Networked learning : Cross-cultural learning : Creativity & Innovation

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19 January 2005

I've a bee in my bonnet (UK phrase...) about what design for learning is at the moment. I wonder if "design" is going to become a current management buzz word. Maybe - see

I like the definitions of design mentioned in the article. They include:

"Flow of events to produce a desired effect"

"Design moves things from an existing condition to a preferred one"

"Design is the creation of form"

Then I'll add this phrase from this paper by Janis Norman:

"Design thinking is an inventive process, through which problems are identified, solutions proposed and produced, and the results evaluated". I'm not confident that many designers of learning experiences think in terms of solving problems, but rather in terms of delivering content or knowledge (the last of which, as we know, isn't possible).

9:27:40 AM    Any comments?  []

11 January 2005

I am at the start of a journey during which I intend to find out what learning design is. I've been teaching, writing and producing learning materials of many different types for more than twenty years and I've just realised I'm lost.

What's reassuring though is that I know I'm lost and am looking forward to exploring. In the land of the blind (who don't know they're blind, by the way), I am at best one-eyed.

Many things have triggered this reflection. I've just been reading this paper [PDF file] about Schon's work on design education and was struck by the description on page 8 of the naïve "Judith" character who attempts to design by choosing a basic design and imposing it on the materials of the situation she confronts. This contrasts with the wise "Northover" character (Schon himself) who engages in a "dialogue with materials" in order to discover an overall coherence within the materials.

What I enjoy about working with good product designers, graphic designers, interaction designers and so on, is the way that they play with ideas; how they engage in Schon's dialogue; how they enjoy the uncertainty of not knowing where they're heading; how they dig deeply into the needs of their users then surprise them with solutions that seem obvious. One reason I despair in working with so many so-called designers of learning experiences is that way that they seem to regard design as a kind of one-dimensional painting by numbers. Design thinking doesn't feature.

I also despair because it seems like so much of the current debate in instructional design circles concerns time-saving, cost-saving and efficiency, not quality and orginality. We seem hell-bent on producing the same turgid old stuff more quickly, at lower cost in ever greater quantities. Torch-bearers of quality and originality (try NESTA FutureLab or UltraLab) are few and far between.

Right now, at the start of my journey, I think there are three broad reasons why most learning designs don't design:

  1. Networked technologies have taken a sledge-hammer to previous learning paradigms. Is designing an online course like designing a classroom course like designing a learning community like designing an EPS like...? If customisation is such an issue (see David Hargreaves opinion on this, for example ) what's happened to my gap analysis? My TNA? And just when I finally get the hang of Blooms taxonomy and of how to craft formal objectives � that don't use the word "understanding" � I'm told that formal objective writing is a thing of the past. It's like having been brought up behind bars then suddenly being set free; liberating but scary.
  2. Look at the backgrounds of most learning designers (I'm talking UK here): ex-trainers who became trainers because they liked working with people and now have to battle with immature, unstable technology; writers and journalists who realise they can get higher daily rates if they call themselves "instructional designers"; subject matter experts who struggle terribly to articulate their deep understanding of their beloved subjects...
  3. The tiny number of credible institutions that train learning designers don't cultivate design thinking. They teach learning theory and instructional design process; but not the open-minded, inquisitive skills and attitudes that a good design course is founded on.

I've no idea if I'll agree with myself in a few weeks of months time, but it'll be interesting to find out.

10:06:31 PM    Any comments?  []

04 October 2004

I often talk to my clients about how quickly things change these days. About how what we knew yesterday needs to be re-learned tomorrow. About how everything that people in a particular field learned three years ago is irrelevant (engineering grads is the one I use most).

Then they say "yeah Patrick, can you write us another course then please". And I do.

Now - the kinds of clients I'm talking about are not luddites. They're agile, successful organisations, and they're moving quickly. Just like the management books are telling them to.

Thing is, they're not generally North American (they're European). So they have a different view of time. (Edward Hall talks about this in this book). They're not constantly swept forward by an assumption that now is a fleeting moment to be cast away in a frantic rush to get in the future.

Anyway - I was intruiged at my reaction to Jay Cross's piece in CLO. I found myself completely agreeing with everything he said, but then questioning why I'm not seeing it reflected in the conversations I'm having. There are a number of possible answers to this:

1. I'm not being observant, other words, not doing my job

2. European management doesn't "get" how fast things are moving; they're sunk

3. US management, because of their view of how time works, are hyper-sensitive to change

4. European management is dealing with rapid change and instability is less perceptible ways. 

Whatever the answer is, I'm struck how important it is for a consultant to start from where the client is; to really understand the journey they need to make.


9:21:18 AM    Any comments?  []

30 September 2004

A while ago I wrote something about the journey from WIIFFM to WOMII. Having used Wikipedia a fair bit recently, it occured to me that Wikipedia is pretty much the ultimate in WOMII. Just a thought...


9:15:26 AM    Any comments?  []

15 June 2004


So, after many weeks and months of silence, I've decided to start up this blog again. I'm working once again on issues surrounding culture and networked learning, and will be doing some work around how one might go about evaluating elearning initiatives that cross cultural boundaries. How would evaluation of elearning in a cross-cultural context vary from evaluating elearning in single cultural environments?

Stay tuned (as they say in some cultures), and if you're interested in contributing, get in contact.

8:25:28 AM    Any comments?  []

16 January 2004

I'm wondering how many people think that rapid content development (RoboDemo, Breeze etc.) is yet another wrong direction for elearning? If high quality, well designed elearning is predominantly under-used, with very patchy evidence that people actually change as a result, aren't we just likely to end up producing the same useless stuff, but just much quicker and cheaper? But cheap stuff that doesn't work still doesn't work.

Actually - I'm in two minds about this; perhaps by widely diseminating the tools to produce elearning we can develop a critical mass of understanding in people who are currently described as "non-specialists". Maybe embedding learning in organisations can only really occur if it's produced, as well as consumed, at the point of need.

On the other hand, we might just confirm the hugely widespread misunderstanding of quite how hard it is to really get people to learn things - thereby losing out in two ways 1) our expertise is undermined 2) our reputation is sullied.

4:47:30 PM    Any comments?  []

12 January 2004


I gave a session at this year’s Online Educa Berlin conference entitled “Adapting e-learning for global learners: what have we learned so far?”, although the title is a little misleading. What the session was really about is the importance of understanding the difference between superficial learning and deep learning, and between the superficial features of a culture, and deeper values.


I won’t run through the whole thing here, as you can get the presentation here (500k) if you want. But basically my argument is this...


A large proportion of activity that currently goes by the title of “elearning”, particularly in the corporate world, deals with a type of learning that can only be called “superficial”. That’s not to say it doesn’t deliver value; it probably does. But it generally doesn’t change people much. It’s often to do with new product information, new procedures, induction, a new software package or customer service skills.


And that’s fine for now. But delivering new product information isn’t where the greatest long-term value is going to be delivered by new learning technologies. New technology is going to help people learn to learn, adapt more flexibly to their environment, innovate...This is deeper learning.


The problem is that deeper learning is highly sensitive to cultural difference, as I show in the presentation. There’s plenty of evidence for this, from well-known authorities such as Hofstede, Adler, Trompenaars and many others. I’d go so far as to say that culturally insensitive learning is pretty unlikely to work.


So if large, global organisations are really going to get value from their investments in learning technologies, they have to understand how to accommodate cultural difference. This demands learning strategies that consider cultural difference as a key influence on decisions at every stage, from business case, through analysis, design, all the way to implementation.


But we don’t currently have methodologies that do this. Our learning design methodologies, even as they are undergoing huge transformation, still largely assume that we all learn in roughly the same way. OK – so some of us might be “reflectors” as opposed to “theorists”, or more “kinaesthetic” rather than “visual”, (choose your favourite learning styles model) – but basic assumptions about such issues as the role of authority, sequence, risk avoidance, communication style, truth and identity are largely ignored by current methodologies.   


What’s needed is a clear and widespread understanding amongst the learning design community of exactly how culture impacts learning, and a revised, or new development methodology that helps those responsible to tackle this growing challenge.


The main headings in the presentation are:


  • We ignore the deep at our peril
  • Where is the greatest value?
  • How we learn differently
  • Why we learn differently
  • Localisation at what level?
  • The 5 foundations of instructional systems
  • A culture-sensitive methodology?
  • How culture influences the key decision point
  • Not all elearning needs the same adaptation

Incidentally, there are my rough notes with each slide, so if you save the presentation and look at it in notes view, you get all the details. There’s also quite an extensive list of references at the back, and a couple of extra slides I knew I wouldn’t have time to get to during the session in Berlin.


Finally, I've written about the challenges of surface -v- depth elsewhere on this blog. Have a look if you're interested.

1:08:15 PM    Any comments?  []

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