Mission performance

Thanks to Karen E. Watkins (University of Georgia) and Maya Drobnjak (Australian Army).

Reda SadkiMission performance

Vanishing point

Pietro Perugino's usage of perspective in the Delivery of the Keys fresco at the Sistine Chapel (1481–82) helped bring the Renaissance to Rome.

Two parallel lines look like they eventually converge at the horizon. Technology’s chase for digital convergence, say between television and the Internet, raises interesting questions of its own, starting with what happens at the ‘vanishing point’ – and how to get there. How about publishing and learningSemantico has a blog post based on John Helmer’s lively chat with Toby Green, OECD’s head of publishing, and myself.

Yes, publishing has already been transformed by the amazing economy of effort of technology. Now it is struggling to find meaning in the throes of the changing nature of knowledge (as it’s locked in, so to speak, by its container view of knowledge). In the past, an ‘educational’ publisher was a specific breed and brand. In the hyper-connected present, where knowledge is a process (not a product), publishers who have already transformed themselves at least once (that is, they are still around) now have to consider how to maximize both dissemination and impact. This is where education (the science of how we come to know) is most needed.

For international mission-driven organizations, learning, education, training, and publishing are often split functions. (I haven’t included knowledge management, having declared its timely demise elsewhere). They may or may not be centralized, organized, or measured. Some – but not all– may still be operating on old models (face-to-face training to drive performance or manual layout to prepare publications) or in the midst of their respective digital migrations.

Talking convergence is really about starting at the vanishing point, and working back to the present. I am now convinced that, although each function holds its own values (and value), the lens of education is the most powerful and significant one – and the one most likely to drive strategy in a knowledge-based organization.

Convergence and cross-fertilisation: Semantico talks to Toby Green and Reda Sadki about publishers and learning

Photo: Pietro Perugino’s usage of perspective in the Delivery of the Keys fresco at the Sistine Chapel (1481–82) helped bring the Renaissance to Rome.


Reda SadkiVanishing point

The science of sciences

Neurons in the brain

“We want to talk about science as a certain kind of ‘knowing’. Specifically, we want to use it to name those deeper forms of knowing that are the purpose of education. Science in this broader sense consists of things you do to know that are premeditated, things you set out to know in a carefully considered way. It involved out-of-the ordinary knowledge-making efforts that have a peculiar intensity of focus, rather than things you get to know as an incidental consequence of doing something or being somewhere. Science has special methods or techniques for knowing. These methods are connected with specialized traditions of knowledge making and bodies of knowledge. In these senses, history, language studies and mathematics are sciences, as are chemistry, physics and biology.

Education is the science of learning (and, of course, teaching). Its subject is how people come to know. It teaches learners the methods for making knowledge that is, in our broad sense, scientific. It teaches what has been learned and can be learned using these methods. In this sense, education is privileged to be the science of sciences. As a discipline itself, the science of education develops knowledge about the processes of coming to know.”

Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., 2012. New learning: elements of a science of education, Second edition. ed. Cambridge University Press. Photo: Neurons in the brain. Bryan Jones, University of Utah

Reda SadkiThe science of sciences


Microsoft's Satya Nadella

Incoming CEO Satya Nadella places enhanced learning capability at the top of Microsoft’s priorities, right after its customers:

Second [after customers], we know the changes above will bring on the need for new training, learning and experimentation. Over the next six months you will see new investments in our workforce, such as enhanced training and development and more opportunities to test new ideas and incubate new projects. I have also heard from many of you that changing jobs is challenging. We will change the process and mindset so you can more seamlessly move around the company to roles where you can have the most impact and personal growth. All of this, too, comes with accountability and the need to deliver great work for customers, but it is clear that investing in future learning and growth has great benefit for everyone.

This statement reads to me like a subtle balance of power between HR-driven approaches (job mobility) and new ways of doing new things in a knowledge-driven company (never mind that the word ‘knowledge’ does not appear in the message). Some very savvy folks at Microsoft have already, for example, mainstreamed social learning as a way to advance engineers and engineering .

Source: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/ceo/index.html

Reda Sadki#EveryoneMicrosoft

Who are we and why are we talking?

Boats on the sea shore

As learning leaders, we share a personal passion and commitment to solving wicked problems. We recognize that no one organization can solve these problems alone. We use our talent to advocate for new ways of doing new things, both inside and outside our structures. We see continual learning as the key to preparedness in a hyper-connected VUCA world. We believe that creative, collaborative, and networked business models are needed for both communities (“resilience”) and businesses (“sustainability”) that serve them (including humanitarian organizations) to survive and grow. The small farmer or grocery store perspective is the community-based perspective. Sustainability is the business. The point of our continued conversation is to determine how we can move to collaboration and action.

Photo: Boats on the sea shore (Despite straight lines/Flickr)

Reda SadkiWho are we and why are we talking?

The Law of Halves

TRS-80 Pocket Computer

How many people do you need to recruit ten thousand learners?

The preliminary questions are: is there an established network of learners? This requires that learners are connected to each other, and not simply end nodes in a pyramidal structure. And, do you have access to the network?

These questions may be answered empirically. Publish your course. Build it and they may come – through the network. This is the value proposition of the MOOC aggregators: sign up for one course and you become part of its network. Expect to receive frequent communication as the aggregator’s value to the institutions who feed it content depends on its ability to convert one course enrollment into a lifelong pattern of registrations.

What if they do not come?

Much seems to depend on the level of computer literacy. If your target learners are computer software engineers, offer a relevant, quality course and they are likely to find it.

What if they are not?

Traditional marketing principles apply. Send a targetted e-mail through a trusted channel to 500 addresses. Expect 25 to click through to your registration page. Then the Law of Halves applies. You will lose half through each successive step required to participate in the course. So let’s say 13 register. Half of those will actually start the course.

So, if you want ten thousand learners, target 800,000 addresses.

On the first step (targetted e-mail), you can improve the click-through rate by improving the clarity of the value proposition (read: selfish, what’s-in-it-for-me incentive) and by offering direct access (in the invitation e-mail) to a screencast that walks you through the enrollment process. On the successive steps, a combination of screencasts and live online sessions (call them “briefings” or “orientation” or whatever) can help. Last but not least, turning the launch of the course into an event requires synchronicity. Do not underestimate how much identity matters to the way human beings connect and interact online.

Unless your learners are savvy enough to communicate through social media, e-mail remains the lowest common denominator. It is a necessary evil. The only way to push content, reminders, questions, or surveys to your learners. Unfortunately, a merciless law of diminishing returns applies there also. Your course’s mailings are likely to increasingly end up in spam or junk mail boxes. And e-mail fatigue ensures that even the most motivated learners will read fewer and fewer course-related communication that is dropped into their inboxes. Computer literacy is crucial, again, because low computer literacy makes it probable that a learner won’t be checking for false positives and is less likely to have developed the filtering skills to quickly process and correctly identify relevant e-mails.

Photo: My first computer, a TRS-80 Pocket Computer.

Reda SadkiThe Law of Halves


autopsy tables

Knowledge management has met its timely demise. No matter how sophisticated or agile, knowledge management (or “KM”)  remains fundamentally embedded in a container view of knowledge. Where the ephemeral and superficial nature of social media reflects the failure of communication in the Twenty-First Century, KM’s demise stems from the Chief Information Officer’s view of knowledge as discrete packets of data, each one destined to be filed in its own pigeon hole. The death of KM is a soulless one, because it is devoid of culture. Even though KM shares commonalities with publishing (static knowledge, expertise frozen in time), the latter adds the significance of culture (whether organizational or literary) to the flow of knowledge. A book as an object (physical or electronic) does not confuse the container with the message or the processes that infuse the former with meaning.

Photo: Tables in disused autopsy room (Eric Allix Rogers/Flickr)

Reda SadkiAutopsy

Walking with a drone

We went up the Semnoz this afternoon, taking our two-and-a-half year old baby on a no-pram-allowed walk for the first time. In addition to the usual suspects (cows and goats, mostly), we also ran into Benoit Pereira Da Silva, an application developer at the helm of a contraption he uses to code and walk at the same time. If I understood correctly, he has programmed the drone to document his walks. Today, his 13-year-old son manually guided a small, buzzing quadcopter equipped with an onboard camera to capture HD footage.

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Our baby sized up the little machine and its four buzzing rotors, perhaps with his recent interactions with the family Roomba (plastic and metal, moves and makes noise) and the flies (the buzzing and flying things around the cows) as reference points. Given the accelerating pace of technological change (cf. The Second Machine Age), I’m expecting that he will be growing up in a world populated by new kinds of autonomous machines – and that this world may arrive sooner than we think. Never mind that, so far, drones have been mostly associated with killing children.


Reda SadkiWalking with a drone

Scaling up critical thinking against extreme poverty

City view of Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

In three years, the World Bank’s e-Institute enrolled 50,000 learners through small, tutor-led online courses and webinars. Its first MOOC, run on Coursera’s platform for four weeks, reached 19,500. More MOOCs are in preparation, with the next one, based on the flagship World Development Report, launching on June 30th (details here). However, the need for scale is only one consideration in a comprehensive strategic vision of how learning innovation in all its forms can be harnessed to foster new kinds of leadership and accelerate development.

In this candid conversation recorded at the Scaling corporate learning online symposium, I asked Abha Joshi-Ghani, the World Bank’s Director for Knowledge Exchange and Learning, to present some early data points from the Bank’s first MOOC, situating it within a broader history of engagement in distance and online learning. Joshi-Ghani describes the partnership, business and production models for its pilot MOOC. She also shares some early insights about the learner experience, completion rates (40%), and demographics (40% from developing countries).

Listen to the conversation with Abha Joshi-Ghani


As the Bank engages in what the Washington Post has called its “first massive reorganization in nearly two decades” to focus on ending extreme poverty by 2030,  the role of knowledge in such a process should be a strategic question. In the past, the reorganization of knowledge production was a key process in creating “new possibilities of power” to determine “what could be said, thought, imagined”, defining a “perceptual domain, the space of development” (Escobar 1992:24). Harnessing knowledge flows in a VUCA world requires an open, agile approach that recognizes the changing nature of knowledge: its diminishing half-life and corollary acceleration, its location in the network. This is what I found most compelling about Abha Joshi-Ghani’s brief presentation of the new Open Learning Campus, which opens a path for the World Bank to become the first international organization to organize its learning strategy around knowledge as a networked, complex process (Siemens 2006:34) . To do so is the twenty-first century way to support critical or analytical thinking that “lies at the heart of any transformative process”, aligned closely with Paulo Freire’s ‘conscientisation’ (Foley 2008:775).

Photo: City view of Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014 (Dominic Chavez/World Bank).

Foley, C., 2008. Developing critical thinking in NGO field staff. Development in Practice 18, 774–778. doi:10.1080/09614520802386827

Escobar, A., 1992. Imagining a post-development era. Social Text, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues 20–56.

Siemens, G., 2006. Knowing knowledge.


Reda SadkiScaling up critical thinking against extreme poverty


Fluid Painting 79 Acrylic On Canvas

In our studies, we found that every flow activity, whether it involved competition, chance, or any other dimension of experience, had this in common: It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities.

Flow channel states

Flow channel states

Source: Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1990. Flow : the psychology of optimal experience, 1st ed. ed. Harper & Row, New York. Photo: Fluid Painting 79 Acrylic On Canvas (Mark Chadwick/Flickr).
Reda SadkiFlow