March 31, 2003

Transforming e-Knowledge

Last week I finished reading Transforming e-Knowledge by Donald Norris, Jon Mason, and Paul Lefrere. This book is a fantastic collection of stories, memes, theories, predictions, scenarios, reference lists, and diagrams about the future of knowing. I read the hardcopy on my travels the last couple of weeks, but the entire book is online. For free.

If you’re concerned with knowledge management, intellectual capital, how to prepare for knowledge standards, best practices, and how to succeed in the emerging e-knowledge industry, you simply must read this.

From the Foreword:

    Underlying many of the contributions in this book is a debate about epistemology?when the knowledge technologies change so radically, they change not just what we know, but how we come to know it. The contributors here argue that knowledge is contextual, social, relativistic?not a discrete and unchanging object. The e-learning agenda creates the dilemma that while we can atomise knowledge into elements such as ?learning objects?, we must recognise that they are there to be shared, contextualised, and negotiated in the social context of the online community of practice.

From the Introduction:

    We begin with a simple vision: in the Knowledge Economy, those individuals and enterprises that share and process their knowledge effectively have a great advantage.

    To succeed in the Knowledge Economy, most of us will need an order-of-magnitude leap in our ability to create, acquire, assimilate, and share knowledge. Even the manner in which we experience knowledge will be transformed, through technologies and practices that exist today or will soon be available. Between now and the year 2010, best practices in knowledge sharing will be substantially reinvented in all settings?education, corporations, government, and associations and non-profits. That is our vision.

    This book traces the three primary indicators of e-knowledge transformation: 1) Internet technologies, interoperability standards, and emerging e-knowledge repositories and marketplaces; 2) enterprise infrastructures, processes, and knowledge cultures; and 3) cascading cycles of reinvention of best practices, business models and strategies for e-knowledge.

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eLearning is dead.

Two weeks ago at the eLearning 2003 Conference in Manchester, UK, I announced that eLearning was dead.

While I didn’t see them in the audience, Advanstar apparently got the word.

is morphing into

The press release announces a new direction for the publication:

    “Our emphasis will be on innovative solutions and strategies,” said Gina Cohen, Group Publisher. “We will stress the business value of implementing new and blended techniques and technologies for training, development, collaboration, and HR to readers who lead the learning and training decision-making process in their organizations.”

    “Our dedication to learning and training is demonstrated by our actions to strengthen both our editorial coverage and our sales team with the mission to deliver the highest quality readership and service in the field,” said Cohen.”

In a couple of days, I’ll post my take on what’s going to replace eLearning.

I’m recovering from flying Air France back from Paris yesterday while the U.S. is at Homeland Security Level 1. An overload broght down the Immigration Service’s network just as I was going through passport control, causing me to miss my connection and adding six hours to my return flight.

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March 29, 2003

Cross-cultural cross-training

Today I had the pleasure of addressing a class studying cross-cultural negotiations at HEC, the most prestigious business school in France. "Local roots, global reach." The park-like campus is located in Versailles.

I'd met Dr. Nouha Thomières in the beginning of the week at the quarterly business breakfast of the Oxford University Society in Paris, and she invited me to participate in the first meeting of the class. I was there as specimen American businessman rather than as a learning hot-shot.

Using Getting to Yes as a process, the class will devote a session each to negotiating in Asia, Latin America, the U.S., etc.

I gave my current shtick on how eLearning was born and how it failed to live up to expectations.

Some members of the class showed scant enthusiasm for my description of how weblogs are impacting knowledge transfer. Or perhaps their torpor was an aftershock from the party that lasted most of the night before. Or the fact that class followed lunch.

I asked how many had taken a computer-based course (none), used an online discussion group (none), had a website (1), a laptop (2), and frequent Internet access (all).

Finding that no one was familiar with the term "Community of Practice," I described the history and culture of Silicon Valley, and the impact of the gold rush, railroads, the 1906 earthquake, Stanford University, Messrs. Terman and Shockley, and the free thinking of beats, hippies, and other rebels on the Valley's values today. France and the Valley differ in so many ways -- job mobility, working from home, the importance of credentials, and more.

Compared to American college students, this group had a marvellous command of a second language; all spoke flawless English. These students were also more reserved. They are in a two-year transition from K12 (and in France, everyone has the same centralized K12 curriculum) to an MBA program.

Dr. Thomières' rapid summary of the cross-cultural findings of Edward T. Hall, George Simons, Geert Hofstede, and others was perfect preparation for my work with Didaxis the following day, for Didaxis is pursuing the same subject area in the commercial environment.

Related link: Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation

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March 27, 2003

The history of schooling

Don’t think that walking the streets of Paris is all just for fun. No. This is a business trip. Today I visited a famous learning-related site. East of the Louvre pyramid is a lovely little arch Napoleon had built to celebrate the victories of his Grande Armee.

Each panel celebrates a particular campaign and victory. The horses on top were originally those from atop St. Mark’s in Venice but were repatriated later. (The small photos are clickable.)

This panel represents Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia at Austerlitz. The Prussian troops lost all discipline, retreated, and lost the campaign.

The Kaiser, infuriated, vowed that this would never happen again. He created the Normal Schule to teach the obedience for which the Prussians became famous. They followed orders so well that the Kaiser enjoyed great success hiring them out as mercenaries. Needless to say, the military and social elite were spared these common schools.

An American school board official from Boston, Horace Mann, visited Prussia and concluded that this was just what America needed. America wasn’t fighting Napoleon; rather, it was building railroads and factories which required a discipline of their own.

Anyway, today’s pedagogical parable is that Napoleon is one of the root causes of American’s dumbed-down schools.

With more work to do today, I continued walking, through the garden of the Tuileries, where I stopped for a snack. (These folks took the next table.)

I trudged on up to the Place de la Concorde:

From there, I walked up the Rue Royal to the Madeleine, to the Opera, past Galeries Lafayette, and along Rue Provence to the Folies Bergere:

From the Folies, it’s only three or four blocks to the office of Didaxis, the company I’m working with on prospering in multicultural environments. It’s almost 11:00 pm here but I am tethered to our fast Internet connection.

Paris headquarters of Didaxis. The mistress of Louis XV lived next door as a little girl. A poet unknown outside of France was born upstairs.

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Food learning

Today I had lunch with Paule Caillat in her kitchen near the Place de la Republique. Paule is a cooking teacher and guide who has introduced hundreds of Americans to French cuisine — the real thing, not the stuff served in restaurants. Her Promenades Gourmandes features walks through open-air markets, the kitchens of **** hotels, a famous baker’s shop, and so forth, which inevitably end with a meal in her wonderful kitchen. Using the freshest ingredients, she teaches a contemporary “cuisine bourgeoise,” a precious repertoire of menus that are easy to recreate at home.

Great business, eh? At least it was until the war with Iraq. Now even Americans who like the French are sometimes afraid to admit it. Flights from the U.S. to France are half empty. American visitors call Paule once or twice a week instead of two or three times a day. Her website goes live this week. She wanted to know if eLearning could help out.

After a frittata and roast lamb with fingerling potatoes, a few glasses of Veuve Cliquot and vin rouge, and of course a couple of cheeses, we sat down to explore the opportunity. We watched some video segments Paule had done for a cooking series pilot. We talked about what she does do please her customers. (They love her.) And luckily, a doctor from Minnesota called. He was coming to Paris in a week. The family would like a food tour; the wife would like a cooking lesson; they’d all enjoy lunch. (You can do the same — call Paule at 33 1 48 04 56 84 or email <[email protected].)

We concluded that Paule’s customers don’t want just cooking lessons. They want the entire experience. They want a trusted source of information and food savvy in Paris who can lead them around while speaking fluent English and catering to their needs.

Could elearning help out? asked Paule. I suggested she forget the term eLearning. More important by far is providing the experience of being with Paule virtually. La Paule Virtuelle. This has more to do with connecting than with learning. It might work like this:

    Le diner a la distance

    Le client, most often someone who has experienced one or two days of Paule in Paris, describes a dinner party they want to host by email or phone. Paule provides instructions on shopping, decor, wine selection, and a time-line. Paule answer questions and gives advice. Guests receive formal French invitations. When they arrive, they get a modern French menu. Paule welcomes them in a streamed web video. A personalized, special event that invokes memories of Paris. All for a cost of perhaps $100.

Paule and I talked about culture & food, McDonald’s, le marketing, Chez Panisse, the Berkeley Bowl, and green lentils. Then I wandered down to the Place des Vosges and l’Hotel Sully.

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Paris in the Spring

Paris in the
the Spring

Yesterday a fellow who has been in the language training business here for 25 years told me of a new prospect who was delighted to hear him say, “We don’t do eLearning.”

French companies are required to put aside 1.5% of salaries for training. Not a bad idea for the States to follow.

A conversation about networked training for professionals switched from English to French. It seemed odd to be chatting about formation (training en Francais.) My French is spotty but I understood exactly what was meant by regurgitation.

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March 24, 2003

The Cotswolds

Last week’s photos of Manchester and The Cotswolds are up at

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March 12, 2003


I just received an email from David Grebow that summed up where we are in eLearning these days by way of a wonderful analogy to the early days of moveable type:

Johannes Guterberg

    …the new technology was The Printing Press. August 15, 1452. The first Bible was printed. It was a form, needing only hand-drawn illustrations to be complete. The Church felt that the press was a gift from God and realized that X monks writing by quill in a Scriptorium could only produce 12 Bibles a year = 12 more souls saved BUT a printing press, used for the words only with the monks adding the illuminations, could produce 100 or more per year! It was an immense increase in Bibles per Monk.

    So the printing press started cranking out the bible forms and the monks added the pretty pictures and voila you had …. The Incunabula.

    Machine-printed, hand-painted Gutenberg Bible

    The printing of books, revolutionary pamphlets, democratic speeches, newspapers or anything else made little impact because printing anything but Bibles was banned by the church until 1502. That year a dissenter, using a stolen copy of this new technology The Press, printed Virgil’s Æneid and made it accessible to the public. And from that came The French Revolution, The Reformation, Democracy, Communism, Pornography, and the books on Happiness by the Dali Lama etcetcetc..

    Point is that we - e-learning technology developers and users - are in that Incunabula period in which the Priests of the Old Order of Things have misused - or not allowed others to realize - the real hidden potential of e-learning. Only now that we are burying it will it be reborn. Akin to what my seat mate on a recent trip from Boston told me. He was an Executive in charge of a Private Banking Firm (translation: Big Buck Clients), and he was telling me one of his newest revelations. The Next Big Thing for investors is (keep this to yourself) The Internet! And here I thought the bubble had popped.

    So the next wave or generation or incarnation of e-learning will be very different from the last. It will actually work for real people, not just Peter Senge’s Lifelong Learner (a beast as mythical as the Unicorn). Save people time and money. Increase innovation, collaboration, the sharing of knowledge, Help enable learning cultures which foster communities of practice and purpose. Be useful from cradle to grave. Be fun to use. Seductive and pretty. Sexy.

This morning I woke up with another piece of the puzzle that is the Second Coming of eLearning. Focusing on the learner was a major contribution of first-wave eLearning. Focusing on the learner as worker can make things a little better. Focusing on the learner and his or her colleagues, that’s where we’ll get breakaway performance.

The difficulty of connecting with others has been holding eLearning back. It’s the modern-day equivalent of the manual illustrations of the monks. When we figure out how to use computer networks to build human networks, that’s when learning will grow to rival publishing and media.

Posted by Jay Cross at 02:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2003

Letter to subscribers

Some of us favor push marketing (letting email nudge you to come back here to look at something) and others like pull (the content is here whenever you come and get it.)

Every two or three months, I send an email to the push people, those who pressed thebutton.

The rest of this post is the email they’re receiving today. (I prefer the “Notify Me” option myself.)

The initial era of eLearning has officially ended. Sometimes it worked very well; many times, it was a disaster. January was the first time I’ve heard thought leaders acknowledge eLearning’s massive failures publically. From now on, it is not useful to declare first-generation eLearning ineffective. We know that. Now the job is to make things better. Some people are doing exciting things.

In the not-distant future, enterprise apps are going to swallow eLearning in the Global 500. Sam Adkins has written the definitive research in this area, and it’s for sale at the Internet Time Store. Sam and I intend to produce better research than the major research houses at a fraction of the price. Take a look at the free samples.

Lance Dublin’s and my book, Implementing eLearning, is selling well, in part because it’s written in plain English, not HTML. Lance is offering eLearning Tune-Ups to get stalled programs back on the road. We work together on the more extensive engagements. I’ve posted some pre-edit “unexpurgated” chapters of the book’s website.

The eLearning Jump Page got a total makeover, returning to its roots as my personal research page. This latest version has more and better links than previous incarnations. Underneath are two dozen explanatory pages on things like Metrics, Implementation, Knowledge Management, and Design. Check out the Center for Visual Learning. Google indexes the entire site. That’s how I often find things in this labyrinth I’ve created.

Europe beckons. Later this week I head to the UK to keynote an eLearning conference. The week thereafter I’ll be working with Didaxis Group in Paris on culture programs. I’m selling the European eLearning Directory in the store. There is such incredible opportunity — so long as we don’t initiate a war that makes even America’s allies hate us.

My home page has morphed into a real-time blog because the world seems to be moving faster and faster. The metronome of business is a blur. Speed trumps just about everything. Half-baked but timely information has more value than tardy certainties. Expect more focus on change and less on eternal truths.

Someone recently expressed surprise that I write white papers, give speeches, train sales people, and develop strategies for a fee. The recession is a blunt instrument. You need something done? I have excess capacity. Call me.

I’m collecting anecdotes of eLearning’s greatest hits and worst fiascos. I’d love to hear from you.

Peace be with you.


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Webinar infomercial

First item in today’s Online Learning e-News:


How should you get ready for a Webcast?
In “The small, empty space” on Feb. 25, University
of Arizona psychologist Robert Cialdini suggested
practicing with a live group at least once.

Then, Cialdini suggested, “imagine the audience” and
remember where you must alter your presentation pace.

Berkeley, Calif., e-learning consultant
Jay Cross ( [email protected] )
takes issue with that advice.

“Better than practicing on people before the
presentation is to record the live session in
front of a small group,” says Cross.

“No amount of imagination is going to substitute
for real human interactions.”

Cialdini told e-News he was taken aback by the strict
confines of the studio in which he recorded.

To which Cross retorts: “You don’t need a sound booth to
record a Webcast. I suggest Bob get out of the box.”

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2003

Ageless Learner

Welcome to the Ageless Learner, Marcia and Karl Conner’s site for lifelong learners.

This new website focuses on how learning and curiosity influence everything you do in life, no matter your age. It offers resources and information to help you get more out of life no matter if you’re 4 years or 94 years.

[DISCLOSURE] Marcia is a good friend. She’s easily one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. Marcia has taught me a lot.

The site’s Learning Style Assessment pegs me as a Visual Learner (10/13). My Motivation is Learning itself (8/10). These jive will the way I see myself.

The articles on the site are inspiring.

Learning by Doing: Getting Faster Every Lap by Jack Ring

    Doing is what causes all types of learning to occur. Other ingredients of learning are purpose, nourishment, tenacity, and time. But without the doing part, as is well known, retention suffers and the ability to apply what was learned degrades quickly. And the vetting of doing helps ensure that what is applied makes sense.

    Some managers are still convinced that the organization is too busy to take time ?away from work? for learning. Once we understand the self-aligning and self-cleansing power of learning by doing, we will be able to create true learning cultures. When we all spend our days learning by all three types of doing, then we will all be winners.

At the Water Cooler of Learning by David Grebow

    We have become obsessed with formal learning in the workplace. In our zeal to learn, we have transferred the formal model of learning into the collective mind of our corporations. Even e-learning is simply less-expensive formal learning at a distance.

Old Dogs, New Tricks, and a Few Simple Opinions by Kellee Sikes

    As we get older, most of us realize jumping through hoops of fire at the circus we call work isn?t worth the milk bone any more. So, is it true? Can old dogs really not learn new tricks?

Creating a Learning Culture by Marcia L. Conner and James G. Clawson

    Today it seems that organizations need to be able to do more than just adapt; they must be able to do so quickly, in the face of ever changing conditions. And if organizations are to adapt quickly and intelligently, they must make learning a central part of their strategy for survival and growth. If leaders and the people within their organization are learning all the time, faster than competitors, and applying the right strategies at the right times, the organization has hope.

The site’s backgrounder on experiential learning turned me on to this informative site I’d not seen before:

Experiential Learning articles and critiques of David Kolb’s theory

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Innovation in eLearning????

I’ll never forget my introduction to the concept of “multi-level marketing.” An instructional designer who worked for me invited my wife and me to dinner. She dropped the hint that she and her husband also wanted to tell me about their new business.

I was naive. I didn’t know that “Let me tell you about my business” translates into “Let me prey on our friendship to convert you into a soap distributor so you can make money off your friends the same way we’re going to try to make money off of you.” That night we got the whole Amway pitch, right down to motivators like sticking a picture of the car you really deserve to drive on the fridge. The great thing was, you didn’t really have to sell any soap. The real money came from signing up other distributors. Let them degrade themselves twisting the arms of friends and relatives to buy soap while you were busy creating fresh soap entrepreneurs throughout your social circle.

Some people love this stuff. I’m skeptical of any business with a murky value proposition. To me, multi-level marketing is little more than a demonstration of the greater fool theory in action.

Well, I suppose it had to happen. Today an email tipped me off to a new method of distributing eLearning. You guessed it: multi-level marketing.

Elearn Express only wants $400 up front, most of which you’ll get back, to give you $1,000 worth of eLearning courseware and the opportunity to earn untold thousands of dollars by setting up a distribution network. When your network is in its ninth generation, it will have enrolled nearly 30,000 learners and you’ll put $88,914 in the bank.

Why didn’t SmartForce or Pensare think of this?

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Edward De Bono on Simplicity

  1. Value simplicity highly.
  2. Strive for it.
  3. Understanding begets simplicity.
  4. Explore alternatives and possibilities.
  5. Challenge and discard vestiges.
  6. Always be ready to start over.
  7. Think conceptually.
  8. Break things into pieces.
  9. Trade off other values for simplicty.
  10. Know who you’re making it simple for.

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March 08, 2003

Marketing, honorable profession

“Ick. I hate marketers. I really, really, REALLY hate marketers. 99% of ‘em just don’t get how this ‘Internet thing’ works,” writes Chris Pirillo today.

Chris runs the most informative Windows resource on the web.

Posted by Jay Cross at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The World of Ends

Doc Searls and David Weinberger have written a manifesto in the vein of The Cluetrain Manifesto:

World of Ends
What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else

When it comes to understanding the net, many people suffer from Repetitive Mistakes Syndrome, failing to realize that, in a nutshell,

    1. The Internet isn’t complicated
    2. The Internet isn’t a thing. It’s an agreement.
    3. The Internet is stupid.
    4. Adding value to the Internet lowers its value.
    5. All the Internet’s value grows on its edges.
    6. Money moves to the suburbs.
    7. The end of the world? Nah, the world of ends.
    8. The Internet’s three virtues:
       a. No one owns it
       b. Everyone can use it
       c. Anyone can improve it
    9. If the Internet is so simple, why have so many been so boneheaded about it?
    10. Some mistakes we can stop making already

The net is simple, simple, simple. And simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

    When Craig Burton describes the Net’s stupid architecture as a hollow sphere comprised entirely of ends, he’s painting a picture that gets at what’s most remarkable about the Internet?s architecture: Take the value out of the center and you enable an insane flowering of value among the connected end points. Because, of course, when every end is connected, each to each and each to all, the ends aren’t endpoints at all.

This is important stuff and it doesn’t take long to read. Don’t miss David Isenberg’s Rise of the Stupid Network

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Routing around the damage

Untapped Networks, an article by sociologist Duncan Watts in Technology Review, got me thinking about networks as the form for organizational design.

I’ve been pondering alternative perspectives on learning. First of all, the majority of eLearning to-date has failed to meet expectations. Furthermore, “learning” is not a concept that sells. The word brings to mind all the bad aspects of school, another effort that generally fails to meet our expectations for it. Organizations don’t want learning; they want action.

Shifting the target from learning to purposeful, positive action goes against layer upon layer of beliefs and perceptions of how things work. Our pattern-seeking brains have simplified our view of the world. We see linear, cause-and-effect relationships where none exist. We picture a logical organization like this:

but the real world looks more like this:

    Watts: “You see, most of us view human organizations as if they’re trees: you chop off the trunk and nothing gets to the peripheries. But really, they’re more like leaves. A leaf may look like it has the same branching structure that a tree does, but if you chop a hole into the middle of a leaf and then pump fluid in it, the fluid oozes around the hole and then goes to the rest of the leaf. And that’s what human organizations are like. You can blow a hole right in the middle, but still pump information around the damage.”

The connections between the yellow boxes of the highly structured organization are semi-permanent. They change as people are hired, fired, promoted, or demoted. If there’s an org chart, everyone sees the same structure.

    People have a local view of the world. I have my friends, and everyone else is ?out there? somewhere?I don’t know about them or care about them and certainly can’t affect them. The science of networks is the antithesis of that world view. You affect things out there and they affect you. Sometimes that’s good because you can draw on resources that you didn’t know about yesterday, and sometimes it’s bad because you get affected by a disease or your computer crashes from a virus, and the only thing that you did wrong was buy Microsoft. So, the world is both small and big. All these metaphors are true, and the trick is to figure out an analytical framework that?s precise enough to give you some traction on these problems.

The connections between the nodes of the networked organization are dynamic. They shift continuously. Each individual in the organization has a different network. There are at least as many org charts as their are members in the network.

An individual with no connections is powerless. Only an individual with high-quality connections can be effective.

When I point out the irony that most corporate learning is informal, while most corporate investment is funneled into formal learning (replacing the 80/20 rule with the 20/80 rule), people often ask how one can invest in the informal side. (“Can we buy a course in this?”)

The answer is to invest in beefing up everyone’s ability to make connections. A corporate yellow pages and a rich intranet are a baby step every organization should take. Beyond this, researchers are making exciting breakthroughs in putting people together. Some are technical (if I’m coming in on a slow connection, don’t shovel live video at me). Others replace dumb tech with tech that learns (Amazon suggests things other people who share my interests are buying). They are creating ways you can built your reputation and check the reputations of others (as do vendors at eBay). They are ushering in an era where connecting online will be more like connecting in person. Some of us are starting to work on standards for social frameworks that parallel the movement toward content standards.

This is the tip of an iceberg. I’ll be back with more on the subject.

For once in my life, my decision to major in sociology as an undergrad is starting to look rational. Whew!

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March 07, 2003


Moveable Type is a content managment system. It enables you to create, post, display, and retrieve webpages. It does a fantastic job of this.

w.bloggar is an editor you can use to feed information into Moveable Type (or Blogger or others). Bold, underline, italic, strikethru, colors, alignment, images, and file uploads are simple in bloggar, tough in the blogging programs themselves, which generally come with simplistic editing tools. This makes life sooooooooo much easier.

Blogger frees me to use more of my time creating ideas and less on hand-coding HTML for bold, font size, indentation, images, etc.

I heard a fascinating finding yesterday. (And even if it’s an urban legend, it’s useful for conceptualizing what’s going on.)

“The proportion of time a knowledge worker devotes to taking in information does not vary. Take Charlie as an example. Charlie devotes 20% of her time to researching and updating her intellectual capital, no matter what the signal to noise ratio.”

Improving the yield of info gathering, directly related to how well that information is presented, has direct impact on the knowledge worker’s quality of thought.

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 04, 2003


Quick, what’s wrong with these words from an eLearning vendor?

To save any of the white papers on your own computer, right-click the link and choose Save Target As.

    Instructional Strategies for Web-based Training

    Build or Buy?It Depends

    E-Learning Resources

    Initial E-Learning Project Selection and Budgeting

    Unlocking the Secrets of ROI

Answer is in the More section.


The individual files are each named “whitepaper.pdf.” This works when they’re in separate directories, but when someone downloads to a single directory, they will overwrite one another.

Yet another example of why it’s a good idea to test your stuff before emailing the world to come check it out.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 03, 2003

Culture in the Valley

Great article by Virginia Postrel on what makes Silicon Valley successful.

Last night and early this morning I was contemplating this very question and concluded it was silver mines in Nevada. Silver begat railroads that enriched Leland Stanford who endowed Stanford University that had a hand in the genesis of HP, Intel, Sun, Cisco, Varian, and scads more.

Virginia sees it as “Resilience vs. Anticipation. The West is resilient and can roll with the shocks. The East copes through anticipation, the static planning that assumes perfect foresight.”

    Everybody has theories about what makes Silicon Valley special, and most of the theories are right: It’s the density, the competition, the constant chatter about business plans over tables at Il Fornaio in Palo Alto. It’s the universities, Stanford and Berkeley, world-class research institutions that nonetheless nurture the practical. It’s the money, the greatest concentration of venture capital the world has ever seen. It’s the diversity, the immigrants from everywhere, the best and most brilliant spilling out of Oracle’s food pavilions to eat burgers, curry, and sushi in the California sun.

IN HIS 1988 BOOK, SEARCHING FOR SAFETY, the late UC-Berkeley political scientist Aaron Wildavsky laid out two alternatives for dealing with risk: anticipation, the static planning that aspires to perfect foresight, and resilience, the dynamic response that relies on having many margins of adjustment: “Anticipation is a mode of control by a central mind; efforts are made to predict and prevent potential dangers before damage is done. Forbidding the sale of certain medical drugs is an anticipatory measure. Resilience is the capacity to cope with unanticipated dangers after they have become manifest, learning to bounce back. An innovative biomedical industry that creates new drugs for new diseases is a resilient device. . . . Anticipation seeks to preserve stability: the less fluctuation, the better. Resilience accommodates variability; one may not do so well in good times but learn to persist in the bad.”

Here, then, is the basic difference between the valley and the Hub: Viewing the world as predictable and itself as the center of the universe, Boston has encouraged strategies of anticipation. People try to imagine everything that might go wrong and fix it in advance. But in Silicon Valley, there are no certainties. The future is open and subject to upheaval. Resilience is the strategy of choice. People do the best they can at the moment, deal with problems as they arise, and develop networks to help them out.

The positive side of anticipation is that it encourages imagination and deep thought, the stuff of intellectual life. And it is good at eliminating known risks. It can build confidence… But anticipation doesn’t work when the world changes rapidly, and in unexpected ways. It encourages two types of error: hubristic central planning and overcaution.

“On the East Coast,” says Mundy, “it;s the building of the thing that’s most important. And on the West Coast, the sharing of it is relatively more important. Getting things out to the light of day seems more important there.”

Nowadays it seems that every place wants to be like Silicon Valley—to discover its secrets and copy them. Here, then, is a secret that can be copied, even in places with lousy weather and stable ground: Don’t ask for answers in advance. Don’t try to create a life without surprises. Trust serendipity.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Another Pro Bono Day

Need a white paper on eLearning? A stirring sales presentation? A new marketing concept? An introduction to an important contact?

Internet Time Group has capacity; give me a call.

Capacity. That's why I devoted the day to pro bono work. First, a no-fee presentation on the state of eLearning in Silicon Valley and the opportunities for doing business there. Second, responses to a Portuguese journalist preparing an article on ROI and meta-data. Here's my reply. If you have another take on things, please make a comment.

"Here are my rapid-fire answers to your questions. Please email me a copy of your article when it's printed.

1. How do you evaluate training in the e-learning paradigm?

    eLearning is no different from other corporate expenditures. You evaluate its success or failure in meeting the business objectives you set out for it.

2. ROI for e-learning has been a dominating issue. In you view, what are the appropriated metrics for measuring ROI for learning?

    ROI is another way of saying cost/benefit analysis. You assess the benefits you received (usually things like higher sales, better customer service, speedier processes) and compare them to what it cost you (mostly the opportunity cost of the people learning but also computer, administration, and license fees).

3. What are the main difficulties in determining results
of training (its intangible factors) in financial terms and their measurement? Is it hard to link it directly with training? Why? Does the adoption of e-learning standards have any effect in this process?

    The difficulty I come upon most often is poor up-front planning. You set your goals in advance. You gain your internal sponsor's agreement on your logic, that is, if we do this, we expect that, and that's an indication of this result. It doesn't have to be scientific; rather, it has to convince management.

    eLearning is no harder to measure than other intangible items. What's the value of advertising? What's it worth to be more careful in hiring? The only effect of standards is cost, the "I" of ROI. At first, adhering to standards will cost more than doing nothing. In time, factors such as reusability, modularity, and interoperability will lower costs. Dramatically.

4. And how can e-learning increase ROI for training?

    When used appropriately, eLearning provides more learning for less cost. It's often more convenient, and therefore more likely "to take." It is sometimes faster, for example, providing compliance training to tens of thousands of people in a matter of weeks, something you simply cannot accomplish with classrooms and instructors.

5. How does ROI demonstrate the monetary benefits of the cost of training?

    ?? I don't understand your question.

6. Part from the ROI evaluation is based on the opinion of the stakeholders. How is possible to overcome this subjective
dimension and obtain accurate, unbiased information?

    Whoa! Subjective doesn't mean inaccurate or biased. It's important for stakeholders to be actively supportive. Sometimes numbers like ROI get in the way of common sense.

    Some people think of ROI as just a number. That simplifies things at the expense of knowing what's really going on.

7. But there is fear of negative ROI - many do not want it, proven that a training program is actually bad for the company. How to overcome this?

    Some training and eLearning is probably not worthwhile. I've certainly seen lots of eLearning that was a waste of time and money. That's one reason for assessing ROI, to identify and eliminate the programs that are not working -- and to improve the others over time.

8. Going to the issue of e-learning standards - how can
the adoption of e-learning standards increase the accuracy of ROI for training?

    I consider standards and ROI separate issues. Standardization in general makes things uniform, and therefore easier to count. At the same time, it may obscure important but subtle distinctions.

9. In which ways e-learning meta-data facilitates a better measurement of the transfer in learner?s behaviour?

    I don't think it does.

10. How can e-learning meta-data contribute for identifying the specifical learning profiles of each trainee?

    Meta-data could be coupled to a competency management system to identify gaps in knowledge -- and objectives for future learning. I recently did some research in this area. Lots of people talk about this, but it's always something they'll do next year. Sort of like the economic future of Brazil, which has been just around the corner for centuries now.

11. Are there other advantages that can occur from the
adoption of standards in the e-learning meta-data?

    Meta-data standards are the key to interoperability. They are the Rosetta Stone that makes learning experiences from many sources work together seamlessly.

    Just as XML and a set of related protocols are the foundation of "web services" and the Semantic Web, meta-data standards are a significant part of the underpinning of a universal system of learning.

12. How do you analyse the content market in USA? Is it conformant to e-learning standards? What about European market?

    The military is ahead of everyone, but of course they can enforce whatever they want and also have the money to pay for it. On the corporate side, both in the US and Europe, standards are just beginning to take hold. Don't hold your breath waiting to see everyone jump on the standards bandwagon.

13. Should organizations have a common repository for all content, and if so, which rules will govern how the system is used?

    All organizations? Never. There are economies of scale at work here. Tiny organizations will be better off with apprenticeship than with eLearning for a long time into the future.

    The question of a common repository is another instance of the perpetual battle between centralization and decentralization. Logically, centralization is more efficient. The problem is that many gigantic systems topple under their own weight. Consider Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Brilliant software, very expensive, lots of hard work, and yet half the time it fails miserably.

    If things are truly interoperable, rules won't make much difference, will they? There's not much difference between sharing and owning content.

14. Will any governance structures be needed to help ensure adherence to standards within and organization?

    All standards require policing: identifying those not in compliance. I think the market mechanism, the "Invisible Hand," will reward those in compliance and drive the others from the market.

    Who's going to buy non-standard material in a world that has agreed upon standards? It would be like buying a 7" CD: there's no way to play it.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rate this page...

This is the footer from Sun’s site:

Wouldn’t this be a nice addition to your online learning pages?

Posted by Jay Cross at 02:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2003

Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone...

If you enjoy a good rant and haven’t experienced John Taylor Gatto, you’re in for a treat. Gatto was an award-winning teacher before coming to believe that compulsory schooling is a sham foisted off on America for the needs of business, fear of a competent people, and a misreading of German mental science. His The Underground History of American Education is a gripping read — and it’s all available on the web. Gatto makes compelling arguments for dismantling our entire dysfunctional educational system.

From the prologue:

    In the first year of the last decade of the twentieth century during my thirtieth year as a school teacher in Community School District 3, Manhattan, after teaching in all five secondary schools in the district, crossing swords with one professional administration after another as they strove to rid themselves of me, after having my license suspended twice for insubordination and terminated covertly once while I was on medical leave of absence, after the City University of New York borrowed me for a five-year stint as a lecturer in the Education Department (and the faculty rating handbook published by the Student Council gave me the highest ratings in the department my last three years), after planning and bringing about the most successful permanent school fund-raiser in New York City history, after placing a single eighth-grade class into 30,000 hours of volunteer community service, after organizing and financing a student-run food cooperative, after securing over a thousand apprenticeships, directing the collection of tens of thousands of books for the construction of private student libraries, after producing four talking job dictionaries for the blind, writing two original student musicals, and launching an armada of other initiatives to reintegrate students within a larger human reality, I quit.

    I was New York State Teacher of the Year when it happened. An accumulation of disgust and frustration which grew too heavy to be borne finally did me in. To test my resolve I sent a short essay to The Wall Street Journal titled “I Quit, I Think.”

      From the Wall Street Journal:

      Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid.

      That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its “scientific” presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. It’s a religious notion, School is its church. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.

      Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be “re-formed.” It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.

      David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel “learning disabled” and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won?t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, “special education” fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.

      In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

      That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.

      How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don?t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don?t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall I’ll be looking for work.

Gatto is cut from the same cloth as Ivan Illich. Illich’s Deschooling Society is also on the web. The opening paragraph of “Deschooling:”

    Why We Must Disestablish School

    Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

Whew! Fighting words! These guys can make your hair stand on end. They’re here to wake us up. I’ll close with another bit from Gatto’s Prolgoue:

    Despite its title, Underground History isn?t a history proper, but a collection of materials toward a history, embedded in a personal essay analyzing why mass compulsion schooling is unreformable. The history I have unearthed is important to our understanding; it?s a good start, I believe, but much remains undone. The burden of an essay is to reveal its author so candidly and thoroughly that the reader comes fully awake.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nothing new in organizational learning

What’s New in Organizational Learning?

“This page is currently under construction. Please check our calendar for upcoming SoL events and related happenings in the field of organizational learning.”

Details, details. The page in question is more than a year old.

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Customer Empathy

If only more businesses would take the message of The Cluetrain Manifesto to heart! Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking.

I just visited the site of The Ultimate Business Resource, companion site to a weighty tome I thoroughly enjoy. I click “Latest Updates,” get a little useful information, and am greeted with:

    Microsoft VBScript runtime error ‘800a0009’
    Subscript out of range: ‘[object]’
    /updates.asp, line 81

Friendly sort that I am, I click back to the Home Page, figuring I’ll inform the webmaster of the error. (I always appreciate it when a Good Samaritan emails me about glitches at Internet Time Group’s sites.)

Search as I may, there’s no link to the webmaster. Or to anyone but people who want to sell me the book. There’s no way to open a conversation. Funny that the site of a book on the best ways to do business is either so arrogant they figure no reader has anything to offer or inept that they forgot to put a link to someone who can deal with glitches.

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 01, 2003

ROI is toast. Use EVA instead.

Last year it became common knowledge among eLearning professionals that ROI (Return on Investment) is more than a number. It’s a metric that requires you to state projected costs and benefits explicitly. It forces you to evaluate whether you’re proposing a sound investment or a loser. It provides a standard of comparison to other demands on the company’s resources. It makes you think like a business decision-maker. Too bad it’s obsolete.

ROI has a fatal flaw - it assumes that the funds that make up the “I” are endlessly available. And free. In the real world, funds are limited. There’s only so much to go around. Cash comes with a price-tag - what it costs your company to borrow the money. Alternatively, the price of money (“cost of capital” to your CFO) approximates what you could get from investing the funds outside of the company (which you’d presumably do if you didn’t have better investments inside).

Your company’s cost of capital is related to how risky investors think it to loan you money, your bond or credit rating, and the availability of investment capital in the economy. Luckily, we don’t have to be picky about the specific number. Ask your CFO. Or use 10%. It’s not going to be that far off the mark, and it takes into account the reality that investment funds are neither free nor unlimited.

“Economic Value Added,” EVA for short, is a measure of ROI that takes the cost of funds into account. Unlike ROI, EVA is an amount, not a ratio. This keeps you focused on overall value. You won’t trade off a project with a 2000% ROI that only yields $10,000 in returns against a project with 30% ROI that nets $850,000.

EVA is not difficult to calculate. Assume you’re making the case for a new program that you expect to return $32,000 for your $200,000 investment in its first year. Your ROI would be 32,000/200,000 = 16%.

The EVA for this project deducts the cost of using the $200,000 ( x 10% = $20,000). Your EVA is based on your return less what you must pay for tying up the company’s capital, $32,000 - $20,000 = $12,000. Your EVA ratio is 12,000/200,000 = 6%.

“What’s in it for me?” you ask. Several things:

  1. By charging for the use of scarce capital, EVA may lead you to outsource activities that would otherwise tie up your resources. Let someone else bear the cost of capital for those.
  2. EVA recognizes that there’s no free ride. Projects don’t get funded because they have a hefty ROI. They get funded when they are the best use of funds available. No company can afford to pursue all its upside opportunities.
  3. EVA gets everyone thinking like owners. The carrying cost of excess inventory gripes the manager who’d like to use those funds for a new project.

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack