April 30, 2003

The Other 80%

At work we learn more in the breakroom than in the classroom. We discover how to do our jobs through informal learning -- observing others, asking the person in the next cubicle, calling the help desk, trial-and-error, and simply working with people in the know. Formal learning - classes and workshops and online events - is the source of only 10% to 20% of what we learn at work.

Yet corporations, non-profits, and government invest most of their budgets in formal learning, when it?s apparent that most learning is informal. This stands common sense on its head. It?s the 20/80 rule: Invest your resources where they?ll do the least good.

Informal Learning -- the Other 80% is the theme of the May 16th meeting of eLearning Forum. We'll offer numerous suggestions on how to leverage informal learning. I need a little help fleshing out our agenda. Specifically, I'm looking for:

  • Anecdotes about informal learning in corporations (which might include such things as story-telling, blogs, IM, mentors, creating space and time for informal learning, etc.). We'll post the stories on the Forum website.

  • A brief, whiz-bang demo of Instant Messanger from someone who uses IM in their work. The more remote the location, the better.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Learning & Training Week

A report from Learning & Training Week from my pal Rick Huebsch, the head honcho at Open Minds Learning.

    Hi Jay,

    Winding up here in D.C.  Wanted to report back about your request to look for social software/informal learning information.  I was very surprised to find only one session about Learning Communities and none specifically about the topic of informal learning. 

    I have been attending conferences about eLearning for the past five years.  I guess I am discouraged because I see that presenters are not focussing on the value proposition that eLearning offers.  From the session topics it is clear that technology and business issues are still driving the definition and implemention of eLearning.  Many, many sessions about LMSs, ROI, content migration, eLearning strategies, etc.  Other sessions were neutral and provided little direction about the psychological or educational rationale that should underlie blended learning solutions.  Most demonstrations showed the learner operating in isolation.  I did not hear but one presenter discuss the social needs of the learner or the relationship between learning and potential communities of practice, purpose, expertise or interest.  Only one presenter, Paul Clothier, provoked his audience to think of eLearning as an opportunity in increase the quality of interactivity, but his demonstrations did not show the relationship between the learner’s experience with interactive digital learning in isolation and his application to his job or his relationship with his colleagues.

    Several presentations discussed informal learning in the context of discussion blended learning models.  One speaker from SkillSoft, Dorman Woodall, probably came closest to addressing informal learning in his session entitled “Blending Formal and Informal Learning for Performance Impact.”  He talked about eight key learning steps from formal to informal learning, presented six blended learning models involving formal (self-paced) and informal (collaborative) methods, and provided some examples.  One of his slides was particularly useful in representing support for formal and informal learning.  He showed this on an axis, the y as depth of the learning application, the x axis as time.  It shows that the more integrated formal and informal training methods, the deeper the learning application.  All of this was presented in 45 minutes, so it was cursory at best.

    The one session about Learning Communities was led by Andy Snyder.  He advised that we should be moving from the information age, (ease of access to information) to a people-centric model (fostering relationships).  eLearning, he posited, provides a stepping stone to learning communities that can enable transition of formal learning to informal learning.  He  kept his presentation at a high level, so he did not delve into the hows and whats of informal learning.


    So I propose that the eLearning Forum focus one of its sessions on the topic:  The value proposition that eLearning in fact provides and the technologies and models that enable this proposition.

Rick Huebsch

Jay again, wondering who these people from the conference masthead are and why the center one appears to be pressing the enter key upside down.

Please add your two cents about Learning & Training Week as a comment.

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 29, 2003

eLearning Life Support?

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, so to speak, but I must respond to the last item in today's eLearning_Insider newsletter from the eLearning Guild.

Insider: Did you hear? e-Learning is Dead. That's right... dead. Shot down in the prime of its life. Six feet under. Kaput.

Jay: I presume they mean this , which was part of my Eulogy for eLearning presentation.

Insider: A few weeks ago a few of our industries infamous "thought leaders" announced that the term "e-Learning" was dead. On the "Ins and Outs" lists, it was in the "outs" column. Their reasons included 1) the death of the dot-com era, 2) failed e-Learning projects, and 3) the suffering of e-Learning vendors....

No, what I really said was that eLearning would go on because it brought too many benefits not to. But..."eLearning" is a marketing term, an attempt to get under the halo of eBusiness, and that it has outlived its usefulness as a marketing term because many senior managers consider it a fiasco.

Insider: .... But Insider argues that we shouldn't toss away a perfectly good term. Think about it for a moment...

I go further out on the limb than that. I don't think learning is an easy sell in the executive suite. They're called executives because they want to execute. We need to position what we do as the key to execution.

Insider: The term "e-Learning" has served many of us really well. For one thing, it is a term that CEO's, CIO's and CFO's understand. Granted they may not entirely get the big picture of the breadth and potential of e-Learning, but they know the term. Remember, they actually sat up and took notice of our requests to fund e-Learning initiatives, even if only because Wall Street took notice too. This was a good thing! It was the term "e-Learning" that opened the discussion about how we can create substantial and sustainable organizational value.

"Was." Past tense. In today's lean and mean economy, executives pay for performance. They often defer maintenance, including maintenance on human capital.

Insider: Another reason to keep the term "e-Learning" is because it is easy to remember and our students "get it". Those of us in the training/learning industry get really caught up in the "performance improvement", "knowledge enhancement", and "productivity accelerator" terms, but our students and their bosses are really much more responsive to a simpler term. "E-Learning" fits the bill. When they hear the term, folks know that they are going to use technology to get the information/learning/training they need to do better on their job. And that is all they really care about.

If eLearning were synonymous with performance improvement, I'd be a happy camper. The most popular title at ASTD Press is Telling Ain't Training. You know what? Business people do not care. Better numbers will make them happy whether they result from training or telling or taking smart pills or prayer. They want performance from their workers. (We're the only ones who call them learners.)

Insider: While we have had ups and downs, I have not seen a better term appear to replace "e-Learning", and until I do, and until the hundreds of thousands of people developing e-Learning and the millions using e-Learning stop using e-Learning, I think I will stick by it for a while longer.

We agree on this. I haven't come up with a replacement. As I said, I'm working on it. I no more relish changing the name of eLearning Forum than you guys want to rename the eLearning Guild.


This is about all I've got to say on this issue. We have bigger fish to fry than semantics.

While I enjoy sparring with my friends at eLearning Guild, I am a big fan. If you didn't get eLearning_Insider in your email today, you probably haven't upgraded your membership from Associate to Guild Member. For $99, it's a great deal.

Posted by Jay Cross at 07:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 27, 2003

The time machine rides again

Five years ago at TechLearn, I asked people to join me for a ride in a time machine to see what corporate learning might look like in 2004. Reflection on the past is a wonderful teacher, so this afternoon I looked back at my presentation to see if it rang true.

Our attitudes about learning seem to slant too far toward numbers & mechanics or too much toward people & relationships; a good balance is rare. In late 1998 we were headed to the numbers extreme. Web-based learning was going to cut costs, eliminate jobs, reduce face-to-face meetings, automate training, and boost ROI. Having found that you can only take that so far until it bites back, in 2003 the pendulum is swinging back into the extreme people-side. The focus is shifting from mechanics to community, connections, collaboration, social software, faith in worker self-determination, mentors, and coaches. In sum, the pendulum is still swinging to extremes and overcorrecting on its return.


Learning Objects are creating more buzz now than in 1998 but they are hardly new.

Learners weren't being treated as customers fast enough for my taste, so Lance Dublin and I wrote a book about it to try to speed things up. Most organizations have yet to buy into this concept.


No one talked about Web Services in '98, but it was no secret that interoperability based on the notion of XML was on the way.

Well, okay, not all my predictions come true. If you, too, drank the dot-com Kool-Aid, you'll remember when the sky was the limit, Moore's Law applied to everything, and Wired magazine could pass for truth.

Most of my uncertainties in 1998 remain uncertain today:

  • What to do about public schools? Create corporate schools?
  • Will telepresence ever replace a human teacher/coach being there in person?
  • Will learning become elitist or will it drive equal opportunity?

By now, I expected us to have recruited our corporate "village elders" as mentors.

My vital questions in 1998 were:

  • Will the net lead us to become empowered individuals or helpless serfs?
  • Will different peoples getting to know one another lead to world harmony or perpetual clash?
  • Is mediocrity now becoming more important than quality later?

Jay in 1998.

Posted by Jay Cross at 06:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 25, 2003

Future eLearning

The Longer Term Future for eLearning

About fifty of us participated in the April meeting of eLearning Forum this morning. Forty people met F2F in a classroom at the HP Nonstop Learning Center; eight to ten people joined us remotely via HP Virtual Classroom, a private-labeled Placeware derivative.

Our host, Tom Hill, is Program Manager, Advanced Learning Technologies, Hewlett Packard Education & Training Center, NonStop Enterprise Division, and a long-time member of eLearning Forum (back when we were the Silicon Valley eLearning Network).

Tom explained that our topic is the future of eLearning, but not the close-in future one can predict through extropolation so much as the future five years from now when things will be really different.

Jerry Neece comparing early eLearning to our microphone holder constructed of Bic pens and Scotch tape.

Jerry Neece, an eLearning pioneer in his years with Sun, noted that Mosaic is celebrating its tenth birthday this month! For many of us, this first browser was the wake-up call for the idea that marrying technology and education could yield tremendous results. Yet eLearning has failed to live up to the promise. Why?

    1. The (non) Human Factor – first systems were built from the administrator’s standpoint, not the learner’s
    2. Inherited, outdated paradigms – “put a week of learning on the web”
    3. Piecemeal solutions – have to log into three or four different systems with different passwords
    4. Proprietary systems – defendable from competition but not interoperable

The future is promising because of such things as:

  1. Open architecture based on J2EE, modularity, and learner-centricity. MIT is offering a free LMS. U-portal is free, developed by colleges, now 500 institutions. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of engineers are working on these open systems. Web standards such as SOAP, XML, UDDI, etc. mean that engineers can work on a module rather than the whole enchilada. For example, Villa Nova University, has tied together registration, the grading system, and student information to provide professors with a composite class list (with photos) and a single interface for attendance and grading.
  2. More personalized learning enabled by identity management, profiling, and quality of service. Adaptive, based on learner’s historic behavior. Rank-ordered list of what I need to know (based in part on what I already know).
  3. More standards, leading to reusable learning objects, giving increased quality at lower cost
  4. Paradigm shift: learning comes to you rather than you to the learning. Take the mountain to Mohammed.

Trace Urdan, Research Analyst, Think Equity Partners

Trace Urdan joined us by phone, identifying three seismic shifts in eLearning:

1. shift of training responsibility from corporations to individuals

volatile employment conditions, labor a variable cost
proven benefit of credentials and degrees – the boost pay and are portable
rise and redefinition of trade schools, e.g. University of Phoenix
web-based degree programs

2. outsourcing

EDS, IBM, Thompson making their moves
Farm out what you don’t understand well

3. disintermediation of content development

companies will roll their own
steadily advancing power of tools

Wayne Hodgins, Autodesk futurist, phoned in from a car hurtling along an L.A. freeway. Wayne starts 3-5 years out and tries to go out another 50 years. Our world is speeding up. Like driving, the faster you go, the further ahead you have to look. Wayne shared three alliterations with us.

Small, smart, standards
No one is thinking small enough
How small? So small it’s never used by itself
This maximizes flexibility in reassembly

Low level of intelligence we gain thru pattern recognition
Substitute proactive for reactive
Subjective metadata – gathering peoples’ opinions
Use this for predicting what people will and won’t like
NetFlix can predict how you’ll rate a movie

Standards are a long haul but an important one
Progress is being made. XML, XMS derivatives, RSS, SOAP…
MOTO = metadata, objects, taxonomies, ontologies

Personal, proactive, performance
Teacher for every teachable moment
“When the learner is ready, the teacher will appear” (Confucius)

Key on the proactive side
We have set our expectations way too low

Results and performance are what matters
Readiness to respond to the unexpected
Business trend: performance-based contract payouts

Content, collaboration, context
Current content sucks. Neither compelling nor relevant
New kinds of content, e.g. visual language, Scott McCloud’s comics, simulations – compelling, not entertaining

Collaboration -- check Wikipedia, 100,000+ nodes generated by readers
Once you start to provide enabling things, responsibilities shift to the users

Customers will develop the taxonomies and vocabulary

Peg Maddocks describes the changes at Cisco.

Peg Maddocks told us about her exciting new assignment at Cisco, working in a new business unit, Learning Strategy and Development.

John Chambers recently observed that Cisco "was not flying in formation," i.e. the company was trying to tackle too many things in too many ways. Peg's new group was established to create a unified learning strategy for all of Cisco. One of their objectives is to enable employees to move around, cross-fertilizing the organization. To pull this off, Peg foresees creating common learning models and supportive business processes, taking a user point of view, and making content interoperable across all Cisco divisions. New eLearning business council has SVPs; they will make decisions about learning strategies.


Tom Hill described trends he's seeing at Non-Stop University.

Tom Hill talks about trends at HP Non-Stop.

Overseas online learners are two to three times more active than the typical North American.
90% of content champions are from Europe
Caution: don’t be America-centric

Economic – MIT Technology Review says next major information technology corporation may come from India
Realtime, around-the-world financial markets
Strategically, you’re either selling the product or building it

Collaborative – increase engagement, two-way, organic. Nurture -- you can't force it.
Agents – learner controlled, centric
Embedded learning
Mentoring – accompaniment, great book on this: Working Wisdom
Self publishing – user contributions

UI – fewer steps, clicks, and pain; “more dashboard” but make it a customizable dashboard

End user
Anxious User/Customer (no travel, fewer offices, more products coming out)
IBM – I’m by myself. (Gerstner). We live in a technology envelope. More high touch coming.
Self-efficacy. Managing my own learning, Flow
Iterative – spiral, adding to mental map.

Katie Povejsil debriefs the discussion groups.
Katie Povejsil of Catalyst Consultants facilitated the formation of discussion groups on technology, users, and content.

The Technology group wanted an expert voice in the ear that follows them around. Social network analysis will help pinpoint expertise. For the next five years, most knowledge will still come from people. The Learner group figured that everyone will be a learner; the term will lose meaning as learning becomes part of the tapestry of life. The Content group foresees a shorter distance between SME and learner. Already, knowledge centers (think call center for learning) are being established in India.




Our next meeting, on May 16 at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View, will deal with informal and social learning. Google will be joining us, along with leaders of the social software movement, edu-bloggers, and a new technology. You'll need to sign up early since attendance is limited to sixty.

This is only a prelminary report of our April meeting. This is what I would have blogged live if HP had Wi-Fi in the classroom. Mentorware is creating an electronic summary for the eLearning Forum archives. The results of our pre-meeting member poll are already there.

Additional links

Emerging Technology Conference wiki

Social Software Alliance Wiki

Social Software and Social Capital


Posted by Jay Cross at 09:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 24, 2003

Learn More

E-Learning’s Unique Capability by Will Thalheimer answers a great question: What can you do with eLearning that you can’t do by other means?

Thalheimer begins with a precious metaphor, “Sensible people don?t pound nails with paintbrushes, turn screws with hammers, or paint walls with screwdrivers,” and then asks what the eLearning tool is good for. Part of the answer is “Among all the learning media, e-learning is the only one that has the potential to have meaningful and renewable contact with learners over time.”

He goes on to explain how proper timing can increase retention 112% (with spacing, repetition, delayed feedback, and shorter retention intervals.) Neither LMS nor learning objects nor current corporate practice take advantage of these techniques for improving learning.

His “Percentage Improvements that are likely when Key Learning Factors are utilized” should be pinned above instructional designers’ desks for ready reference.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What would Carly do?

While sitting in the little tiled room right off my office, where I do a lot of my reading, I came upon a one-page article by Seth Godin in Fast Company.

After Godin’s recent rap on seeing a Purple Cow, I was about ready to give up on the guy. The cow thing is such a blatant rip-off of one of the few famous alumni of my prep school, Ogden Nash, who wrote:

      I’ve never seen a purple cow.
      I never hope to see one.
      But I can tell you this right now.
      I’d rather see than be one.

Besides, if you’ve ever been to Lenk, in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, you’ve seen lots of purple cows. They are the symbol of Milka chocolate, whose milk comes from the cows of Lenk. But I digress.

This month Godin talks about hard work. He points out that neither Richard Branson nor Carly Fiorina work longer hours than you or I. They just pick the right balance of stuff to work on. You know, the challenges that others don’t find reasonable.

This is inspirational. We’ve got as much time to work with as they do!

I’d better start picking better challenges to work on.

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 23, 2003

eLearning Business Translator

Noted in Ten Reasons Why, this item by Kevin Kruse totally cracked me up.

I’ve been tyring to swear off cynicism: it’s fun but it doesn’t get you very far. Nonetheless, you absolutely must experiment with the eLearning Business Translator. Not only is the EBT a brilliant piece of work, it also raises the bar for how to introduce a white paper. Bravo, Kevin!

This graphic from Agora ‘03, could accompany Kevin’s business translator.

eLearning Newsline doesn’t appear to have gotten the news about eLearning magazine.

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:51 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Return to Common Sense

Today I read some very obscure academic white papers on instructional design. Later, in the bathtub, I read several chapters of There Are No Accidents, a psychiastrist's trip through Jungian synchronicity, a place where causality either doesn't exist or doesn't matter.

Time to get back to reality. First principles. And once again, I'm going to turn to David Forman. His essay on common sense in instructional design is a wonderful, down-to-earth counterpoint to my spacy reading earlier.

Please leave a comment or drop me an email about publishing other people's stuff here. Is this good? Or a diversion? Give me your opinion.

Common Sense Learning Principles

Lessons from Sages, our experiences and each other

By David C Forman

As learning becomes increasingly central to our lives and more complicated, a growing array of templates, methods, blends, objects and knowledge repositories have been created to facilitate wider distribution of information. This is both useful and inevitable, but is it all that learning should be? This article looks back at memorable times when learning was enjoyable, meaningful and relevant. It looks at both formal educational and training settings as well as at informal, real-world learning events that can happen anywhere at anytime. Nine common sense learning principles, often overlooked in many of today's programs, are presented for possible inclusion in future programs and events.

David C Forman is founder and president of Sage Learning Systems, a consulting company dedicated to the effective use of technology in learning. He has also founded e-learningjobs.com, the first Internet job board for e-learning professionals. David has held management and executive positions in the training industry for 25 years. He has worked with many of the country's leading corporations to design, develop and implement multifaceted learning systems. David has written over 30 articles and books in the fields of training, evaluation, return on investment (ROI), and instructional design; and has presented at major industry conferences and seminars, both in the United States and abroad. Contact info: [email protected], 619 656-2920

Current training and education programs have moved away from essential, tried and true, practical principles of learning that have endured for centuries. These principles are derived as much from our own experiences as children and adults as from clinical research or learning theory. They are from memorable times when the "message took", learning was exciting and meaningful, and we remember elements of it to this day. These common sense lessons become part of life's wisdom and should not be forgotten or lost.

Today's education and training programs have industrialized learning. This has been done because the emphasis is on courses and chunks of knowledge that can be distributed through existing classroom and electronic delivery vehicles to thousands of people. Templates, standards and content repositories have been created so that mass dissemination is accomplished efficiently. The result is that this type of engineered learning is often antiseptic, almost alien, from what we do, who we are, and what we know works.

Common sense is a powerful force. It provides a framework for "the way things ought to be." It is practical wisdom. In educational measurement terms, it is face validity. Historically, Common Sense is the name attached to Thomas Paine's pamphlet that helped arouse America against the rule of England. Paine believed that it was simply a matter of common sense that an island could not rule a continent. Seems reasonable. Six months after publication of this pamphlet, America declared her independence from the strongest military power on earth and created a form of government that had no historical precedence in the modern world.

It is certainly true that one person's common sense may not be another's. But there is often a shared collected wisdom or common sense that most people would recognize as being valid. This emphasis on common sense is also not intended to detract from research and more structured forms of inquiry. This perspective would be wrong and it would ignore the great contributions provided by researchers, scientists and educators over the years (e.g., Clark, 2002; Clark and Mayer, 2003). But it would be equally wrong and too easy to dismiss common sense learning principles, simply because they are not footnoted or the subject of a formal study. There are other ways of knowing, albeit more subjective and less scientific.

Early in my life, my mentor explained to me the three paths that lead to the creation of knowledge: The analytical path, where philosophers reflect, meditate, and make sense of objects and events; the empirical path, where scientists manipulate variables and conduct controlled experiments to validate reliable principles; and the pragmatic path where practitioners struggle with real-world challenges and come up with strategies for effective and efficient performance.

Sivasailam"Thiagi" Thiagarajan, 2001

If these familiar learning principles make sense, try them out, learn from the experience and make modifications as necessary. These principles can be kept in the forefront of what we do as mentors, learners, teachers, parents, caregivers and neighbors in every day life as well as in educational settings. They can be applied in formal learning contexts as well as in informal learning events that can happen anywhere at anytime.

Tell stories

Long before schools were established, information was conveyed in conversations around the hearth, out in the field, or in the shop. These conversations passed along the skills, tradition and understandings needed to be successful in the next job or challenge to be confronted. These conversations were often in the form of stories.

Story telling is the original form of teaching. Stories can include drama, tension, memorable characters and events within a real life or fictional context. Stories have a beginning, middle and end; and they can bring to life, lessons and information that would otherwise be mundane and ordinary. We remember stories. The lessons from good stories endure.

In the classroom and with the self-paced training products of today, there seems to be little time for stories. The emphasis is on funneling through as much information as possible, and not making the most important elements come to life and be remembered. It is also harder to tell stories now, since we do not practice and appreciate this skill. It is, afterall, much easier to simply convey information.

Why was Solomom recognized as the wisest man in the world? Because he knew more stories (proverbs) than anyone else. Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we are all just cave men with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.

Alan Kay

Tip: The use of stories to foster discussion and interaction is especially productive early in a class when it is important to establish common ground. Higher participation rates generally lead to greater commitment and less of a sense of isolation, which, in turn, increases retention (Neal, 2002)

Play games

School and learning have become synonymous with hard, tough, serious, and relentless work. Many believe that if it's not hard and demanding, it's not worthwhile, and that school and learning should reflect life's tough lessons. While this thinking has predominated the education and training professions, it doesn't coincide with common sense. It doesn't account for many wonderful, fun and effective learning moments we all have experienced.

There is no reason why games should not be an integral part of schooling and training. They involve the learner, foster higher-level thinking, boost interest, involve many senses, reinforce the value of goals and rules, and show outcomes. Games, like stories, have a meaningful context and wholeness to them. They can become ideal teaching vehicles as people reflect on what they did in the game and why.

Anyone who makes a distinction between games and education clearly does not know the first thing about either one.

Marshall McLuhan

Current research in the areas of stress, anxiety, creativity, self-efficacy and neuroscience shows that more play will improve our learning and performance. While "more work and less play" has been touted for a long time as the way to improve human performance, there is much evidence that such thinking is wrong.

Marc Prensky, 2001

Tip: It is not easy to create engaging and meaningful games, either in the classroom or in standalone training products. There are, however, excellent resources that contain pre-existing games and teaching resources. Leading authorities in the field of game-based learning are Marc Prensky, Thiagi, and Roger Schank. While these experts and available resources are valuable, it is still important to develop or customize games to your own audience needs and learning requirements.

Explore and experiment

Do you remember times when you were exploring something new? It could have been hiking over new ground, trying to fix an engine problem in your new used car, baking bread for the first time or working on your initial chemistry lab. It was exhilarating, exhausting, challenging, frustrating, and maybe even scary. It was, in fact, a very real and impactful learning experience. It defined what you needed to know so you could do it better next time.

The prevailing way we learn today is through instructional models that present the content you need to know before actually doing something. It is the structure of content and the instructional design process used to create it that frequently defines what we learn. Sometimes this approach is necessary and appropriate (it is best not to explore brain surgery), but often its not. Furthermore, this content centered approach leads to the popular perceptions that training is little more than "chalk and talk," "hose and doze," or "spray and pray" presentations.

Flip the traditional approach around and begin to learn with a problem, issue or experiment. By immediately engaging learners, they become interested, motivated and discover what they need to know more about. This "problem-centered" as opposed to "content-centered" approach can be initiated by games, activities or even simple questions. As with other common sense learning principles, "explore and experiment" has been described and recommended for decades, but its actual application and use remain limited.

From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery

Alfred North Whitehead

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery

Mark Van Doren, Poet

You can talk and talk and talk, and the kids don't learn. It's that wow experience when you go out and do.

Fraser Randolph Model Teacher, USA Today Oct 17, 2002

Tip: The problem-centered approach is particularly useful in building interactivity, motivation, and interest; all very important and often missing elements in current training and education programs. But because it is a less directive teaching technique it can take more time than conventional practices and require different types of feedback and guidance. Allow enough time so that the exploration and subsequent debriefing are not rushed. The problems that are presented should be challenging and a "stretch," but not too sophisticated or difficult so that learners become lost and confused.

Use pictures

A picture is worth 1,000 words and probably a lot more. But all too often pictures, graphics, and visuals are an after-thought in the text-heavy learning materials of today. Because these materials are mainly derived from books or lectures, text is used to convey the core message. Visuals are usually just an adornment. It is easy to forget that centuries ago pictures and visuals were the primary means for conveying information.

We know that learning is enhanced if the message is presented through both words and visuals with each channel reinforcing the other. We know that there are visual learners who prefer to have information conveyed graphically. We know that the visual elements of children's books and Sesame Street are vital parts of the message and essential in sustaining the child's attention. Common sense tells us that visuals can add meaning, spice, a framework, and relevance to material. But we also know that this rarely happens.

In order to change the excessive reliance on words and text in today's education and training materials, we need to think differently. Flip the traditional instructional model around and start with the visual, not the text. Try to represent each major concept or objective with a key visual, and then develop the surrounding text. Show a visual outcome first, and then teach backwards. Lead with strength.

People remember 10% of what they read, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they hear and see.

Nick Van Dam, 2001

Tip: An important step in enhancing visual treatment is to recognize the various types of visuals that can improve a presentation. Among the key types of visuals are: fact, concept, process, procedure, relationship, visual outcome, topic organizer and thematic. A visual must have meaning and purpose. As bad as a visual-less, straight text presentation can be, learning can be equally impeded by too many irrelevant or competing visuals. Learners can become easily confused unless the visuals have a role, work together, and add value. For an excellent review of research findings related to the instructional role of graphics, see Clark and Mayer (2003)

Have a coach

I have learned a number of practical lessons over the years, and few of them occurred in formal educational settings. Among these lessons: looking for unique value propositions in products and companies, trying to distill a presentation into 3 to 5 salient points that I can remember, beginning a course development project by developing a job aid first, putting a splash of water in as I make my two egg omelets, and always catching a ball with two hands. Why?

I was taught these lessons by coaches and mentors, found them to be valuable, and have never forgotten them. These lessons weren't learned in a class or a course; they were passed along by people with experience, wisdom, and dedication to their craft. These lessons were made personal, relevant and part of an ongoing dialog related to personal development and apprenticeship in professional tasks.

Current training systems seem to have forgotten the long-standing almost revered role that mentors have had in learning. We don't seek out mentors or try to make these connections; and are therefore missing tremendous learning opportunities. Interestingly, one of the fastest growing areas in leadership and executive development is the rise of the executive coach. There is a return, in some disciplines and companies, to the practical common sense understanding that mentors matter, are enriching, and add value.

We do what our mentors teach us to do

M.F.K. Fisher

Tip: It is important for learners to recognize the value that coaches provide through different stages, projects, and occupations. We can design systems and courses that include provisions for personal dialog and discussions with experts and mentors over a continuing time period. Technology can even be used to foster mentoring. Seek out coaches and be one yourself; learning is incomplete without them.

Learn with others

We learn more from each other than we do from formal teachings. An EDC study reported in Training Magazine (2000) stated that 70% of what people know about their jobs they learn informally from each other. What does this say about how we approach education and training?

It says that learning is a social activity. It says that learning devoid of the human touch and personal contact is limiting. It says that self-paced training can breed a lonely long distance learner unless these systems put people back in the equation. It says that learners learn most from each other.

The EDC findings are not as humbling as they first seem. No one is suggesting that formal training courses should be drastically reduced because they can impact only 30% of job performance. What it does suggest is the importance of the informal, human context around formal training as a rich learning experience. This interaction among peers is where ideas get discussed, reality checked, applied, and adapted.

I think peer interaction is where you learn. Having students work in groups is essential. The course is not just the material that we present to them.

Don Norman, 2002

None of us is as smart as all of us.

Satchel Paige

Tip: The classroom and campus are well suited to human interaction and informal learning opportunities. This is a primary reason for their enduring success over the years. But effective and creative uses of technology can also bring a spirit of community to distance learners. David Grebow (2002) provides the following advice:

"We need to use technology to facilitate the informal as well formal transfer of knowledge by including expert locators, e-mail connections with instructors, real-time Internet meeting places, virtual learning support groups, instant messaging, expert networks, personal e-learning portals, moderated chats, and more. We need to create the 100 percent learning solution, in which the proscribed formal learning events and the serendipitous learning moments are given equal value."

Focus on the important

Most training courses today opt for complete coverage as opposed to making the tough decisions on "what is really important to know." It is easy to develop programs that try to teach everything. It is hard to make choices and prioritize to only focus on the important, relevant and meaningful. Courses, therefore, are often an inch deep and a mile long; and present more information than could ever be comprehended.

Our short-term memory is much like RAM in a computer: it can process only so much information at any one time. In general, short-term memory can process 7 ideas (plus or minus 1) effectively. More information leads to overload and confusion. This personal bandwidth limitation is why it is so necessary to not try to teach everything. Select a limited number of the most important ideas or concepts, and then teach these in depth and effectively.

Put first things first

Steven Covey

At harvest time, separate the wheat from the chaff.


Tip: The 80/20 rule is worth remembering. It states, for example, that 80% of what you do in a software application is accomplished with only 20% of its features. The essence of the 80/20 rule is that "you can do a lot with a little." Performance is largely determined by a relatively few activities, lessons, or skills. The art of the 80/20 rule is determining what the core 20% is that drives the 80%. How do we separate the consequential few from the inconsequential many?

Take recess

Learning takes time. The movement from data to information to knowledge to wisdom (Davis, 1995) requires time to think, question, percolate, apply and test. The ability to really understand something in depth is not a quick fix. It takes time. Common sense tells us that this is true.

Because education and training today have largely focused on fact acquisition, there is an emphasis on faster delivery of more and more facts. Consequently, a relentless barrage of facts and figures is conveyed in our courses, with very little assimilation or retention. What really sticks? What is retained from this flood of information?

The irony is that when we are not spending time in formal classes we are probably learning the most. It is this time "not on task" when knowledge settles and understanding starts to emerge. Using other parts of our mind and body, as we do in recess, often unlocks the brain to welcome learning. How many times have insights come while taking a run, walking on the treadmill or playing a set of tennis?

Understanding cannot be rushed, crammed, delivered immediately, or accessed by a clicker. "Aha" moments are not manufactured or created on demand. They evolve and emerge as information, ideas, time and the situation interact.

With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown

Chinese proverb

Real learning is the state of being able to adopt and adapt what you know and can do under a varying set of informal circumstances.

David Grebow. 2002

Tip: Structure key learning activities and exercises over a period of time. Allow learners to have days or weeks to adopt and adapt what they have learned. Let them test it against different contexts, people, and events. Enable them to refine and shape their ideas over time and with more experience.

Have lunch

Recess is good, lunch is better. Lunch can involve all the senses, be a time when friends get together and share conversation and laughter. It is a time to nourish the body, refresh the mind, connect with others and learn. Meals and the discussions that surround them can provide the fuel for both the mind and the body.

In the Forman home of working adults and children in school and activities, meals-in this case dinner, not lunch-were the touchstone. We all came together to sit, eat, and converse. Rarely was anyone excused or absent, because this informal tradition became so important. The candles, tablecloth, folded napkins all signaled a time for discussion, news, casual conversation and probably not much else. But maybe a lot more than we recognized at the time.

For eighteenth and nineteenth century farming families the core meal was, in fact, lunch, although it was called dinner. It signaled a break from the fields and provided an opportunity to refuel for the afternoon's work. These gatherings provided more than just nourishment. They helped to convey information, expectations, traditions, and values, not always smoothly or easily; but the forum existed and was used for these purposes.

Learning thrives when nurtured, nourished and encouraged. It can whither without the attention, sustenance and support it deserves. It does not occur in a vacuum or in an antiseptic, controlled environment. It occurs outside the classroom in real life settings with an ever-changing mixture of people, ideas, debate, challenges, senses, and support. It is just like having a good meal with friends and family.

Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity

Frank Lloyd Wright

I never try to teach my students anything. I only try to create an environment in which they can learn.

Albert Einstein

Tip: Be interested in fostering learning in casual and informal settings. This doesn't mean that dinner or social conversations become monopolized with homework reports. In fact, it is best to talk about ideas and questions and not school schedules or training activities. Good questions are often more valuable than good answers in these types of conversations.

Become passionate

Do you remember listening to someone who became so involved and invested in delivering a message that she became animated, her voice rose, her intense vision permeated the room, and she was visibly exhausted when finished? Politicians and actors do this for a living; but it is rare to see such passion in learning and education. When it happens, it can be magical.

Learning is heightened and invigorated by the senses and emotions. While most current training programs try to isolate knowledge and discard affective and psychomotor factors, we know that life does not work that way. All of these domains work together. The higher the emotional component and passion, the greater the retention of knowledge and skills. Perhaps a key reason why current retention rates in training programs are so low is that knowledge becomes isolated from affective and psychomotor elements, devoid of context, and adrift; and therefore difficult to remember.

It is certainly true that all learning cannot be wildly exciting. It is hard to be passionate about foundations of knowledge such as sentence construction, geometric principles, historical timelines, vocabulary words or learning to use a software application. But passion can be directed at why these foundations are important to know, and how they can be used to solve problems or improve performance. This passion can have a direct bearing on the learner's motivation to learn. If learners are motivated to learn, they will not only learn the material but retain it longer.

All learning has an emotional base Plato

Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire

William Butler Yeats

Tip: There is a simple abbreviation that is always good to remember: WIIFM-or what's in it for me. All too often, training and educational programs are created with little understanding of how it can benefit the learner. At the very least, the benefits to the learner are not well communicated. It is hard to be passionate about something that does not seem to be connected to what you do, who you are or what you want to become. If WIIFM is clear-and conveyed with passion and meaning-it becomes much easier to devote mind and body to learning.

Keep learning

It is ironic that this is the most important lesson of all. It is true that learning is not being accomplished with the joy and passion that it deserves, but it is also true that learning today is more important than ever. Knowledge is both being created and obsoleted faster than ever before. There is a great deal to learn and unlearn to keep abreast of changes and stay informed.

Continuing to learn is both a state of mind and a skill. It is fueled by a belief that there is more to know and more to life than already exists. It is fanned by a passion for ideas, improvement, growth, personal and professional development. It is enjoyable to be with people who question, seek, read, want to know more, and set a standard for continuous learning and development.

The ability to keep learning is valuable for both personal and professional reasons. In business today, a key metric is time to competency. Given the compressed half-life of products, markets and knowledge, the ability to become knowledgeable and skilled quickly in changing conditions is a major competitive advantage. The quicker an individual can learn about a new product, procedure, process, or initiative, the more valuable he or she is to the enterprise. Learning how to learn and learning quickly are core competencies for being successful in today's world.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

Henry Ford

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists

Eric Hoffer

It's what you learn after you know it all that counts

John Wooden

Tip: One skill necessary for continuous learning is the ability to digest and synthesize large amounts of information into meaningful lessons. Without this skill, we are overcome and paralyzed by the flood of information and choices, both now and in the future. The Web is the perfect example of both the power and fizzle of so much information. Activities and exercises can be designed to expose learners to the vast resources of the Web, but should also guide them to analyze, synthesize and make choices from this rich repository. This is a life skill that fosters continuous learning for both personal and professional improvement.

Remembering common sense

These common sense learning principles are not new or breakthrough ideas. They are all in our conscientiousness. They have played an important role in our lives for many years, and we know that they work. But these familiar principles are often absent from contemporary education and training programs where the emphasis is on expediency, delivery platforms, granular learning objects, engineered learning, and formal programs.

It is easy to overlook familiar and common sense learning principles, especially if they don't neatly fit the present learning mold. The result is a set of formal educational offerings that can be efficiently presented but lack soul and connection. This does not have to be the case. It is possible to develop more enjoyable and challenging learning solutions that: involve each other, include mentors, incorporate the best ideas tested over time, use our full mental, physical and emotional resources, recognize the value of informal as well as formal learning, and can lead to our own continuous learning.

These common sense learning principles cannot be present every time, all the time. But they are too important to be discarded or forgotten. They should be considered to be part of future learning systems or simply part of our daily lives as learners, mentors, teachers, parents, caregivers, and neighbors. If they can help instill the passion and desire for learning, and keep the fires burning, then the old lessons are well worth remembering.


Clark, R. C. & Mayer, R. E. (2003). E-learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clark, R.E. (2002). Turning research into results. PerformanceXpress. October, 2002.

Davis, S. & Botkin, J. (1995). The monster under the bed. New York: Touchstone Books.

Grebow, D. (2002). At the water cooler of learning. The Batten Institute at the Darden School, University of Virginia.

Neal, L. (2002). Storytelling at a distance. ELearn Magazine. August, 2002

Norman, D. (2002). Q&A with Don Norman. Elearn magazine. August, 2002

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw-Hill

Thiagarajan, S. (2001). Foreward. In: Prensky, M. (2001) Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw Hill.

Training Magazine (2000). Cites an edc study. January, 2000.

Van Dam, N. (2001). Training and Development, May, 2001.

Quotations not otherwise in the reference section are taken from the following sources:






Quotations in Prensky, M. (2001) Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw-Hill

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 22, 2003

Good-bye, Blogger

Good-bye, Blogger. Say hello to Dano.

What’s New?

Friday, April 18, 2003

The Dano Rollout Plan consists of three phases. Starting today, select users will be able to create a Dano blog. Current BloggerPro users will have Pro features enabled in their Dano blogs.

The next phase, to start in a week to ten days, will allow users to migrate their existing blogs over to Dano.

Finally, in about a month’s time, all blogs will be transitioned to Dano. This includes the blogs, their posts and templates.

For more information on everything Dano, please see the FAQ.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2003

Rettig: Interaction Design

A History of Interaction Design, a Marc Rettig. A tour de force that takes you from hand tools to social networks. Context, context, context. This delightful presentation puts things in perspective. Just do it. Pointed out by Peter Merholz, he who coined the term blog. Peter also writes for <"http://beastblog.com/">Beast Blog “because East Bay is pig Latin for beast.”

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Feedster, a search engine for RSS data, making it a search for recent info, mainly blogs.

Posted by Jay Cross at 12:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 19, 2003

Appreciative Inquiry

Last week I asked my friend Marcia Conner what I should be reading in my quest to deepen my knowledge of informal learning, social networking, and organizational change. She offered several names and one book: Appeciative Inquiry by David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney.

The first thing I noticed about the book was its length: 30 5”x7” pages of text. About thirty cents a page. This better be good, I thought to myself.

It was.

Note: If you Google for “Appreciative Inquiry,” you’ll get some sites by followers of David Cooperrider who are pushing their own agendas. Better to go to the AI Commons site at Case Western Reserve, where Cooperrider teaches.

A recent entry:
Peter Drucker?s Advice for Us on the New Ai Project:
Business as an Agent of World Benefit

By David Cooperrider
Case Western Reserve University
March 23, 2003

In a cover story in Training, Ron Zemke interviewed Cooperrider:

    “The problem-solving paradigm may once have been the most effective approach for enhancing an organization’s performance,” says Cooperrider, “but it is out of sync with today’s reality” He ticks off a list of things that are wrong with the problem-solving approach to management and organizational change: It is painfully slow; it always asks people to look backward at yesterday’s failures and their causes; and it rarely results in a new vision. “Once we describe something as a problem,” he says, “we assume that we know what the ideal is - what should be - and we go in search of ways to close any ‘gaps’ - not to expand our knowledge or to build better ideals.”

    In human terms, he continues, problem-solving approaches are notorious for placing blame and generating defensiveness. “They sap your energy and tax your mind, and don’t advance the organization’s evolution beyond a slow crawl,” Cooperrider says.

The Appreciative Inquiry process consists of choosing an affirmative topic, discovering what gives the organization life, dreaming what might be — stories, designing what might be - the ideal, and “destiny” - sustainment. Stated that way, it just sort of sits on the page. Here’s one of the descriptions in the book:

    In AI, intervention gives way to imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis there is discovery, dream, and design. AI assumes that every living system has untapped, rich, and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link this “positive change core” directly to any change agenda, and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.

Picking the right, POSITIVE topic is vital because “inquiry and change are a simultaneous moment.” The traditional problem-solving paradigm focuses on problems and limits human potential.

It’s good that Case Western Reserve is located in Cleveland. There, AI is perceived as a “radically affirmative approach to change.” In Mill Valley or at Esalen, AI would probably be cast as merely the latest chapter in the human potential movement.

Appreciative Inquiry is for organizations what positive psychology is for individuals.

Martin Seligman’s positive psychology movement posits that we shouldn’t advise well people with what we’ve learned from the sick. AI tells us to look at what’s right rather than what’s wrong. And increasingly, I’m feeling that schools and training shoot themselves in the foot by beginning with the assumption that the learners are deficient rather than magnificent.

Cooperrider and Whitney close the book with these lovely words from Albert Einstein:

    There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Posted by Jay Cross at 06:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 18, 2003


Imagine my surprise when a friend told me they’d seen a book that quoted me extensively. Huh? I’d never seen this book, even though it’s been out for the better part of a year. Here it is:

Online Learning Today
by Heather Shea-Schultz
and John Fogarty

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc

Lots of people have helped me in my career, and I like to balance my karma account by providing help to people who ask for advice or favors. When a guy I had not met called me a couple of years ago for help with a book he was writing on eLearning, I freely gave him an interview and permission to borrow material from the white papers on my site. I never heard from him again.

Having recently published my first book, I may be too touchy about these things, but I cannot imagine interviewing someone for a book (mentioning him by name on pp 46-48, 76-77, 78-79, 82, 165, and 169) and not sending him a complementary copy of the damned book!

Tonight I scanned the pages with my name on them. Rather than write yet another white paper on ROI, I‘m simply going to share Heather and John’s rendition of my thoughts on the matter. Sheesh.

ROI ain’t what it used to be, according to Jay Cross, resident guru and curmudgeon emeritus of the Internet Time Group. With the possible exception of Autodesk’s visionary Wayne Hodgins, no one else on the high seas of e-learning has Cross’s foresight or humor. With a prescience bordering on the clairvoyant, Cross is constantly sought out for his industry forecasts and insights.

As to ROI, Cross is typically irreverent: “ROI is a traditional financial measure, developed by DuPont, and once credited with making General Motors manageable. But it hasn’t kept pace with the times. The R is no longer the famous bottom line, and the I is more likely a subscription fee than a one-time payment.”

Cross insists that traditional ROI matrices are an anachronism when applied to online learning. Why? Because traditional ROI has no measuring stick to distinguish a good idea from a bad one, so excellent training hits the books at the same value as bad. The trend and emphasis is on understanding business strategy and goals and how training moves the organization along. Maybe the future is ROS, return on strategy.

Thus, Cross discourages e-learning proponents from trying to sell e-learning via ROI talk. “Consultants relentlessly drive home this message: `If you want to sell a big project internally, you’ve got to talk ROI … it’s the language senior managers understand … being fluent in ROI talk enables you to position an e-learning project as an investment rather than a cost … it’s the secret handshake that gets you into the inner circle of those who control budget dollars, et cetera and et cetera.’

“Well, it’s reality-check time,” Cross counters. “Talking the ROI talk won’t enable you to pass yourself off as an astute businessperson. You have the same chance of passing for French with a beret and Berlitz phrase book. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” Cross believes that executives making a significant business decision consider a wide range of factors and intricate potential trade-offs, such as these:

  • How risks must be weighed against rewards
  • How short-term aims need to be sorted from the long-term ones
  • That any undertaking must align with strategic initiatives
  • That scarce resources call for shrewd horse trading

But remember what Jay Cross said about ROI: it ain’t what it used to be. The old yardsticks no longer apply, and they can actually get in the way. As Cross posits, “Why measure incremental improvements when you’re seeking the Holy Grail?”

True, traditional financial analysis works in most business accounting, but it goes askew when measuring intellectual capital and other off-the-balance-sheet improvements. Making business decisions entails a wide range of factors and involves intricate trade-offs-it’s not all bottom-line dollars and cents.

Says Cross, “Unless your training (or e-learning) unit sells training for a fee-generating its own revenues-the returns on investment come from satisfying the needs of business unit managers.” He advises that linking e-learning results to business results is more useful than coming up with pseudo-ROI figures. “The only valid training ROI is business ROI.??

International Data Corporation (IDC) studied the buying behavior of corporate and IT training managers and concluded that ROI will no longer be measured in savings or reduced cost of training. Instead, attention will be directed to “measurable changes to business metrics resulting from training investments.” Those benefits will only emerge, however, if vendors focus on solid instructional design and engaging learning environments.

Thus, a senior manager’s appraisal of e-learning’s impact is often visceral (gut instinct), based on how satisfied he or she is with employee performance and how much of that improvement the manager can ascribe to e-learning. As Cross puts it, “Feelings win out because the assumptions used to create the (ROI) numbers can always be challenged. Projects that evoke the best feelings make the cut.”’

Why? Because managers own the problems that training solves-online or offline. They’re generally pragmatic, and their overriding interest is to get the job done now, if not sooner. The business unit manager is often e-learning’s primary sponsor-along with HR and IT. Moreover, the manager understands the goal of any training, since it is he or she who oversees the environment in which performance gaps occur. Thus, the first step in measuring e-learning’s impact on performance is eliciting the business manager’s answer to the classic query “What’s in it for me?”

When the learning is completed, assess the results according to benchmark measurements established with the unit manager. “Extrapolate behavior changes into measurable business,” counsels Jay Cross. “There’s no room for vagueness-and no backing away from visible quantitative evidence.” He also suggests that further interviewing and a review of business results may be useful.

Finally, Cross advises presenting any findings and a simple cost/benefit analysis to the business manager or training sponsor-not a full-blown “ROI.”

As Cross and others point out, present-day accounting is an anachronism when applied to e-learning. “Traditional accounting only recognizes physical entities,” Cross explains. “Intangibles are valued at zero. Vast areas of human productivity-ideas, abilities, experience, insight, esprit de corps, motivation-lie outside its vision field. It doesn’t recognize that people become more valuable over time.”

To many corporate executives today, Cross, the traditional concept of training ROI is obsolete. Business unit managers value time more than ROI. Major decisions are based on descriptive business cases, not pro forma budgets. Senior executives tend to be more interested in the top line (dynamic growth from new markets and innovation) than the bottom line (the accounting fiction of profits). Why? The answer, according to Cross, is simple:

“The ‘Net changes everything.”


Look to the learner. What are the real needs? What are the options available?

As Jay Cross points out, investment analysts seem to think that harvesting the rewards of e-learning is a breeze. “Simply convert your existing content to digital form, slap it onto the corporate intranet, and immediately save millions in travel, bricks and mortar, and instructor salaries while training all those IT workers everyone needs.” Alas, such is not the case. You’ve got to customize the learning for the learners.

Epilogue: What to Do Now?

One thing is certain-e-learning will evolve into something so simple, so eloquent yet all-pervasive and natural, that our grandchildren will wonder with dismay why we didn’t see it coming. We believe that Wayne Hodgins, Marcia Conner, Jay Cross, and a host of others in the field are correct when they say that we’re just watching this universe form. It will cool and coalesce to become so much a part of our everyday lives, we won’t even think of it as a separate facet of work or play. It’ll simply be how we do things.

As we said when we began, nothing is the same as before. Old technologies are changing; classroom walls are rearranging. As Jay Cross puts it so well, “The ‘Net changes everything.”

Or, the way we see it, the net of online learning that works is a net-net benefit for everyone, everywhere.

Correction: I am not a curmudgeon emeritus. A “curmudgeon” is a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man. (Thanks, John and Heather.) “Emeritus” is a fancy way of saying retired. (No, I’m still here.)

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Open Source Ed

How much of eLearning should be in the public domain? What should be proprietary?

Training has a history of taking advantage of tools that were invented for other purposes. Consider the VCR. Or intranets.

If you are a large, global enterprise, you’re going to spend big bucks on a robust, scalable learning infrastructure. Even so, you’d needn’t reinvent the wheel. You’ll complement whatever you pay for with things like email, instant messaging, NetMeeting, and Java scripts.

I envision a future for shared content. If Linus Torwalds can line up an army of programmers to add functionality to the Linux kernel, why couldn’t we (you and me) enlist a core group of organizations and individuals to share learning objects?

I wrote those red words nearly two years ago. Happy to say, others have picked up the ball and are running with it very fast.


    Open Source Content in Education by George Siemens

    George has compiled a list of Edu-bloggers.

    In autounfocus, David Wiley notes, “This group moves fast. Like, from initial conversations to working code in one day fast. Pin your ears back and get ready for collaborative knowledge development like you?ve never experienced before. “

It feels like this train is finally leaving the station. Bravo!

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2003

Change of Pace

Until now, the words here on the Internet Time Blog have all been tapped in by my very own fingers. Then I read David Forman's paper, Reinventing the Training Business, and thought to myself, "I couldn't have said this any better." So why try? Here's David's paper. Enjoy!

Reinventing the Training Business

                                  By David C Forman

David C Forman is founder and president of Sage Learning Systems, a consulting company dedicated to the effective use of technology in learning.

It is time to face the cold, hard reality that the training business, as we know it today, is out of touch with customers and changing market requirements; and is therefore floundering, if not failing, as a business itself.   While this analysis focuses on corporate training vendors, particularly those that supply technology-based training products, I suggest that the same condition pertains to classroom providers and those suppliers that serve other audiences as well.

The training business has finally escaped from being viewed as being on the periphery to achieving newfound recognition. International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates tell us that e-Learning will grow at 50% annually and be a $18 billion dollar segment by the year 2005 (Rossett, 2002) .  Major business leaders such as John Chambers, Larry Ellison, and Jack Welch talk about the criticality of continuous learning in the workplace and using technology to foster these changes.  Economists and policy makers all acknowledge that the enduring competitive advantage of companies and even countries is the knowledge and skills of their people.  This is the ideal stage, the perfect recipe for success for the training business.

But this vision has failed to materialize.  The evidence is too overpowering to ignore.  Training company revenues are stagnant.  All significant vendors in the technology-based training segment are losing money.  The often-frequented prediction that classroom training as a percentage of total training delivery will fall below 70% is simply not happening.  Usage rates for technology based courses within large courseware libraries hovers at 20% (Islam, 2002). The courses themselves are boring, generic duds that simply automate the linear classroom model of instruction.

Thirty years ago the two major content suppliers in the technology-based training industry carved out a $300 million business.  Today, in spite of all the technical advances, population growth, and rise of the knowledge economy, the size of this segment is essentially the same.  The only difference between these two snapshots in time is that 30 years ago these two companies were profitable.

The training business is in trouble.  It is running on past fumes.  It is wasting the best opportunity it has ever had to be successful, and it has lost both its way and its passion.


Why did the U.S. automobile industry lose its way?  Why are telecommunications companies struggling?  There are painful lessons from others to inform our plight.  Rule number one is: do not lose sight of the needs and preferences of the real customer.  Rule number two is: be agile and adapt to changing market conditions quickly or risk being marginalized.   Training is 0 for 2.

The training buyer is very different from the training user or learner.  There is a very real distinction between the two audiences; motivations, interests, experience, and agenda are all very different.  The training industry?s focus is almost exclusively on the buyer and not the learner.  The preponderance of resources, personnel, marketing materials, and executive coverage is directed at making the sale, not about meeting the needs of the learner or achieving results.  We have had a problem understanding who the real customer is.

The buyer historically has been frequently more interested in providing the broadest coverage possible to meet any possible need that could arise across various business units.   The buyer also usually wants to go with a safe, proven supplier, and is interested in negotiating the best possible price per unit.  The buyer likes to talk about the generic organizational advantages of courseware that are available anywhere 24/7 and the money saved by reducing travel costs. 

The learner is not interested in any of these issues.  Learners are concerned with relevance, and the quality of the learning experience.  Instead of a broad library of courses, they want targeted and specific courses that meet a particular need and that do not waste their time.  Learners could care less about coverage, infrastructure, and contracts; they want to learn something valuable and meaningful for their personal and professional development.

The training industry has developed systems and models that are advantageous and convenient for the vendor and buyer, but not for the learner. These development, sales and marketing systems are not forward looking; they are inward facing.  They serve the training industry, not its real customers.  While these approaches may have been effective twenty years ago, they do not stand the test of time.  These approaches are part of the problem, and they are not changing fast enough.

What?s Wrong

The Business Model:  The prevailing business model for technology-based training companies has been a multi-year license for a large courseware library.  This decades old approach worked because it met the needs of the buyer, not the learner, and it made the vendors a lot of money.  Depending on accounting practices, a multiyear contract could be counted in the first year as revenue or at least toward quota.  Nice deal for someone?s balance sheet, but a bit divorced from reality.

If this model ever worked, it no longer does.  The reasons are many.   First, in this economy buyers do not want to sign multi-year agreements, even if the price per unit is infinitesimal.  Second, data about usage for large product libraries are getting more public airing and company executives are alarmed.  Why pay for a library that gets used only 20% of the time?  If one bothers to compute the cost of multi-year course libraries based on courses used as a percentage of all the courses in the library, pricing becomes less attractive.  Third, the much more relevant pay for play model is replacing the library card metaphor.  The culture of the web is to pay for what you want; put a book or a travel reservation in the shopping cart and buy it.  Training should work the same way.  And fourth, because of the increasing pressure to demonstrate results, the ability to access a large undifferentiated mass of courses is not only no longer important, it has become a barrier to achieving results.

The Product:  Because of the prevailing business model, product strategy and design were based on coverage and quantity.  The more courses, the better; measures of success related to fatter catalogs and more shelves in the library.  The best way to build up libraries was simply to repurpose what already existed in another medium.  Consequently, videotape courses became CBT courses, which became CD-ROM courses, which became e-Learning courses.  Even if new development was undertaken, it often followed the standards based on repurposed courses so that everything could remain consistent.  Course engines and content management systems became very proficient at producing the same thing over and over again.

The product architecture, just like the business model, is old and outdated.  There have certainly been modifications, but the basic tutorial structure has essentially remained the same for decades.  It is characterized by:

· A didactic approach in which information is presented followed by an interaction or two and then more information, and then this cycle is repeated again and again

· Courses are text-driven, sometimes with audio versions of text available; and still use the page or screen as the primary geography

· Graphics are an adornment, usually an afterthought

· Interactions require very little thought

· Feedback is rudimentary

· Simulations and interactive case studies, when present, are limited and often trivial

· Treatments are not particularly interesting, appealing, or creative

· The training product is one-way and self-contained

This model has become very suspect.  The majority of courses produced within this framework are neither compelling nor effective.  Some have estimated that 80 to 90% of the courses now available are sub-standard. There are many new techniques and capabilities that current courseware models simply ignore, because they are different or present production challenges.   The current product mold is based on an instructional framework developed tens if not hundreds of years ago, emphasizes quantity over quality, is linked to a business model that is outdated, and is not what customers use or want.

A Comprehensive Learning System:  Decades ago, the course was the defacto learning system, with perhaps a few job aids thrown in for good measure.  It was all there was.  With creative thinking about the use of powerful new tools and technology, we can move beyond the course as the only vehicle to convey knowledge and skills.  New technological alternatives permit entirely new models, but yet these are rarely seen.

Most current technology-based courses are still self-contained entities.  All knowledge worth knowing, as determined by the vendor, has been captured and presented on the CD-ROM or online course.  The information exchange is one-way, uniform, and impersonal. It is also assumed to be current, which it may not be at all.  Learners do not really have to do anything, except change screens and answer the occasional questions.  The link between the training taken and work requirements is tenuous at best. 

Learning and performance problems are way too important and complex to be left to typical asynchronous courses to solve.  Courses cannot and should not be asked to be the only vehicle to present knowledge and impart skills (Rosenberg, 2001).  Instead, think of a seamless and integrated system of tools and technologies, each doing what it can do best.  Five examples follow:

· Meaningful Job Aids:  These should form the backbone of any training experience because they pertain to how training should impact the world of work.  If a meaningful job aid cannot be constructed, then perhaps the course should not be created. Teach backwards from the Job Aid.  Job Aids, themselves, should be more than trivialized lists or checkboxes.  They can be interactive, personalized, dynamic performance support tools.  Content can be linked to these job aids and accessed by learners at the moment of need.
· Knowledgebases:  All content should be synthesized, easily accessible and searchable so that learners can get their specific questions answered without having to take (or retake) an entire course.  Courses do not have to teach everything if the content is available in a knowledgebase.  Emphasis can then shift to what courses do best and how to use the knowledgebase to get information when and where needed.
· External Content:  The Web is an indexable and searchable database of billions of documents.  It is the largest and most comprehensive content repository ever developed.  There is no reason not to include this resource in learning programs to provide depth, currency, and diversity of information and perspectives.  There is more to learning than pre-packaged courses.
· Two-way Communication and Exchanges:  Open up learning and put human touches back in.  One reason Instructor Led Training has continued to be the dominant delivery medium is that learning is a social activity and people enjoy personal contact.  Early attempts to provide this type of contact through technology were lame and ineffective.  A chat room or message board is aimless and woefully inadequate.  Instead, learners should always have the opportunity to get their questions answered, receive expert coaching, interact and collaborate with others, and solve problems with real-time guidance and support. 
· Personalized and Current Treatments:  Packaged courses are not very personal; everyone receives essentially the same treatment.  New technologies enable a greater degree of personalization and currency with My Learning Homepage which can include presenting dynamic information and resources based on who I am, what I have done and where I want to go.  The highly personalized, sticky, and intelligent Amazon.com model is a good beginning.

Learning Outcomes:  Fifty years ago attention was brought to the differences between teaching and learning objectives.  As the names imply, teaching objectives refer to what is presented, taught or delivered to the learner, while learning objectives relate to what sticks with the learner and results in behavior change.  The training industry?s rhetoric supports learning objectives, but our practice does not.  The training industry has never accepted or even understood that its job is to produce learning results, not simply provide access to courses.

This fundamental folly is easy to understand from the training vendor perspective.  Learning is complex and messy.  It always takes work, care, and support to achieve.  There are factors outside of one?s immediate control.  It is much easier to simply provide materials than to be held accountable for learning.  It is easier to devote most of your resources to making the next sale as opposed to making the current one work.

But this too will change.  Individuals and executive sponsors are demanding greater accountability.  The murkiness of large, undifferentiated course libraries will be replaced by the fewest, not the most, courses to solve a business problem.  Relationships and accountability will be clearer. The training companies that will assume a leadership role in the future will not only accept the responsibility that their job is to produce learning outcomes, but will actively embrace it as their only reason for existence (Forman, 1999).

Business Results:  Much talk, very little action.  There have been more articles written on Return On Investment (ROI) than actual findings of positive ROI and business results.  It is, of course, hard to achieve business results when the training business is structured around libraries of generic products and does not even take responsibility for achieving learning outcomes, let alone business outcomes. 

The key to achieving business results is a targeted point solution, not broadcast generic ones.  It is a narrowcast, not a broadcast.  It is fewer courses, not more.  It is an integrated, seamless performance system, not just courses.  And it is clear thinking about the business problem that is being addressed and how training can improve the situation, add value, and contribute to revenue growth. 

The preponderance of business cases for e-learning focus on distribution efficiency:  reducing travel and living costs associated with seminars or classroom-based training.  This can be a significant figure because 40% of all training costs are related to T&E, but it is not enough (Moe, Bailey, and Lau, 1999).  Cost reduction measures can get a program funded initially, but executives quickly move beyond first-year cost reductions to more enduring business value. Effectiveness, value-added, and strategy dimensions are far more valuable over time (Forman, 2002).

Training companies must be able to play in this arena.  They need to take responsibility for business as well as learning results.  They must become knowledgeable and conversant with measures such as those displayed in Table 1.

                    Table 1:  Key Metrics for Business Results

Time Measures

Human Capital



Time to market

Talent acquisition costs

Customer satisfaction

Error rates

Time to competency/quota

Turnover costs



Billable time



Span of control

Cycle time

Capacity to innovate

Life Time Value


Rework time

Talent development



Response time

Time to hire


These are not simply interesting or academic measures.  They are core to the future success of training initiatives and of training companies themselves.  Without them, training will be increasingly marginalized and on the periphery of the customer?s business.  With them, training can become part of the value chain that produces and contributes to growth, earnings, and value.

There is also a real possibility that this theme will radically alter the way training companies do business in the future.  Not only will clients start to demand information and progress reports on achieving business results, but they will start to pay for results.  The business model then is shifting from Pay to Access (a library or catalog), to Pay for Play, to Pay for Performance or Results.  Training companies that embrace this change and do not resist it will be in a market-leadership position.  Training companies that deliver learning outcomes and business results, and stand behind this charter, will not only survive but thrive.

What?s Next

We?re lost but making good time.

                             Yogi Berra

Change and especially significant structural change is difficult to accomplish.  The weight of tradition, long-standing systems, and cultural inertia is hard to overcome.  It takes vision and courage to recognize a problem, let along fix it.  Currently, there is little indication that the training industry is going to correct itself.  More of the same is on the horizon.

Two of the most frequently discussed advances in the technology-based training industry are 1) learning objects and 2) human capital management systems.  These both have merits, but they are built on a foundation that does not work.  Learning objects, which take hour-long courses and break them down into 6 to 8 minute objects, may simply give us more little bad things, unless innovation and creativity are applied to the process.  The few current courses that are high quality, coherent, and have soul may get so chopped up that they lose their momentum and value.  We have to insure that learning objects provide meaning to our real customer and are not merely internal training solutions that make courseware production more efficient.  We must also differentiate between chunks of content that can stand-alone and instructional designs that require weaving content carefully into a powerful, cohesive structure.

Human Capital Management Systems (HCMS) are in danger of creating the opposite problem:  one huge bad thing.  By rolling Learning Management Systems, Content/ Delivery Management Systems and Knowledge Management Systems all into one, we will have created a technological medusa.  The market is already telling us that each one of these individual systems is way too expensive, is as difficult to implement as an enterprise software system, and takes many months if not years to become operational.  It is clear why training companies want to sell more infrastructure, but is this another example of a technology in search of a problem and customers?

Where to look

Look small. 

There are pockets of innovation and creativity all throughout our industry.  They are not to be found in the big bureaucratic companies that simply want to emulate each other.  They are small, agile companies that stay close to their customers and core skills.  They have the vision to think of new approaches and products to meet specific needs.  They are not trying to be all things to all people.  They iterate immediately and are smart enough to learn from their mistakes, the first time.  They can build on their core skills to reinvent themselves as the market changes.

Look different

Some of the most innovative and effective training programs being delivered today are not from training companies but from public, private, and for-profit universities.  These models are built around faculty intervention, student communities, work products, declared schedules, and different types of learning materials.  Learning is two-way, personal, and relevant.  There are now 150 institutions offering online undergraduate degrees and nearly 200 offering graduate programs (Pethokoukis, 2002).  The University of Phoenix has more than 37,000 students studying online.  There are successful lessons here that can be transported to the training business if and when it reinvents itself.

Final Thoughts

New models are needed for new times.  The training industry can continue to bumble along or it can take a tough look in the mirror and get angry at itself. Finally the stars seamed to be aligned as others recognize the value in learning and using technology to enhance the skills of the workforce, but we cannot deliver.  We are out of step.  We are in danger of becoming a vestige.

The necessary changes will not be easy.  It means busting a-part models and systems that have functioned for decades.  The size, complexion, and compensation of the sales force changes drastically.  The effort, tools, support and mentoring aimed at users, learning outcomes, and business results must increase dramatically.  Content editors must continually update, refresh and find new sources of information for knowledgebases, job aids, and external content sites. The structure of the course becomes less meaningful than the reach of the entire learning system.  Learning materials must cease being generic and neutral.  They must be relevant to the learner, compelling, minds on as well as hands on, challenging, practical, and real.  Learning needs to be personal, two-way, and dynamic.

The training business is in trouble.  Unless core issues are resolved, the tree will continue to whither.  Given limited resources, time and talent, it is vital that we set our aim on the most important problems and issues, even if they are the toughest to solve.  Only then can the potential and passion of the training business, which attracted so many of us to this business years ago, be realized.

David C Forman is founder and president of Sage Learning Systems, a consulting company dedicated to the effective use of technology in learning.  He has also founded   e-learningjobs.com, the first Internet job board for e-learning professionals. David has held management and executive positions in the training industry for 25 years.  He has worked with many of the country?s leading corporations to design, develop and implement technology-based training solutions. David has written over 30 articles and books in the fields of training, evaluation, return on investment (ROI), and instructional design; and has presented at most of the major industry conferences and seminars, both in the United States and abroad.


Forman, D. C.  (1999).  Perspectives on the training industry.  Journal of Interactive Instruction Development, Vol 12, Number 1. 3-9.

Forman, D. C.  (2002).  Benefits, costs and the value of e-learning programs.  In:  A. Rossett (Ed.), The ASTD e-learning handbook.  New York:  McGraw-Hill

Islam, K. (2002).  Why e-learning is floundering.  E-learning.  May, 2002.

Moe, M., Bailey K. & Lau R.  (1999). The book of knowledge.  Merrill Lynch.  April, 1999.

Pethokoukis, J. (2002).  E-learn and earn.  US News and World Report.  June 24, 2002.

Rosenberg, M. (2001).  E-learning:  strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age.   New York:  McGraw-Hill

Rossett, A. (2002).  Waking in the night and thinking about e-learning.  In:  A. Rossett (Ed.),  The ASTD e-learning handbook.  New York:  McGraw-Hill.


Originally printed in ISPI Performance Improvement, January 2003


Posted by Jay Cross at 04:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 15, 2003


Posted by Jay Cross at 10:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Six Degrees

I just finished reading Six Degrees, and if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't.

Networks are the metaphor for our age. I am attracted to them as the moth to the flame. My gut tells me we've only glimpsed the start of something incredible. Hive mind on steroids. No, words can't even capture what humanity is headed into.

Smarty-pants that I am, I figured I'd get a leg up on most of the civilized world and formulate some rules for understanding the nuances of networks, social and otherwise. This book sucked me in with some great turns of phrase: "It is only slightly unfair to characterise sociology as a discipline that attempts to explain human behavior without the humans."

The author writes:

    Regardless of whether we are discussing magnetization or the frezing of water into ice - procedures that involve completely different physics and ven completely different materials - it turns out that the nature of the corresponding phase transitions is the same!

    The observation that very different systems can exhibit fundamental similarities is generally referred to as universality....

    By knowing all the universality classes for a particular kind of model, physicists can make some very powerful statements about what can and cannot happen in different kinds of physical systems, again by knowing only the most basic facts about them. This is a tremendously hopeful message for anyone interested in understanding the emergent behavior of complex social and economic systems like friendship networks, firms, financial markets, and even societies.

Boy, I'll say. That's what I was after in reading the book. Wow. Let's get it on.

Sad to say, that was about all I learned. Geez. I waded through three hundred pages of a book by a guy with a Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics and a professorship in sociology at Columbia, only to find nothing but theories that had no bearing on my reality. Oh silly me.

The science of networks appears to be similar to the science of economics. Supply and demand work if people are rational, and it's too bad they're not, for that rips the heart out of most economic conjecture. Similarly, network analysis usually assumes all nodes are equal or bandwidth is free or some other pie-in-the-sky notion. At least the scientists have figured out that a static diagram is not a very faithful reproduction of a dynamic network.

Let me save you some time. Here are the lessons of this book:

  1. Things may be closer than they appear.
  2. Little things can mean a lot.
  3. History is an unreliable guide to the future.
  4. A diagram of a network is not the real thing.

Oh, and if you didn't know it, that six degrees thing that Stanley Milgram wrote about in Psychology Today, finding that it only took six hops between acquaintances to link any two people in the world, it's crap. Bad data, flawed experiment. Didn't happen. Not a bad name for a book, though.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Disruptive Technology in the News

Cruise Line to Restore Relic Ship

Today’s New York Times reports today that Norwegian Cruise Lines has purchased the largest, fastest ocean liner ever built in this country, the SS United States. More than a hundred feet longer than the Titanic, the United States set the transatlantic speed record (3 1/2 days) more than fifty years ago.

When I was a boy, my family sailed to France on the United States. Because another passenger changed his mind at the last minute, we got bumped into First Class with fellow travelers Burt Lancaster and Rossano Brazzi. The dining room introduced me to caviar and squab under glass. Despite a mighty storm which left many passengers heaving in their staterooms, we made it from New York to France in four days.

Just shy of her 18th birthday, the SS United States was decommissioned and has spent the last three decades rusting in Philadelphia Harbor. Why? The jumbo jet.

In a classic case of “disruptive technology,” ocean liners lost their market to customers who valued time more than comfort.

Posted by Jay Cross at 01:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 14, 2003

Object Objections

Three Objections to Learning Objects
Norm Friesen ([email protected])
Athabasca University
April 13, 2003

Norm Friesen has three philosophical problems with learning objects but offers no solutions. The term learning object is meaningless and a learning standard can be either neutral or relevant but not both. These are academic arguments. His third objection is that the bull leading the charge into object standards is the U.S. military, and they’re the wrong people to do the job. This is a real problem, but if not they, who? I’d hate to the team behind “No Child Left Behind” work on standards.

The game as Friesen sees it:

    Strike One: Bad name. Learning Object, the combination of learning, a concept so vague that people can read almost anything into it, and object, a technical term so precise that it’s hard to describe without technobabble - principles such as abstraction, concurrency, encapsulation, hierarchy, persistence, polymorphism, and typing.

      In order for the positive potential of learning objects to be realized, they need to be labelled, described, investigated and understood in ways that make the simplicity, compatibility and advantages claimed for them readily apparent to teachers, trainers and other practitioners.

    Strike Two: Flawed concept. SCORM purports to be pedagogically neutral. But there are many pedagogies — tailored to specific situations. SCORM favors the single, self-directed, self-paced learner; that’s not neutrality. Neutral or relevant: take one, not both.

    Strike Three: Do you really want educational systems defined by the Department of Defense? Not all education is mil-spec, nor all learners soldiers, nor should they be.

Thanks to Stephen Downes for the pointer to the original item.

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 13, 2003


The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto’s screed about what’s really wrong with “public” schools brings tears to my eyes. The entire book is online. School is the ultimate in unsituated learning, an artificial world concocted for all the wrong reasons.

    Ordinary people send their children to school to get smart, but what modern schooling teaches is dumbness.
    According to official reports, only a small fraction of the population is capable of what you and I call mental life: creative thought, analytical thought, judgmental thought, a trio occupying the three highest positions on Bloom?s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Just how small a fraction would shock you.

    Children allowed to take responsibility and given a serious part in the larger world are always superior to those merely permitted to play and be passive.

Don’t read Gatto unless you’re prepared to get pissed off. Do read him if you’re prepared to challenge your assumptions about compulsory schooling.

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bay Area eLearning Companies

Last month I put together a list of major eLearning companies in and around San Francisco as part of a presentation for visiting entrepreneurs. Several people have requested copies, so here it is. If I've inadvertantly left out any major players, please add their names in the Comments section.
eLearning Companies in the San Francisco Bay Area

Posted by Jay Cross at 03:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2003

String theory

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Go With The Flow

The Dawn of Workflow eLearning

Disclosure: Internet Time Group publishes Sam Adkins' research reports.

If analyst Sam Adkins is right, and I believe he is, eLearning in large organizations is morphing into something entirely different from what has gone before.

In a free white paper, Adkins writes that the era of real-time enterprise systems is upon us. Half of the companies in a recent survey reported using real-time data feeds in decision-making. Nearly a third update their analytic databases at least hourly. Open standards enable enterprise silos of ERP, CRM, and SCM to hook together into a single real-time model of work flowing through the value chain.

    The enterprise customer demand for integration, optimization, real-time collaboration and embedded business alignment has created an emergent technology and business process methodology.
This integration takes all the slack out of the system. Remember "training at the desktop." It was supposed to take place during that slack time. Besides, half of America's workers don't work at their desks; they're in the field or on the facotry floor. First-generation eLearning is giving way to what Adkins calls workflow eLearning.
    Employees in the field and on the job do not have the time, the place or the inclination to 'take' conventional elearning. Conventional elearning formats are inappropriate for their needs. New, highly innovative, and effective augmented reality and mobile performance products are emerging that map directly to their contextual performance needs.

    Wireless technology is being used to extend the enterprise beyond BackOffice and FrontOffice to employees in the field. Workers across vertical industries who do not sit at computers all day are now being connected to enterprise applications via wireless handheld technology.

Adkins maintains that when content is flowing in real time, there's little point in halting work to take a course. Just in time is not soon enough. What's the alternative? Context-specific performance support.

    Vendors are marketing tools that generate highly contextual content directly in the workflow of the user. Content management firms are developing products that automatically generate context and expertise maps. Compelling innovations that focus on workflow are also coming from the Business Process Management (BPM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) industries.

    Virtual embedded coaches, wizards, bots and agents are now being used in the real-time workflow. Lombardi's TeamWorks product embeds contextual process coaches inside workflow. PeopleSoft's Intelligent Context Manager functions in a very similar way by proactively prompting workers with task-related information in the context of specific tasks.

    Ultimus products contain Flobots that automate task compliance and are embedded directly in Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel. Other companies like Teamplate and Nobilis also embed process wizards in productivity applications.

Will business leaders buy into this? Probably so. The case for workflow tools is more compelling than the traditional eLearning package of LMS, objects, courses, etc.

    These new products measure performance skills and provide remediation in real time, on the job, and in the context of an employee's workflow. The 'bottom line' business result is the direct physical connection between business needs (via hard-coded business rules) and performance. They meet the buyer's need for integration, optimization and cost cutting and the user's need for embedded workflow support.

What do you think about this? Elliott Masie recently called Adkins "one of the top learning researchers in the country." Drop me a note or leave a comment telling me how you feel.

Source of quotations:
White paper, ""The Dawn of Workflow-based eLearning"

Source of the research:
The Gravity of the Situation: The Assimilation of eLearning by Enterprise Applications

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2003

The Positive Learning Movement

Training, like psychology, has a legacy of inherent pessimism. Both were built on the core belief that people are deficient or dysfunctional.

Psychologists spend most of their time studying people who are “disturbed.” Then they generalize their findings from these fringe cases to normal people. Hence, the psychological literature is filled with neuroses, diagnostics, therapy, and cures, but precious little on making people who are generally okay feel better.

Similarly, most training treats people as though they were missing something. The trainees need content or performance support or a new skill because without it, they are sub-par. Given what we’d like them to do, the trainees have yet to make the grade.

Recently, a group of renegade psychologists founded the positive psychology movement. The positivists study well-adjusted people rather than nut cases. They focus on making healhy people healthier.

Learning can benefit by following suit. Optmism works better than pessimism. Optmism encourages one to test assumptions until proven wrong rather than eliminate them out of hand on the assumption that they wouldn’t work anyway.

What might we expect by starting out on a positive plane?

  • Respect for the contributions of learners, leading to “each one, teach one”
  • Refocus on what’s best for the organization. “Ask not what your company can do for you….”
  • Concentrate on finding ways to make things better instead of memorizing the status quo
  • Foster cross-fertilization of thinking and cooperative working styles
  • Improve motivation through positive reinforcement

The consequences of assuming the role of training is to fix what’s broken rather than make what’s good better have been holding us back:

  • Disregard for creating new knowledge (for the trainer/curriculum is assumed to be the authority)
  • Unmotivated learners (Who wants to accept that the other guy knows it all? And that they are clueless?)
  • Focus on fixing the individual rather than optimizing the team (because the individual trainee will submit to being fixed but the organization is reluctant to join in group therapy)
  • Lack of acceptance (Because the faculty implies “My way or the highway.”)
  • Negative reinforcement (correct what’s wrong, take the test, do this or else). Positive reinforcement always works better.
  • Training (we do it to you) instead of learning (co-creation of knowledge)

What do you think? Am I on to something here? Or is this just wishful thinking on a beautiful, sunny Spring day?

Nextdoor neighbor’s artichoke plant

Posted by Jay Cross at 11:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 09, 2003

Internet Time in the Times

The New York Times
Is There Life After Silicon Valley’s Fast Lane?

Others, like Mr. Bratcher were burned out by a corollary to the tyrannical Moore’s Law: a pace of business that Intel’s co-founder and chairman, Andrew S. Grove, referred to as “Internet time” in 1996, at the onset of the dot-com boom.

Not everyone in the valley is ready yet to call time out. Those who are still thriving have little time or patience for the new wave of reflection ? including Intel’s Mr. Grove. Asked by e-mail message whether he had new thoughts about the meaning of Internet time, Mr. Grove issued a terse reply: “I am too busy to contemplate this.”

Posted by Jay Cross at 04:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 07, 2003

Who's buying whom?

22 August 2000

KnowledgePool acquires Maxim Training

KnowledgePool, the e-Learning, IT and business skills training company, today announced its acquisition of Maxim Training, the second acquisition within a month. Maxim Training is one of the UK’s leading independent developers of CD-ROM and online multimedia training in personal and management skills for the corporate market. In a recent UK study by Televisual¹, Maxim Training was ranked eighth in the top ten online multimedia producers.”

2 April 2003

KnowledgePool acquired

KnowledgePool, Europe’s leading training provider, has been acquired by Maxim Training Corp (UK) Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of TomaNet Inc. of Canada, effective 1 April 2003. Previously owned by Fujitsu Services Ltd, the company will continue to operate as KnowledgePool in the UK and the United States. A new division, KnowledgePool Canada, will be established by May 31, 2003.

Maxim Training Corp will create the world’s leading learning provider by building on the leadership of KnowledgePool in Europe and through the acquisition and consolidation of leading-edge content, technology, and service companies in North America.

While continuing to operate under the name KnowledgePool, the new company will trade publicly on the Canadian Equity markets as Maxim Training Corp (UK) Ltd.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:26 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 05, 2003

Simulation in the Enterprise #2

Sam Adkins’ latest report, The Gravity of the Situation: The Assimilation of eLearning by Enterprise Applications, is now available for download.

The second report highlights the vision of the large global enterprise software vendors like SAP, IBM, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel and Sun. They have all added eLearning functionality to their eBusiness product suites in the last year.

The dominant theme in their marketing positioning and product strategy is the clear message to customers that integrated business applications suites are superior to point solutions. Those integrated suites contain not only eLearning but also business process management, business intelligence, content management and, increasingly, live collaboration.

Summary here.

Single-reader license: $100.

Posted by Jay Cross at 05:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mapping Social Networks

“There is a central difference between the old and new economies:
the old industrial economy was driven by economies of scale;
the new information economy is driven by the economics of networks…”
Information Rules
by Carl Shapiro, Hal R. Varian

Nature has published a summary of an article about scientists from Hewlett Packard information dynamics lab processing the flow of email messages to draw maps of informal organizations.

    The technique can also reveal who is at the heart of each sub-group. These people often correspond with company-designated leaders such as project managers. But unofficial de facto leaders can also emerge. The approach might even help to pinpoint the heads of criminal or terrorist networks.

    Communities of practice

    It has long been recognized that big institutions tend to divide organically into informal collaborative networks, called communities of practice.

    For example, colleagues in one department might all tend to consult one particularly useful person in another department, linking the group into a community of practice. Such collaborations are very common in scientific research. Groups in different universities share information, skills and expertise to solve problems.

That’s cool as far as it goes, although I doubt that email alone will produce reliable maps since F2F communication is probably more vital.

How might this automated mapping be used?

  1. Some organizations are using maps of traffic flow in “find-an-expert” systems.
  2. Traffic analysis could identify and fix communication bottlenecks that impede the progress of the informal organization.
  3. Rumor has it that others plan to use traffic maps to identify workers who are “out of the loop.” (One can imagine the birth of inner-office Spam if email sends are incorporated into performance appraisal.)

Yesterday I played around with a couple of web-link mappers. Touchgraph is a mapping engine. One application points Touchgraph at Google. I entered “InternetTime.com” and received a clickable map of sites with at least two reciprocal links.

Someone else pointed Touchgraph at Amazon. I put in the title of Lance’s and my book on eLearning to generate this map of “people who bought this book also bought…”

Valdis Krebs is the leader in applying these mapping techniques to organizations. His bio says, “Valdis is a management consultant and the developer of InFlow, a software based, organization network analysis methodology that maps and measures knowledge exchange, information flow, communities of practice, networks of alliances and other networks within and between organizations.”

I love this line: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is an interactive model of your organization or industry worth?”

Steven Johnson has a delightful article on Krebs and related projects in this month’s issue of Discover.

    “You have this enormous archive of your social interactions, but you need tools for visualizing that history, for feeling like you’re actually inhabiting it,” Donath says. Turning her sleek, black flat-panel display toward me, she loads up Social Network Fragments, created by Danah Boyd, a grad student, and Jeff Potter, a programmer. The program is visually stunning, if somewhat overwhelming: a floating mass of colored proper names projected over a black background and clustered into five or six loosely defined groups. It looks more like a work of information sculpture than a supplement to e-mail software.

    The program was featured as a work of art in a gallery show in New York City in the summer of 2002. But the data it represents are culled from mundane sources: the addresses of e-mail messages sent or received. By looking at the names of people whom you send messages to or receive them from, and who gets cc’d or bcc’d on those messages, the software builds a portrait of your social networks. If you often send messages to your entire family, the software will draw links between the names of all the people you’ve included in those messages; if you cc a few colleagues on a message to an important client, it will connect those names as well.

    from New Scientist.

    In his Managing the Connected Organization, Krebs describes the things that get me excited by the potential of social network analysis:

    How can managers improve the connectivity within their organization? Here are a few places to get started:

    • Look beyond the individual — uncover their interconnections and multiple group memberships.
    • Know the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge and how it is shared and transferred.
    • Reward people for directly sharing their know-how, for including others in their knowledge-sharing networks.
    • Design computer systems that facilitate conversations and sharing of knowledge — think communication, not storage/retrieval.
    • Help women and people of color connect to key knowledge flows and communities in the organization. This may help eliminate the glass ceiling.
    • Recruit new hires through the networks of current employees — they will be happier, adjust quicker, and stay longer.
    • When transferring employees keep in mind their connections. Exchanging employees with a diverse network of ties can create shortcuts between departments or teams and greatly improve the overall information flow.
    • Ensure better coordination of behavior between departments or projects by adding crosscuts to minimize the path length of their information exchange networks. To reduce delays you want some redundancy in the paths — if one is blocked then alternative communication paths are available.
    • It is no longer sufficient to just hire the best. You must hire and wire! Start new networks, help employees and teams connect —connect the unconnected!

    What is connected knowledge? A competitive advantage! Your competition may duplicate the nodes in your organization, but not the pattern of connections that have emerged through sense-making, feedback and learning within your business network. And if you get Vancho’s take on Einstein’s formula correct, then connected knowledge is pure energy!

    In the 1992 U.S. presidential race, one simple phrase refocused and re-ignited a jumbled campaign effort by Bill Clinton - “It’s the economy, stupid”. Adaptive businesses see the benefits in managing connected organizations. We can adapt the old campaign slogan to reflect the new network reality - “It’s the connections, stupid!” 

    Posted by Jay Cross at 09:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 04, 2003

Avaltus, R.I.P.

Posted by Jay Cross at 08:09 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 03, 2003


I just came upon Stephen Downes’ Edu_RSS.

Edu_RSS syndicates a couple of dozen great sources of information on one page. (RSS = Really Simple Syndication.) Putting together a page like this has been on my to do list for several months. Now I don’t have to.

Thank you, Stephen. Edu_RSS is going to be the one page I must check out every day.

If you devour news and value your time, you need to find out how syndication works.

Posted by Jay Cross at 10:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What I really think about eLearning


Posted by Jay Cross at 06:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 02, 2003

Content is not king.

Click me.

Posted by Jay Cross at 09:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The DNA of Silicon Valley

Last month I gave a presentation to a group of Canadian eLearning entrepreneurs looking to do business in Silicon Valley. I excerpted 12 minutes of the talk, titling it Silicon Valley, The DNA of a Community of Practice.

This is my initial test of Macromedia Breeze. First I narrated my PowerPoint presentation, using a $4 Labtec microphone. Then I saved the presentation and clicked the Breeze plug-in. Breeze condensed my sound files and began uploading the presentation to Macromedia’s server. Twenty-one minutes later, my presentation was ready to go, just as you see it here.

I like this product. As with Macromedia Contribute, it’s another way to put content creation in the hands of subject matter experts. I recognize that many SMEs aren’t good writers or speakers. That’s a problem. But it’s often better to get fresh information out the door than to wait until it’s properly edited. Also, getting the word right from the horse’s mouth leaves less margin for translation errors.

Posted by Jay Cross at 06:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack