Monday, February 22, 2016

Part II- Creating Opportunities for Effective E-Learning Communities

In the last post, I suggested that the previous industrial economy mindset was counter-productive and was impacting education in unfortunate ways. The challenge is to "dial back" the mindset of excessive consumerism driven by business values that consider greed as positive. In order to tackle the complex real world problems that are created by this mindset and ironically that actually make it difficult to conduct business globally, we need to recognize that a changed purpose and vision of education that is more in line with solving the pressing problems that we all face is essential.


"Even astute business people would agree that it is very difficult to conduct business in zones in the world where there is repeated cycles of civil war with the exception of being an arms dealer or those involved in reconstruction efforts during interludes."

With respect to change in education, the purpose of education changes from what it was in the past. Now the following might be a brief description of what we should be looking at:

  • The purpose of education is to create a generation of learners who will become agents of change in our societies using all the benefits of technology to solve complex real world problems.
  • The purpose of education is nurture the development of creators of new knowledge and new skillsets that are in sync with the needs of societies moving forward and enriching the quality of life for their citizens. Innovative thinking needs to be a natural skillset that needs to be encouraged and applied to all facets of the lives of individuals.
  • The purpose of education is to create online global learning communities that will serve business and formal education. Due to the global reach of such technology, the collaborative goals of such communities should be to make accessibility easier for the nations of the globe that are disadvantaged.

E-Learning--An Existing Obstacle

One thing that should be made clear is that it is not the technology that is the primary driver of needed change; it is a changed vision and perspective. As a support for this idea, a case in point is the attitude that learners have in taking E-Learning courses. Keeping in mind that even the most recent generation has been brought up and educated with the mindset of excessive consumerism, we find that they approach E-Learning as if it is a "buffet table" spread before them. They choose from a list of courses those that fit their immediate goals, fulfill the assignment requirements, get their grades and then leave. This is the pattern of the consumerism mindset but we are faced with the troubling question:

"If we seek to focus on the importance of collaboration as an important and desired skillset, then how can this be accomplished if each learner has an individualized mindset which runs contrary to the concept of a community of learners?"

If the goal is to nurture learners to be a collaborating group dedicated to solving complex real world problems, then the emphasis needs to change from "I" to "WE". A startling revelation that really needs to be considered critically is the fact that many E-Learning organizations still design their offerings using the dated industrial mindset. This mindset can be seen at work in discussion forums in LinkedIn when the discussion is about online courses.

 "The advanced technology can not disguise the mindset behind the design."

 This is a problem that high education still needs to address effectively. Too much of the present E-Learning presented to students in institutions of higher learning still focus on the accumulation and memorization of information and how effectively a student can regurgitate the favourite perspectives of their instructors. Even if they use advanced and flashy media presentation tools, it still does not change the substance of what learners are learning. It is also the reason that many learners disconnect from their learning because all it represents to them is a classroom exercise with no real ties to the outside world.

What we need to strive for in the design of effective E-Learning is "thoughtful engagement" of the learner. Design that focuses on the habits of the mind; that engages, challenges and teaches student how to think in an online environment is far better than the previous industrial mindset that stated that it is important to teach students what to think. However, it can't end at the walls of the class whether the real brick and mortar or even the online LMS! The changes to the learning experience requires that we foster not the concept of " the course" but instead a much more personal, relevant, online learning community that transcends the boundaries of an LMS.

"Does higher education get this or do they think that it is still technology that drives learning?"


Changing the Focus Through Agile, Adaptive and Collaboratively Based Pedagogy

Given the present state of E-Learning and the political, social, economic and moral events we see escalating which pose problems that seem to defy solutions, we have to ask a sobering question:

"Why don't we see more effective collaborative efforts in finding solutions to complex real world problems today? 


I believe that part of the problem is that developing collaborative skills with a focus on real world problems that learners can relate to is not a high priority in education and the collaboration that is encouraged, largely dealing with social issues, asks learners how they feel about what is happening but makes little effort to teach them the thinking skills required for them to become thoughtfully engaged with the topic with the idea that they can contribute to arriving at potential solutions that will be considered as a meaningful contribution by the society.

 So, what is the solution to this?

We do have a choice. We may continue on the path we are on and pretend that what we are doing involves thoughtful engaging collaboration or we can stop and ask ourselves: will we be able to live in a future created by our children who are receiving an education that reduces them to simply a bar code and discourages any attempt to be real change agents in a world that so desperately needs them to be engaged in change?

How, you ask? In my next post, I will detail suggested changes that need to be made that better reflect an agile, adaptive pedagogy required for the nurturing of online learning communities... The last word belongs to the BOSS.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Designing E-Learning Communities---- Part I--Bridging Generations

In the last post, I suggested the importance of developing effective and vibrant collaboration. However, there is an important consideration to note that would enable such collaboration to take place whether in the business learning culture or the formal education culture. Such collaborations need to happen within the context of a "community of learners". The establishment of dynamic e-learning communities has been the subject of rising interest within the education research community. In order to build the future of effective virtual or online learning communities, it is important to understand the present obstacles to achieving this.

The Obstacle of An Entrenched Dated System

We are the products of the education system that we were raised in. In the industrial based economy, the following ideas were part of what it meant to be educated:

  • The purpose of education was to create a work force that would conform to all the requirements of industry. Therefore, the idea of encouraging a focus on developing creative and innovative learners was considered a non-essential best left to specialized private schools. The ability to develop basic skills and the stress on repetition was mandated as essential and repeated assessment of learning was considered to be similar to the use of quality control in manufacturing processes.
  • The purpose of education was also to create life long consumers who would use the wages that they earned to benefit the growth of wealth for owners of industry. In the 20th and 21st century, consumers who were as young as 4 yrs old were targeted. Through the use of ads focusing on cartoon characters using or promoting "must have products" to these targeted age groups, the attitude of accumulating more and more products to consume created and nurtured excessive consumerism as a positive mindset at an early age. With each age group, the consumerism mindset grew exponentially.


Businesses reading such points might ask the question:

"So, what! Consumerism has provided employment for people, provided good lifestyles with modern conveniences and has allowed capital through taxation to create wealth for the country. What's wrong with that?"

 The Changing Needs of Societies

With the exponential advance of technology and new ways of communication, the needs of a new generation of learners and the societies that they became adults in, changed. The heavy emphasis on consumerism created great wealth for business but greed created complex real world problems that threatened to destabilize our civilizations. The skewed distribution of wealth on a global scale created areas of the world where large populations were suffering pre-industrial problems associated with great poverty, disease, and starvation. These very real and painful inadequacies resulted in the rise of civil wars, dictatorships and breakdown of the rule of law.

So, the obvious question that should occur to you, is:

"What does any of this have to do with creating online learning communities? I sympathize with such horrible global inadequacies but how can education alleviate any of this?"

Building a Generational Bridge Through Online Education

The past model of excessive consumerism has had its impact on the one element of people's lives that can enable them to tackle complex real world problems and improve their quality of life, that being education. In this age if we do not change this mindset in education then the events we see happening in our world will continue to spiral downward. In order to effect change in education, the past generation, who are now in positions of power in business need to cross a generational bridge by restructuring core values that have been a part of their business for so long.

Brad Fergusson of the People Before Profits Organization, recognizes the need for this restructuring of core values. Putting "people before profits" is a radical concept in the global business world and it is not saying that businesses should not make a profit. Businesses have a responsibility to their share holders to produce wealth and obtain for them a good ROI. It is saying that we can no longer ignore the growing needs of people, especially when businesses have both the resources and global reach to make a real and lasting change in the quality of life that people have. It is my belief that the quality of education and how we make that accessible to societies will determine the path that societies follow and ultimately decide whether civilizations are enriched or whether they destabilize.

Next......Part II-Creating Opportunities for Effective Learning Communities

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dynamic Collaboration--Removing Boundaries and Expanding Horizons

In the previous post, I mentioned that the way we do collaboration needs to change and become more dynamic and global in its outlook. In the past, collaborative groups were organized "in-house" and involved employee groups tasked with a particular problem. Access to a SME was an important element of the plan and the ID's had the responsibility of establishing a rapport with the SME's so that the designed collaborative plan would have a good chance of producing positive results. At that time, the outreach beyond the walls of the organization might be by teleconference and satellite linkups to branch offices. This was useful for delivering training or sharing important data on which an organization could make sound business decisions.

As mentioned in the previous post, the world indeed changed and this change was manifested in two ways:

  1. With the growth of technology, especially as it related to doing business using the Internet as a medium, the "in-house walls" came down. The boundaries that previously defined the area of pursuing business were not only removed but the access to important markets and strategic data needed in order to compete in such a medium, accelerated. The natural consequence was an organizational rush to position their organizations to compete in a globally connected collaborative digital economy. The great challenge facing organizations was to overcome organizational inertia and the changing of an entrenched mindset that said:"We have always done things this way" to a mindset that now said: "How can we engage our employees to be effective learners of new online skillsets and thus establish our organization as one that is dynamically focused on innovative thinking?"
  2. The second shift or change was the realization that real world problems have become more complex and that we have more immediate access to ongoing information about them in real time than what we were able to accomplish in the past. This means that maintaining a strong relationship with our SME may not be enough for us to be successful. The reason is that working in an online environment highlights the importance of critical thinking skills both in the navigation on the web but also the search, analysis and interpretation of accessed data. Also, the need for more than one skillset derived from a multitude of other disciplines to focus on a tasked problem can not be derived from the skillsets of one individual, especially if you require high quality interpretation of a tasked problem and innovative solutions.

Out of necessity in operating in such an environment, the way we collaborate has to change to utilize the great potential that the environment offers. The use of social media as a tool for establishing effective online branding for an organization should not be underestimated. Tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn are global in out reach and can raise the visibility of an organization and establish its brand much more quickly than even many well planned out advertising campaigns that ignore such a tool. Crowd sourcing has also been a useful tool for moving "start-ups" forward on a solid financial footing.

How Should Collaboration Change?

 The following are merely suggestions to promote thoughtful engagement:

  1. Importance of an Effective Dynamic Learning Culture: We live and work in an information and learning age that puts a high value on the creation of new knowledge and skillsets. Unlike the past when content was king, something of greater value is learning how to think and use the resources and information that resides on the web. This means that it is better to nurture and reward the learning skills of employees than to expose them to countless hours of PowerPoint content and demand them to memorize it or else. If our goal is to have employees who naturally want to learn more, seek to collaborate with others to solve problems and be innovative to the benefit of the organization, then engagement needs to be fueled by the intrinsic motivation of the individual and not by extrinsic motivators that use the "carrot or the stick" mentality.
  2. Hiring Practices: HR departments have followed a tried and true method for new hiring since business organizations have been in existence and had started to grow. However, with the opening up of the World Wide Web to business, competition for talent increased exponentially. This means that the search for talent just took on a new level. It is not enough to post employment opportunities, collect resumes, go through a selection process, conduct preliminary interviews and at some point in time arrive at a decision. CV's and resumes can easily be artificially enhanced. It is important to pay attention to skillsets as they present themselves in the activities of potential candidates in the online environment. It is important for HR departments to be aggressively proactive in searching out talent but in searching out such talent it needs to be remembered that these skillsets will complement the skillsets of others tasked with a given real world problem. The "branding of the individual" is just as important as the branding of an organization when it comes to hiring practices.
  3. Ad Hoc Collaborative Groups: The idea of "outsourcing" has enjoyed a great deal of notoriety in the past due to how it can depress the economy of a city, a state and even a country. However, searching and bringing together talent in online collaborative groups tasked in solving real world problems has the potential to enlist not just the talent in "our own back yards" but to use effective global talent seeking to bring together the necessary skillsets required for understanding and solving the problem. On an ad hoc basis such groups could disband after a solution is produced. Unlike outsourcing, protocols should be established to share the benefits with the organizations represented by the collaborators. It does not require the closing down of a business that would result in unemployment and a depressed economy and the ROI for the collaborating organizations could be quite intriguing.
  4. Establishment of Collaborative Global Learning Networks: This is a concept that I have mentioned before in previous posts. Essentially it involves setting up 6 collaborative global learning networks that act as forums for organizations to send employees with promising new and innovative ideas to. It is here, in what we might term an "innovation sandbox" that employees may collaborate, receive mentoring, and be able to develop their ideas and present them to a council made up of cross disciplinary specialists. The employees then return to their respective organizations with a report on the potential benefit of the ideas as well as the necessary caveats to be aware of. The concept of proprietary and intellectual ownership should be worked in such a way that it doesn't promote or lead to a "paralyzing protectionism" which defeats the purpose of collaborating in the first place.

There is still a fundamental question that has an impact on such ideas which is:

 "Will the vision and purpose of education change in order to produce learners who are creators of new knowledge and skillsets or will education continue to be resistant to the necessary changes that prepare the learners to be effective organizational leaders and employees in the real digital world?"

Next...Learning Cultures in Education--Breaking Down Barriers

Monday, February 1, 2016

E-Learning--- Multitasking vs Dynamic Global Collaboration-- Pursuing a New World Order-Part I

Both in the education environment and the corporate environment, multitasking has been considered to be an efficient way to prove your own personal worth. After all, what leader would not value someone who could take on many tasks at the same time, all with specific deadlines to be met and performance goals to be achieved? A person showing this skillset was highly valued. This valued skillset from the the industrial economy allowed for creative divisions of labour.

But then, the world changed!

With the development of the world wide web and the advancement of technology came the exponential acceleration of the development of knowledge across the many disciplines. The idea of one person being the "fountain of all knowledge" quickly became an anachronism in age of exponential growth of information and the fact that access to such information became more and more instantaneous making it available "now".

Credit: Industry Tap-David Russell Shilling (April 2013)


No more is this more evident than in the journalism industry where news that once took weeks to reach others on the other side of the world could now be accessed as it is happening. 

Multitasking based upon neurocognitive research has been shown to be a myth.

"The more divided your mind is among a number of tasks the more these tasks are performed with increasing mediocrity."

Credit: www. (Scott Adams)
As a result of the growing awareness of the inadequacy of multitasking, societies responded within the academic world by promoting specialization as the path to follow in tackling the various problems of society. Streaming learners into the created specialties of the various disciplines became the focus of education systems but this is not without problems. Even though collaboration within a specialty would occur, the idea of collaboration across the disciplines was still foreign to many practitioners. This brings us to a great problem which is:

"Complex real world problems require collaboration across disciplines in order to come up with real world solutions." 

We are still trying to attack 21st century and beyond problems with approaches that create "silos of knowledge and skillsets" that have no useful interchange between them.  As a result, what we are faced with is the dilemma of "six blind men trying to describe an elephant".


Each discipline attempts to find a solution to a real world problem using their specific perspective and perseveres in the task believing that at some point they will arrive at the solution. This has been the "perpetual promise of science". However, there is the following nagging question they need to ask:

" Could we have found a solution to a real world problem sooner, if we had collaborated with other sciences whose unique perspective could have given us a clearer picture of the problem and a more ready supply of potential solutions? "

Some disciplines are just now starting to realize the benefit of collaborating with knowledge and skill set creators outside their discipline. As an example, using robotics in the service of surgical practices combines the ideas and skillsets of Engineering and Medicine. What can the science of Nanotechnology offer to the medical specialty of Oncology?

One of the great barriers that needs to be overcome is what I would term "intellectual protectionism" in which the first priority is "to protect our turf from the barbarians at the gate".

So, how do we overcome these barriers? It starts with the realization that we are challenged to put aside "professional glory seeking" in order to use our skillsets and knowledge for the greater good of humanity as a whole. Developing respectful acknowledgement of the skillsets and knowledge of other disciplines is the first step to opening the eyes of the six blind men.

Next.....Cross Disciplinary Collaboration --Part of a New World Order