February 28, 2003


It’s sad to receive email like this:

    Dear Fathom member,

    We’re sorry to announce that Fathom will be ceasing business
    operations at the end of March. We do appreciate the support
    we’ve received from you and from our partner institutions since
    we launched the site in November 2000.

    As of March 3, Fathom will no longer take enrollments in online
    courses, and we will modify the look of the site to reflect that
    change. We encourage you to make use of the free content on
    Fathom through the end of March, and to contact Fathom Customer
    Support should you have any questions or problems with the site.

Not that I ever bought anything from Fathom. Give me small chunks, not courses. Still, I wanted to look things over before the site went dark, so I spent a couple of hours tooling around Fathom last night.

I started out by poking links from the front page:

Not much new there. Then I clicked over to Fathom’s topic tree:

Wow. Everything seems to be within my reach. It was easy to pull the tree around, opening up the topics I wanted to look at:

I wanted to keep pursuing the branches but they ran out on me. Also, I was waylaid by a lengthly piece on Jimmy Swaggart. (See the last paragraphs of this article in LineZine so understand my bond to Jimmy.) Then I got into chaos theory, always a mind bender, and other science topics, finally crawling into bed around 1:30 am. I’ll probably be back to night. The urgency of Fathom’s emal hit me.

Posted by Jay Cross at 06:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Misc Good Stuff

From Stowe Boyd’s ::.. Timing ..:::

IBM Community Tools: The Soul of Real-Time Communities?

I discovered the IBM Community Tools launch in the press recently and searched to see if there was more info at the www.ibm.com website. I discovered that the tools are freely downloadable (from < ahref="http://community.ngi.ibm.com/index.html">here), so I installed the software, and fiddled around.

In other news, Ev has posted a Blogger/Google FAQ.

    Q: What are your plans for the future?

    A: We are building a nuclear powered… Wait, you almost had us. We aren’t telling, yet! But we will have more in a few weeks.

glish on CSS

Posted by Jay Cross at 04:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Are you ready for real-time?

eLearning is but a cog on the enterprise application wheel. As large corporations become Real-Time Extended Enterprises (RTEE), we'll learn a new set of acronyms. Or vanish. How many of these can you unscramble? All are legitimate enterprise app concepts.
    1. BAM 2. BI 3. BPM 4. CA 5. CPM 6. CRM 7. EC 8. ECM 9. ERM 10. ERM 11. HCM 12. IM 13. LCMS 14. LMS 15. PA 16. PDM 17. PLM 18. SCM 19. SFA 20. SKM 21. UKM 22. WFA 23. WFM 24. WFO 25. WM
Answers are on the next (Comments) page. Meanings are in our new reports on Simulation in the Enterprise. And the answers are:
    BAM Business Activity Modeling BI Business Intelligence BPM Business Process Modeling CA Customer Analytics Collaborative Web Conferencing CPM Corporate Performance Management CRM Customer Relationship Management ECM Enterprise Collaboration ECM Enterprise Content Management ERM Employee Relationship Management ERM Enterprise Resource Management Expertise Mining HCM Human Capital Management IM Instant Messaging LCMS Learning Content Management System LMS Learning Management System PA Presence Awareness PDM Product Data Management PLM Product Lifecycle Management SCM Supply Chain Management SFA Sales Force Automation SKM Structured Knowledge Management System UKM Unstructured Knowledge Management WFA Workforce Analytics WFM WorkForce Management WFO WorkForce Optimization WM Worldflow Management
For extra credit, place each system or technique in this matrix. Answers are in the free sample of the first report in the Simulation in the Enterprise series.
Posted by Jay Cross at 03:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 26, 2003

Saba web session

I’m attending a Saba webinar via Placeware (and tollfree phone) by Brook Manville and Grant Ricketts. I have two reasons for investing an hour in this activity. First, Brook and Grant know their stuff and I’m curious about what they see coming up next in eLearning. Second, I’ve become the point person for developing the eLearning Forum’s outreach and resources programs for its remote members, so I’m looking at the process used by some old hands with a lot of practice who are probably as good as it gets.

I’ll make comments about processes in green and record content in brown.

Every one of the fifty “seats” is green; it’s a full house. Audience polls are great: They make sure everyone’s awake; they give you a sense of who else is attending; they are one of the few “interactive” elements of this experience. They also give you a break from the boring format of the rest of my report here.

    Last Sunday, I blogged “the death of a meme, a once-wise thought that had morphed into cliché. The dead meme: First-generation eLearning didn’t work very well. You’ve heard it here, you’ve heard it there; soon we’re hear it everywhere. So enough already. When somebody near you rants about early failures, simply say ‘Dead meme.’ Or “That parrot won’t hunt.” Let’s learn from our mistakes, not repeat them. Instead of grousing about the past, let’s talk how we’re going to make things better.”

    Unfortunately, Brook and Grant spent the first half of their session on the dead meme. It’s the old saw that the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

First-generation eLearning failed to meet expectations. Why?

    First big mistake was concentrating on the how rather than the why: love of technology, a lack of business focus.

    Second, not enough attention paid to the economics. Lack of understanding where value is created, scale economies, what it all costs.

    Third, definitions were too narrow. It’s a lot more than putting content on the net. Overlooking the overall learner experience.

    Fourth, forgetting about the learner. They don’t come. Forgetting adult learning principles.

    Fifth, automating old ways: the course or training program, little fresh thinking, working from yesterday’s assumptions.

    Sixth, a lack of enterprise-wide vision. Silos. Proprietary solutions. Fragmented approaches. Real value comes from thinking holistically.

    Seventh, transformation without change management. Communications, marketing, stakeholders. (Sounds like Saba has read Lance’s and my book).

    Eighth, wild enthusiasm. “Damn the torpedos!” Or fear and dread: analysis paralysis.

No quarrel. Been there, said that.

Speed up, says the audience.

The Second Generation is here. Who’s doing it well and what does it look like?

    Tell me why. (Caution: I’m improvising as well as reporting here.) Focus on the business issue. Novartis: revenue growth, Cisco: channel productivity, EMC: customer satisfaction, Medtronic: speed to market, P&G: talent retention, Queensland Rail: risk management…

    ROI shifts to Managing ROI. Cut costs of travel, staff, multiple vendors, lost productivity… Hidden inefficiencies such as incompatibilites of format across the organization. On the upside, raise revenue, speed time to performance, increase share, manage risk. (The second generation is looking very much like the first. I’ve been saying these exact words for a number of years, going back to paper-and-pencil training days.)

    Geez, the conclusion is as old as Peter Drucker: Be effective as well as efficient.

    Return on Expectation. ‘course you gotta know what you’re after.

    Holistic approach: content, infrastructure, process work (learning cycle, CMS, continuous improvement).

    Learner experience. Simple, engaging, back to adult learning principles, blended, rediscovery of the importance of people, personalization, more learner-centric approach.

    This is second generation? Here is Saba’s depiction of learner-centric:

    Here is my depiction of learner-centric from 1999. It’s on the eLearning FAQ.

    These days I use an updated version:

    The sandwich blend. Chunking. Learner in the middle. This is playing to the crowd. Real blending will look like someone dropped learning objects into the Bass-o-matic. It’s a lot more complicated than a live workshop with online bookends.

    Also giving managers the tools to address gaps, link learning & business goals.

    Exploring mix-and-match learning objects (using a Wayne Hodgins’ slide).

    Developing enterprise-wide strategy, an overall business map.

We are on slide 32 of 60! With seven minutes to go.

    Value web, not attributed, but it certainly look like Verna Allee’s work.

    Do-it-try it-fix it approach. (In Search of Excellence).


      More focus on business results
      More blending, chunking
      Learning processes becoming increasingly invisible
      Deeper infrastructure

The Third Generation
Shifting the focus from learning to execution

The main thing Brook and Grant see coming in the next generation is a focus on execution. I could not agree more. That’s where training started. How can we prepare enough men to fight the war? In today’s military, there’s still lots of training going on, but there’s also recognition that fighting ability comes from trained people supplemented by smart systems. We’re coming back to where we always should have been: focusing on doing. Execution, execution, execution.

If people can execute without learning, that’s great. If people learn but don’t execute, I question whether they ever learned at all. Execution is the raison d’etre of learning.

    This is one of those models that speak to some people but confuse the daylights out of me. “Customer, supplier, channel, and employee” are the audiences. Each group has organizations, processes and people. Now things begin to break down. What is the arrow trying to tell me? That organizations are more important than people? That customers get formal learning and employees are managed talent? That there’s some sort of scale from formal learning to talent management? I think a couple of text-boxes would have made this more clear for me.

I’m impatient. I want us to focus on execution now. First, last, and always.

Brook and I chatted briefly later in the day. I told him I didn’t find much new in the presentation. That was on purpose. Lots of people have some catching up to do. They’re not ready for new approaches until they’ve mastered what they’ve already got.

Out of time. No questions.

Technically, the session went well. No glitches with the slides. Easy to hear and understand.

Good to have two people presenting although it would have been more engaging had they debated a few issues instead of agreeing with one another all the time.

At eLearning Forum, we should use some remote audience polls. When projected on the big screen, that gives a voice to off-site participants.

Anyone know how much it costs for a toll-free conference call line for 50 people spread across the country for an hour? That’s why I’ve used voice over IP in the past, even though I know it throws in one more thing that can go wrong.

I’m a picky customer, and my information needs differ from most participants’. I applaud Saba in general, and Brook in particular, for helping the eLearning industry learn. Webinars, the great Saba Live! series, and white papers raise the level of understanding for us all.

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 25, 2003


Living in a global economy, it's about time we started paying more attention to global learning. This is a lot more than "localization." This is culture.

Source: Geoffrey Moore, Living ALong the Fault Line

My gut tells me culture, particularly taking advantage of cultural differences rather than trying to homogenize them into some bland "world culture," is going to be extremely important in the near future.

Didaxis has some interesting thinking on this, and I'll be working with them in Paris next month. Didaxis proposes deeply integrated human solutions aimed at transforming the professional environment in which work is effectively performed, knowledge is managed, culture developed and learning integrated. (Disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of Didaxis.)

If you share our interest, check out Geert Hofstede's Homepage, particularly his summary of my ideas about national culture differences

That's context for an intriguing article that appears in The Technology Source dated (surprisingly) May - June 2003.

The Global e-Learning Framework:
An Interview with Badrul Khan

by James L. Morrison and Badrul H. Khan

Some issues can be understood in terms of how they represent a distinctive overlap between two different dimensions. For example, with respect to the interface design and ethical issues related to designing e-learning for a cross-cultural population, consider these questions:

    1. To improve cross-cultural verbal communication and avoid misunderstanding, does the course make an effort to reduce or avoid the use of jargon, idioms, ambiguous or cute humor, and acronyms? We should avoid using jokes or comments that might be misinterpreted by some. For example, in Bangladesh, we use the thumbs-up sign to challenge people, but to other cultures, that means you did well.

    2. To improve visual communication, is the course sensitive to the use of navigational icons or images? For example, a pointing hand icon to indicate direction would violate a cultural taboo in certain African cultures by representing a dismembered body part. Right arrow for the next page may mean previous page for Arabic and Hebrew language speakers, as they read from right to left.

    3. Does the course use terms or words that may not be used by worldwide audiences? For example, people use the term "sidewalk" in the US and "pavement/footpath" in the UK. When such a term is needed, we should include both forms for a diverse audience (e.g., Students should use the sidewalk [or pavement] rather than trample the grass.). 

    4. Is the course offered in a multilingual format? Since text found in buttons or icons is harder to change, it is better not to include text within graphics when the e-learning content may be translated into other languages.

    In Khan's global eLearning model, such considerations of these are at the nexus of Ethics and Interface:

    Table 1. Dimensions and Subdimensions of e-Learning Framework

    1. Institutional
            1.1 Administrative Affairs
                1.1.1  Needs Assessment
                1.1.2  Readiness Assessment (Financial, Infrastructure, Cultural, and Content Readiness)
                1.1.3  Organization and Change (Diffusion, Adoption, and Implementation of Innovation)
                1.1.4  Budgeting and Return on Investment
                1.1.5  Partnerships with Other Institutions
                1.1.6  Program and Course Information Catalog (Academic Calendar, Course Schedule, Tuition, Fees, and Graduation)
                1.1.7  Marketing and Recruitment
                1.1.8  Admissions
                1.1.9  Financial Aid
                1.1.10  Registration and Payment
                1.1.11  Information Technology Services
                1.1.12  Instructional Design and Media Services
                1.1.13  Graduation Transcripts and Grades      
            1.2  Academic Affairs
                1.2.1  Accreditation
                1.2.2  Policy
                1.2.3  Instructional Quality
                1.2.4  Faculty and Staff Support
                1.2.5  Class Size, Workload and Compensation, and Intellectual Property Rights
            1.3  Student Services
                1.3.1  Pre-Enrollment Services
                1.3.2  Orientation
                1.3.3  Advising
                1.3.4  Counseling
                1.3.5  Learning Skills Development
                1.3.6  Services for Students with Disabilities
                1.3.7  Library Support
                1.3.8  Bookstore
                1.3.9  Tutorial Services
                1.3.10  Mediation and Conflict Resolution
                1.3.11  Social Support Network
                1.3.12  Students Newsletter
                1.3.13  Internship and Employment Services
                1.3.14  Alumni Affairs
                1.3.15  Other Services
    2. Pedagogical 
            2.1  Content Analysis
            2.2  Audience Analysis
            2.3  Goal Analysis
            2.4  Medium Analysis
            2.5  Design Approach
            2.6  Organization
            2.7  Methods and Strategies
                2.7.1  Presentation
                2.7.2  Exhibits
                2.7.3  Demonstration
                2.7.4  Drill and Practice
                2.7.5  Tutorials
                2.7.6  Games
                2.7.7  Storytelling
                2.7.8  Simulations
                2.7.9  Role-Playing
                2.7.10  Discussion
                2.7.11  Interaction
                2.7.12  Modeling
                2.7.13  Facilitation
                2.7.14  Collaboration
                2.7.15  Debate
                2.7.16  Field Trips
                2.7.17  Apprenticeship
                2.7.18  Case Studies
                2.7.19  Generative Development
                2.7.20  Motivation
    3. Technological 
            3.1  Infrastructure Planning (Technology Plan, Standards, Metadata, Learning Objects)
            3.2  Hardware
            3.3  Software (LMS, LCMS)
    4. Interface Design  
            4.1  Page and Site Design
            4.2  Content Design
            4.3  Navigation
            4.4  Usability Testing
    5. Evaluation   
            5.1  Assessment of Learners
            5.2  Evaluation of Instruction and Learning Environment
    6. Management  
            6.1  Maintenance of Learning Environment
            6.2  Distribution of Information
    7. Resource Support
            7.1  Online Support
                7.1.1  Instructional/Counseling Support
                7.1.2  Technical Support
                7.1.3  Career Counseling Services
                7.1.4  Other Online Support Services
            7.2  Resources
                7.2.1  Online Resources
                7.2.2  Offline Resources
    8. Ethical
            8.1  Social and Political Influence
            8.2  Cultural Diversity
            8.3  Bias
            8.4  Geographical Diversity
            8.5  Learner Diversity
            8.6  Information Accessibility
            8.7  Etiquette
            8.8  Legal Issues
                8.8.1  Policy and Guidelines
                8.8.2  Privacy
                8.8.3  Plagiarism
                8.8.4  Copyright

    Posted by Jay Cross at 09:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


The more I think about it, the more this marriage makes sense.

CA was on the block, badly in need of a partner with funds. NIIT needed to demonstrate that they could produce more than cheap page-turners. Great positioning. If they really want to take advantage of the improved positioning, they'd name the new company Cognitive Arts. Who would you rather do business with?

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2003

eLearning by Doing

Designing World-Class E-Learning : How IBM, GE, Harvard Business School, And Columbia University Are Succeeding At E-Learning
by Roger C. Schank

Roger's a provocateur. He's brash. But if more designers took the approach he advocates, people would learn a lot more.

A chapter toward the end of the book, "Let FREEDOM Ring: Seven Criteria for Assessing the Effectiveness of an e-Learning Course," is really about assessing the design of a course. Outcomes define effectiveness, not course characteristics. I'm skeptical of packaging learning as courses. Nonetheless, the FREEDOM mnemonic is catchy, and I like the design philosophy behind it.

    F is for Failure. A good course must enable failures that surprise the student. (Or at least don't meet student expectations.)

    R is for Reasoning. A good course encourages practice in reasoning. (That's application.)

    E is for Emotionality. A good course must incite an emotional response in the student. (Use people to stoke the emotional level if it's not inherent in the content.)

    E is also for Exploration. A good course promotes exploration and enables inquiry.

    D is for Doing. A good course encourages practice in doing.

    O is for Observation. A good course allows students to see things for themselves. (Roger cares primarily about memorability. If you've visited the Center for Visual Learning here, you know I'd throw in understanding, simplification, speed, and a bunch of other things.)

    M is for Motivation. A good course supplies it. (This would be Relevance but FREEDOR is simply not that catchy.)

For the uninitiated, Roger's philosophy in a nutshell:

    The primary problem in corporate training is the same problem you have in any educational system: the idea that if you tell somebody something, they know it. It's a very sexy and appealing idea ? it's just wrong.

    Stand-up training has never worked very well, and corporations are beginning to see that. So along comes the computer, and they think maybe it'll be cheaper. Yes, it might be cheaper, but that's not what's interesting about computers. What's interesting is that you can build something that looks and feels like the real thing. Instead of telling someone to fly a plane and hoping they can do it, you can have them actually practice flying a plane.

From Inside Technology Training, January 2000

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 23, 2003


Schools and corporations are awakening to the value of blogging. If you're
new to this, here are some good places to start.

Top Learning Blogs

My interest is corporate and organizational. These are my favorite sources.

elearningpostMaish Nichani somehow finds three to five great links a day and sends them out via email or blog. Indispensable. OLDaily. Stephen Downes provides in-depth commentary on half a dozen topics daily. Astute. His take on ed-blogs. Internet Time blog. Jay Cross writes about learning, time, best practices, industry gossip, the absurdity of schools, and whatever else strikes his fancy. (Yeah, I know it's self-referential, but people copy lots of things from my site, and this is the only attribution I'm likely to get.) Check his blog page. Learning Circuits Blog is a group effort. Clark Quinn, George Siemens, Trace Urdan, Peter Isackson, Jane Knight, Sam Adkins, and others blog about learning, primarily in the corporate arena. elearnspace. from George Siemens, an instructor at Red River College in Manitoba, writes "Everything of consequence that I have learned about technology and education, I've learned for free." Now he's returning the karma. Great site and blog.


These are more focused on schools.

Educational Blogger Network The Educational Blogger Network is a community of teachers and educational professionals who use weblogs for teaching and learning. The network assists members to advance weblog integration in education. Just lifting off in Feburary '03. Weblogg-ed Will Richardson, a teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ, says "It's my place to collect ideas for weblogs in the classroom, to ask questions to the teacher weblogging community, and to reflect on my teaching. It's also intended to be a clearninghouse for sites and issues relating to weblogs in education."Serious Instructional Technology is geeky and good. seblogging Weblogs, CMS, and dynamic Webpublishing for learning and education blogged by Sebastian Fiedler. Educational Tech Blog from Ray Schroeder, Univeristy of Illinois at Springfield. Also see his Online Education Resource Notebook and Online Learning Blog. Sébastien Paquet Pointers and thoughts on the evolution of knowledge sharing and scholarly communication. A place to write, nothing fancy Chris Ashley runs new program development for The Interactive University Project, a UC/K-12 technology and curriculum collaboration at U.C. Berkeley. SchoolBlogs Peter Ford writes, "SchoolBlogs are weblogs for education. Often dismissed as merely 'vanity' websites, critics slate their simplicity. Yet it is precisely these two factors that are the keys to their potential. Children are vain, just like adults. They desire and require an audience for their thoughts and achievements. Every teaching college in the world extols the virtues of providing students with an audience." MORE | homoLudens is from Patrick Delaney and edublogs is an entry at Sarah Lohnes' alterego

Just to maintain balance, here's Blogs4Business

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

To be rather than to meme

At Friday's meeting of the eLearning Forum at Stanford's Center for Innovations in Learning, I announced the death of a meme. This one is passeé. It morphed into cliché. The dead meme:

First-generation eLearning didn't work very well.

You've heard it here, you've heard it there; soon we're hear it everywhere. So enough already. When somebody near you rants about early failures, simply say "Dead meme." Or "That parrot won't hunt." Let's learn from our mistakes, not repeat them. Instead of grousing about the past, let's talk how we're going to make things better.

Several memes inform my reading of the net-world we knowledge workers inhabit:

  1. Everything is connected.
  2. Nothing is ever finished.
  3. Someone will always look at things from a different perspective.
  4. As Heraclitus used to say, "Everything flows."
Posted by Jay Cross at 07:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 20, 2003

Blogger Behind the Firewall

Dave Winer weighs in on the Blogger deal. His take on the rationale is exactly like mine:

    Blogger is not open source, in fact ordinary people can't even purchase a binary license, so there's probably the reason they did the deal -- to get the source for Blogger, which is now written in Java, and to license it to their corporate users, along with the Google search appliance, which goes for about $25K per box. If this is true, then you will be able to add, say, $1K to the price of the box and get a copy of Blogger along with the search engine, allowing people to create weblogs on a local network. This is very important for business use of weblogs, which is growing now at a fast clip.

I continue to believe that blogs will be important in knowledge management, learning, higher ed, and schools -- not to mention sort of a "people's journalism" that is taking hold.

Even with the backing of Google, blogs aren't going to take off behind the firewall without a good nudge. Most of the populace isn't expressive. It takes motivation to get them to share.

Yesterday Sam Shmikler and I were talking about how to make eLearning successful. Sam says you must have incentive. A program he developed for (then) NationsBank awarded frequent flier miles for completing eLearning. In short order, people were bailing out of instructor-led workshops to get those miles.

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2003

University of Phoenix

The current issue of Fast Company has an interview with John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix and my former boss.

The Hard Life and Restless Mind of America’s Education Billionaire

John’s is a real rags-to-riches story. The article begins:

    John Sperling was born dirt-poor, fell in with Communists, and became a union organizer who led a strike that ended in disaster. Today, he runs the world’s largest for-profit university — and a company whose shares are defying gravity on Wall Street.

Today John is on the upper half of the Forbes 400 list of the superrich. 140,000 students, all adults, attend the University of Phoenix at 41 compuses. UoP Online has 60,000 students and is growing at a mind-boggling 60% annually.

In 1976-7, I designed the University of Phoenix’s Bachelor of Science in Business program. At the time, we were the “Institute for Professional Development” in San Jose. It was a zany place to work.

When I was laying out the flow of the business program, explaining that accounting should come before finance, John opined that it shouldn’t make a whole lot of difference. Teach someone to talk with a businessman, and by God, he’d be a businessman. That shouldn’t take very long. What? A few weeks?

I developed forty facilitator guides — the entire senior year curriculum, recruited faculty, and managed student recruiting, but I refused to move from the Bay Area to Phoenix. Today I wouldn’t be on the Forbes 400,000 list if they had one.

John’s book Rebel With a Cause is amazing in its honesty. For example,

    “One day, the miracle happened—my father died in his sleep. In the morning when my mother told me my father was dead, I could hardly contain my joy. I raced outside, rolled in the grass squealing with delight. There I lay looking up into a clear blue sky, and I realized that this was the happiest day of my life. It still is.”

John came down with prostate cancer in the late seventies, and most of us figured his days were numbered. He’s 82 now, and continues to amaze his doctors at Stanford Medical Center.

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2003

Learn, learn, learn

Like a lot of folks, I know .NET is supposed to be important but I haven't understood the reason why. So when I received an invitation from KnowledgeNet to attend a one-hour online mini-course on Demystifying .NET, I signed up.

Did I learn what I wanted to learn about .NET? Not yet. That's why I'm off to my Safari Bookshelf at O'Reilly. Among the ten e-books on my rental shelf is Web Services Essentials, which may help me understand how to integrate my blogs into this new environment.

Back to KnowledgeNet...

At the appointed hour, I called a toll-free number and dialed into a Placeware session. Technically, the presentation was flawless -- easy to understand the instructors' voices and pleasing graphics.

The screen was not cluttered up with needless frills and buttons. (No, KnowledgeNet is not paying me to say this.)

Most online courses I've attended were led by an instructor. The instructor is in the know and I am not. I am subservient. I don't much care for this relationship.

KnowledgeNet more closely resembled a talk show. Tony moderated. His two companions answered his questions. It felt as if the three of them wanted to share what they'd discovered. They kidded one another. Instead of being talked down to, I was listening in on their conversation. This in turn made me a more receptive learner.

.NET? It's Microsoft-ese for Web Services. It a collection of processes, not a product. The processes connect the apps in the picture. You don't have to buy Visual Studio to program this stuff.

Microsoft's .NET site has 250 case examples that neatly quantify the benefits of implementing the technology. If only the benefits of eLearning were expressed this concisely:

Did this lesson warrant an hour of my time? Yes, particularly because I was able to straighten up my desk and drawing board while taking part.

I really liked the talk show format as opposed to the single-presenter model I'm accustomed to. Some organizaitons will never do this because it's "not cost-effective." This is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Cost effectiveness is a ratio of benefit to expenditure. There were at least sixty of us in the audience. If the additional instructors helped us learn a mere 20% more effectively, that's equivalent to 12 FTE-hours of improvement. Is that worth a couple of instructor hours? No contest.

Posted by Jay Cross at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2003

Stephen Wolfram

This evening I took BART into San Francisco to hear Dr. Stephen Wolfram talk about the ideas in his A New Way of Science. I’m about ½” into the book and have found it a relatively easy read for a science book but not that relevant to my interests. The most engaging aspect is Wolfram’s audacious stance, that the rest of the scientific world has been barking up the wrong tree since the Renaissance, if not earlier, and he’s seen what’s been there in plain sight, that everyone else overlooked, and it forces a revision of virtually every scientific discipline from physics to economics.

Wolfram’s doing a whistle stop tour to promote the book and to lay the foundation for his new science. Tonight he spoke at the Herbst Theater across Van Ness Avenue from San Francisco City Hall.

Ron Eisenhart “interviewed” Dr. Wolfram, tossing him a dozen pre-arranged questions. I pulled out my laptop and jotted notes as the conversation progressed. Wolfram is so brilliant that he makes the complex sound simple, so I was actually able to keep up with him most of the time.

If you haven’t heard Wolfram’s story, check the Wired articlefrom June 2002. If memory serves (I read the Wired piece when it came out), Wolfram arrived at Oxford in his early teens, attended one day of first-year classes and decided he’d had enough of that. Next day, he attended second-year classes and found that below him, too. He stopped attending class. When exams came around, young Stephen scored top in his class. Graduated with a PhD in theoretical physics from Cal Tech at the age of 20. Bright kid. You might also check Michael Malone's piece on Wolfram in Forbes ASAP, God, Stephen Wolfram, and Everything Else, which was the first time I'd heard of the guy.

A discussion with Stephen Wolfram

Stephen was making inquiries about cosmology, how structures evolve in our universe, and was surprised to find that particle physics had remarkably little to say about nature. We were using human constructs (Newton’s Laws, Kepler) to interpret nature. That got him started on computer programs.

Were you to look into the world of programs, what would you say these programs really do? It’s like exploring a new part of the world, with new flora and fauna. You start with simple things, you expect to get simple results. In fact, you find that you get very complex behavior.

Here’s his favorite, rule 30:

Click for larger version.

This is really complicated. There’s no easy way to describe it. Statistical methods would tell you a line from the top down would be completely random. And this is the result of a few very simple starting rules.

Stephen looked at cellular automata for a number of years. These are simple little programs built of rules like “when you find a white square, change it to a black square unless there’s black square above it.” He realized that there’s a much larger world of possible programs out there.

One of Wolfram’s rules is that if you really need a better tool, you’d better make it yourself. This is where Mathematica came from. Having developed the tool, he returned to his initial field of inquiry. In 1991, when Mathematica came out, he just sort of “pointed it out there.” He discovered that what he’d found in cellular automata had much broader implications. He looked at physics, biology, chemistry, and so on. He found something wrong with most of these basic areas. What he’d believed simply wasn’t true.

What’s the simple rule that governs the growth of a snowflake? He discovered an explanation. Same for explaining fluid turbulence. Is there some explanation that doesn’t call for outside intervention? Yes. Rule 30 gets you there. Things may look random but they will reliably come out the same again and again. The randomness is built-in, not added on.

Simple rules can lead to extremely complex and random behavior. Add a color and things don’t change. A new rule doesn’t make things more complicated. It’s already as complicated as it ever may be.

Wolfram, speaking rapidly with an Oxford accent, is wearing light gray Nikes, a pink shirt, black chinos and a dark brown tweed jacket. Very much at ease.

If one wants to find complex things in the world, biology is a good place to look. It seems as if natural selection must have been at work over the course of geological time. You assume it took a lot a time to develop complicated things. In reality, human engineers work on things in areas where they better be able to foresee the result. Nature is not under this sort of constraint. Nature’s not just Darwinism.

Take mollusk shells. Something quite similar to the Rule 30 diagram appears on a shell Stephen pulls out of his pocket.

Charles Darwin? There’s come to be a belief that Natural Selection is sort of an all-compelling force. But this is not really where all the complex stuff comes from. Darwin’s belief was more limited and correct than what his interpreters have passed along. One of the most important roles of natural selection is to simplify, not to make things more complex.

We all know about the fundamental unifying theory of physics. Laughter in the audience. (“I learned about it when I was a kid,” says Wolfram).

For instance, space. We usually think of space as background. But if you really want to understand space, you’ve got to look at it as something by itself. (Missed a couple of sentences here.) The collective effect of these things sort of reflect what we feel about things like space and time. (Huh? Those must have been important sentences; this makes no sense.)

If one believes the rule for the universe is really simple, it changes the way you look at the universe. If you start by asking, rule by rule, “Is this a rule for the universe?”, you usually find, “No, this is not a rule for the universe.” The universe has had a long time to go through its calculations.

Determinism? If I think, “I’m choosing to be yellow or black,” but in reality the model is dictating it… There are these issues outside of the realm of science. The concept of mathematical irreducibility, as with the predictability of the behavior of robots, doesn’t really constrain the eventual results. Remember, a few simple rules can generate randomness. Logic is but one of many modalities.

Implications for technology? If you are trying to do mechanical things, you get a tool, e.g. a hammer to pound in nails. But in the realm of intellect, the computer can go after it. It’s odd that this has had little impact on the foundations of natural science. Making a universal computer, millions of gates and lots of work in Silicon Valley, you might think this takes an amazing amount of effort. Actually, it may not be so tough. A molecule might implement these rules. That’s one direction.

Stephen sees himself producing new ways of making things. These are fundamental new elements you could use in growing new morphologies.

Stephen just spent 10 years (and 100 mouse-miles) writing the book. The guy’s into measuring things. He knows that a 40,000 keystroke-day is a good day, a 10,000 keystroke-day hasn’t been very productive.

There isn’t a “Journal of Big Ideas” where one publishes these rather rare happenings. Hence, he squirreled away for ten years to produce his book. It was probably the biggest project he’ll ever do.

The first thing Stephen is doing is recovering. Next will come building more tools. He needs them for studying other fundamental questions.

This has been sort of a one-person operation this far. How do you grow a science? He’s building a community. Lots of enthusiasm. 15,000 inbound email messages. Stephen would like to architect the new science.

Q&A. Math is simple. The axioms take but two pages in his book. The axioms are simple but the explanations are lengthy.

In the early nineteenth century, the belief was that any math issue could be shown to be true or false. Godel disproved this. His stating point was “This statement cannot be proved.”

I tried to ask a question but couldn’t get the attention of the people carrying the remote microphones in the auditorium. (I was sitting in seat A-1, the closest box seat to the stage, apparently undesirable but great as far as I was concerned.)

Had I the opportunity, I intended to ask Dr. Wolfram’s thoughts on today’s news that 96% of the universe is “dark matter.” Tough to identify those laws of the universe if most of it is invisible.

90 minutes after things kicked off, the audience applauded and Wolfram disappeared from sight.

So, is Wolfram a genius or a very confused individual? Probably the former although only a few results of his findings generalize to my work.

1. Simple things can have complex outcomes.
2. Random can arise without outside intervention.
3. Human concepts make scientific explanations overly complex.

Maybe I’ll wake up with new insights in the morning. Perhaps playing with Wolfram’s software will clear things up. Or maybe you’ve got this figured out. If so, please make a comment below. Thanks.

Ray Kurzweil's not convinced:

    Some of the phenomena in nature (e.g., clouds, coastlines) are explained by repetitive simple processes such as cellular automata and fractals, but intelligent patterns (e.g., the human brain) require an evolutionary process (or, alternatively the reverse-engineering of the results of such a process). Intelligence is the inspired product of evolution, and is also, in my view, the most powerful "force" in the world, ultimately transcending the powers of mindless natural forces.

    In summary, Wolfram's sweeping and ambitious treatise paints a compelling but ultimately overstated and incomplete picture. Wolfram joins a growing community of voices that believe that patterns of information, rather than matter and energy, represent the more fundamental building blocks of reality. Wolfram has added to our knowledge of how patterns of information create the world we experience and I look forward to a period of collaboration between Wolfram and his colleagues so that we can build a more robust vision of the ubiquitous role of algorithms in the world.

some of the historical notes from the book

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You heard it here first...

, now a division of

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February 11, 2003

Online courses and degrees

More and more, I'm enamoured of learning by doing and learning in small bites or even not learning at all if reference information can get the job done. That said, the world is full of courses and probably always will be. It's better to make informed choices than take the first thing that comes along.

World Wide Learn is a mammoth directory of courses, degree programs, continuing ed, certifications, and business courses.

The malaise among eLearning vendors is not pervasive. With 170,000 visitors and 560,000 page views per month, World Wide Learn is seeing a steady traffic uptick.

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February 10, 2003

The Jay-Blog

You're reading Internet Time Blog, which is where I dote on my professional interests. The common thread is improving performance.

If you're just browsing around, what we used to call surfing the net, you might prefer my personal blog. The latest entries have to do with left-handedness, achieving authentic happiness, and celebrity dachshunds.

Pablo Picasso and dachshund.

Meanwhile, over at the Learning Circuits Blog, we're conducting a poll on our own informal learning. Magazines? Conferences? Blogs? Gossip? How do you find out what's going on in your field? Come on down!

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A soft launch....

Internet Time Store

You're the first to hear about this. The Internet Time Store is open for business. Our policies are simple. We only stock things I am enthusiastic about. We price fairly. Take a look. Tell your friends.

Our new report, The Convergence of eLearning, Simulation, and Enterprise Application Suites, provides twice as much wisdom and insight as the big guys' reports, but it costs only $100, not $1500.

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Learning Links

Frequent Stops

Edu_RSS (syndication) from Stephen Downes
elearningpost, Maish Nichani's daily digest
Learning Circuits
& blog, wisdom collected by ASTD
Elearning Centre, from Jane Knight in the UK
Stephen Downes keeps tabs daily & also an archive
elearnspace, educator George Siemens is encyclopedic
eLearning Guru, Kevin Kruse has a cornucopia of resources
Training Watch, a newcomer but lookin' good
CLO, now a monthly magazine

Research on Learning

LineZine, astute but inactive
Learnativity, Marcia Conner and Wayne Hodgins
Big Dog, a great overview from Don Clark
CIO, the IT magazine
eLearn, from the IEEE
Learning & Training Innovations née eLearning magazine
eLearning Forum
eLearning Guild

Ageless Learner
First Monday
Clive Shepherd
ISPI Performance Express
IT Training
Learning Development Institute
Elliott Masie
Online Community Report
Technology Source

Chron Higher Ed
EPSS Central
CIT InfoBits
more ed journals

The Virtual Community
MIT Future of Learning Group
Informal education
Creating a Learning Culture
Training Journal
vnu - E-newsletters Archive
vnu - Recommended Resources
Denham Grey
Sun training - Executive Focus
Lab for Applied Ontology
VNU free sessions
USDLA Journal

eLearning Start4All


Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, from David Weinberger. Hilarious take on knowledge management. Intense learning + entertainment = the way life should be. Now, with blog.
KM Magazine
CIO Magazine - KM Research Center

eBusiness & strategy

Strategy and Business (Booz)
Mercer Management Journal
Cap Gemini E&Y Center for Business Innovation Outstanding!
McKinsey Quarterly
Santa Fe Institute Update
Technology Review -- MIT. Come on, push the envelope.
These are fantastic catalysts for thinking out of the box.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:53 AM | Comments (3)

Learning Standards

If you're looking for information on XML and Web Standards, try the Workflow Learning Institute. This page addresses learning object metadata. Rather than reinvent the wheel, you can find descriptions galore in:

Making Sense of Learning Specifications & Standards :
A Decision Maker's Guide to their Adoption

(2nd edition)

Eighty-two pages of cogent explanations, history, processes, and reference sources. This is one of those reference works, like a good dictionary, that you need at your fingertips for answering questions about standards you may be a little fuzzy on.

Philosophically, standards for learning object make an awful lot of sense. They have the potential to bring to learning design the efficiency of using component assemblies to build houses or computers. Standardized objects are interchangeable parts that can be combined to create non-standard, personal learning. Perhaps they can be recycled.

In practice, several issues remain. How large is an object? To some it's a course, to others it's a paragraph. Wayne Hodgins foresees objects like grains of sand, taking the form of any mould they are poured into.If objects are the size of sentences, will we ever be able to string them together into something meaninful? Assemble all the film clips in your repository, and you still won't get Citizen Kane.

The Emerging Standards Effort in eLearning by Ed Cohen, eLearning Magazine, January 2002:

Torrents of tags
Much of what SCORM has assembled is preoccupied with the tracking, tagging, and storing of content objects. The standards dwell at length upon "metadata," specifying the identifying tags that all learning objects in a course should carry-be they graphics, text, animations, or simulations (see "A Primer on Metdata for Learning Objects," e-learning, October, p.26). For those who envision a future in which users wander through vast content repositories filled with such objects-plucked from various courses, each of them immaculately categorized and easy to use-SCORM is a dream.

This focus on metadata labeling is understandable, given that we all believe reusing course content will be crucial in the near future. Oddly though, this standard may be both too demanding and not demanding enough. If SCORM is ultimately dominated by a giant catalog of tagging requirements, it would pose a daunting hurdle for companies with large amounts of legacy content for dubious gains. And it would ignore important principles of instructional design-which, if they were established as a uniform standard, would help trainers and teachers get the most out of their courseware.

Online Learning, November 2000:

"Web-based training standards entered a new era in June when the major developers agreed to make learning management systems (LMSs) and content from different vendors work together. The agreement between the Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Instructional Management Systems (IMS) Global Learning Consortium is not an official partnership ? yet. And because it is informal in nature the responsibilities of the respective parties haven?t been clearly defined. But it was determined that the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative of the Department of Defense, which was the catalyst for the new spirit of cooperation, would act as a coordinating body."

Standards: The Vision and the Hype, Learning Circuits, by Tom Barron The drive to create industry-wide technology standards for e-learning is gaining momentum and adherents. But some see perils--and posturing--amid the promise.

All about Learning Technology Standards, LINEzine, Wayne Hodgins. Learnativity has the articles, presentations, and links of standards visionary Wayne Hodgins.

Achieving Interoperability in e-Learning, Learning Circuits, by Harvi Singh.

In today's Internet economy, achieving integration and interoperability in digital systems is increasingly important. Such integration is possible with open protocols, which allow an organization or system to exchange information with suppliers, partners, and customers in a format that accommodates each organization's system. The same approach is being applied in the e-learning arena, where a new breed of software application frameworks and approaches seek to enable true interoperability of separate systems. This article examines trends and enabling frameworks for making true interoperability a reality.

An Intro to Metadata Tagging, Learning Circuits, by Harvi Singh. Get ready for the Dewey Decimal Classification system of e-learning

The Instructional Use of Learning Objects, an online book on the topic

Standards Groups

Advanced Learning Infrastructure Consortium (JAPAN) -- Objective is to establish an active society by reasonably and effectively providing a learning environment which enables anyone to learn anytime, anywhere, according to the goals, pace, interests and understanding of individuals and groups. Also, to foster experts who will be the origin of global competitiveness. Targets: Advanced learning infrastructure that are from Primary and secondary institution to high school, company training, and tertiary school; Technology and Service; Learning system and contents that use information technology, such as network. Examples: e-learning, Web-based training, technology-based training, computer-based training, long distance learning.

World Wide Web Consortium -- Develops interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential, specifically XML.

Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) -- Formed in 1996. The mission is to develop technical standards, recommended practices, and guides for software components, tools, technologies and design methods that facilitate the development, deployment, maintenance, and interoperation of computer implementations of education and training components and systems.

Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe (ARIADNE) -- Develops the results of the ARIADNE and ARIADNE II European Projects, which created tools and methodologies for producing, managing and reusing computer-based pedagogical elements and telematics supported training curricula.

IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. (IMS) -- Developing and promoting open specifications for facilitating online distributed learning activities, such as locating and using educational content, tracking learner progress, reporting learner performance, and exchanging student records between administrative systems. IMS -- Meta Tags and Knowledge Bits

Advanced Distributed Learning Network -- Purpose is to ensure access to high-quality education and training materials that can be tailored to individual learner needs and made available whenever and wherever they are required. This initiative is designed to accelerate large-scale development of dynamic and cost-effective learning software and to stimulate an efficient market for these products in order to meet the education and training needs of the military and the nation's workforce of the future. It will do this through the development of a common technical framework for computer and net-based learning that will foster the creation of reusable learning content as "instructional objects." Check out Plugfest 5.

The Aviation Industry CBT (Computer-Based Training) Committee (AICC) -- An international association of technology-based training professionals. The AICC develops guidelines for the aviation industry in the development, delivery, and evaluation of CBT and related training technologies.

The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative -- An open forum engaged in the development of interoperable online metadata standards that support a broad range of purposes and business models. DCMI's activities include consensus-driven working groups, global workshops, conferences, standards liaison, and educational efforts to promote widespread acceptance of metadata standards and practices. (If you're invited, don't get out your passport. That's Dublin, Ohio.)


Judy Brown's home page

SCORM is mil-spec. It will probably work in military apps where standards can be rigidly enforced, and where performance outweighs price much more than in the commercial sector. SCORM comes from the same place as $1000 hammers and $10,000 toilet seats.

Corporations may find it easier to standardize learning as part of the Semantic Web. It's XML, interoperable, flexible, and will soon be the underpinning of business transactions. What better way to integrate learning and work? The Semantic Web would enable us to build performance support directly into the job (rather than as an add-on.)

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:22 AM | Comments (3)

The eLearning Museum

Goldfield, Nevada, is the site of the largest gold strike in the 20th century. Founded in 1902, Goldfield boasted a population of 30,000 during its boom year of 1906. The bar at Tex Rickard's Northern Saloon was so long it required 80 tenders to serve its customers. My great grandfather invested heavily in Goldfield shares; they now trade for pennies and mighty Goldfield is a ghost town.

When I began writing about eLearning in 1998, some of us felt the training industry had struck gold! We were going to change the world and pick up some dot-com riches while we did it. Irrational exuberance? We didn't think so at the time. eLearning was going to make email look like a rounding error. It reminded me of the spirit of Woodstock. People in the business exchanged knowing smiles. "We must be in heaven, man!"

In late 1999, Training and Development magazine interviewed me....

Says Cross, "Successful leaders inspire members of their organizations to work smarter. Collaboration, learning portals, and skill snacks have replaced Industrial-Age training. The Web is revitalizing personalized learning and meaningful apprenticeship. Learning is merging with work."

Here's what lies ahead in our not-too-distant training future, according to Cross:

  • personal software agents that crawl the Web to screen and feed information to personal portals
  • connected gadgets and gizmos that simplify (and complicate) our lives
  • plug-and-play training modularity
  • learning standards that create interchangeable, Lego-like objects that slash costs and development time
  • personal files and programs that run directly from the Internet.

At least I didn't get specific on "not-too-distant," did I? Well, it looks like I did.

According to Jay Cross, information architect of Internet Time Group, "eLearning" is the target model for corporate training in the next three to five years. It will be a key survival skill for corporations and free agent learners and is a convergence of:

  • loosely organized corporate ecologies
  • a business climate of permanent white water
  • technological advances, including high-speed broadband networks
  • a shift of power and responsibility from organizations to individuals
  • emergent best practices, from performance support to training to knowledge management.

What happened? We fumbled the implementation. We naively expected workers to flock to the glowing screens. We thought we could take the instructors out of the learning process and let workers gobble up self-paced (i.e., "don't expect help from us") lessons on their own. We were wrong. First-generation eLearning was a flop. Companies licensed "libraries" of content no one paid attention to. PowerPoint became the authoring language of choice. (Personally, I get more content from a Jackson Pollock drip painting than from someone else's PowerPoint slides.) Dropout rates were horrendous. After-the-fact finger pointing is not productive. I don't use the term eLearning much these days.

Lance Dublin and I wrote a book with our prescription for turning things around: (1) gain stakeholder support through change management and (2) offer worthwhile learning experiences and sell them to the learners. Too little, too late.

I'm moving on to things that work, a set of tools, techniques, and attitudes I call 20/80 learning. They are tied to workflow, immediate need, human interaction, respect for the worker, networking, and more. This page will remain as a relic of yesteryear's euphoria. If my grandchildren ask "What did you do for SmartForce?" or "Why did you spend time at Cisco?" or "What did you speak about at Online Learning in Anaheim?" I'll have a URL to back up my stories.


SmartForce, Learn Fast, Go Fast, pdf (11/99)
Disclosure: SmartForce was an Internet Time Group client..

Will Companies Ever Learn? "Learning has got to be connected directly to the business," says Judy Rosenblum, former chief learning officer at Coca-Cola. "The idea is to stay away from a standard 'learning program.' Instead, learning needs to be embedded in processes, projects, and experiences. If you put your energy into people who are ready and willing to join you, and if those people add value to the business, others will come."

eLearning: Rhetoric vs Reality, Gautam Ghosh

Into the Future, a Vision Paper by Wayne Hodgins and Jay Cross (2/2000) for ASTD and NGA. pdf.

Cisco eLearning
Disclosure: Cisco Systems is an Internet Time Group client.

The Future of Online Learning by Stephen Downes (7/98), a classic

The eLearning FAQ

Caution: I wrote this in March 2000, before the dot-com bubble burst, and it remains somewhat overenthusiastic. Here's a more current take on what's going on:

The State of eLearning
Guest lecture at the Business School of San Francisco State University, October 2, 2002.

For something more current, see Jane Knight's wonderful Guide to e-Learning at e-Learning Centre


eLearning is learning on Internet Time, the convergence of learning and networks and the New Economy. eLearning is a vision of what corporate training can become. We've only just begun.

eLearning is to traditional training as eBusiness is to business as usual. Both use the net to augment tradiitonal means.

This FAQ addresses corporate learning. In this context, effective eLearning dramatically cuts the time it takes for people to become and remain competent in their jobs. For context, check out the first eLearning White Paper ever written.

eLearning is the convergence of learning and the Internet.

Howard Block
Bank of America Securities

eLearning uses the power of networks, primarily those that rely on Internet technologies but also satellite netowrks, and digital content to enable learning.

Eilif Trondsen,
SRI Learning on Demand

eLearning is the use of network technology to design, deliver, select, administer, and extend LEARNING.

Elliott Masie,
The Masie Center

eLearning is Internet-enabled learning. Components can include content delivery in multiple formats, management of the learning experience, and a networked community of learners, content developers and experts. eLearning provides faster learning at reduced costs, increased access to learning, and clear accountability for all participants in the learning process. In today's fast-paced culture, organizations that implement eLearning provide their work force with the ability to turn change into an advantage.

Cisco Systems

eLearning is dynamic. Today's content, in real time, not old news or "shelfware." On-line experts, best sources, quick-and-dirty approaches for emergencies.

eLearning operates in real time. You get what you need, when you need it.

eLearning is collaborative. Because people learn from one another, eLearning connects learners with experts, colleagues, and professional peers, both in and outside your organization.

eLearning is individual. Every e-learner selects activities from a personal menu of learning opportunities most relevant to her background, job, and career at that very moment.

eLearning is comprehensive.
eLearning provides learning events from many sources, enabling the e-learner to select a favored format or learning method or training provider.

Greg Priest,
The e-Learning Company


eLearning [is] the delivery of content via all electronic media, including the Internet, intranets, extranets, satellite broadcast, audio/video tape, interactive TV, and CD-ROM.

Connie Weggen
WR Hambrecht & Co

We define eLearning companies as those that leverage various Internet and Web technologies to create, enable, deliver, and/or facilitate lifelong learning.

Robert Peterson,
Piper Jaffray

eLearning is using the power of the network to enable learning, anytime, anywhere.



Best Practices

Accept no substitutes! Anyone with a web site can claim to provide eLearning. How does one separate the real stuff from the bogus? Legitimate eLearning is more likely to:

  • Focus on the needs of the learner, not the trainer or institution
  • Take advantage of the net: real-time, 24/7, anywhere, anytime
  • Bring people together to collaborate and learn together
  • Personalize, often by combining "learning objects" on the fly
  • Offer more than one learning method, e.g. virtual classroom and simulation and self-paced instruction
  • Incorporate administrative functions such as registration, payment and charge-backs, monitoring learner progress, testing, and maintaining records

eLearning? e-Learning?
E-learning? E-Learning?

In the early days, way back in 1998, it was always e-learning, with the hyphen. SmartForce is the "e-Learning Company", and Cisco's John Chambers evangelizes e-learning.

As eLearning matured, some of us are dropped the hyphen (and started "intercapping" the "L".) Microsoft uses eLearn, as do SRI and Internet Time Group. The Google search engine finds:

  • 1221 elearning (no hyphen)
  • 2900 e-learning (hyphenated)

Does it matter?


Change is rampant. It's the Knowledge Era, New Economy, Internet Age, Information Revolution, yadda, yadda, yadda. Brains have replaced brawn.

Networked organizations demand rapid-fire, front-line decisions, and people must be in the know to make them. Everything's converging or already networked, cycle times are speeding up, and competition is coming from all directions. Are you ready?

Staffing for eBusiness is a make/buy decision.

Buying is pricey and shortsighted. (Techies with tongue-studs and purple hair command six-figure salaries, and there are too few of them to go around. We're short half a million high-tech workers, and business gets more techie every day.) Buying talent is not like buying tools. The shelf-life of knowledge has dwindled to the point that a four-year engineering degree is obsolete in, well, about four years.

People once agonized over career decisions for fear of looking like "job hoppers." These days they hear about a new opportunity over lunch and go to work for a competitor that afternoon. Money doesn't necessarily talk to a young person who drives a Porsche. What keeps people on board these days is the opportunity to develop, to build valued skills, to achieve certifications, and to add to their store of intellectual capital.

Learning has become a vital business function, but old-style training can't keep pace with Internet time. Traditional workshops cost a fortune in airplane tickets and time away from the job. In the eyes of many senior managers, off-site workshops have always been somewhere between a total waste of time and a boondoggle, the "great training robbery." Training has grown too important to be delegated to training departments.

eLearning is attractive to corporations because it promises better use of time, accelerated learning, global reach, fast pace, and accountability. It's manageable. It cuts paperwork and administrative overhead. Sometimes it can be outsourced, providing more time for leveraging the organization's core competence. eLearners like it, too.

The Brand Called You

The Future of Work

Hire for attitude;
train for skill

Free Agent Declaration of Independence


As human capital becomes the chief source of economic value, education and training become lifelong endeavors for the vast majority of workers.

Peter J. Stokes,

We need to bring learning to people instead of bringing people to learning.

Elliott Masie,
The Masie Center

Technology has revolutionized business; now it must revolutionize learning.

WR Hambrecht + Co

Information and knowledge are the thermonuclear competitive weapons of our time. Knowledge is more valuable and more powerful than natural resources, big factories, or fat bankrolls.

Tom Stewart,
Intellectual Capital

American education needs a fundamental breakthrough, a new dynamic that will light the way to a transformed educational system.

Chris Whittle
The Edison Project

Organizations today realize that they cannot use traditional training methods if they want to stay competitive. Because product cycles, competitive intelligence, industry information and corporate strategies are moving and changing so much faster than they need to, companies understand that the only way to get knowledge to their employees is thorough an eLearning initiative that relies on the Internet.

Kevin Oakes

Education is the next industrial era institution to go through a complete overhaul, starting in earnest in 2000. The driving force here is not so much concern with enlightening young minds as economics. In an information age, the age of the knowledge worker, nothing matters as much as the worker's brain.

Peter Schwartz
The Long Boom

Technological changes increase complexity and velocity of the work environment. Today's workforce has to process more information in a shorter amount of time. New products and services are emerging with accelerating speed.

WR Hambrecht + Co

eLearning solutions provide the missing link that allows organizations to effectively measure ROI and the learning to business results.

Dave Ellett

....the number one reason employees leave existing positions for new jobs is not pay but that their employer was not investing in their development.

Thomas Weisel Partners LLC

Learning is what more adults will do for a living in the 21st century.

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray

Imagination is the most powerful human resource on the planet. Harnessing it and its resultant electronic tools in the service of education is the great hope of the world.

Glenn R. Jones
Jones International

Human skills are subject to obsolescence at a rate perhaps unprecedented in American History.

Alan Greenspan

It is estimated that we will need 1.3 million new computer scientists, systems analysts and computer programmers by 20006 in the United States. Yet, currently one out of every ten IT positions, or approximately 350,000 jobs, are open today.

Merrill Lynch

With the aging of the U.S. workforce (median age of US worker expected to increase from 35.3 to 40.6 in 2006) and technology automating a large percentage of unskilled jobs, training is necessary to remain relevant in today's knowledge-based economy.


Knowledge workers require greater flexibility in the workplace. Globalization, competition, and labor shortages cause employees to work longer, harder, and travel more than previous generations. A the same time, these workers require more independence and responsibility in their jobs and dislike close supervision. Today's knowledge workers have a nontraditional orientation to time and space, believing that as long as the job gets done on time, it is not important where or when it gets done. B the same token, they want the opportunity to allocate time for learning as needed. Modern training methods need to reflect these changes in lifestyle.

WR Hambrecht + Co

Discreet training events held off-site in a hotel room that fulfills the "20 hours per year, "check the box" regimen will not suffice.

Thomas Weisel Partners LLC

Drivers of Cisco's Learning and Training Needs

The Objectives

  • Fast, effective deployment of mission-critical knowledge
  • Well-trained and up-to-date workforce
  • Lower-cost learning

The Challenges

  • Geographically dispersed learners
  • Phenomenal growth
  • Difficult/Expensive training logistics
  • Need for Knowledge on Demand

The Pressures

  • Relentless Competition
  • Constantly changing technology
  • Shorter product cycles
  • Shorter time to market
Source: Cisco Systems


How does it work?

Different perspectives

eLearning is like a cubist painting. To make sense of it, you need to look at it from different perspectives.

From the philosophical viewpoint, eLearning is framed by the principles and practices of the eLearning community -- a mix of social concern, instructional design, software savvy, entrepreneurial zeal, and extreme dissatisfaction with the status quo. Another view looks to the components of eLearning -- collaboration, simulation, databases, and so forth. The eBusiness perspective relates eLearning to ERP, supply chain optimization, and disintermediation.

eLearning is revolutionary. As Nicholas Negroponte says, incrementalism is innovation's worst enemy. The Internet changes everything; education and training are about to be changed. Radically. It's time for a fresh approach.

eLearning focuses on the individual learner. For years, training has organized itself for the convenience and needs of instructors, institutions, and bureaucracies. Bad attitude. Think of learners as customers. Compete for their time and interests. Provide them legendary service. Convert them into raving fans. Give them choices. Don't make them reinvent the wheel.

From instructor-centric:

to learner-centric:

eLearning is forever. Continuous education. The forty-year degree. Daily learning. Work becomes learning, learning becomes work, and nobody ever graduates.

Performance is the goal. The objective is to become competent in the least time and with the least amount of training. If people could take a smart pill instead of logging in to class, bravo! How long is this going to take? No more credit for seat-time.

Most learning is social. The coffee room is a more effective place to learn than the classroom. Studies reveal that the majority of corporate learning is informal, i.e. outside of class. eLearning seeks to foster collaboration and peer interaction.

A classic study at Standard found that Hewlett Packard engineers who watched videotaped lectures followed by informal discussion performed better than Stanford engineering students who attended the same lectures on campus. Instead of an on-campus lecturer pouring content into students' heads, the HP engineers were challenged to construct their own interpretation of the subject matter.

Smart pill. Would you prefer this or the workshop?


Most eLearning is personalized. The best eLearning system learns about its users and tailors its offerings to their learning style, job requirements, career goals, current knowledge, and personal preferences. <buzzword alert> Small chunks of learning (granules, objects) are labeled (metatagged within IMS standards) so systems can automatically mix and match them to assemble and deliver individualized learning experiences. At least that's the dream. Nobody's fully there quite yet. </buzzwords>

Hierarchy of Learning Objects

eLearning is delivered in the right-sized pieces. Why take a one-hour class for the five minutes' worth of content you're looking for?

eLearners are responsible for their own learning. eLearning empowers them to manage and implement their own learning and development plans.

Education in the Knowledge Economy

Old Economy
Four-year Degree
Training as Cost Center
Learner Mobility
Distance Education
Correspondence & Video
One Size Fits All
Geographic Instituting

New Economy
Forty-Year Degree
Training as Competitive Advantage
Content Mobility
Distributed Learning
High-Tech Multimedia Centers
Tailored Programs
Brand Name Universities & Celebrity Professors
Virtual Learning Communities

Source: The Book of Knowledge, Merrill Lynch, p. 8


Overview of an eLearning Setup

eLearning is inevitably a mix of activities -- people learn better that way. An eLearning environment generally includes:

self-paced training delivered over the web (although it could be via book or CD or video or what have you)

1:many virtual events (which could take place in virtual classroom, virtual lecture hall, or expert-led discussion)

1:1 mentoring (which might entail coaching, help desk, office hours, periodic check-in, email exchanges)

simulation, because we learn by doing. Learners from all over the globe experiment on millions of dollars worth of routers and bridges at Mentor Labs. Consultants learn about eBusiness from a game developed by SMGnet.

collaboration, either joint problem-solving or discussion among study groups via discussion groups and chat rooms

live workshops (yes, the old way), for some topics are best taught in the real world by a flesh-and-blood instructor or expert

assessment, both for initial placement and for opting out of topics the learner has already mastered

competency roadmap, a custom learning plan based on job, career, and personal goals

authoring tools, to develop and update content

e-store, to pay for learning or post costs against budgets

learning management system which registers, tracks, and delivers content to learners; reports on learner progress, assessment results, and skill gaps for instructors; enrolls learners, provides security, and manages user access for administrators.

Important facets of eLearning

The continuous evolution of the learning industry is hell-bent toward an experience totally personalized to the individual learner. Today, the vertical communities accessed by an individual learner provide a comfortable envinroment to learn skills required in the learner's industry. Tomorrow, access will be through a corporate-sponsored community completely tailored to the individual's needs, with content delivered on demand and technology that will continually monitor the learner's abilities as the learning takes place, adjusting content and pace seamlessly.

Wade Baker
Payback Training Systems

Improved collaboration and interactivity among learners. In times when small instructor-led classes tend to be the exception, electronic learning solutions can offer more collaboration and interaction with experts and peers as well as a higher success rate than the live alternative. ...a study found that online students had more peer contact with others in the class, enjoyed it more, spent more time on class work, understood the material better, and performed, on average, 20% better than students who were taught in the traditional classroom.

WR Hambrecht + Co

The magic is in the mix!

eLearning blends the best of:

  • Traditional and new classroom
  • On-the-job
  • Coaching and informal mentoring
  • Reading
  • Standalone technology
  • Online technology
  • Digital collaboration
Elliott Masie
The Masie Center

How well does it work?

The cards aren't in yet. eLearning is too new to have produced hard evidence of learning gains. eLearning's top-line upside is speculative; its bottom-line savings are on more solid ground.

Undeniably, eLearning cuts the costs of travel, facilities, administrative overhead, duplication of effort, and more importantly, the opportunity cost of people away from the job in times of great need.

There's no doubt that eLearning can be rolled out fast. The time required to roll out a new product globally can shrink from months to hours.


Sharing and managing knowledge throughout our company...was one of the keys to reducing our operating costs by more than $2 billion per year....

Kenneth T. Derr
Chevron Corporation


...learners ...can better understand the material, leading to a 60% faster learning curve, compared to instructor-led training. ... Whereas the average content retention rate for an instructor-led class is only 58%, the more intensive e-learning experience enhances the retention rate by 25-60%. Higher retention of the material puts a higher value on every dollar spent on training.

WR Hambrecht + Co


Motorola calculates that every $1 it spends on training translates to $30 in productivity gains within three years.

A recent study found that corporations that employed a workforce with a 10% higher-than-average educational attainment level enjoyed 8/6% higher-than-average productivity.

Computer-based training and online training can reduce training costs over instructor-led training. A congressionally mandated review of 47 comparisons of multimedia instruction with more conventional approaches to instruction found time savings of 30% improved achievement and cost savings of 30-40%.

Merrill Lynch,
The Book of Knowledge

What are the pitfalls?


Whenever the topic of bandwidth comes up, the phone company yowls about ?the last mile,? the flimsy wire bottleneck between their switching station and your house.

e-Learning providers also have a bottleneck, the last yard from the monitor into the learner?s brain. Without motivation, this final connection will never be made.

Professional training via CD-ROM flopped. Why? Because we took instructors and coaches out of the picture. The learning process breaks down when "untouched by human hands." A ringing phone interrupts a standalone learning exercise, and CD-ROM courses morph into shelfware.

Companies that adopt eLearning as a cost-cutting measure and provides no human support will not be successful. eLearning is not training by robot. Learners will live up (or down) to expectations.

Which of these two scenarios presents a better environment for learning? Assume your boss arranged for one of these two learning events for you:

instructor-led, off site


Before you leave, the boss calls you in, tells you this is important, and explains what he expects you to come home with.

You receive an email from personnel.

You fly away to the beach-side resort hotel where training will take place.

You study at home after work.

Your peers know you?re away for learning. (They have to take up the slack.)

No one even knows you?re taking part in training.

You return home, and everyone asks what you thought, what?s new, anything to share?

They still don?t know you?re taking a course.

You learn with members of your study group. After you and the guys finish your lessons, you hop out for a few brews and a game of pool.

You learn on your own.

You hang your certificate of completion on the wall. Or put the paperweight on your desk.

Another email from personnel.

It doesn?t have to be this way. Managers must go the extra mile to pat learners on the back, give them recognition, and encourage them to learn with their peers. eLearners are customers; they continually need to be sold.

Finally, eLearning is not for everyone. Some people simply will not learn outside of a classroom.

Learning to the desktop

This is one of those benefits that's better in theory than in practice. Learning complex subjects requires concentration. Most people's desks are less than optimal for learning (and often for working, too, but that's another matter).

Buddha was right. "When you do something, do it as if it were all that mattered." Get away from the phone. Shelter yourself from colleagues. Go to a learning cubicle. Put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign.

"Ah ha," Dilbert's pointy-haired boss would say. "I've got the solution -- take it all home." As if there aren't distractions aplenty at home. Feed the baby, watch the game, talk with the spouse, have a beer on the patio, or log in for learning? Besides, what message does the boss communicate about the value of learning if he expects people to do it on their own time?


Hurdles to eLearning!

  • Quality and intensity of content
  • Availability of content
  • Habits, customs, and culture
  • Technology delivery -- bandwidth, etc.
  • Pricing models
  • Lack of digital collaboration models
  • Research gap: Does it work?
  • Calibration of expectations
Elliott Masie
eLearning Briefing
January 2000, Seattle

Certain content -- because of its nature, relative value, or importance -- is not suitable for technology-based delivery. While online training is especially well suited for the acquisition of IT skills, it has certain limitations in the arena of soft skills training. Other educational content that does not translate well into a virtual environment is material requiring significant hands-on application, with a strong emphasis on peer review and collaboration.

WR Hambrecht + Co

Update in mid-2002:

A horrific pitfall has turned out to be cajolling workers to participate. One third to one half of workers never register to take part. Half to three-quarters of those who start a program drop out before completing it. I've just completed a book on how to improve employee participation.

What are the trends?

Short term

Corporations increasingly outsource training to Learning Service Providers (think Application Service Provider + Learning).

Standards-based learning management systems assemble large-grain learning objects on the fly. (XML meets learning).

Learner relationship management mirrors customer relationship management.

ERP and CRM vendors replace learning management systems as learning is recognized as an enterprise application.

Longer term

"Intelligent" interfaces learn about the eLearner over time. (Apple's Knowledge Navigator finally arrives, only twenty years late.)

Learning becomes imbedded in work processes and equipment.

Economies of scale will development of "cool" learning using rich media, popular entertainers, and game interfaces.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:20 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2003

Give me money

Press for sound.
Music courtesy of Lucy in the Web.

When I read the emailed eLearning E-Clips in my inbox this morning, the Iseley Brothers started singing...make that shrieking...

    The best things in life are free, you can give them to the birds and the bees.

    I need money (That's what I want)
    That's what I want.
    That's what I wa-a-a-ant
    That's what I want.

Here's what turned on my internal radio:

    Yes, it's true... The eLearning Guild must now start charging annual membership fees for Guild Members who want unlimited access to all services and benefits of the Guild. We are also now offering you the opportunity to join or renew as a free Guild Associate which will provide limited access to select services and benefits. Renew as a Guild Member before March 1, 2003 and you will pay only $79 USD and you'll have uninterrupted access to all services and benefits through March 31, 2004.

I can understand where they're coming from. David Holcombe and Heidi Fisk opened the eLearning Guild website just under a year ago. They've created a killer website, a great online journal, and some very productive events. More than 6,000 have joined. Kudos!

Too bad about the timing, though. These are eerie times for any venture, especially a new one. Discretionary corporate spending is the tightest since the Depression. Travel restrictions and travel hassles have decimated conference attendance. Most eLearning vendors are hanging on by a thread (if they're still with us.) The future is uncertain. We may go to war any minute. Wall Street is in turmoil. The Big 4 may become the Litte 3.

Did I sign up to become a paying member of eLearning Guild? You bet. It's a no-brainer. For the cost of a couple of books, I get the Journal, research results, lower conference fees, a network, and more. I'm not shilling for David and Heidi. I like them both, but I'm a straight shooter. I'm also selfish. I want eLearning Guild to prosper. I encourage you to sign up. (Do it before the end of this month and you get $20 off the regular annual fee.)

We're all familiar with Maslow's hierarchy:

What we're seeing with this rite of passage for eLearning Guild is an expression of what I call The Hierarchy of Corporate Needs.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 08, 2003

Food for Thought

February 5, 2003

Nano-bio-cogno-socio-info convergence: It’s information
that matters to science, and it’s people that matter to business
by Jim Spohrer, IBM

Jim Spohrer led a thought-provoking dialog (PowerPoint) at the February 5 meeting of EOE. I listened in by phone while looking at Jim's slides. Jim, one of the most self-effacing geniuses you'll ever encounter, told the group he was looking for help in shaping up some of his thinking. Instead of laying it on us (the old "death by PowerPoint"), Jim presented us with dozens of memes and asked us to help him connect the dots.

What follows is 90% Jim and 10% my dots.

Jim began by acknowledging the pioneers upon whose work we are all building.
(By the way, their seminal essays are all online.)

These visionaries saw people moving from a natural environment to an information-rich environment constructed by humans. Humanity once looked for food but now harvests information. Feed my body, feed my mind. Change? World population has mushroomed from 1 billion to 6 billion people in the last 200 years! Exponential progress coming from all corners.

Background: The National Science Foundation is funding Mike Roco, who wants to see more investigation into nanoscience, so he invited a group of people to brainstorm and think about the issue. The agenda expanded into the convergence of many disiciplines. He brought in Newt Gingrich, an inspiring motivational speaker, who encouraged everyone to think big. Lots of interesting ideas, but not organized. Jim spends his day thinking about science and business for IBM. To pay the bills, he looks at the near-term impact of things. These ideas entail big science and mammoth business implications. (IBM is now swallowing 30,000 PwC consultants, adding to the 140,000 they already had.)

Background reading: Report from last year's convergence conference. Heady stuff: Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science. Allow me to blythely summarize the underpinnings of the 450 page report as only one as ignorant as I can do.

In the past, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science were separate disciplines:

Now these areas are becoming connected. The NSF project and Jim's inquiry explore the impact of blurring the boundaries:

The project seeks to understand how we can channel this convergence to make
our planet a better place to live. We acknowledge the pioneers for helping us conceptualize such an audacious goal:

The concept of augmented reality has been around a while. In the early stages, you touched natural atoms, arranged by nature. Today you touch atoms that were brought here by design, this table, for example. There's a lot of information content there. Knowledge Value Revolution talks about this. What's the next stage? The information environment is exploding. Atoms take up space. All space has a history. We need to disembody information from the atoms so we can have a lot of it wherever we need it. That was the genesis of World Board. Next we'll be able to reach out and touch whatever we want. (Aren't we already there? Via hyperlinks.) "Let's put information in its place." To get to the next level, we have to get really good at thanking people. You gotta know where it came from and who built it.

The Science of nano-bio-cogno-socio-info convergence

The Question: Can we understand and control to suit our purposes the different
information encoding, processing, and replication processes across multiple

Natural Systems – Natural environment that people exist in

Information in Physical Systems (Matter & Energy Flows, Atoms Matter)

Information in Living Systems (Chemistry of Life, Molecules/Ecosys. Matter)

Information in Cognitive Systems (Brains, Neurons Matter)

Knowledge of the natural world and human made world

Human Made Systems – Human Made environment that people exist in

Information in Social Systems (Organizations, People Matter)

Information in Technology Systems (Tools, Machines Matter)

Implications: As we get closer to a more complete answer, we can expect to realize many interesting, new capabilities that happen between the different systems:

artificial cochlea and retina (technology to cognitive)

terra-form Mars (physical to living)

(If you're getting into this, I recommend downloading Jim's
slides rather than trying to decipher these screen grabs.)

How do we understand this? Why do we care?

Information is at the heart of everything. IBM epiphany: molecules are simply processors. These systems can interact, e.g. using digital tech to replicate retinas and cochleas, bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. For Jim, bio and nano and info were once separate areas. Now they seem related. Cross-talk. (Reminds me of Nicholas Negroponte's dictum about "bits,
not atoms
." The heart of the matter is the bits.)

A Bit of Perspective

Jim: What's missing in this picture of evolution? What are the social steps? What's the natural evolution?

Giving people credit is the fundamental thing that makes the economy work. Joseph Schumpeter. Look at how political organizations have changed throughout history. We need to look at what's going on through prespectives other than than present-centric.

The outside/inside framework. Is this useful? How do we organize all these enhancements so we can describe what they are, and use them to look into the future? And to explain the past?

Utility Fog. " A collective of nanotechnological devices (see foglet) that link together into a a complex  network in the air, able to work together to exert force in any direction or transmit  information between each other. This would give users almost complete  control over their environment."

universal elements. self-powered. floating in the air. Cal - trying to create mechanical bumblebees. essentially you get Startrek. (This is now very speculative.) Transporters. You get covered by the utility fog and it crystallizes a remote body in Paris.

Three Sample Business Applications

Healthy: Our Bodies & Our Environment

  • Someday Personalized Pharmaceuticals (nano for sensors, delivery, design)

Wealthy: Our Material Goods (Sustainable, Cheaper, Stronger)

  • Someday On Demand Materials (nano for manufacturing materials)

Wise: Our Thinking and Perception (Access to Information)

  • Someday Learning Conversations (nano for compute performance, interface)

Good science leads to better business. Think about growing a computer. New materials as reported in Natonal Geographic.

What does this say of my role in the world?

Businesses are becoming adaptive organisms, says this IBM
White Paper

Digital information becomes a lingua franca that divorces form from substance. It's all just bits. More and more things are becoming connected, and almost everything seems connectible. Our only limitation is the paupacity of our imagination.

Where does this leave us? I conclude that "it's all one big thing."

If nano-tech enables us to reconfigure atoms, the building plans, then information is all that matters. Let information configure my food. "Computer, give me caviar and champagne." The ultimate convergence.

There's "no there here." Yet.

Alice B. Toklas, to Gertrude Stein on her deathbed: "What is the answer?"

Gertrude Stein's last words: "What is the question?"

I'm still noodling on this and will continue posting as the connections and
import of this become more clear.

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 06, 2003

Sight Mammals

The February issue of T+D magazine arrived in the mail this afternoon. I have to admit that I beamed with pride on finding this first in the list of features:

    Sight Mammals
    By Jay Cross
    People learn from words and pictures as well as--or better than--from just words. Here's how to create drawings, graphics, or other visuals to enhance your own or your audiences's absorption of information.

Executive Summary / Free PDF

You see*, I believe that over-reliance on the alphabet impedes our understanding of how things work, and that favoring graphics over text can make the world a better place to live. Words are just words. Visuals are often a better approximation of reality.

"This is not a pipe." (It's a picture of a pipe.)

Of course, you've heard my rant on this if you've visited the Center for Visual Learning here at Internet Time.

A year ago, the topic of visual learning grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to the core. Having proposed visual learning as the focus of the April 2002 meeting of the eLearning Forum, I set out to get my arms around the subject.

Sherrin Bennett, who had recorded, or rather interpreted visually, our eLearning Forum sessions for the previous year, helped me understand the potential of the field. When I met David Sibbet, founder of The Grove Consultants and more or less the inventor of group graphics, Sherrin coincidentally was in the next room. David is an inspiration -- I'd appreciated his work before but hadn't recognized it as his.

Word of the eLearning Forum session led to meetings with Bob Horn, inventor of Information Mapping and author of Visual Language. Among other things, Bob conceptualized how the web would work before Tim Berners-Lee got his first job. Wow! Yet another luminary.

To round out the eLearning Forum event, Dave Gray, the founder of Xplanations (you've seen their work in Business 2.0 and other places), flew in from St. Louis and linked graphic presentation to business performance.

A few days before the eLearning Forum meeting, I wanted to document all the things I'd been learning. ("Can you see what I see?") I wrote a piece called Envisioning eLearning.

eLearning Magazine liked the first half of what I'd written, and it become the Guest Editorial in the November issue. T+D was more interested in the meta-skills and broader implications; Sight Mammals is drawn from the second half of my original story. By the way, I didn't dream up the title Sight Mammals, T+D did, but I love it!

    Executive Summary: Sight Mammals

    Humans are sight mammals, proposes e-learning guru Jay Cross. They learn almost twice as well from images and words as from words alone. Visuals engage both hemispheres of the human brain. Pictures translate across cultures, education levels, and age groups. Yet, most content of corporate learning is text. Schools spend years teaching how to read but only hours on visual literacy. It’s high time for us to open our eyes to the possibilities, Cross asserts.

    Visual literacy—whether on paper or electronic—accelerates learning because the richness of the whole picture can be taken in at a glance. Visual metaphors unleash new ideas and spark innovation. Having a sharper eye increases the depth of one’s perception. Rather than walk you through the nuances of color, tone, texture, proportion, and so forth, Cross shares several ways that visuals have contributed to his own learning.

    People can create pictures as well as look at them. Cross often draws mind maps to brainstorm on his own and to clarify his thinking. He also assembles simple pictures to convey concepts, using PaintShop Pro. The article shows approaches to using visuals that you can adapt.

Double entendre intended.

Posted by Jay Cross at 07:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Verna Allee

This past Tuesday, the Meta-Learning Lab met with Verna Allee, author of The Future of Knowledge and pioneer in KM, value networks, systems thinking, and intangible assets. I’d first read Verna’s ideas when we both appeared in issue #2 of LiNEzine and was delighted to meet her.

Six years ago, Verna joined a learning community of luminaries at the intersection of human competence, business relationships, and internal structure. The group sowed the seeds of innovation that fuels lots of today’s thinking on optimizing whole systems and sparked Verna’s work in systemic value analysis. (Sorry for the gobbledygook wording, but the conversation was intense, and I learned more than I’m going to be able to express until it has time to sink in.)

Verna’s methodology involves mapping value exchanges among nodes in a networked system. She looks for patterns, helps constituents negotiate the amount of value going in and coming out of each node, and models the entire system. This is not something for the feint of heart; she described mapping the service function of a very large telecom outfit in a couple of hours.

Let me take another run at what Verna does: She evaluates an entity as a living system. Every living system is a self-renewing network. Its structure is its best description. The focus is on the people, who are the nodes in the network. Verna connects the nodes with arrows (for direction) and labels (describing exchanges of matter, energy, and ideas between the nodes). Each node is linked to a scorecard that tallies the value of its exchanges. She uses the system map to spot bottlenecks and relationships that need improvement; managers need to focus on the white space between the nodes.

Emerge, converge, and know.

How does this differ from enterprise approaches? ERP supports process only. This perpetuates process thinking. Systems theory looks holistically. Super-efficient processes don’t necessarily add up to an optimal whole. Evaluating systems dynamics is a meta-methodology, applicable to software development, social network analysis, business optimization, and more.

As our multi-tiered conversation raged back and forth, Verna noted, “The great thing about face-to-face meetings is that you can get things done so quickly.” My translation: computers can be a klutzy way to exchange and build on ideas.

Our formal business systems are so out of touch. They ignore the fact that we’re living in the midst of a huge barter economy of intangibles.

    Value Networks Defined

    A value network is a web of relationships that generates economic value and other benefits through complex dynamic exchanges between two or more individuals, groups or organizations. Any organization or group of organizations engaged in both tangible and intangible exchanges can be viewed as a value network, whether private industry, government or public sector.

Once again, I took away the message that connections are what's important in organizations and organisms. Verna looks at things with a cybernetic view, top-down, for that's where you see the value of the whole.

As we talked, Fritjof Capra's The Hidden Connections: Integrating The Biological, Cognitive, And Social Dimensions Of Life Into A Science Of Sustainability kept popping into my consciousness. Living system, ecological perspective, cells, renewal. Maybe it's a Northern California thing.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2003

Standards? You want standards?

Read Marc Canter's Intro to Open Standards Architecture. We can use what we've already got to go from here:

to this:

The how and the what are:

and the final result is

This ties in with Jon Udell's recent piece Converging on Identity. Take a look at his identity-centric diagram. Jon notes:
    There is an organizing principle here, identity, but it too is plural. Users, devices, networks, and services all have identities. More than convergence of devices and data types, it is a convergence based on identity that we seek. Businesses need to condense multiple touch points into that elusive single construct, the representation of the customer. Individuals need to manage business and personal lives on the same networks and devices, from home, the office, or the road. Web services must be able to authenticate people, or services, or devices, using credentials that are institutional, personal, network-defined, or device-specific.

This all gets back to Jay's Law of the Net: Everything's connected.

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2003

Me too.

"My goal is to learn how to organize and distribute information in ever-more-efficient ways. With a speciality in timeliness." Dave Winer

I also want to have a hand in creating the information I distribute.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 01, 2003


From Business Week Online, distance is dead for professional jobs. This is a golden opportunity for eLearning.

    It's globalization's next wave--and one of the biggest trends reshaping the global economy. The first wave started two decades ago with the exodus of jobs making shoes, cheap electronics, and toys to developing countries. After that, simple service work, like processing credit-card receipts, and mind-numbing digital toil, like writing software code, began fleeing high-cost countries.

    Now, all kinds of knowledge work can be done almost anywhere. "You will see an explosion of work going overseas," says Forrester Research Inc. analyst John C. McCarthy. He goes so far as to predict at least 3.3 million white-collar jobs and $136 billion in wages will shift from the U.S. to low-cost countries by 2015. Europe is joining the trend, too. British banks like HSBC Securities Inc. (HBC ) have huge back offices in China and India; French companies are using call centers in Mauritius; and German multinationals from Siemens (SI ) to roller-bearings maker INA-Schaeffler are hiring in Russia, the Baltics, and Eastern Europe.

    Even Wall Street jobs paying $80,000 and up are getting easier to transfer. Brokerages like Lehman Brothers Inc. (LEH ) and Bear, Stearns & Co. (BSC ), for example, are starting to use Indian financial analysts for number-crunching work. "A basic business tenet is that things go to the areas where there is the best cost of production," says Ann Livermore, head of services at Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ ), which has 3,300 software engineers in India. "Now you're going to see the same trends in services that happened in manufacturing."

It's one thing to put your sales force in EMEA. When you farm out core development, say hello to fat-pipe, continuous learning.

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack