What does the changing nature of knowledge mean for global health?

Reda Sadki Global public health, Learning strategy

Charlotte Mbuh and I will be welcoming Julie Jacobson, one of the founders of Bridges to Development, for our 15-minute Global Health Symposium about neglected needs of women’s health, and specifically the upcoming Female Genital Schistosomiasis (FGS) workshop being organized by the FAST package, a group of international and country partners. Join the Symposium on Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn. (If you miss the live stream, the recording is immediately available afterward, via these same links.)

During the Ebola crisis response of 2014-2015, I sweet-talked Panu Saaristo into doing the first “15-minute global health symposium”, giving him just 6 minutes for an update about the complex work he was leading. (You can read about it here.) I still remember every point of his presentation and the emotion associated with it, as he described how Red Cross volunteers were risking their own lives to help families bury their dead safely.

It turns out that the 60-minute webinar is both boring and ineffective for a reason: in a world of knowledge abundance, we are wasting the precious moments when we are connected to each other if we only use that time to present information. “Zoom fatigue” is due not so much to the technology as it is to missing the point about what has changed about the nature of knowledge in the Digital Age.

Featured image: Figure 23. Knowledge as a river, not reservoir, found in Siemens, G., 2006. Knowing knowledge.

Learning, leadership, and impact in the Digital Age: In dialogue with Karen Watkins

Reda Sadki Writing

Listen in on the Foundation’s first invitation-only Clubhouse chat.

Karen Watkins and I chatted about the Foundation’s unique approach to this triptych of learning, leadership, and impact in the Digital Age.

We shared some of the insights we gained about resilience during the first year of COVID-19, learning from the Foundation’s immunization programme that connected thousands of health professionals during the early days of the pandemic.

It was informal in ways intended to provoke incidental learning. No stilted panel, rigid agenda, or dull slides.

And, most important, we opened up the dialogue to include real-world challenges, successes, and lessons learned that were shared before the chat by invitees. Those we discussed include:

  • Children adapting to digital learning in Lebanon during the COVID-19 period with involvement of girls actually increasing because of the use of digital technology.
  • How to deal with resistance against peer-supported learning in pyramid organizational hierarchy.
  • Bringing a single digital infrastructure for data collection across a global network.
Social network and citation network in the COVID-19 Peer Hub

Disseminating rapid learning about COVID-19 vaccine introduction

Reda Sadki Global health, Global public health, Learning strategy

In July 2019, barely six months before the pandemic, we worked with alumni of The Geneva Learning Foundation’s immunization programme to build the Impact Accelerator in 86 countries. This global community of action for national and sub-national immunization staff pledged, following completion of one of the Foundation’s courses, to support each other in other to achieve impact.

Closing the loop from learning to impact produced startling results, accelerating the rate at which locally-resourced projects were implemented and fostering new forms of collaborative leadership. Alumni launched what immediately became the largest network of immunization managers in the world.

Then the pandemic dramatically raised the stakes: at least 80 million children under one were placed at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as COVID-19 disrupted immunization service as worldwide.

Alumni were amongst the first in their countries to respond, leveraging the power of being connected to each other to create a virtuous circle of peer support that became the COVID-19 Peer Hub. As a result, the pace of growth keeps increasing. Membership doubled during the summer of 2020.

The network effect cannot be replicated by smaller platforms built on top-down legacy models of the past. Nor can the trust and friendship that bind members to each other.

Members are telling their own stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, disseminating rapid learning, first about recovery of immunization services and, more recently, about COVID-19 vaccine introduction.

There is no upper limit to the number of participants or stories. Rather than painstakingly collecting a few stories so highly curated that they seem too sanitized to be authentic or meaningful, we created the conditions for each person to share their story and learn from the stories of others. We do not require you to be “exemplary” to experience or share significant learning. Some of the most powerful lessons learned, in fact, come from the experience of failure.

In November 2020, for example, members worked together to produce in just four weeks over 700 detailed, peer-reviewed case studies of vaccine hesitancy in health facilities and districts. These were used to inform the COVID-19 Peer Hub’s early scenario planning for vaccine introduction and are now being analyzed for the unique insights they contain, available by no other means.

These stories are about collaboration and learning from each other, within and across borders and all levels of the health system, in new ways to do new things required to face the pandemic. I do not believe it is an overstatement to say that participants are writing history.

Visualization of the sharing ideas and practices across borders, roles, and system levels in the COVID-19 Peer Hub

Co-design as a networked practice of continuous invention, innovation, and learning

For COVID-19 vaccine introduction to succeed, we need new ways to disseminate rapid learning. Through co-design with members of our platform, we invented two in the first three months of this year: Teach to Reach: Connect and the COVID-19 Peer Hub Inter-Country Learning Collaborative to support vaccine introduction.

We already knew that presentation webinars do little more than replicate classroom training in a digital format. Yet they proliferate, despite the dearth of evidence about their effectiveness, with unsubstantiated claims that they are somehow “collaborative” or that 10 minutes of attendees asking the experts a few questions qualifies as “peer learning”. Social Network Analysis (SNA) of the COVID-19 Peer Hub by Sasha Poquet and Vitomir Kovanovic at the Centre for Complexity and Change in Learning helped us to understand that the power of the network lies in the relationships between its members, not only in our ability to convene or call to action, and certainly not in one-way information transmission.

So, on Friday 26 March 2021, 1,372 immunization professionals attended Teach to Reach: Connect to meet, network, and learn about COVID-19 vaccine introduction, how to improve immunization training, and how to reach “zero-dose” children. The feedback received from participants has been incredible, starting with their own surprise that they had so much to learn from each other. (You can catch the opening ceremony on our YouTube channel, and we will soon be sharing what we learned in upcoming live-streamed events on our Facebook page.)

My first networking meeting during Teach to Reach: Connect. Wasnam Faye is a district midwife in Senegal. I remembered her sharing powerful testimonial about how she took practical steps to ensure safe vaccination and explained the words she used to reassure caregivers, when the pandemic first hit.

An inter-country peer learning collaborative to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine introduction

The next day, the COVID-19 Peer Hub team from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) invited their colleagues from Ivory Coast to learn from the latter’s experience of vaccine introduction. Participants compared the enthusiasm to that for a football match, only this time, they said, the purpose was to “kick out the Coronavirus”. The meeting, hosted by DRC Peer Hub team leader Franck Monga and facilitated by a brilliant young doctor from Burkina Faso, Palenfo Dramane, drew over 1,000 attendees from 20 francophone countries. Panelists from Ivory Coast were alumni of Foundation programmes directly involved in vaccine introduction, working at various levels of the system. They shared first-hand experience from the first few weeks of vaccine introduction. Attendance barely declined even though the meeting ran over time by more than 90 minutes.

Our ‘grand challenge’

Our biggest challenge, so far, has been to explain the power, significance, potential, and value of such events to our global partners. This is ironic given that the global immunization community agrees that it is sub-national immunization staff who make the difference needed to achieve Immunization Agenda 2030, the new strategy adopted last year by the World Health Assembly. Some global colleagues did take the time to apologize, explaining that they were too busy on Friday afternoon due to COVID-19 vaccine introduction to take 15 minutes to meet, network, and learn with immunization staff from the countries they serve and who are actually introducing the vaccine. (To be fair, a few colleagues did attend and loved it.) Last but not least, donors remain risk-adverse, preaching innovation while repeatedly choosing conventional approaches and traditional partners, even when they have failed in the past, seemingly driven by considerations other than scale, results, or demand from countries. In some cases, they have even expressed disbelief, doubting our results as too good to be true, flummoxed by how a new entrant with limited immunization experience could achieve them when better-funded, far-more-legitimate institutions have simply not been able to do so.

Solidarity across public health and medicine silos during a pandemic

Reda Sadki Education business models, Global health, Global public health, Learning strategy

We are launching a new Scholar programme about environmental threats to health, with an initial focus on radiation. (I mapped out what this might look like in 2017.) As part of the launch, we are enlisting support of immunization colleagues.

Our immunization programme is our largest and most advanced programme, and still growing fast since its inception in 2016. At The Geneva Learning Foundation, we have spent 5 years pouring mind, body, and soul into building what has become the largest digital platform for national and sub-national immunization leaders.

Along the way, we discovered that it is not only about scale. Social Network Analysis (SNA) by colleagues Sasha Poquet and Vitomir Kovanovic at the Centre for Complexity and Change in Learning is now helping us to understand the power in the relationships not just one-to-many but many-to-many across the network.

Yes, there is a linkage as most vaccines are for children, and our first course in the new programme (with WHO) is about communicating radiation risks in paediatric imaging. But I was not sure if our request for help would make sense to the immunization network, especially when so many immunization staff are overwhelmed by COVID-19 vaccine introduction.

Yet, in less than 2 hours, immunization colleagues had already shared the announcement over 300 times. This is an impressive display of solidarity across public health and medicine silos.

This bodes well for the Foundation’s work as we are developing new programmes in other areas of global health, such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like female genital schistomiosis (FGS).

Until this morning, I was not sure to what extent one programme’s members would be willing to support others, outside their field of specialty.

Image: Accelerating train leaves Philadelphia for Washington, D.C. (Personal collection)

Patterns of flow

What if you build it and they do not come?

Reda Sadki Design

We understand the yearning to find a low-cost or no-cost way to spontaneously create a thriving community of practice in which participants engage intensively, volunteer undue amounts of time and effort to keeping the community alive, support other members, and make use of the resources and sharing that emerge.

I have seen many ambitious projects assume that establishing a digital platform will, in and of itself, enable the processes that are needed.

This almost never happens, except in rare circumstances when a fortuitous but accidental sequence of events has prompted stakeholders in exactly the right order, at the right time, and at the point of need.

In our experience, a significant upfront investment is needed for a community to be forged successfully. This investment is not required for the technology platforms but, rather, to support the intensive design and facilitation required to crack the complex equation between motivation, demand and context.

We believe that high-quality facilitation and speed are both vital to demonstrate relevance. If ‘members’ do not quickly see a tangible return for their business needs when they invest time, they will just as quickly stop responding to calls for action.

Image: Flow patterns in Trigonos, by Reda Sadki.

Colorful paint splash

Imagining a new kind of community of practice

Reda Sadki Design, Writing

Busy managers may enjoy connecting socially and exchanging informally with their peers. However, they are likely to find it difficult to justify time doing so. They may say “I’m too busy” but what they usually mean is that the opportunity cost is too high. The Achilles heel of communities of practice is that – just like formal training – they require managers to stop work in order to learn. They break the flow of learning in work. Incentives or perks may help substitute for intrinsic motivation, but these will be counter-productive, if only because they establish expectations that are difficult to meet over time.

Instead, we earn trust and establish relevance by providing services in ways that save time and help solve their business problems. During the inaugural phase, this is similar to a ‘conciergerie’ service, at the beck and call of the managers who just need to ‘push a button’ to get assistance. The key is that this assistance will rely on the network to gradually build meaningful connections, until managers realize that they can actually call and rely on each other, at the point of need. Bypassing the structure we establish will be the indicator of success.

We are building a human-machine interface to augment networked business problem-solving capability.

While there will be ‘social space’, this space only becomes viable if we first succeed in establishing the human-machine interface to respond to manager needs. We expect the initial focus to be on identifying problems that managers are trying to solve. Success is contingent on establishing a structure and process that provides the ability to interrogate the network, collecting and curating responses that are most likely to be helpful to the problem originator.

  • The point is to demonstrate that participation and contribution to the network augments individual capabilities and their ability to deliver results, rather than be perceived as a time-suck with high opportunity cost.
  • We do this in ways, grounded in our successful practice, to foster trust and mutual recognition between managers, leading to their growing engagement with each other as they identify commonalities and their own reasons for deepening collaboration.
  • We rely on the latest innovative tools, using open source AI (machine learning) and performance support, knowledge management, and feedback systems.

The network itself becomes a Co-Agent, a cybernetic performance, data, and decision support system combining both human and machine elements.

Hub and spokes by Robert Couse-Baker

Against the hegemony of the ‘International Trainer’: Transforming learning to decolonize global health

Reda Sadki Writing

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break. When the levee breaks, I’ll have no place to stay. – Led Zeppelin

While the International Trainer lands at the airport, is chauffeured to her hotel, and dutifully reviews her slides and prepares her materials, a literally and figuratively captive audience has been herded at great cost to that same hotel, lured in by a perverse combination of incentives. The costs are mostly related to the incidentals of travel and accommodation, but the stakes are significant. Never mind that the outcomes are unlikely to be evaluated in any meaningful way. The symbolism of such ‘learning theater’ is well-rehearsed. Its funding is seldom questioned. In any case, questioning its value does not seem to slow down expenditure, much less lead to meaningful change in practice. 

The whole affair is a fascinating microcosm of the broader power relationships that underpin global development. Let us explore how this could be, from the vantage point of the International Training Specialist.

You love training. It is indeed a powerful experience to be the ‘sage on the stage’, presenting, explaining, and demonstrating. Nowhere is that power more evident than in the architecture of an international training. It is power, and in fact it is by analyzing the imbalance of power that we are more likely to make sense of the peculiar role ascribed to the International Trainer in global health.

Bringing knowledge to those who are assumed not to know, to lack capacity, feels rewarding but is based on an assumption of superiority over others. Yet, it feels like you cannot possibly be doing anything wrong. How could teaching be harmful? You are here to help them, after all. For you, it is a profoundly humanizing experience to spend quality time with a small group, at great cost. You are intuitively convinced that it is time and money well-spent. You have observed your trainees’ eyes light up with the knowledge you have given them. They are consistently grateful. You love training. And you are convinced that they love being trained. Here they are, lined up in neat rows or – if you are a progressive trainer – circles, smiling and seemingly eager to receive your expertise.

Yes, there are lingering questions about outcomes. You seldom hear how things turn out after flying back to Atlanta. Your job, you tell yourself, is to deliver training. Mission accomplished. Measuring learning, you tell yourself, is difficult. But this does not worry you. You feel that it is working, and that is good enough for you. No one is really questioning your work, anyway. Every project has a budget line to cover travel, accommodation, and per diem. Job security seems guaranteed and lifelong. What a wonderful business to be in: a cost center that is tacitly accepted as necessary.

Empowered by such convictions, you are offended when you first hear about teaching machines. The idea seems simply absurd. You do not take it seriously. Its advocates are outsiders to the ‘training space’ that is your preserve. They are a strange bunch, seemingly passionate about things that make no sense to you. It sounds like they want to replace the complex human experiences that you love with something else. And that you may not be part of that ‘something else.’

You scoff at the potential use of technology to support learning. “They [your trainees] will never have access”, you exclaim. “It is too expensive and they do not even have X.” (X will first be electricity, then wifi, then mobile connectivity, but you dismiss the fact that things are changing quickly.) The proponents of digital learning obviously do not know everything you know about the reality of work and learning in the field.  You do not question how you know what you know. Your assumptions form blinders that you do not know you wear.

Managers and donors may occasionally challenge you. You have become quite effective at advocating for more training. Managers, you say, need to support staff development by accepting that people should stop work in order to learn. You have persuaded donors that training is the solution, even though you add that it is not always that. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars, with no evidence of impact, but, curiously, remain willing to blindly invest more. You feel that this is an accomplishment, evidence of the validity and success of your craft.

You do not, by any means, feel responsible for the lack of evidence. Your experience, on a personal level, is sufficient. You are an International Trainer. Let the evaluators deal with that. Change at the level system, you think, is above your pay grade. You have no incentive to question your role in that system. You get paid at the end of each month, no matter the outcomes.

For as long as you can, you deny that meaningful learning can happen online. You ignore the conclusions of the two largest meta-analyses comparing modes of learning (face-to-face, blended, and online). 

Because you sit in an institution that is a key player in global health, your denial does have consequences. Your “expertise” results in startlingly ineffective and improductive investments. Yet no one is holding you accountable for your convictions, your priorities, or your disregard for evidence. Your seniority leads others to consider you as the authority in your domain of expertise. You wield authority without accountability, with all the risk that entails, but somehow manage to remain unscathed.

Denial becomes harder to maintain over time. Reluctantly, you timidly recognize that perhaps online learning may be used to transmit information, albeit in limited ways. You become an advocate for click-through e-learning modules that are proliferating in international organizations, often promoted by human resources departments. Once again, you disregard the evidence already available about the limited effectiveness of this kind of “e-learning”. In a way, the inefficacy of such modules is your job security. At best, your teaching methods are being mimicked in an inferior digital format. That is reassuring. The technology is so imperfect and frustrating, you tell yourself that a machine presenting slides will never be as compelling as you can be in that hotel auditorium. And good luck getting the participants to show up and pay attention online, while your audiences remain captive.

Peer learning scares you. Experts teach. Not everyone can or should. Peers can, at best, share their experience. You are convinced that this should not happen without proper supervision. If peers support each other in a country in order to get something done, but there is no International Trainer present to observe, assess, or validate it, how could it be making a difference? More generally, you dismiss self-reporting as unreliable, doubting in both your trainees’ honesty or perhaps their intellectual ability to describe or analyze what they are doing or how they are doing it. You are the only one who can truly know. You are the International Trainer.

As donors timidly begin to question the value of your model, you double down on training as you have always done it. You look for arguments to undermine emerging approaches. Some are fragile innovations being offered by new entrants no one had ever heard of. Like the earlier proponents of digital learning, their mental models are completely foreign to you. You are convinced that your prevailing model is correct and therefore does not need to be questioned. When they present promising results, you either dismiss them or look for limitations and frailties. The latter are inherent to any innovation, but you use your established institutional position to dismiss, undermine, and marginalize. You believe that is your role. Your ability to influence is primarily negative, because the approaches you have advocated have so clearly failed. In fact, you hope that no one will start to ask questions about your outcomes. And, luckily, no one does.

Scaremongering does seem to work with your global health colleagues. Innovation may be a buzzword but it is nowhere in their work plans or performance objectives. They are already risk-adverse in order to keep their jobs, even those who have “innovation” in their titles. It is implicitly an existential question: if people in countries turned out to have indigenous expertise of their own contexts, and global knowledge is increasingly available through digital networks, this would threaten a number of prevailing assumptions about why and how the International Trainer is needed.

Then came the pandemic.

Don’t cancel or postpone your conference, workshop, or training – go digital

Reda Sadki #DigitalScholar, Events

How we respond to the threat of a disaster is critical.

Organizations planning physical-world events have a choice:

  • You can cancel or postpone your event OR
  • You can go digital.

Why not go digital?

  • You think it cannot be done.
  • You do not know how to do it.
  • You believe the experience will be inferior.

It can be done. You can learn. You are likely to be surprised by how much you can achieve.

The Geneva Learning Foundation is inviting conference and other event organizers to a Special Event in which we will share how you can rapidly move or ‘pivot’ your events online.

What is The Geneva Learning Foundation?

The Geneva Learning Foundation is a Swiss non-profit with the mission to develop trial, and scale up new ways to lead change to tackle the challenges that threaten our societies.

We are purely digital. This means all of our operations and activities take place online.

  • Nearly every day, we organize and facilitate one or more digital events that convene hundreds or thousands of participants from all over the world.
  • We want to help other organizations by sharing our experience and know-how.

Why are we doing this?

  • We believe that the digital transformation can strengthen the resilience of our societies.
  • Cancelling or postponing a conference weakens ongoing work that may be significant or important.

Why attend this Special Event?

If you are planning a conference:

  • During this Special Event, we will share the critical success factors for digital events. You are likely to be surprised by what we have found makes the greatest difference.
  • Attendees will receive an invitation to join our #DigitalConference short course, in which you actually build a practical plan you can use to go digital.

If you are an event organizer, we know you may be already facing severe consequences.

  • If you have experience in providing services to design and run digital events, we invite you to share your services with participants.
  • If you have been primarily focused on physical-world events, we invite you to share how you are adapting.

Here is a case study.

We just organized a conference that was attended by more than 1,700 participants from 95 countries, including those hardest hit by COVID-19.

  • This conference ran in English 3-13 March and in French 16-30 March.
  • World-class presenters shared their expertise with practitioners.
  • Dialogue was constant – 24 hours a day, given participants spread across time zones.

We were awed by the number and diversity of participants and the quality of their contributions in this Pre-Course Conference.

How do we compare digital and physical? It is comparable?

In the past, our partner had organized three successive face-to-face events in Barcelona and Dar Es Salaam.

  • Each event was attended by around 80 people.
  • Each event was well-planned and executed.
  • Each time, 80 people went back to their countries with new knowledge and relationships.

After the third time, our partner was ready to go digital.

Previous conferences were limited to around 80 participants.

  • They required everyone to stop their work in order to travel.
  • This is the hidden opportunity cost of face-to-face conferences.
  • It often adds up to far more than the actual expenditure on the event itself.

What about the intangible serendipity of a conference?

We know the real value of a physical event resides in the impromptu meetings of minds and bodies on the conference floor.

  • Sharing a drink or a meal provides the occasion to establish or strengthen informal relationships.
  • Yes, there are dozens of digital tools that can match individuals and organizations, schedule ad hoc meets, and stir idea generation and serendipity.
  • Yet, it is undeniable that some aspects – and the ones that matter – are difficult to replicate.

Conversely, you may discover new ways of doing new things in a digital conference that can accelerate and multiply serendipity.

If you cancel or postpone, you will get nothing.

Is it expensive?

  • No. You can make an awesome event digital using only free tools.
  • You can also hire people and providers with the right combination of tools, talent, and vision.
  • The secret sauce is in the know-how required: not to use the tools, but to figure out how to both replicate and augment the experience you wish to create.

This is where organizations and service providers with experience can help.

Is it difficult or time-consuming?

No. If you already have an event scheduled, there is a simple method to:

  • Identify what is the value and significance provided by the event – including the intangible, serendipitous bits
  • Think through how to recreate and augment this value
  • Convert everything you planned into a digital format

Fruits

Pros and cons of online courses

Reda Sadki Writing

“Please, I need someone to enlighten me on the pros and cons of online courses for active learning and professional development.”

There is quite a bit of contextual information missing to decode what is really being asked. We only know that it is an individual professional from an anglophone country in Africa. Still, I can think of at least three ways to answer this question.

Answer #1. Wrong question.

This is the wrong question. Pros and cons depend on the quality of the pedagogy, the teaching and facilitation team, the resources, technologies used, context, learning and learner objectives… everything except the medium.

Review a course against criteria like the above, not as an abstract consideration. Define your own goals. What are you hoping to achieve?

What is the relationship between perceived quality and cost?

The residential experience is still perceived as the gold standard for education. And it tends to be the most expensive.

To what extent are your choices driven by an economic imperative?

Are you considering an online course because you cannot afford a residential experience or it is otherwise not feasible (lack of time, inability to travel)? Are you assuming that lower cost signifies lower quality? What kind of credential will have value that you are willing to pay for? Will potential employers recognize this credential?

Answer #2. The research says digital is better.

Years ago, Bill Cope pointed me to the two most comprehensive meta-analyses (here and here) comparing online, blended, and face-to-face learning outcomes. One way to summarize these studies? Since 1992, people who learn online get slightly better learning outcomes than those who learn face-to-face, after leveling for all other differences. Furthermore, there appeared to be no benefit from blended learning, except for the fact that people tend to spend more time learning because they do more work, tending to repeat practice online with practice face-to-face.

Of course, it is much more complicated than that.

People fear losing per diem (receiving cash for attendance), the ability to create new relationships and see people they know and work with remotely, travel and other perks, time away from work… that is usually where resistance to digital learning comes from. There is also a lot of really bad, ineffective digital learning that is very damaging, replicating the worst of face-to-face methods and practice.

Learning outcomes are often just one goal being sought through training. (Conventional instructional design sees this as a problem. In fact, it is an amazing opportunity for those of us who are interested in education as a philosophy for change.)

Access to opportunities, professional network development, credentials of value, and many other goals may actually be more valued by learners than the knowledge acquired. Knowledge acquisition is likely to be the least valuable part of learning beyond the basics.

Adapted from: Staton, M.P., 2013. Unbundling Higher Education, A Doubly Updated Framework.

Answer #3. It’s all digital, now.

The key consideration is the rate of change of the digital transformation that is sweeping across our societies. This has enabled new ways to work and learn remotely. For example, coaches and mentors will hold Skype calls without even realizing that they have gone “digital” and are now practicing digital learning. They may in fact still be adamant about their skepticism that it is possible “learn online” and remain attached to sharing physical space to practice their craft, oblivious to their own dependence on technology and the way it benefits them.

The change is profound. Technology is embedded not only in our every day work but in the fabric of our lives and cultures.  

Almost a decade ago, Nathan Jurgenson coined the term digital dualism, “the habit of viewing the online and offline as largely distinct.”

“But this idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline. That is, we live in an augmented reality that exists at the intersection of materiality and information, physicality and digitality, bodies and technology, atoms and bits, the off and the online. It is wrong to say ‘IRL’ to mean offline: Facebook is real life.

Of course, digital learning is imperfect. It remains horribly clunky, ironically difficult to use, and mired with the legacy of transmissive lectures, an obsession with summative assessment, and a foggy nebula of evidence. Yet that it beside the point. Why? It is very early days and what matters is the accelerating pace of change: everything in digital learning is changing all the time, with new tools, platforms, processes constantly improving.

With face-to-face training, the rate of change is, to put it politely, slow. Face-to-face is a wonderful medium. Sharing physical space is our most familiar gateway to intimacy. It is an “always-on” experience, rendering isolation from other humans painful in some instances and a relief in others. However, the use of physical space for learning has finite limits, as some of the basic constraints of physical space are immutable. For example, simultaneous dialogue in which everyone has a voice is difficult to achieve in a physical space. (It’s called ‘everyone’s yelling at each other’ in a room and the chat box in a digital space.) It works best in formats that are low volume due to high cost, and the most effective formats are difficult if not impossible to scale.

The possibilities with digital seem endless by comparison — despite the current clunkiness, limitations, and frustrations that face-to-face trainers may feel because they lose the familiarity of experience that they are used to, digital means are enabling new ways of doing new things. And that is what we need because it is obvious that the conventional means we have been using are failing to deliver the outcomes we need.

What does this answer mean to the potential purchaser of education? If digital is the new default, quality and value in education are in flux, more than they have been for centuries. There are new factors to consider in the complex equation of when and how to invest in one’s professional development. The medium is just one consideration, but may not be a matter of choice.

Image: International fruit combo. Personal collection.

Inside a lava tube on Hawai'i (Personal collection)

Ashes to ashes

Reda Sadki Writing

L&D is dead.

Pushing us down the blind alley of technological solutionism, the learning technologists have demoted learning to tool selection.

  • Microlearning reduces the obsession with knowledge acquisition from a one-hour video to 60 one-minute videos.
  • Gamification is lipstick on the pig of behaviorism.
  • xAPI and other “X”-buzzwords are just the latest tin con by desperate LMS vendors.
  • Fantasizing that VR or AR will save us perpetuates the persistent confusion between tools and process.

As ‘learning leaders’ we are condemning ourselves to irrelevance by chasing ephemeral fads, investing in empty gimmicks, and embracing bearded gurus spouting non-sense.

  • ‘Learning in the flow of work’ is a successful consultant’s buzz word, but will not help us any more than 70-20-10 did.
  • Leadership ‘development’ remains about pampering a few executives old enough to appreciate cushy hotel and conference rooms.
  • Kirkpatrick died, replaced by a coterie of rabid Kirkpatrick wannabes frothing at the mouth about their new, convoluted learning ‘measurement’ systems, pretending they are now driven by research, in denial that evidence for education in general – and for learning and development in particular – is pathetically weak.

Clutching the pearls of ‘strategic relevance’ to the business supported by pseudo-studies to measure ROI is, at best, a tenuous proposition when every choice in the labyrinth of possibilities leads to the dead end of a cost center in perpetuity.

How could the role of education for the future 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?

It is mostly a failure of imagination. That is the only reason to shed a tear.

Image: Inside a lava tube, Kazumura Cave, Pahoa, Hawai’i (Personal collection).