It was the right time. And the right circumstances.

Locked in the prison of COVID-19 with no escape, retired from designing and strategic marketing, my working office was ready for a good cleaning out. Purging files was easy, as were research docs, visuals, loose notes, and sketches hanging around, some for twenty-five years.

As ego goes, I’m far from immune. It would bother me that my grown children would not see solutions for some of the largest organizations in the world. I wanted them to discover that dad was sharp and some of his stuff was brilliant. Took a week, kind of a celebration, and diversion before getting down to business. And the early notes, refinements, contracts, the people I worked with, or for, or who worked for me seemed still so vivid. Though upset about my legacy, out it went from closet, shelves, cabinets, and drawers. So, a little, well not weepy, but aware a door was closing on a professional life done. And reminding me I’m so much closer to the end than the beginning.

Yikes. A lot of weight, words, and worries 


But I pulled up short, brakes on, engine off, prop not spinning. I knew what was coming next. Before I could organize the space, I came face to face with heavy decisions and the weight of emotions they carried. So… Books, books, books, everywhere. Subjects critical at moments to earn degrees. Volumes illustrating techniques and expertise; historical pages that gave foundation to decisions. Every type, shape, color, weight, age, and price. The cliché that books are like old friends that even if ignored, are ready to visit anytime made these actions feel like a betrayal. I am not a procrastinator. When you work as a consultant you learn how true the adage, ‘time is money’ and, ‘thinking, that takes time, costs money’. I have worked efficiently and proficiently.

Drawing from experience and research, parceling enough time for planning and communicating with clients or colleagues produced fresh, clever, creative on-trend solutions. I always got the work done and shipped.

Except, now. Professional habits so ingrained began sliding towards a permanent vacation. Inaction, terminal ennui, hesitation. What was Han Solo encased in? Carbonite? I envy him.


Let’s step back 65 years or so…

One-tenth of architectural books that remain

Our 4-room apartment was full of books.

My mother read every bestseller and all of us, the weekly color periodicals; my father every newspaper, glossy magazine, and technical catalogs, reflecting his interests or hobbies at the time. He relaxed with the latest pulp novels. I was enrolled in the ‘Book of The Month’ child’s edition from 5 years old. I still have my favorite, “Seven Into Space, The Story of The Mercury Astronauts”. How many times did I spin around the corner to catch the elevator — or rush down the stairs to the wall of shiny brass mailboxes hoping a magazine had come for me. In school, we paid $1 per week (mandatory) for the New York Times, with a current events quiz for students on Friday. My parents signed an installment agreement to get the young adult version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Long before the loan was paid I had read it cover to cover. On to the ‘real’ version — protected in a special cabinet in a new branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Slow work, at least a year — with many vacations.

And it was like this in every Jewish household in my building. In East Flatbush, my grandmother had a Readers Digest subscription and their book series as well, and Grandpa devoured anything a good American should read. Why such reverence for the written word? In general, these were post-war attitudes and behaviors. It was simply expected the first generation born after the second world war was to exceed the achievements of our parents. We’d be going to college and entering a profession, followed by marriage and as many children as we could sustain. There was a subterranean message never spoken hidden by adults. We were vessels to replace the six million who died in the camps. They drove us hard to achieve and required, among other demands, a respectable job and income sufficient to support a happy family. Knowledge was the door and reading, the key.

Few religions or cultures match Christian faiths, whose massive cathedrals embellished with color radiant through massive, stained glass windows welcomed the light of the lord to its dark interior, its astonishing height heaven itself. In stirring brushwork by the greatest of artists and artisans, and incredible, dynamic sculptures the gospels of the new testament were visual epics to awe and educate illiterate peasants. Today, no church even in the poorest parish, is not without its best treasures on display.

Judaism is a culture based on the word. It is an oral and literary tradition — we had not and still do not rely on much visual imagery to tell our 5781-year-old history. As a child, even during college years, if I fell short of a fact or the merest iota of information, Grandma would, and this does say it all, “Richard, look it up”.

The Holocaust was the most profound evil in modern history for our people. Regardless of one’s commitment to the literal old testament, a national fervor to expunge an entire people universally influenced all Jews.

The burning of books was the second-worst. Destruction of the written word was infamy. The accumulated knowledge, of fact, fables, and stories; of history, of art and fantasy, reduced to ash the creative efforts of Jews and non-Jews alike. Our ‘tribe’ harbors a reverence for authors needed to enrich our minds and imaginations, ask important questions, and seek answers. Reducing this biological need in our character to ash was designed to delete thinking and suppress humanity. The dead were dead and the mourning continues. But, the living became impoverished in culture and spirit.

The time arrived to select a selection of a meager batch of books — that I could neither donate nor share i.e., pandemic. Being a realist, I thought I might exhibit some stoicism at this point. Nope. When the pile of books thudded into the bin felt at once I had violated my culture and personal ethic woven into me from childhood. It was overwhelming.

A better person would have listed all the volumes I eventually — let’s face it — destroyed — as a requiem for the writers of fact, fiction, of professional texts held from the first days of work then resurrected when I taught. Books that illustrated the how and why of all things helped me grow a literary and visual vocabulary. Most profitably they taught the basic art of influencing audiences to speak with persuasion and passion. I was able to site references of the history of this or that and explain how the modern evolved from the past — in practical ways, perfect for my audiences. I had a pretty deep collection in a few fields, not merely a superficial visit about some subject or other. Excepting my notes, I’d never been able to recreate those words and experiences again — then again, I’d never have to. But it would have been pleasant to pass them on.

These remained as well — marketing research, principles. Notebooks and sketchbooks will remain until an inheritor has to make the decision — after they are read of course.  Wow, Dad was smart!

As I look down at my wrinkled hands on the keyboard, I can’t help but think of the boy who first fell in love with reading, and the smell of a new book just unwrapped, and show off ink stains from newspapers as proof of letterpress pages digested front to back or vice-versa — depending on the progress of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And the fact is, I became a writer, too. Two textbooks, teacher’s guides, references, white papers, eBooks, magazine and reference articles, and blog entries used for information, teaching moments, and opinion internationally. My wife too, a voracious reader and superb teacher of the highest merit, ensuring the disenfranchised street kids she taught might — and did — revere Shakespeare as a precursor to hip hop lyrics. And this is a gift we have passed down to our adult children, with children of their own. Great readers and lovers of good literature, each is a model for their progeny that began with our parents’ parents.

Grandkids with their digital distractions are not the readers we think we would like them to be. But they read in their way, in another reality disconnected from ours — kind of a disjointed reading process. This is a new kind of behavior attuned to the heavily digitized world. I’ve taken note that when interested and motivated, exploring content they lock on to and can bounce from a text to video to checking out details on the web, easily referencing or diving even deeper through different media to fully encircle a subject and become experts.

But I could only offer books. I passed these on to my oldest grandson entering whatever college is these days, texts he will use, even if out of date, yet with relevant information and I, hoping to offer some inspiration for making these volumes the core of his professional library.

As I began this essay asking to be pardoned for my sins, I include disappointment for the opportunity others might have received from the words and pictures whether for purpose or pleasure.

Anyone who has written to be read by others knows it’s not just putting one word in front of the other. It’s tough work and quite naturally your readers will let you know what they think of your efforts. So, it’s a writer’s conceit to be read — after all if not, then the effort surely exhausts one’s ego. I want something back for the strain.

All the knowledge, interpretations, inspiration, fun, fantasy, and joy I got and still get from reading and often writing, is a blessing. I have friends who tell me I’m so lucky I take pleasure in reading when they cannot. How could it have been otherwise? I was an acolyte to those around me who read — I just naturally did what they did. Never once did anyone tell me to read — except maybe homework. Books are what I am made of, and substantially, made me. The pleasure of reading, of learning something new; a word to look up, a passage worth keeping in notes, ideas to test against my thinking or opinion, finding evidence in the ‘real’ world discovered on the printed page. Nowadays, particularly when driving on stretches of highway or a route with which I am familiar, I enjoy podcasts because it’s fun to be read to and though I’ve spent many years in the digital realm I still find it a miraculous treat.

And then as time was short, I hit up the local liquor store owner for some boxes (and should have bought a few bottles for courage or dull the memory) I spent two days picking through the shelves, rationalizing as much as thinking, what should remain and what was unnecessary, What a hurtful word that can be.

To dismiss any writer’s words is insulting and demeans their struggle. A poorly crafted novel, with stilted, forced dialogue and equally unsympathetic characters, or the best information made exciting and alive with flourishes of language and words I can taste, have their genesis from only one source — the dictionary. I think of some stinkers I have started and now, finally, I don’t feel guilty putting them down. I’m guessing those authors failed to select the correct words or put them in better order.

What separated books I kept from those I dismissed might have been at the hormonal, reptilian level. Are juicy words few others know, useful phrases, terms, or pithy ripostes; quotations, maybe words, and phrases to be weaponized and flung at someone over the barbecue. Absorbing consequential information spoken out or injected into my writing is always a pleasure. Nevertheless, every writer who writes puts in the time works out their thoughts, conjures a story, gives life to characters, attempts to make meaning and emotion from their mind or gut, and sometimes the heavy lifting of research, too. To be thumped by editors or readers that penetrate and wound is the risk. They, we, I, must be respected — or pitied. Maybe I had that in the back of my mind when I parted with those volumes for which I had neither use nor room. I think if space were not at issue, I’d keep them all, good not so good — if for no other reason than avoiding a choice of who lives and who dies.


“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.”

Would you like to guess the year this hypothesis was coined?  That’s right!  1652. What a year!

If you find this concept plausible, if the clarity with which business results are expressed, then the more accurate learning objectives can be formed.  Further, the more likely instruction can be well designed to achieve the intended outcomes.  A + B = C. This is a simple system really – inputs and outputs built along a continuum.

But hold on – We can’t calculate, quantify, or qualify achievement unless measured against a benchmark.

While we can all agree a yardstick is required, we often have a hard time decoding points A and B, a decision provided by the business identifying current and preferable conditions.  Now pivot over to learning where content is made from the distance between those 2 points.

A valuable exercise would seek to align the delta of between A and B as content now expressed by outcomes defined by the business and subsequently the ability of learning organization to tightly couple the content to media, methodology, trends, and technology.  This is a simple system, quite linear and logical and when well executed, can sustain grand outcomes no matter the difficulty and complexity demanded by the challenge.  Though we are in the realm of change management education is either a tool or a driver of the desired change; either way it is central to a reconstitution of an organization or, for that matter, a brand.

Let’s step back a bit.  Gaule was a Church of England clergyman taking advantage of the newer technologies of his day, e.g. a rudimentary telescope and measuring instruments, good eyesight, resilience, and a compelling drive to ‘know’ wrote in 1652 that if one system made of many supporting facts was proven correct than others of the same kind would likely be equally correct.  When interconnected a more complex system was revealed.  But for a complex system to be true, all of its minor truths must be so.  ‘Here endeth the lesson,’  said at the close of C of E services no doubt Gaule led or worshipped.


I hope readers are shaking their heads at this point warbling a mighty DUH.  “This is so obvious – it’s what we always do,” you’re thinking.  We follow ADDIE, or Gagne or Aldrich, et.  al. so we always meet objectives.  Really?  How many learning developers—from the inside the company or delivered by external vendors dare create true assessment—on the job results that reveal measurable business improvement metrics, or fall back on the (recently departed) Kirkpatrick settling for learner satisfaction that will magically morph employees into production megatrons, or build authentic appraisals that may expose the absorption of the learning but say nothing about how the learning becomes dollars.

The point is we have two simple systems; one for determining what will most likely justify the time and money put into benchmarking efforts  that expresses success—and another for design and delivering  a method that will most likely meet results.  Doing it right the first time means the business must be clear not only about content but about their expectations.  Then the learning team surgically examines these outcomes and designs a system to deliver performance improvement using the appropriate tools.

Two enterprises, two sets of tasks for one unique outcome.  How can we skew the odds in favor of building to square the first time?  Is there a magic sauce?  Well, no, but after almost 40 years in learning, and thousands of hours of design and development in every medium, at every subtask from writing narratives to managing multi-million dollar global rollouts I’ve observed the following characteristics present in successful engagements.  Perhaps there are others or more—these are the ones I’ve viewed and in which I’ve participated.

5.1 Simple Things A Business Must Do To Ensure Learning Will Yield Quality Results

1.  Know Exactly What Success Will Look Like.

Find the delta of what is now and what should be.  Whether quality or quantity, people or object centric, how will you know it when you see it. The business must identify where the failure lies, e.g., the poor commission of the sales staff is a micro issue; but failure to perform over time will have macro consequences.

2. Communicate Business Goals Throughout The Enterprise.

Everyone must understand what the business is about, what it does, who it serves and where and how money is made—and the drivers of that income.  When an employee has a panoramic view of the company and recognizes how their participation is vital, the door to learning opens.

3.  Define With Precision, Exactly What Is Expected To Change Post-Learning And Why.

And how it will be measured.  And by whom.  Following on the heels of #2, the specific nature of the learning initiative is clarified.  This will generate buzz, cross-talk and may be some push back.  That’s great.  Whether from professional staff or union reps, work towards understanding and acceptance before the learning is built.  This is an opportunity to introduce the concept of change management.

4. Bracket The Learning Experience By Time And Effort.

The demands made on the time of the learner—and whether learning will be part of the working day or on their own time needs to planned and accepted.  This is especially critical as we move to social media where technology to deliver learning on demand, including mLearning follows the learner around 24/7.  What is management prepared to do to encourage participation which by design might become an intrusion on ones private time?

5. Provide One Example Of An Observable And Positive Outcome.

Tell a ‘big win’ company story by communicating its history, good and bad decisions, solutions, heroes, and goats.  Publicize these ‘war’ stories.  Think reality TV.  From the CEO outward ‘soft’ communications changes companies into learning cultures.  Humanizing an enterprise, especially a multinational behemoth is critical to successful change.  Good internal marketing with collateral and internal PR goes a long way to make an individual feel like part of something grand instead of a cube farm drone (Remember ‘Office Space?’ If you haven’t seen it please do).

5. 1 Regression Test:

Everyone in the company should be encouraged to provide their own ‘war’ stories; tales of success and overcoming the odds.  And ensure these get compiled and disseminated worldwide.  Everyone likes to be noticed and in print (on the screen page), it carries a lot of juice, ergo loyalty and effort.  These stories will be part of the CXO’s/Enterprise wide communications practices.

5.1 Responsibilities of a Learning Organization that Yields Business Performance Goals

1.  Seek To Understand The Organization In Its Entirety.

Regardless of the scope of the project, the learning team must become virtual employees of the business.  It is seductive to believe you may achieve learning outcomes at arm’s length, resolve the immediate business goal, and consider the assignment successful.  However, to fully grasp how even modest courseware can influence the equilibrium of the organization, recognize, and learn operations, product, marketing, logistics, etc.  Then you can build better learning because you can see how your piece fits into the whole. Even if you work for the company you should do the same.

2.  Interaction with the client organization is necessary at all levels.

The more tightly coupled the learning organization is to the business the more effective the results.  While a project manager may represent  the client, direct evidence that senior leadership comprehends the outcomes of what this project means (even a limited project) to the enterprise is non-negotiable.  He or she must be a stakeholder in the initiative and must check progress even if infrequently.  Now there are three clients; the immediate project manager who needs the learning product; the real client, the learner; and now a CXO.  All expect actionable changes from their – and your efforts.

3.  Compel The Organization To Synthesize The Project In Writing.

A summation of the project, goals, schedules, milestones and QA reviews plus administrivia is the minimal communication required in an SOW or equivalent.  Typically, the goals of our learning solution would be  stated in behavioral terms.  That’s too broad.  Information must be more granular.

For instance, here’s an objective: The lab technician will learn how, and practice manipulating contaminant material.  Clear enough for the course — but too general for planning the learning.  What you really need to know are the underlying components of that objective: Why does the material have to be handled in such a way; what happens if the operator does not comply with material handling processes; what effects result from failures that exceed the norm?  How will you – and the company – be able to assess whether the operator is indeed following procedure and how often not.  You should plan – within the learning – a method of benchmarking compliance – what is and what is not tolerable. Moreover, do this first, before planning the learning design.  Capture all of this information, archive it, and treat it as a contract.  Share this with management as a check for understanding.

4.  Play To The Medium

Every learning program usually starts with a proclamation, “This will be online e-learning because it must migrate to 4 geos.  Or a blended learning solution, we’ve found, is the best way to engage learners.”  Frankly, that’s inductive reasoning – making generalizations based on individual instances – a not very reliable construct.  Be clear varying outcomes demand unique construction process and elements.  How you create interaction online, with mobile learning as an add-on, will be completely different then a blended approach with webinars.  Learning works best when built specifically to the strengths of the medium.

5.1 Ensure Your Customer Relationship Management Is Faultless.

Servicing the client is your mantra.  Know who has the gravitas to champion the project or the authority to pull it  The individual highest on the food chain who—if you’ve done everything right up to here—will defer to your judgement and insights.  However, if you believe – and can back up – a problematic element even if expected by the enterprise, speak up.  By now, your organization should be acknowledged as a team with a depth of understanding capable of making good decisions for their business.

5.1   Avoid Cognitive Dissonance

The discomfort felt at when there’s a difference between what a learner already knows or believes, and new information or a new interpretation should be resolved early.  Just as the business wrestles with decision-making and problem solving, discord among the learning team must be resolved or greater difficulties will arise during the build out.  If these issues leap the chasm and get on the companies radar, I’ve seen businesses torpedo the project fearing that infighting diminishes effort, a focus on quality, and a sense that the learning team works in conflict.

In the end, no learner should be left saying, “Yes, that was a great course and I learned a lot but they really didn’t understand how this affects me.”  With diligence and truth – your learning – built on a foundation of insight and accuracy – will meet or exceed the organizations expectations and make believers of skeptics.

So, two simple systems aware of each other’s challenges.  The learning team must broker the effort to make the project work.  Sometimes this means educating the business. And of course, the business must open itself to close inspection.  Success can be summed up as good communication, awareness of each company’s unique challenges, and respect for the process as much as the project that will ultimately improve performance and profitability.

Anyway, that’s what I know to be true.  I’ve seen it and lived it.  Sorry for the wordiness but it’s a big, important topic.

I’ll take questions now.

Revolution or Evolution?

I’m a big fan of “Learning Without Frontiers.”  I believe Graham Brown-Martin, et. al. is interested in a learning revolution not evolution.  And if that’s the case, count me in.  Disintermediation and disruption.  In fact his latest blog posting [See – I don’t think Graham really cares if you watch the whole excerpt from ‘The Matrix” – fast forward to the pill scene] lays out a case for this very position.

I believe we agree that changing corporate learning and school-based instruction will require more than pilot programs all based on some version of what currently passes for learning delivery methodology.

It’s only a revolution that will fundamentally redress the debilitating arthritis in learning.  But for such a massive change, many elements must come together at the right time and place.  Is this the time?  I believe this is our ‘Sputnick’ moment-and we’ll have to act quickly before it get’s weighted and watered down.

Let’s inventory what we have before us:

1. Leadership: Firstly, individuals who will ensure the philosophical foundation is solid.  They are followed by learning politicos who will carry the vision of what can be to the masses.  Then practitioners who will align the practical with the realistic by which the revolution will be carried out and perhaps most vitally, the mentors who will work with learners to maximize their capacity for individual growth while providing a baseline of knowledge, skills and behaviors we as a society require.

2. Attitudes: In “Learning Without Frontiers” (the blog, website, conferences) we know revolutionaries are gathering in places around the globe.  Realizing that mere adjustments to the learning process have yielded the usual results – with few exceptions – we are growing tired of tweaking the system rather than disrupting the system at its core.  Moreover, from acolytes like Guy Kawasaki to Salman Khan, Sir Ken Robinson to Daniel Pink’s anointing Karl Fisch’s teaching technique ‘Flip Thinking,”, there is a ready movement expressed in these attitudes of change.  And I would be remiss if did not call to the fore Steve Jobs recognized for his vision and creations – products that enabled a dissembling of information as well as recreation and have instigated changes everywhere.  Here is a fine tweak that for all its unassailability is only a riff on what is, in a limited way for a limited few)

But that’s not this:

3. Tools: From YouTube videos to gaming, tablets to the simplicity of interconnection, the awakening won’t lack for methods of communication.  Students of history – and warfare – will agree that without the ability to deliver messages and receive replies in a timely way, all necessary actions are in either jeopardy or collapse.  Look at today’s young learners and then at the GenX and Millenials in the workforce.  They are linked by their amiability using technology – no anxiety there for they never knew a world without it.

4. Situation: This country and most of the world is approaching a tipping point where not only the educational status quo is unacceptable, but trying to massage it into something that passes for learning but with better tools (more computers) socialization structures (class size) or physical spaces (schools that reflect a new social/technology order) is only putting a shine over rust.  Because the conventional economics of learning – organizational or school – come with a growing price tag, a plummeting ROI and still sliding economy, they will cross each other on the graph.  It would be fair to ask, what now?  By then however, it’s too late.  Sort of like climate change.

My argument about schools is the same as when I was a 21-year old neophyte art teacher.  Schools are not working and cannot be fixed incrementally — tear them down.  Start fresh.  Same in corporate training; if we turn out even the most exciting learning using the most interactive and compelling technologies, it will pale before one :30 second television commercial.  No, let’s not make better commercials (not that we could afford the production costs), instead let’s do something completely different.

And that could be this:  Provide a technology toolkit and ensure users are capable of using their new ‘pencils’; set up the problems to be solved, provide a mentor to guide, probe and question and let kids and adults have at it.  Each learner will first attempt to resolve problems usually working within their own learning styles (thanks Howard “Well-Ahead-of-My-Time”) Gardner, individually or collaboratively, in or out of a place called a “school” or a “learning conference center.”  By the way, that’s not to say we abandon goals and objectives, nor vital content, just utilize different tools and walk through a different door. See #1.

And the term for this approach?  One I believe will cause less hand wringing.  I suggest “decentralized” learning. Each individual or collaboration is a producer of content, policies, rules, methods, devices, models, visuals, video, and audio in order to resolve, explain, and defend a solution from a problems designed to integrate both historical, present-day and future revelations of what might be.  When put that way it seems straightforward, almost simplistic.  Of course, it’s not and will challenge both students and adults to solve problems and learn on occasion to work as teams.

Welcome back to the 60’s – where the “The Whole Earth Catalog,” Stewart Brand, Marshall McLuhan, and his flock predicted this would come to be.  Moreover, they based their thinking on the technology of what today would be a joke; a Sony black and white camera with no monitor, a separate tape deck, and little ability to edit.  But when I loaned the two I had for kids to take home and experiment, magic started to happen.  I can only imagine what lies ahead if we have the courage to take on this challenge. It’s said that in architecture, every act of construction begins with an act of destruction.  Think about it – whether tearing down a seedy motel or digging up empty land for a new firehouse, it’s the same.  Why don’t we have the determination to carry that analogy into the realm of education—tear it down—and build it up?

Getting Closer to Bond, James Bond

I don’t believe it’s a secret that information design is gaining traction in the learning world. With so many form factors from smartphones to oversize touch screen computers – and now the iPad, revolution/revelation how we handle data, text and imagery, plus coherent manipulation of screen objects is becoming of paramount performance.

The latest Bond films depict a glance at this next next iteration. Confession—one ticket to geekdom for me: I was as much intrigued by the “desks” and how agents moved around data in a hologram-like environment as the action sequences (Well maybe not THAT much). Huge amounts of materials, available for comparison and evaluation.

From the hawkings of Edward Tufte, a right turn past Gary Hustwit and a stop at frogdesign and you’ll note the amount and placement of data is becoming a considerable factor in two and three-dimensional design.

It can’t be too long for a leap past the ‘pad’ family into another once imagined environment—now sitting on a someone’s drive are plans for total spatial manipulation; that is integrated, animated, user-manipulated, four dimensional access to information. Of course, any real adoption, even if the tech is ready, will occur only after manufacturers and developers have sucked dry holes from their current product margins.

Meanwhile, assuming I am correct or at least close, how will this affect learning; corporate, and public education? If you believe as I do the next few years will bring about a decentralization of the command and control that once was school – or the conference hall that “captivated” business learning had better stand by. Check out the work of Dr. Hans Rosling a professor in Sweden who has enjoyed 4 million YouTube hits about Statistics, the driest dry bed in academe takes on the conflation of data and – more importantly its meaning – and makes it fascinating. In our hands (well… his at the moment) is the power to draw meaningful conclusions brought forward through delivery of critical information by comparison, cause and effect, prognostication and even ‘black swans.’ And, most vitally, this give us a pretty good look in to the future.

So what started in the Middle Ages with movable type through the first Macs to the latest Xoom’s our communicative ability will be exponentially staggering.

The net effect is at least two-fold (it should be four-fold if a hologram I suppose, but I’m not capable of manipulating that amount of data in my head) immediate effect. One, as I mentioned would be the further disintegration of the single expert or limited sources of material accepted as gospel and at face value: e.g., courseware that teaches negotiation strategies for example. I look forward to anarchy with facts – though I am more conservative about too quickly abandoning what we know to be true—only how it can be presented. It’s a real respect or an accounting for learners who apprehend information differently. And the second is a requirement that information design and designers are elevated to central roles designing in the multiplicity of communication modes. This should not be a far-reaching serious profession with discourse stretching from type fonts to charting to engineering for holographic zoom effects.

If you haven’t read up on design lately or at all, I suggest you grab, “Universal Principles of Design” by Lidwell, Holden, & Butler; and “The Information Design Handbook” by Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady. These are the minimum of a fundamental intellectual and visual vocabulary, and, in addition to Tufte, Don Norman, and Henry Petroski form an intellectual foundation for clarity of design. Some information looks backward in order to tell us about the present and others about making the present more comprehensible. The same movement must be energized on the visual and interactive design side, too.

Not too long from now, we’ll be projecting a space on to which we can further project materials of all kinds – instantly snatching data to not only observe the present but inform what comes next.

I suppose ‘Q’ would have been thrilled – I’m still impressed that James is as comfortable manipulating his super-smartphone as he is a 9mm.

Treacherous Business Words Used in Learning Pt2

So we left off with Important/Urgent and I just want to mention that what is important and urgent to someone else may be of little consequence to you. What’s the phrase,”A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” So true. Of course know when and with whom to pick your battles, right?

I’ve saved these heavyweights for last. Enjoy. Or not.

7.       Strategic

In theory, strategy or strategic plan means looking out in the distance and setting your goals.  Then every decision would be tactical in that each would contribute to the success of the project.  Huh.  That’s gone.  Strategic is now important on steroids.  Whenever you’re asked for the strategy of this courseware or how it fits within the strategic vision of our corporate long-range plan – get out the shovel.  The more times strategic is used the more self-important the speaker and the less concrete the goal.

8.       Rightsize, downsize, best shore, offshore, outsource, optimize, redeploy, downshift, re-engineer.  Now entering the realm of hyper cliché are any of these ways of kissing off staff.  In the learning business, we tend to suffer early – and when training budgets start to be trimmed think of the canary in the coalmine.  Call your connections, dust off the rez, and brighten up your LinkedIn profile because you are soon to be history.  Using this terms makes the executioner feel like he is doing something strategic (see #7) for the greater good of the corporation.

9.       Thank you.  What?  How can some of the most benign words find their way on this list?  Simply when it’s spoken by a machine.  Thank you for your interest, your time, your patience, your value as a customer and such.  We don’t thank people much in online courseware – I don’t know why, we just don’t.  However, trainers are always thanking learners – most of who were locked up in a room for the day, had to show up to the session and compelled to complete the requirements.  Thanking them is obsequious.  Thanking them before the session ends for enduring the training with grace and composure demonstrates commiseration.  Of course, if the trainer was outstanding – the audience will say, “Thank you.”

10.       Interesting

I find this the funniest word on the list.  It suggests, on one hand pondering, deep thinking while all the facts are weighted.  However, as the Chinese say, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” it portends not a good thing.  Nor the doctor holding your x-ray and saying, “Hmm, interesting.  And my favorite use in learning – and it’s true especially in the arts as well – when the patron, viewer, learner says, “Interesting.”  That’s shorthand for you missed the mark.  I’d like to be less interested in employment if you will hire me.

11.       Opportunity

Oh, I know all about opportunities – they used to be called problems.  I will defend account executives (formerly salesmen/women colleagues who enjoy when an an opportunity to sell into a company appears. That is truthful.  Of course, they are there because the business has a problem.  Of course, everyone will first thank each other for finding time in their busy schedules to make the meeting…and once again the shovel please.

12.       Investment

Like opportunities, we do not spend (unless the opposite political party wants to put the taint on the other guys).  We do want to make investments in education, infrastructure, even in learning, public and corporate – with the hopes that the investment will pay off.  Here we are hobbled by two misconceptions.  Firstly, we are going to spend money and we will not (in the actual definition) earn capital in return.  Therefore, without a return on investment – it is spending.  In fact, those who want to make these investments hardly know what they will do or purpose they will serve.  Most egregiously – and this folks (hang your heads low because we share some of the guilt), is because no one knows how to measure the worth of these investments… and determine whether the spending was justified by the result.


So I hope you found this enlightening and humorous – good to laugh at yourself once in a while.  Please try to be interesting when you build your strategy and don’t forget to thank those who recognized the opportunity to see the importance in your project; just remember you might always be downsized, but from me to you I hope your investment will pay off.


Have a safe drive home.

Treacherous Business Words Used in Learning

I caught an interesting article about the twelve most dangerous words in business.  I thought, twelve.  That’s it?  Then I realized how they apply to learning and the pain they can cause.

I won’t hold back the suspense

1.      Just

Defined in business to dial down a big request.  “Could you just complete this (2-hour) course by Monday?  This is followed by a set of specs that led Columbus astray.  When you try to get clarity, the requestor says that’s the only information I have — Hey, thanks. We know in learning building the back-story – that is the actual objectives, resources, assignments, deadlines, critical path, and such are ridiculously compressed.  More often than we’d like to admit the resulting course has two-fold results: It is used, maybe, if it actually answers a need for which you thought it was made but never fully understood (shooting in the dark syndrome) or if it is delivered, the results are never exposed to any metric for measurement.

2.       But

If you hear ‘but’ everything said prior is meaningless because everything said after is what counts.  BTW, mother’s are great at this.  (At least mine) Vut brigns with it a  criticism, an excuse, or camouflage for someone to hide behind.  This is deadly in learning simply because it usually comes after an enormous amount of time and effort has already been expended.  Prepare to reboot.

3.       From

A modifier in ninja black that pretends to help by putting a stake in the ground – a starting point.  Seems innocent enough until it begins to move, uprooted by some other higher ranking influencer: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this?’  Or, ‘I know we started from here – let’s try starting from here instead.’  This is a sneaky one.

4.       Might

Actually, this makes three appearances on our list.  As a negotiating strategy, your boss says he might be able to help you if…Next, it suggests you will have to compromise something to achieve your goals – see, it’s a snarky tradeoff based on power.  Of course, the last utilitarian application is post project when blame is being distributed ‘You know we might have done this if (Insert name of person, conditions, restrictions, etc.) might have (a two-for-one zinger) been somehow different.

5.       Only

Another modifier designed to relieve the speaker from responsibility by diminishing the scope or effort you’ll need to put out there.  I love this when it shows up after storyboards are going to production and ‘only one minor change’ would really be helpful.  GRRRR.

And the last for this morning…

6.       Important (and Urgent)

Stephen Covey separates these two as completely different elements.  For our purposes, it inflates how critical a project is and – by fiat – how vital your role will be.  Further it suggests this is a high profile assignment being viewed from up on high.  So, you had better give it your very best effort.  As if…

Gadgets You Can Get Rid Of – and Pile Up These Outmoded Education Ideas, Too

Reading Sam Grobart’s article in the NYT yesterday I found it not only entertaining but pretty accurate. I happen to agree with most of his calls – though I think cheesing the USB Thumb Drive could be a bit immature.  Not every client, for instance will install software to see your stuff.  For now, I’ll take plug and play.  Kill the standalone GPS unit too – a BlackBerry with VZNavigator got me from New York to Holden, Maine (look it up – you won’t find it – though my phone did) as well as my onboard system – and it spoke to me in a much nicer voice.

Ok, so we’ll agree hardware ages out (the last CD is being pressed next week) to be replaced by a new technology or better yet new software offering easier information manipulation, connectivity and storage.  And the pace is accelerating at a ridiculous rate—beyond in most cases our needs or our ability to acclimatize to the environment this technology has created.

I wish the same rapid changes were true in both corporate and public education.  This way, even if a concept fails it can quickly be replaced by another, better one.  How many antique philosophical constructs, techniques and methodologies (and include tech here) must we throw into a crevice to melt in the instructional magma before we get the idea that there are many ways to resolve – and improve learning performance.  Educators, rooted in the 19th century, with some pretense at accepting 20th century thought, and a few 21st century models of knowledge transfer.

In an effort to be short—these items and ideas are top of mind and food for thought.  I invite your dialogue or arguments.  (This will be posted of the Heroes of Education Foundation Group on LinkedIn as well).

In schools:

1.       Shred the attendance book.  Are you seriously still considering – in the age of RFID, etc., attendees and students need to sign in?
2.       No such thing as a computer lab – laptops are cheap enough and accessible so why push anyone into a single use facility. Besides teaching computing is like teaching ‘pencil’.  And kids are way ahead of teachers anyway.
3.       There is no reason the person in the front of the room is the font of all knowledge.  Learners will come prepared differently since different questions will be asked and instructional approaches will have to take on a different flair. A good teacher accepts his/her role has changed.
4.       Don’t throw out ALL the books – just the ones that get worn out having been used for 2-3 generations of students (All novels, texts about grammar and the like, mathematics overtaken by utilitarian math on one side, theory on the other, Social Studies and Language Arts – don’t get me started – and the list burrows in throughout the curriculum .  Add to oversize volumes of art, travel, maps, though.
5.       Push open the fissure just starting to open that is decentralized learning.  We learn in life, not through an artificial construction of life.  Access to information and the ability to share–is the most democratic of ways means the ability to string together meanings, solving problems, building simulations of how to define what learning is.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach the requisite foundation building bricks of content – just differently and this is consistent with…
6.       Blowing up the school.  The savings in fuel costs between the boilers and buses will keep any district in laptops for years.  Meetings of learning cohorts have the entire environment in which to gather in a group.  Moreover, if you need a reference remember how school started: Socrates stood beneath a tree enticing those who sought knowledge to come and get it.
7.       Schedules – you must be kidding.  Everyone has a custom schedule – but all have to meet certain requirements.

In the corporate realm, adult learners bristle against having to learn something new – especially if they can’t see the benefit.

1.       All learning should be ‘line of sight’ that refers to two overlapping constructs.  Firstly, what is to be learned needs to be JIT and crisp enough so talent can realize how they will do better, enjoy more, have higher rates of satisfaction when they participate – now willingly.  The other part refers to evaluation.  Why bother to pull staff away from their tasks (which are now heavier than ever) unless management can determine that the input—courseware, etc.—yields a measurable, positive change; from attitude to the bottom line.
2.       Finally, like in schools, what about direct learning.  Is ILT still a viable concept?  We could come up with a half-dozen models to replace top down learning, recognizing, as adults, the freedom to learn by one’s own methodology and style still bears the responsibility of results that are tangible and measured.

There’s my not so small list.  To be sure, a realization that technology is school on a stick is necessary – you can take learning anywhere.  Corporations know this – when staff travels their laptops are precious cargo and many an airline passenger is heads down working on a training program.  Of course, the program might just be a recitation or page-turner that only defeats the real opportunity.

I don’t think we throw out everything – but I believe the foundation is shaking.  As our tools become even more ‘talkative’, the easier change will be.  And it will come, if not from our leaders than down from the streets – because the 16 year old and the 60 year old are closer than ever before and they’ll all want a revolution—or a vigorous evolution at least.

Illustration by Harry Campbell Continue reading

Instructional Techniques – Quick Takes – 2

Picking up from yesterday, you’ll recall I had one unfortunate learner act as a victim for the cohort, drawing all the attention that-a-way.  Whew, everyone else sighs.  But no one evades as we go round the room and, if a bit more superficially, dissect each person’s book until everyone knows the method.  And that’s critical because it’s from here we depart.

Remember, the idea of this whole concerto is to ensure learners can get past the first right answer.  One of the most direct ways of using the children’s books is to change the elements, certainly taken for granted as the author envisioned it.  What happens we you look at a problem from a completely new perspective?  So we took some liberties and rewrote the story with some changes.

The ‘hero’ or protagonist in each story would become his/her diabolical opposite.  For instance, little Johnny is transformed from a nice schoolboy to the “Here’s Johnny,” Jack Nicholson character in The Shining.  The gorilla takes on some of the characteristics of King Kong.  Of course, this one change is quite profound – the tale, the moral, the lesson of the story now changes, too.  Moreover, do the relationships – alliances and antagonists emerge?

Now tell us the story as if Stephen King had written it.  Heh, heh.

You had to describe the weather in the original book.  What would happen in the story if the weather becomes a violent storm of significant proportions.  The Wizard of Oz, or Twister.  The main driver of the plot.  How does the book change?  Well, the plot is now driven by a natural and capricious antagonist – capable of any kind of behavior at any time.  How would this affect not only individual characters but how they interact?  Because of the vagaries of the weather will the moral or lesson change – or be shaped differently.

Finally, change the era or location of the story.  Not to the next street over, but to a wildly different environment.  A jungle or the south of France.  Outer space aboard a vehicle hurtling towards an unknown planet.  Or inside a dinosaur nest.  Regardless, struggle to keep to the original plot, but inject the story with a feeling of the place – technical or scientific terms, local slang, and descriptions of appearances, people, and places.  Think ‘Back to The Future.’

Most of the time this happens over 2 sessions, lasting at least 3 hours on consecutive days (with 10 participants).Using those guidelines it’s rare one learner can adjust to all three episodes.  And while the writing needn’t be in finished form, it should be clear enough for the narrator to communicate clearly.

A number of useful results are observed by everyone who participates.  You can imagine how the stories were interpreted by the others – and that is a change too.  In the end, it’s the ability for everyone to see the same reality and then, once viewed from a different lens, the perspective of the entire story can change.  The final lesson – the takeaway – is when you begin your projects, look at the ‘givens,’ the requirements, the parameters, and begin to shape a different way of respecting those constraints but interpreting their meaning and influence quite differently.

In addition, I can safely say, it’s challenging and its fun.

Instructional Techniques – Quick Takes – 1

During the days when I had occasion to work with adult learners face-to-face  I knew early on, even with corporate adults, I needed a hook or activity, (in education terms sometimes called an anticipatory set) to quickly address the temperature in the room, open minds to accept new concepts willingly, and maybe most critically relieve tension to prevent an alpha student from capturing the class with his (and it was always a man – sorry – and congrats to the ladies) negativity.

Here’s what I did. Oh and caveats. A good instructor/leader/teacher with a bit of theater or ham, will enjoy the best results. Yes, and this works with small (up to 10 or so) adult learners for beyond that it gets too cumbersome and potentially sucks up too much time. However, as a foundational activity – just like in construction – if the base is level what stands on the 30th floor will be plumb.

I asked each learner to bring in a child’s book, like the one they would read to their 3-year old (this can vary) that included a narrative (the storyteller), dialog and pictures. On their time, before the next session they were to write a synopsis of the book,  detailing the plot, a description of the characters and of course, the lesson or truth learned — in a paragraph or two. Setting up these parameters eliminates books that demand too much interpretation (so long Dr. Suess). Instead in virtually every case, the books that were brought in, and the synopsis’ were terrific. (Demonstrating great love for their children — or grandchildren, too).

Requesting a volunteer (or selecting an individual who would set the tone I desired), I asked s/he to read the book to the class, and then run through their synopsis.

Then I did a little tweaking. “So was Ralph the Gorilla a hero or a victim?  Why were his friends so quick to abandon him in the schoolyard. Why did the author — with so few word with which to work — describe the weather two times? At which point did the story pivot and turn towards the ‘lesson.’ Was it a completely happy tale, or something else – and if so, what?”  Finally pronounce the moral or lesson demonstrated by the authors manipulation of the material. Immediately the book owner had to make choices and assign roles – some, depending on the book were obvious, others exposed some hesitancy and were clearly guesswork. Now remember this is a book for an eight-year old, 3rd grader  (+ or – a year) who might be able to read the book unaided but choose an adult to read it aloud (sometimes my cohort was freely outspoken and agreed it was ritualistic).

At this point I’d invite anyone else to corroborate whether the reader’s interpretation seemed accurate , even perceptive, or share a different take on the readers interpretation.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow. Before then, I  invite you to try this yourself with your significant other as the audience. A discussion will absolutely ensue.

The $125,000 Teacher – And Corporate Counterpart

This past Sunday 60 minutes featured a story that no doubt will contribute to the warm dialogues concerning the public schools, teacher unionism and tenure. .  The Charter School – TEP, The Equity Project – makes the case that paying teachers a substantial salary, somewhat on par with (my words here) what a high level Instructional Designer or Learning & Development leader earns, will improve student test results. Or what we would call improved performance and employee effectiveness.

Unlike the corporate world where ILT or e-learning, video, collaborative or virtual learning; in other words the whole pastiche of the learning/training tookit,  TEP teachers, in decidedly low, or no tech environments are expected to produce tangible evidence their students, regardless of their deficits are inspired to meet the expectations of their teachers and principal. Of course, many factors, among them poverty, neighborhood, family life and the social environment contribute to most of the students starting out well behind peers in wealthier districts, particularly in the suburbs. Few of them have had good experiences in school. As to the teachers, screened rigorously and fully aware that with no tenure protection they must effect significant change, work long hours on both lesson planning and peer evaluations. Zeke Vanderhoek, the school’s founder and principal expects demonstrable change. Should there be a

falling off of classroom control, low or static student metrics, that teacher is gone. As well documented in the show, these teachers were remarkably ‘on’ , vigorous, caring and aware of techniques they might need to develop to resolve student difficulties. When I was a school principal I would have walked over glass to get this kind of talent.

This isn’t a brand new concept. School districts from Chicago to LA, Houston to Denver are moving towards this model. In the late 80’s when education dollars were flowing, experimentation was rife. Between municipal and school district turf battles – many fought over tenure – creative and potentially viable programs simply vanished.

All of which brings me to this point. We in the ‘for-profit’ world can and do measure merely learner uptake  (tests, sims, role plays). However, with the exception of sales training, our ability to point a laser –line of sight — from training/learning to either performance improvements using rigorous evaluations; to higher margins, a more robust bottom line – and most importantly, an employee who will make good decisions – even when unobserved, tends to be pretty weak.  I know, I’ve been compelled to build courses that fall short of a true evaluation experience, designed by our best development staff because, there is neither appetite, nor a compelling reason to incur the time, costs and resources of such experiences. Of course there’s always Kirkpatrick – we can hide behind that canard, but in the end it’s a house of cards.

So – the school pays extraordinary wages for extraordinary results – and the whole community is obliged to work towards a goal. In our world, where tools and assets are more readily available for any type of experience and evaluation, why can’t we go the whole way to meet bigger goals by compelling learning to meet more robust performance markers.

It’s almost comical that, in a school where teachers can be terminated at will if they miss a goal, how come there is an ocean liner full of lame training/learning being delivered – and no one – at least to my 25 year experience on the corporate side, has ever been terminated because employees underperformed.