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.