Dawn in Trigonos, Snowdonia National Park, Caernarfon, Wales

4 rules for the digital transformation of partnerships

Reda Sadki #DigitalScholar, Learning strategy

This is a recorded version of my presentation, followed by Catherine Russ‘s report on a session that I presented and facilitated at the Remote partnering workshop held on 23-26 January 2017 in Caernarfon, Wales.

Here is what Catherine Russ wrote in the workshop’s Report on Technology and Learning.

In this session we delved into the reality that partnerships often become remote because those involved can no longer afford to meet together physically. Increasingly, collaboration, dialogue, and feedback are simply assumed to take place from a distance. What do we lose – and is there anything to gain – when the rules have changed:

  1. Sharing physical space is no longer a necessary condition to partnering.
  2. Sharing physical space is increasingly a medium in which we can no longer afford to develop partnerships.
  3. The value of shared physical space is primarily cultural, a rapid way to accrue social capital that underpins social relations.
  4. What we are enabled to do from a distance using technology is changing rapidly – more rapidly than what we can do in a shared physical space – leaving us confused, and perhaps even fearful, of what this change means for the quality or even the future of our partnerships.

In addressing the use of technology at the Remote Partnering Project Design Lab, the irony did not escape us that sixteen or so of us were sitting face-to-face. The plan had been to bring some participants in from other continents on a remote basis to input as and when possible, but several factors prevented this from happening. Experience and advice has suggested in the past that combining remote and face-to-face can often cause more problems than opting for one or the other and this experience seemed to confirm that advice.

Reda Sadki, who leads a partnership that is tackling such questions to improve digital learning, was invited to facilitate a session to explore the current challenges being experienced by those working remotely and uncover some of the emerging solutions. The idea that working remotely is a ‘second cousin’ to and ‘second best’ option to face-to-face had already been challenged and (somewhat) deflated in previous sessions and therefore this session focussed on how to leverage the new economy of effort that technology allows for working remotely as outlined in the following affordances (literally and figuratively what we can ‘afford’ to do).

So, rather than addressing technology from the perspective of trying to replicate what partners produce when face-to-face and addressing the shortfalls of these, Reda proposed that participants think through how their partnering work is already being transformed by digital technologies. Could partners – who mostly seem to experience remote working as a constraint – leverage this transformation to resolve dilemmas inherent in such common partnership challenges as:

  • Moving from strategy to implementation
  • Putting reporting practice to use
  • Documenting experience (e.g. case studies) o Fostering collaboration across silos
  • Bringing static knowledge to life (e.g. making global guidelines relevant and useful to communities)

In fact, Reda provided practical examples of an emerging approach (known as the “Scholar Approach”) that aims to connect partners, from centre to periphery, to strengthen networks through peer-to-peer collaboration:

  • The Norwegian Red Cross mobilized a global community of action, convening over 800 pre- hospital emergency workers from 70 countries to co-develop over 70 case studies of violence and risk in four weeks.
  • The World Health Organization connected public health officers from 30 countries to develop country-specific action plans based on new global guidelines for routine immunization.
  • The Geneva Learning Foundation mobilized over 900 participants from over 100 countries to jointly develop 94 new digital learning initiatives – effectively showing how this approach could be replicated and democratized.

In Reda’s words: “This collaborative, flexible, motivating, participatory and supportive approach is not simply a nicer, kinder and gentler form of learning: Its pedagogical patterns closely emulate the core competencies of 21st century humanitarian workers, who are expected to be able to manage complex, overlapping knowledge flows, to work in networked configurations (rather than command- and-control structures) and to use participatory methodologies to partner with affected populations.”

You can learn more about the Remote Partnering Project on its web site.

Image: Dawn in Trigonos, Snowdonia National Park, Caernarfon, Wales (personal collection).

New learning and leadership for front-line community health workers facing danger

Reda Sadki Global public health, Learning design, Scholar Approach

This presentation was prepared for the second global meeting of the Health Care in Danger (HCiD) project in Geneva, Switzerland (17–18 May 2017).

In October  2016, over 700 pre-hospital emergency workers from 70 countries signed up for the #Ambulance! initiative to “share experience and document situations of violence”. This initiative was led by Norwegian Red Cross and IFRC in partnership with the Geneva Learning Foundation, as part of the Health Care in Danger project. Over four weeks (equivalent to two days of learning time), participants documented 72 front-line incidents of violence and similar risks, and came up with practical approaches to dealing with such risks.

This initiative builds on the Scholar Approach, developed by the University of Illinois College of Education, the Geneva Learning Foundation, and Learning Strategies International. In 2013, IFRC had piloted this approach to produce 105 case studies documenting learning in emergency operations.

These are some of the questions which I address in the video presentation below:

  • Mindfulness: Can behaviors and mindfulness change through a digital learning initiative? If so, what kind of pedagogical approach (and technology to scaffold it) is needed to achieve such meaningful outcomes?
  • Leadership: How can learners become leaders through connected learning? What does leadership mean in a global community – and how does it connect back to the ground?
  • Diversity: What does leadership mean in a global knowledge community where every individual’s context is likely to be different?
  • Local relevance: What is the value of a global network when one’s work is to serve a local community?
  • Credential: What is the credential of value (badges and other gimmicks won’t do) that can appropriately recognize the experience of front-line humanitarians?
  • Pedagogy: Why are MOOCs (information transmission) and gamification (behaviorism)  unlikely to deliver meaningful outcomes for the sustainable development or disaster preparedness of communities?

The video presentation below (31 minutes):

  • examines a few of the remarkable outcomes produced in 2016 and
  • explains how they led to growing the initiative in 2017.

To learn more about or join the #Ambulance! activities in 2017, please click here. You may also view below the selfie videos recorded by #Ambulance! course team volunteers to call fellow pre-hospital emergency health practitioners to join the initiative.

Image credit: #Ambulance! project course team volunteers.


Learning technologists are obsolete

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

These are some notes on one of several blog posts that are churning in my head about what digital transformation means for learning and leadership. Warning: these are the kinds of wild, roughshod, low-brow, unrefined contentions that might just make the reasonable and respectable Mister S. choke on his Chivito.

Many of the pionneers of “e-learning” fought long and hard to have the value of technology for learning recognized and new tools put to use by educators. Their achievements are significant. Today, for example, many universities now have teams that support teaching staff in the effective use of learning technologies. (Ironically, the former may provide one of the rare occasions for the latter  to examine their teaching practice, but that is a different topic…). However, when I speak to young professors from fields outside of education, they describe such services as peripheral or marginal. At best, the learning technologies people help them set up a WordPress site to host their course content, or maybe transfer their syllabus into Moodle. That is not insignificant, but it is unlikely to be transformative.

Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg pointed out almost a decade ago in The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age that “modes of learning have changed dramatically over the past two decades — our sources of information, the ways we exchange and interact with information, how information informs and shapes us. But our schools — how we teach, where we teach, who we teach, who teaches, who administers, and who services—have changed mostly around the edges.” Institutions of higher education, if only by virtue of their financial position (think Harvard’s endowment) are built to endure change, unlike the newsroom or the record industry. “It seems as though online learning” wrote Burck Smith three years later, “is simply a ‘feature enhancement’ that allows colleges to make their offerings attractive to more people.”

Admittedly, interesting things can and do happen in the margins. In fact, the modesty and constance of learning technologists who actually deliver new ways of doing new things are two characteristics that stand at stark odds with the snake oil that characterizes a Silicon Valley flavor of edtech littered by empty boasts of technological solutionism.

Furthermore, this change around the edges is no failing of the often talented, dedicated, and passionate individuals who have advocated for more effective use of learning technologies inside their institutions.

It is, rather, that the rate of change they produced turned out to be far slower than that of the tidal wave of Digital Transformation that is spilling over our societies.

Our lives are now permeated by digital. It is embedded into everything we do, not just the tools we use but our way of life and culture. That impacts education, of course. In fact, it does so in ways that are more significant, far-reaching, and profound than anyone explicitly advocating the use of technology for learning. Explicit advocacy is, in a way, an admission that you are trying to effect change from the margins. The more deeply technology embeds itself into the fabric of our lives, the less such a position is likely to be tenable.

How could the role of education be limited to providing better tools, in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution or Second Machine Age, in which a range of new technologies are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds?

As a geeky teenager  learning to program in BASIC in the 1980s, I was an avid reader of BYTE Magazine, an amazingly thick (with ads), monthly compendium of the best technology journalism of the pre-Internet nascent personal computer industry. Technology was covered as an industry, mostly through the lens of markets, products, and specifications, by tech journalists whose names and personalities I began to recognize, from Mister Congeniality Leo Laporte to professional curmudgeon John C. Dvorak.  It wasn’t until 2011 that Nilay Patel and the rest of the crew at The Verge emerged as a new breed of fully-digital journalism at the intersection of technology and culture:

“The Verge is an ambitious multimedia effort founded in 2011 to examine how technology will change life in the future for a massive mainstream audience. Our original editorial insight was that technology had migrated from the far fringes of the culture to the absolute center as mobile technology created a new generation of digital consumers. Now, we live in a dazzling world of screens that has ushered in revolutions in media, transportation, and science. The future is arriving faster than ever.”

That kind of insight is what is missing from the “learning technologist” standpoint. It highlights both the centrality of technology in our culture and the increasing velocity of change.

In the Digital Transformation, if culture does not swallow up technology at breakfast, it will do so by dinner time. To be a learning technologist today – what may have been forward-looking or even courageous in the past – is to be on the wrong end of history.


Mission accomplished

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

We won.

  • The former school teacher and humanitarian trainer who argued vociferously that nothing would ever supplant face-to-face training is now running a MOOC.
  • The training manager who refused to consider e-learning is now running a distance learning, scenario-based simulation. People he trains are now working remotely – and a simulation, dirt-cheap and run by e-mail, is closer to modelling the real world than is the artificially and unrealistically “safe space” of the high-cost, low-volume training room. Work went through digital transformation before “training” did.
  • The old-school learning and development manager is getting certified to run webinars. Through practice, she has surprised herself by how much she feels when running a session.
  • A digital course run ahead of a face-to-face workshop mobilized ten times as many (people), for ten times less (money). Course participants produced tangible artefacts, directly applicable to work, through collaboration and peer review. And they did not need to take time off in order to do so. The outcome of the physical-world, residential experience is less tangible. Or, with a double entendre, one could say: more virtual.

These are not stories of the superiority of one medium over another. They are stories of the accelerating pace of change.

These are not stories of victory. They are stories of experiencing our humanity in and through new, rapidly-changing spaces where we work, live, and grow.

This is how we learn.

Image: A metaphor for irony. Bush delivers a speech to crew onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare combat operations over in Iraq, as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California on May 1, 2003 (Larry Downing/file/Reuters).

Jack Welch photo in GE's Annual Report (2000)

Relishing change

Reda Sadki Quotes

Jack Welch in General Electric’s Annual Report, nearly two decades ago:

We’ve long believed that when the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight.

The only question is when.

Learning to love change is an unnatural act in any century-old institution, but today we have a Company that does just that: sees change always as a source of excitement, always as opportunity, rather than as threat or crisis.

We’re no better prophets than anyone else, and we have difficulty predicting the exact course of change.

But we don’t have to predict it.

What we have to do is simply jump all over it!

Source: Welch, J., 2000. General Electric Annual Report 2000 (Annual Report). General Electric, Fairfield, Connecticut, USA.

#DigitalScholar Apprenticeship

Reda Sadki #DigitalScholar, Job opportunities

(Please do share this announcement with promising learning leaders in your network. Your support is much appreciated. – Reda)

The Geneva Learning Foundation, together with LSi and the University of Illinois College of Education, have joined to develop new learning approaches to build capacity, produce locally-situated knowledge, and foster deep learning outcomes. Through this ‘Scholar Partnership’, our aim is to explore new ways of learning that can accelerate the development of new leadership and talent in the face of growing humanitarian, development, and global health challenges.

In July of this year, the Foundation offered the first #DigitalScholar journey, a four-week course in which anyone, from anywhere, could learn to design their own digital course. Over 800 people joined the course, forging meaningful connections across industries and geographies, creating nearly 100 new digital courses in four weeks.

LSi is now offering an apprenticeship for learning leaders interested in mastering this ‘Scholar Approach’. The aim is to provide an opportunity to gain practical experience and rapidly develop skills and competencies needed to design, facilitate, and manage Scholar-based digital courses.

Scholar courses currently in preparation by the Geneva Learning Foundation and its partners cover a range of topics, from the global mobilisation of ambulance and other pre-hospital emergency care workers in the face of growing violence against health care workers… to the first course on collective impact for computer science education.

Preference will be given to applicants who have completed the Geneva Learning Foundation’s #DigitalScholar course.

The first apprentices will start in January 2017, but applications are welcome on an ongoing basis.

Full announcement here. Apply via this link.

Image: Hands (2016) (Les petits dessins/enfants.click)

Blossoming across both digital and physical spaces

Meeting of the minds

Reda Sadki Events, Presentations, Theory

This is my presentation for the Geneva Learning Foundation, first made at the Swiss Knowledge Management Forum (SKMF) round table held on 8 September 2016 at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Its title is “Meeting of the minds: Rethinking our assumptions about the superiority of face-to-face encounters.” It is an exploration of the impact of rapid change that encompasses learning at scale, the performance revolution, complexity and volatility, and what Nathan Jurgenson calls the IRL fetish.

The point is not to invert assumptions about the superiority of one medium over another. Rather, it is to look at the context for change, thinking through the challenges we face, with a specific, pragmatic focus on learning problems such as:

  • You have an existing high-cost, low-volume face-to-face learning initiative, but need to train more people (scale).
  • You want learning to be immediately practical and relevant for practitioners (performance).
  • You need to achieve higher-order learning (complexity), beyond information transmission to develop analytical and evaluation competencies that include mindfulness and reflection.
  • You have a strategy, but individuals in their silos think the way they already do things is just fine (networks).
  • You need to develop case studies, but a consultant will find it difficult to access tacit knowledge and experience (experience).
  • You want to build a self-organizing community of practice, in a geographically distributed organization, to sharpen the mission through decentralized means.

These are the kinds of problems that we solve for organizations and networks through digital learning. Can such challenges be addressed solely through action or activities that take place solely in the same time and (physical) space? Of course not. Is it correct to describe what happens at a distance, by digital means, as not in-real-life (IRL)? This is a less obvious but equally logical conclusion.

If we begin to question this assumption that Andrew Feenberg pointed out way back in 1989 was formulated way back when by Plato… What happens next? What are the consequences and the implications? We need new ways to teach and learn. It is the new economy of effort provided by the Internet that enables us to afford these new ways of doing new things. Digital dualism blinds us to the many ways in which technology has seeped into our lives to the point where “real life” (and therefore learning) happens across both physical and digital spaces.

The idea for this round table emerged from conversations with the SKMF’s Véronique Sikora and Gil Regev. Véronique and I were chatting on LSi’s Slack about the pedagogy of New Learning that underpins Scholar, the learning technology we are using at the Geneva Learning Foundation.

Cooking up a round table

Cooking up a round table

With Scholar, we can quickly organize an exercise in which hundreds of learners from anywhere can co-develop new knowledge, using peer review with a structured rubric that empowers participants to learn from each other. This write-review-revise process is incredibly efficient, and generates higher-order learning outcomes that make Scholar suitable to build analysis, evaluation, and reflection through connected learning.

Scholar process: write-review-revise

Scholar process: write-review-revise

Obviously, such a process does not work at scale in a physical space. However, could the Scholar process be replicated in the purely physical space of a small round table with 15–20 participants? What would be the experience of participants and facilitators?

It took quite a bit of effort to figure out how we could model this. Some aspects could not be reproduced due to the limitations of physical space. There was much less time than one could afford online, and therefore less space for reflection. The stimulation to engage through conversation was constant, unlike the online experience of sitting alone in front of one’s device. Diversity was limited to the arbitrary subset of people who happened to show up for this round table. This provided comfort to some but narrowed the realm of possibilities for discovery and questioning.

I have learned to read subtle clues and to infer behavior from comments, e-mail messages, and other signals in a purely digital course where everything happens at a distance. That made it fascinating to directly observe the behavior of participants, in particular the social dimension of their interactions that seemed to be wonderfully enjoyable and terribly inefficient at the same time.

Only one of the round table participants (Véronique, who finished the first-ever #DigitalScholar course during the Summer) had used Scholar, so the activity, in which they shared a story and then peer reviewed it using a structured rubric, seemed quite banal. At a small scale, it turned out to be quite manageable. I had envisioned a round robin process in which participants would have to move around constantly to complete their three peer reviews. However, since they were already sitting in groups of four, it was easier to have the review process take place at each table, minimizing the need for movement. This felt like an analog to what we often end up doing in an online learning environment when an activity takes shape due to the constraints of the digital space…

Image: Flowers in Thor. Personal collection (August 2016).




Towers of technology

Reda Sadki #DigitalScholar, Learning strategy

This came up in one of the Live Learning Moments in the first week of the Geneva Learning Foundation’s #DigitalScholar course:

This is for Reda: I’m very used to the Coursera/EdX kind of LMS and I’m finding it difficult to follow the course related postings and schedules on the digital learning community currently. I just feel that we are missing some structure.

This comment calls for reflection on the knowledge architecture of Scholar in relation to other technologies. In the first week of #Digital Scholar, we examined the architecture of the lecture and the classroom. I understand the yearning and the preference for a container view of knowledge, even though I believe the time has come to autopsy the discipline known as knowledge management. This view is reassuring because it is familiar. It mirrors the experience of mass industrial-age education that has shaped most of us. But does it correspond to the learning needs of today and tomorrow – and those that we are trying to address with #DigitalScholar by inventing a new method for the rapid, agile production of digital learning? Is learning a process or a product?

Scholar's Activity Stream

Scholar’s Activity Stream

What you are seeing in Scholar’s Activity Stream is learning as a process. It moves fast. There is no way to know everything. Learning to navigate becomes a key competency that you develop by doing. This is contrary to the views with which we were able to function in the past. But it models the fast-paced world we live, and it is not going to slow down. (George Siemens’s Knowing Knowledge remains for me the best explainer of what this means for learning.)

Now, I tend to be fairly agnostic about technology for learning. Basically, my conviction is that if you give a good learning designer a piece of string and an e-mail account, they can use these tools to enable an amazing learning journey. In fact, I have seen beautiful learning design compensate for the deficiencies of even the most broken, nightmarish corporate learning platforms. And I have friends and colleagues who have built amazing learning journeys on MOOC platforms or in Moodle. But to my mind they have had to work against the learning architecture of those platforms in order to achieve these.

In the MOOC platforms (and in many other similar learning management systems), the container view of learning is expressed by the curriculum. Sign in, and that is what you see: the content. Dialogue is buried in siloed discussion forums. If you are in one compartment, you may not see what is happening in the other. Furthermore, you may have a user profile but it is not really relevant to the course work. You exist only as an individual consumer, with an individual reward (the certificate). You may engage with peers in the forums, but that is mostly in response to specific discussion prompts. You consume content, and then get quizzed about your ability to recall it. Finally, when there is peer review, its purpose is to scale grading without needing tutors. You receive a grade, and then that’s it. There is no revision stage in which you are invited to think about the grade you received and what that means for your work.

In EdX, content transmission is center stage

In EdX, content transmission is center stage

In Moodle, you see the syllabus and, separate from that, a discussion forum. Dialogue is hidden from view, organized into one or more silos. Learners can submit work to the tutor or teacher, and then the assumption is that this teacher evaluates the work. This model requires more tutors for more learners. It is expensive to scale, and not very practical. Moodle replicates the classroom learning architecture. I understand that in the early days this may have been important to reassure professors exploring the use of technology that they could reproduce their behavior and keep the same habits of teaching. It is particularly ironic that, buried in Moodle’s documentation, you will find the claim that its design and development are guided by social constructionist pedagogy. That was a long time ago.

A linear sequence of assignments in Moodle

A linear sequence of assignments in Moodle

Philosophically, there is a distinction when thinking about what we mean by the democratization of education. Is it making learning technologies open source (Moodle)? Is it about opening access to content (MIT’s OpenCourseWare)? Or how about transmitting content from elite universities for consumption by learners who otherwise would have no access to it (EdX, Coursera)?

These are all important and significant. But there is one more, and it is fundamental. It is about recognizing the value of the experience and expertise of each learner. It is focused on dialogue between learners to foster network formation, that can happen around expert, curated knowledge but is equally likely to take place in relation to the learners’ own needs and context. It is about scaffolding the production of new knowledge that both individual and community can put to use. Individuals take responsibility for their own learning, but then learn from others as they are formulating feedback and inputs to their peers. Ultimately, it is about recognizing that every learner is also a teacher. And that teachers have much to learn from their learners – and this learning strengthens their role, rather than diminishes it. The expert’s value as convener, facilitator,and designer increases in a system in which the expertise of every contributor is recognized.

The most notable difference between Scholar and other platforms for learning is in the pedagogical model (Bill Cope’s and Mary Kalantzis’s 7 affordances of New Learning and Assessment) that underpins it.

Cope and Kalantzis 7 affordances of New Learning and assessment

Cope and Kalantzis 7 affordances of New Learning and assessment

Functions and features in Scholar are not dictated by a list of IT specifications but by this model. Everything in Scholar is about dialogue, not content. Content has its place: as an opportunity for discussion, reflection, and construction. Content is always shared in a network, whether that’s in the Community or in the more structured and private, safe space of Creator’s anonymous peer review.

For me, it was a Eureka moment in 2012 to realize how the use of Scholar would give me a new economy of effort to teach and learn. I had been struggling with trying to improve “click-through” e-learning modules that have limited efficacy and that people don’t finish even when it is mandatory. I have never finished a MOOC either. With Scholar, the opportunity to build something, especially if I can then use it in my work changed everything. I don’t know if your experience of this course will lead to the same epiphany. You may be attached to paticular tools and the ways of teaching and learning that they afford. Your practice or even your livelihood may depend on these. At the very least, I hope it will feed your thinking, learning, and doing on the tools and models you are using now, and how you are deploying technology to do new things in new ways, consistent with the needs and challenges of our times.

Image: skyscraperpage.com

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Tower of Babel

Reda Sadki #DigitalScholar

What happens when a fledgling, start-up foundation convenes learning leaders from all over the world to explore digital learning? Over 800 participants from 103 countries have joined the Geneva Learning Foundation’s #DigitalScholar course developed in conjunction with the University of Illinois College of Education and Learning Strategies International.

The course officially launches on Monday. Yet participants  joining the online community have begun introducing themselves and, in the process, are already tackling challenging questions on the pedagogy, content, and economics of education and its digital transformation.

“Look at all the people here!” exclaimed one Digital Scholar. And, yes, we are from everywhere. You could start from “cloudy England”, a hop-and-a-skip away from “rainy Amsterdam” and then keep travelling, stopping in any of the 103 countries where participants live. You might end up in the “paradise island” of Mauritius, “sunny but chilly” Sidney, or “hot and humid” Puerto Rico.

Think about it. When Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis describe the affordance of “ubiquity”, the anywhere-anytime in digital learning, that describes the ability of learners to connect to a course. But ubiquity also enables our connections to each other, across time and space. A banal weather report becomes a way of relating here to there, a way to refer the diversity of contexts and paths that have led us here.

“Thrilled” and “excited” and “delighted” come up more than once. But why are we here? In the words of one Digital Scholar: “I hope to learn and obtain skills to rock!” It is the “opportunity to learn new skills” about the “nuts and bolts” of digital learning. It is also for “professional and educational growth”.  Yes, technology is the “new shiny” but our task as learning leaders is to be “always thinking about how it can best be used in learning”.

So we are here to begin building our own digital course. Not everyone is sure what to expect – and I was surprised by the number who do not know what course they want to develop. That will be the first order of business on Monday and throughout the first week of the course. What we express is of course situated in our context of work and life. The diversity of contexts is staggering – and harder to wrap my head around than the weather. I get that the choice, for example, to focus on “citizen-centered community action”, education, peace, or social justice issues is of course no accident.

The Geneva Learning Foundation’s initial call for applications focused on its own network, in the humanitarian, development, and global health space. So there are public health specialists, evaluators, crisis mappers, knowledge managers, leadership developers, school principals and teachers.

But our bet was that the call would then escape the boundaries of our known circles and reach other industries. And we have. Hence we find decision-making and risk management, writing, faculty development, and the occasional topic that intersect specialties, such as the course on “Twitter for health professionals”.

The common thread is the yearning to share, translate, grow, develop, fusing experience and practice and networks.

So you want to build a course. How do you know that there is a demand for it? Yes, that is the crass language of Economics 101 supply-and-demand intruding in a world of learning that we would like to imagine pure and removed from material considerations. But one of the key lessons we hope to convey in this course will be the realization that there is a political economy to knowledge and learning. “There seems to be an interest to learn more” about Twitter for health professionals, explained one participant, after giving presentations “at various local medical organizations”. Is that sufficient to demonstrate demand for a course that will require investment of time and resources and possibly carry a price tag? There is, in fact, only one business model for education that can happen fast and be sustainable: institutions, individuals or both must be prepared to pay enough to cover the costs of the operation.

Traditional institutions of higher education already have channels for marketing, recruitment, sales, and so on. But what about those of us who do not work within one of these institutions – or who wish to develop learning that does not fit into their sometimes-narrow constraints, especially as we push to innovate the practice of education?

For one participant, the logic is one of austerity, of how to do more with less: “Due to the sharp decrease in training funding from the government, we are looking seriously at the fully-online mode” rather than blended learning that had been used in the past. The caveat is that the mere fact that technology does enable you to make “services more widely accessible” does not mean they will be more affordable – and nor does accessibility mean that people will come (much less pay for) an educational programme.

My premise is that content and pedagogy are the easy parts (tongue in cheek) to figure out. The real challenge is in taking it to market (even if the learners won’t be the ones paying for it). In developing their course announcement, #DigitalScholar course participants may well find that this is the most challenging part of the endeavor. How do you test and verify your assumptions about who would actually want to take your course? What if you are wrong?

My last question to incoming participants is about the Digital Transformation. Yes, that’s with capital letters, originally used in management theory to describe how conventional industries are transformed by “e-business”. I believe that this is one useful lens to reframe our role as learning leaders, to help us adapt and perhaps even stay a step ahead of the accelerated pace of technological change.

Some Digital Scholars are not sure about what it means. For others, it referred to the impact of technology on learning, “how we interact with content” or “with each other in a Digital Age”, “how content is made available, and how it is utilized” in a “mix of dynamic possibilities”. Others ascribed the concept with inspirational or aspirational aims, leading to “a transformed learning experience” “potentially offering innovative and dynamic courses”, in the name of “deeper, more meaningful learning” and “rich interactions with peers and the instructor”.

Many of us keep coming back to scale (““improving access of education to more learners”) as the starting point for thinking about what we can afford to do through effective use of technology. What we will explore in the course is that there are, in fact, many more affordances of digital learning’s amazing economy of effort.

You can still join to become a #DigitalScholar until Sunday, 3 July 2016. The course will launch on the 4th of July. Read the full course announcement and apply here. We also have Facebook, Twitter, and Slack.

Image: The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563).

Minecraft learning science

Insomnia against the grain – and putting Bloom to bed

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

Summer 2016, Day 1. “So, that puts to bed Bloom’s Taxonomy… that reliable workhorse,” sighed C. “What do we use in its place?”

“We don’t”, answered the Walrus. “There is no successor to neatly replace Bloom’s. It’s still there – and can still be useful. It’s about changing the way we think and do the design of learning. Just look at how we are building our course in real time.”  And we are. Observing the accelerating flow of applications for the #DigitalScholar course is more than a spectator sport. It is turning me into an insomniac. It is about feeling who is out there in the interwebs, somehow ending up with a course announcement from a brand-new (read: obscure) foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. Reading motivation statements, trying to figure out how they connect to boxes ticked… It is on that shifting knowledge landscape of what is shared, across time and space, that we are sculpting the experience we hope amazing, starting on the fourth of July.

In fact, we’ve already started. Slack, Facebook, and Twitter accounts are all set up to connect participants to each other even before they connect with the course and the #DigitalScholar team. Never mind that some folks might struggle with Slack, may legitimately feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or annoyed by so many different platforms before the course has even started, and that using Facebook for anything related to work could well be anathema… Yet getting used to the multiplicity of tools, purposes, and intent is part and parcel of what we need to learn.

This course doesn’t even have a name. Instead, it is about becoming a #DigitalScholar. That is no hipster hashtag, by the way. It is part of a taxonomy of New Learning that sees technology as not just enabling or mediating learning, but affording us a new economy of effort, the means by which we can afford to  extricate ourselves from the miasma of the learning-and-development of the Past. Becoming a #DigitalScholar is not about content. It is about metacognition (thinking about thinking) far more than about cognition. It is about figuring out what it means to be human in a Digital Age, a far more significant question than the gruesome dichotomy between real and virtual that leads to the sterile dead-end of our IRL fetish.

In Minecraft, you do not have to sit through six-minute video lectures about the different kinds of building blocks before taking a quiz testing your ability to recall them. Mastery learning implies that there is some end point, some learning objective that you reach. You can build and measure what you build or how you got there – but isn’t what you build (and how you did it) what really matters? Can a badge – or even 1,000 discrete, specific, networked ones in the blockchain – represent what we know and experience?

Winter 2014. Cointrin, Geneva’s airport lounge. “Just stick to what you know,” said the Roly-Poly High Priest of Learning. “Maybe you can convene a group of humanitarian folks and build an L&D network around shared needs. Start there.” A sensible enough proposal. I already knew more than a few really bright folks pushing technology for learning in various international organizations. Yet my gut hated the idea, recognizing something unsavory about that pattern. It has taken me two years to figure out why – and to build something the potential of which rests on success (or failure) in convening learning leaders from as many different quarters as we can.

One key weakness of our humanitarian learning culture rests in our insularity. (There are also many strengths). We think we are different because of the nature of the business we are in. So we neglect meaningful connections to external systems. And yet when we engage with learning leaders outside our little corner of the Universe, the gaps between what we do and what they do can lead to a kind of ghoulish fascination for the opulence and the confidence of the corporate learning space, where CLOs erect brick-and-mortar campuses, deploy transformative leadership acceleration (not just development) programs to tackle their most wicked business problems, and lead teams with capabilities that we can only wish for. Witness the rare heads of learning and development who lavish budget to join corporate learning networks with no clear strategy of what might be transferable or how, given the differences in context and mission. Meanwhile, most of us work with shoestring budgets and struggle to lock down an appointment – never mind recognition, support, or funding – with our CEO, or, more likely, the head of HR that we report to.

Yes, the learning I know is about saving lives (think first aid, disaster response, or emergency health) and about building a sustainable future. I’ve learned many humbling lessons about how difficult it is to apply theory and principle to chaos. The chaos of your industry may be of a different nature. But they are connected, part of the same messy world we share.  Education is privileged to be the science of sciences. It is the meta layer of the networked data society. It eats communication and knowledge management for breakfast. And I can no longer think of what I do in learning in isolation of the rest of the world. Limiting the unit of analysis to one organization, its people, or even its industry is a constraint of the past. In fact, I refuse to conceive a learning initiative that does not cross boundaries. It is a necessary condition for learning to provide a way of seeing trends developing in the world today. The incoming signals amplify the sense of what that condition might mean. That is why I am finding it hard to sleep. And so eagerly looking forward to walking on the edges for four weeks with a multitude from everywhere.

Image: WallpapersCraft.