). True, the haste with which people type online can result in a myriad of interesting typos and other errors - but then the error rate in a message also designates its degree of formality (conversely - to remove the errors reduces all text to the same sterile state of formality).

Perhaps taking in many short bursts of information in parallel is superior to the text-only communication we are accustomed to. Stephen concludes, "The new literacy may not be an even greater grasp of the fine points of language, but rather, a capacity to move beyond the limits of text and to manipulate experience directly."

Robert Horn tells the story of a medical student at Stanford who whizzes through medical texts, taking in their messages by reading only the pictures.

There's not so much wrong with having a short attention span for a person who can grok deep meaning in tiny bursts of time.

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The New York Times reports, Forbes ASAP, Magazine of New Market, Shuts Down

In what has become a familiar story, a magazine formed to cover the rise of the digital economy has been done in by its decline. The Forbes family, which owns Forbes magazine, announced today that it was closing Forbes ASAP, a magazine founded in 1992 to cover the digital economy.

"There is no market for a dedicated new-economy publication," said Monie Begley, spokeswoman for Forbes.

In remarks in August, Steve Forbes, president and editor in chief, said that the company was responding to "a fall-off that hasn't been seen since the '30's."

Drat! Forbes ASAP was one of my favorite magazines. Its special one-topic issues were absolutely wonderful; I read them all cover-to-cover. The issue on Happiness featured articles from P.J. O'Rourke, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George Plimpton, Noall Bushnell, Lance Armstrong, John Perry Barlow, Jesse Jackson, and Christie Hefner. For me, ASAP's special issues were the timeliness of a magazine combined with the quality of a damned good book.

It's ironic that the final issue deals with feedback, since feedback from the marketplace is what's closing ASAP down.

Cover Package: Feedback
Welcome to Feedback Universe

Michael S. Malone, 10.07.02

Surrender to the self-correcting system.
It is emerging as the defining metaphor of our time. Like other great scientific phenomena discovered over the past two centuries--natural selection, genetics, relativity, nuclear fission, DNA, digital--feedback is about to burst out of the theoretical stage and into everyday life. "Feedback is what has been missing from science since Newton," says British scientist Steve Grand, who is trying to develop artificial life forms. "We thought it was a rare phenomenon--now it's hard to name anything in the universe that isn't feedback. Life itself turns out to be feedback."

We are starting to rethink science in light of feedback. It is at the heart of the most compelling new inventions. And now we are seeing the first signs that it is beginning to reorganize both corporations and national economies.

"We don't even have the words yet to describe this," says Grand. "We don't yet have the names. Before this is over, we're going to need a new mathematics, a new physics, and a new ontology of the world."

Welcome to Feedback Universe.

Any regular user of Amazon.com knows about fast feedback loops. They can be found in those ever-changing lists of "Other Items You Might Enjoy." Every Amazon purchase you make teaches that algorithm a little more about you. Other companies, such as credit card firms, supermarkets, and department stores (Wal-Mart, for example; see "The ASAP Feedback Four," page 25) are following suit, tracking your every purchase to build a profile of your buying habits.

Mix that information in a vast shared database with mountains of data coming in about you from millions of sensors scattered across the landscape in roads, cash registers, and video cameras, and it soon will be possible to construct a virtual image of you--your tastes, interests, patterns, and perhaps even dreams--that will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. This will be the face of retail--and probably law, education, health care, and entertainment--in the 21st century.

That brings us to the most sensitive--and compelling--feedback system of all: the human brain....

The classic explanation goes like this: You prick your finger, which irritates the nerve endings at the site of the wound. These inflamed nerves fire off electrical signals, which travel up the larger nerve pathways to your brain, where they are decoded as pain. The brain, itself a bundle of nerves, responds by sending a message back down a nerve path to the muscles in the finger, ordering them to contract and pull the finger away.

It appears mechanically straightforward. But the clue that it might not be so direct comes from a simple but shocking fact: In many of those nerve pathways, there are at least as many nerves heading toward the senses as there are heading away from them toward the brain. This suggests a much tighter and faster feedback loop than anyone imagined.

So what's going on? Nobody's quite sure. But one strong possibility is that even as the senses are telling the brain what they are encountering, the brain is telling them what they should be experiencing.

Grand compares this to a virtual reality system. The world is so complex that the human brain cannot deal with it directly. So instead, based on the information flowing in from the senses, the brain constructs, in real time, a simplified and weighted view of the world, one that picks out the important things from this infinite field of data. It is this vision of reality that the brain sends back out to the senses. "Brains are really billions of feedback loops," he says.

Last night I attended a presentation at Silicon Valley World Internet Center that touched on "real-time analytics." This is a buzzword for immediate business feedback. Example: WalMart's systems notice an upswing in sales of flags on September 12, 2001, and automatically begins buying up the inventory of flag suppliers.

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October 03, 2002

Heinz Von Foerster

Heinz Von Foerster, one of the pioneers and co-founders of the field of cybernetics, died yesterday in his home on Rattlesnake Hill in Pescadero, CA. Converge magazine recently printed an interview with this wonderful man. Excerpts:

How do you assess someone else's knowledge? We generally think we have a solution to this question: We give tests. However tests don't test the students: Tests test tests. Let me say that again - tests test tests. Many students flunk tests because they are very bad "testees."

we need to completely transform the role of the teacher. The system considers the teacher to know everything and charges the teacher with filling empty brains with knowledge. This concept is idiotic. Consider the learning situation as a research situation. The teacher plays ignorant and poses a problem: How should we solve this problem? Can you help me? The students then interact with the teacher and with each other to explore, and find answers together. When students interact and help each other, astounding things happen.

Without interaction and feedback, there is no learning. I can share information, and technology and the Internet have enabled that, but understanding requires feedback. It is an essential element of cybernetics. Feedback lets you know whether what you have put out was heard as you intended. Remember, the hearer, not the speaker, determines the meaning of an utterance. You have to interact to be a good teacher. You can see in the eyes of a child whether they understand what you are saying. This feedback tells you whether you have made your point understood. It is up to the student, then, to do something

Do not think about the technology first - think about learning first.

You have to focus on the process. Dialogue is the beginning. If you listen, you come to an understanding.

Also see Ted Kahn's commemorative page at Design Worlds.

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October 02, 2002

Distance Educator

Distance-Educator.com provides a daily news summary and articles on eLearning.

  • MIT's Open CourseWare debuts with 40 courses.
  • Robert Gagne has died at age 85. Gagne is best known for linking a taxonomy of learning outcomes with nine instructional events and provided instructional designers with specific strategies that were based on a hierarchy of intellectual skills.
  • There's a link to a light-weight article in IT-Analysis on The Future of eLearning
  • E-learning finally gets on its running shoes, an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, reports on a shoe retailer that tied training records to cash-register data, finding a 10% to 20% boost in revenues attributable to training.
  • A linked article in eSchool News reports on education in 2020. However, it turns out that the link is to an article about a study, not directly to the source material.

I signed up for the daily news and will decide whether this is worth my time or not in a week or two. At first glance, I think eLearningPost will continue to meet my general need for eLearning news.

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