Saturday, November 25, 2017

Business Organizations and Learning Culture--Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skillsets

Business organizations need to re-assess their understanding of the importance of critical thinking and problem solving skillsets for their organizations. News articles are appearing with such titles as :

"New Graduates Will Not Be Employable Unless They Possess the Soft Skills of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving"

At first glance such a statement seems entirely reasonable and given that we are living in an age of increasing information and knowledge many organizations would agree with such a statement. However, suggesting that critical thinking and problem solving are "soft skills" does not recognize that these skillsets are essentials and not the "nice if you have them type of skills".

In fact I would go so far as to say that business organizations should NOT hire university graduates who can not demonstrate efficiency in these skillsets.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hard skills have been defined as teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. Typically, you'll learn hard skills in the classroom, through books or other training materials, or on the job. Some examples of hard skills as pointed out by HR departments are:

  • a degree or certificate
  • proficiency in foreign languages
  • computer programming
  • machine operation

Soft skills have been defined as subjective skills that are much harder to quantify. Also known as "people skills" or "interpersonal skills," soft skills relate to the way that you relate to and interact with other people. Some examples of soft skills as pointed out by HR departments are:

  • critical thinking
  • problem solving
  • communication
  • team work

I would like to turn this balance on its head by suggesting:

"Soft skills in a digital age should be "primary tier skillsets" because they are foundational to accomplishing all that is involved with the use of hard skills!"

Why change? The reason is tied to the fact that more and more business will be conducted online where collaboration, communication, problem solving and critical thinking are essentials to developing a healthy "brand" in a much greater market for being known. Also, with the development of digital simulations that involve employees collaborating as a group, soft skills are the key to the development of hard skills.

Looking at the definitions and examples above, we are left with an important question:

"Do these definitions align effectively with the 21st century expectations of a globally connected digital business world?"

I would say no and it is getting worse. it has been the goal of business organizations to achieve a balance between hard skills and soft skills. The hard skills would get an individual a job but it was the soft skills that would allow the individual to keep the job.

The balance as a result of advancing technology and the opening up of a business friendly online environment has shifted towards the importance of soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. So, what then is the problem??

Higher Education and Development of Critical Thinking

Coming back to the original headline which was:

"New Graduates Will Not Be Employable Unless They Possess the Soft Skills of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving"

we have to ask what is happening with the development of critical thinking and problem solving skillsets in higher education. After all, this is the pool from which we will draw our future workforce from.
Critical thinking as a skillset is not being nurtured on many university campuses where teaching students WHAT to think has become important than teaching them HOW to think. A recent article is but one of many articles that are coming under the media spotlight in many universities.

You might ask yourself, from a business perspective, why I should be concerned? If you look at the soft skill traits that non-critical thinkers possess, you should be alarmed.

All the soft skills, as important as they are, will be dispensed with. So skills involving collaboration, problem solving, communication, team work will not work unless they fit the mindset of students who have have bought into political correctness as the right mindset for approaching all things in life. They may be proficient in the use of technology but will they use it to develop and encourage the soft skills or will they use their proficiency in technology to challenge and paralyze the need for soft skills to the detriment of the business?

Your solution might simply be not to hire such individuals but what if it is entrenched in a generation? If you think that I am exaggerating then Google news items about free speech and critical thinking on university campuses. I think that you will be surprised.

So, what is the solution to such a dilemma? 

Political pressure needs to be brought to bear on educational institutions in our societies to make sure that critical thinking and problem solving are systematically embedded, emphasized and taught across all curriculum boundaries and not just in the sciences. It needs to start in primary grades and flow throughout the education system into the realm of higher education. Teaching students how to think instead of what to think leads to employees who know how to think, will listen to all points of view, evaluate evidence presented by different points of view and then be able to make decisions based upon valid, verifiable evidence. It is also a key to arriving at creative and innovative solutions that our societies need in order for effective change that improves the quality of life of all people.

If you look at your future business needs and compare them with 21st century thinking skills that should be emphasized, you will notice a good and useful pattern of harmonization,

If the use of such technologies as VR , Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Robotics are going to be harnessed to enrich your business organization and increase ROI on a global scale, then you need employees who are good critical thinkers, problem solvers and can play nice in the digital sand box with others. Social attitudes that counter this are not only to be discouraged but also countered using whatever political and financial assets are available. With elections on the horizon, the time to re-shape and transform the importance of soft skills is now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Learning Culture or Training Culture--Part IV-- 21st Century Networked Collaboration

In the previous post I suggested that the type of collaboration that organizations should be involved in is not the version that they were familiar with during their schooling. The advancement of technology involving the World Wide Web has brought about a significant paradigm shift in regards to the reach and the removal of time as a factor in the new way of doing business. Businesses now have the ability to compete with the world on a more immediate scale than ever before. Networking between branches of an organization and its home organization on a global scale has allowed businesses to accomplish more by opening new markets previously untouched and form new partnerships which help multiply client bases in ways that are mutually beneficial.

This new type of collaboration is based upon some important traits that the learning culture of your business organization should have embedded in it. Some of these traits would be as follows:

  • The organization has  transformed the traditional "training culture" with its "sage on the stage" approach to the learning of employees with a "learning culture" where ongoing learning is valued and is systemic from the CEO's office down to the base level. This transformation is not just systemic within the home base but is systemic and networked on a global level. All leaders in the area of what use to be the training culture now become mentors and networkers across the many  tiers of the organization.

  • The organization has embraced the value of building a learning culture and no longer considers learning as a low priority when it comes to the health of the business. The decision makers consider the learning culture as a key to improved employee performance and their engagement in the mission and vision of the organization as well as an important step to making innovative thinking as a natural mindset throughout the organization.

Credit: Josh Bersin


  • The organization encourages innovative thinking on the part of employees by enabling them to collaborate with other employees across the global network of the organization by tasking them with problems that enable them to harness their talents to come up with innovative solutions. Then they are provided with a forum where teams may "pitch" and defend their solutions before decision makers. 

  • The organization also empowers employees to collaborate beyond normal business hours by providing a "virtual war-room" on the web that they can access as part of their informal learning. This would mean the harnessing of mobile learning as well as micro learning by enabling access for employees from any digital device to this war room, other participants globally as well as big data reservoirs and cloud data bases relevant to the problem they are tasked with solving. Engagement of employees occurs when the problem they are tasked with is memorable or challenging, meaningful and motivational.

  • The learning of the individual employee is nurtured, tracked and opportunities are provided for the employee to stretch beyond his or her capabilities. The business organization should have in place a staff member who would fulfill the role of a "Learning Principles Expert or Guru" whose principal duties would be some of the following:
  1. Establish a "learning profile" for each employee and track their learning as they progress through the organization. and determine their proficiency in regards to talents that could be harnessed for the continuing health of the organization.
  2.  Provide employees with opportunities through networked groups to grow their abilities while helping the organization grow and perform.
  3. Stay current with advances in learning, especially research dealing with Neuro-Cognitive learning.
  4. Develop irresistibly engaging learning experiences in coordination with the instructional designer that enables employees to collaborate by becoming engaged in simulations and branched scenarios where they are confronted with task problems that change depending upon the decisions they make. Feedback is immediate and displays clear consequences to the decisions that were made.  This should involve not only collaboration groups based in the home organization but also employees of the branches of the organization. This could be accomplished through a "blended e-Learning" setup or by a completely immersive virtual experience similar to "Second Life". 

  • Re-defining the relationships between the instructional designer and SME is crucial for the simple reason that in a 21st century learning culture, learning is not about putting huge amounts of facts into the heads of employees. We have computers for that and soon we will make use of advanced AI algorithms that will be able to take on many of the repetitive, time consuming, administrative tasks thus freeing human beings to use their creative and innovative talents to the fullest. The ability to wonder and be curious are characteristics that separate humans from machines. Subject Matter Experts can no longer claim to be the "fountain of knowledge" in a given subject because knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate across many disciplines. Their role needs to change so that they become mentors by directing employees to online knowledge banks or big data reservoirs and help them clarify their thinking on tasks by asking them the right but crucial questions. It is not about input of information and output. It is about guided thinking and systems thinking that will enable collaborative global groups arrive at innovative solutions to the problems that they have been tasked with.

Next---- Collaboration and Virtual Borders in New Technology

Friday, October 27, 2017

Learning Culture or Training Culture--Part III--Collaboration

When considering the need for a transformation of a training culture into a learning culture, a third element to consider is the nature of collaboration.

The Roots of Collaborative Skillsets

The industrial model of education set the tone for how collaboration was to be conducted within the classroom often referred to as "group work". The usual process for bringing forth collaboration started with the teacher announcing a task or issue that groups were going to work on and arrive at finished product which could be the resolution to a problem or the position on an issue that the group had adopted. An example of such an issue might be: "Capital punishment should be restored for such crimes as murder and treason against your country". Agree or Disagree. The educator would choose groups, making sure that that each group had equal numbers, had mixed genders, and at least one above average student in each group. A time limit would be established for each group to either solve the task or come to a consensus on the stated issue. The teacher would then be the person who would listen in and check on the groups' progress.


The reality of this process was that group dynamics had several effects on the reaching of the goal such as:

  • Usually the above average student became the group leader
  • Usually the above average student ended up doing the "lion's share" of the work
  • The other students in the group usually helped to a limited degree or did very little work at all in terms of adding to the discussion portion of the work.
  • Some of the group members, not feeling that their input was valued, became distracted and did things that had nothing to do with achieving the stated goal of the exercise.
  • There also the problem of personality clashes

As a business organization, you might be asking yourself the following questions:

"Do you see parallels here to what happens in business organization groups?"

"Why should I care as a business leader about how kids do group work in school? It doesn't affect us."

The answer to your question is:

"You should care because this is the way the adult employees in your organization including your leaders have learned to collaborate! This approach has been entrenched and reinforced over many years of schooling.

Although, we have changed the terminology in that groups are now called "teams" and "group work" may be called "team projects", all the failings of this process have been transferred into the business environment. The teams and the make up of teams are still relatively the same as they were in school. However, to further complicate collaboration, the arrival of the Internet and social media have increased the level of distraction to new levels.

Credit: Fredrick Questier

For collaboration to be effective, individuals employed within business organizations need to see the following characteristics of the task that they are collaborating on:

  • The task needs to be personally meaningful for the individuals involved
  • All participants need to feel that their input is valued in that they see it as realistically contributing to the success of the goal
  • Individuals need to be able to trust the talents of those in their group and trust that each individual has the success of the group as a more important priority than their own personal "glory". Out of control egos destroy trust relationships in the collaborative setting.
  • Individuals need to be able to trust that the decision leaders who brought the project forward have analyzed the needs for the project and have carefully selected members whose unique talents sync with the talents of the other group members so that their performance and contributions to the group are vital to the success of the project.

Two Dimensional Thinking in a Four Dimensional Business World

The arrival of the online world has resulted in drastic changes to the ways that 21st century business organizations conduct daily business. It has also changed the way that collaboration should occur. Since the industrial revolution, business organizations were characterized and built upon two dimensional thinking, meaning that projects were often conducted "in-house" using purchased resources on site and having employees collaborate with other on-site employees in pre-selected teams with oversight given to on-site middle managers. All members of the team were usually in the same time zone or within a time zone that was workable. What you had is a closed system that included your clients, suppliers...etc.

The standard team project might take the form of the following:

With the exponential growth in new technology and its use to compete on a world class level, the restraints on time and place that characterized the two dimensional business environment all of a sudden were cancelled shifting business organizations into a world where information was the new currency and technology innovation became a necessity in order for a business to compete in a global digital economy. 

The training culture that has been in place since the industrial revolution was not able to provide the innovative thinking skillsets that were required and instead a new culture based upon learning principles that would allow collaboration to grow outside the confines of the local business organization and create collaborative global business networks became necessary.

In order to truly capitalize on the great potential of accessing world markets and to open up new ones, the collaboration approach of the past needs to be transformed. In order for the transformation to take place without significant disruption to the flow of a business organization, not only requires the establishment of a learning culture within the organization but also a new form of collaboration that fits with the new connected and collaborative world economy.


The question that needs to be asked is:

"What will this new form of collaboration look like and what will distinguish it as a benefit compared to the more traditional one we are used to?"

In the next post, the characteristics of this new form of collaboration will be more closely described. Some of the ideas that will be looked at within this new form of collaboration are:

  • the use of AI and intelligent assistants to enable business organizations to work smarter rather than longer
  • the use of big data in making collaboration more effective 
  • the use of  globally networked communities of business as resources
  • the engagement of employees in collaborated networked projects that are proposed by the employees themselves
  • the use of a Learning Principles Expert and the collaboration with SME's
  • the development and use of the "rapid prototyping" model in creating new innovative products and services

Monday, October 9, 2017

Learning Culture or Training Culture: Part II: Elements of a True Learning Culture--Engagement

As suggested in Part I of this post, the development of a true learning culture within business organizations is no longer a "we will experiment with this if we have time but lets keep doing what we have always done" choice. It has become an essential to healthy organizational growth that enables an organization to to truly compete on the new digital playing field.

It starts with admitting that we have a problem, as business organizations, in handling change in ways that do not disrupt what we already do well. In admitting this, we need to take a good look forensically at the nature of our present learning culture and ask some key questions.

Credit: www.24x7

Looking at these key questions, we see that they have one thing in common. They emphasize developing employee engagement as a part of their learning culture.

The Element of Employee Engagement

Looking at how much your employees are engaged in the mission and vision of the business organization means that business leaders have to ask themselves some hard questions that reflect directly on their leadership. Some of these questions might be as follows:

  • Do employees know and understand the mission and vision of the business organization? If not it is a problem of clarity and communication.

  • Do employees have faith in the mission and vision of the business organization recognizing that decisions that are made in relation to mission and vision have direct consequences for their professional lives and then their lives outside the walls of the business?

  • Do they see the mission and vision of the organization as being in sync with their connected lives in the 21st century or do they see it as contradictory to being meaningful in the context of the way they live?

  • Are they engaged because they are told to be engaged and must endure endless, meaningless training sessions that for the organization means just another check mark on the mandatory list or are they engaged because they are inspired by the vision and mission?

  • Are they in fact a picture of the "overwhelmed employee" instead of the highly self-motivated and engaged employee who is committed to a clearly defined and communicated vision and mission?


If engagement is such an important element in a true learning culture then it begs some obvious questions:

  1.  Why is employee engagement important?

Credit: Lewis Garrard

Business organizations are finding it is more difficult to retain employees with the necessary skillsets pertaining to 21st century, globally networked business. In particular, the "millennials" as incoming employees are proving to be the most challenging.



2. Given that engagement is a problem, how does this translate as a problem for the bottom line of a business?

Credit: http://

Comparing this with highly engaged employees within business organizations, the business case for employee engagement becomes even more convincing.


In regards to the branding aspect for a business organization that is very much customer focused, how engaged the employees are also translates into sincere efforts of employees to make known to the outside world that this company is not only a good one to work for but also to do business with because it can be seen in the engagement of the employees.


One of the key elements that gives rise to engagement in employees is that the organization is making efforts and progress to make ongoing employee learning systemic throughout their organization. This means that employee needs start to take precedent over organizational needs.

Credit: Harvard Business

In one sense it means that when the learning of employees is concerned that they are given a greater degree of autonomy to developing new skillsets, engaging with co-workers in innovative projects that benefit the company and having a forum by which their ideas may be explored, presented and defended in the presence of key decision making leaders within the organization. In order for an organization to take such steps it requires leadership in the corporate suite with the courage to be innovative in the way that they approach new ideas.


When leadership starts down this path to build and nurture employee engagement through the design of a better learning culture they can take solace in the fact that this is not just a local national problem but it is global in nature and that there is a relationship of need in regards to engagement and learning.

Credit: Deloitte University Press

Credit: Deloitte University Press

The questions that we are left with are:

  • How does the element of collaboration change in order to make a learning culture within an organization more dynamic and in tune with the globally connected economy?

  • What would the business organization look like as one that is different by design?

  • What steps can we take to change a stagnant learning culture to one that is innovative, vibrant and serving the future of the organizations to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially the employees?
These questions will be the focus of Part III...

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Learning Culture or Training Culture: Part I: What is the 21st Century Mandate?

A phrase that is appearing more and more in the spotlight, especially in the corporate realm, is the "learning culture". A growing tension is occurring in business organizations in regards to how employees may be engaged to be stakeholders in the health and advancement of business organizations. This tension is driven by the face off between the training culture that has been in place since businesses first opened shop with the intent by leadership that someday the apprentices of that business would carry on and teach the skillsets to the next generation versus a new generation born into a world where technology is advancing an exponential rate and that technology is merging into all layers of life and has made itself irreplaceable. The obvious example would be the cell phone which has evolved into the smart phone. More than just a simple communication device, it has become an essential to linking people up to all the necessities of digital life. To see how dependent we are on such a device, consider the human reactions that are displayed if access is suddenly cut off for a lengthy period of time.


In order to cope and adjust to the emergence of technology means that human beings have to exert effort to learn how to use and integrate the technology into their daily lives. This means that learning is not limited to the four walls of the business organization in training sessions but learning needs to be available 24/7, using any device, and available anywhere. This is the requirement of living productive lives in the digital world.

Corporate Training: Putting a Square Peg into a 21st Century Round Hole

An obvious but important question that needs to be asked is:

"Why doesn't the old training paradigm deliver anymore the way that it has always done in the past?"

A simple answer would be that the world changed and is changing faster than business expected or had even planned for.

Credit: www. Biz

A natural reaction when confronted by rapid change that could impact your business livelihood and that of your employees is to freeze in your tracks and retreat back into what was comfortable. This retreat is a double-edged sword because while it may feel comfortable, the changes with the opening up of the collaborative, networked, global economy means that those who are not use to this constant change are being quickly left behind. Past clients and opportunities disappear and join forces with competitors who have learned that in order to increase the ROI, their organizations need to have employees who have developed the necessary skillsets to work on the world wide web.

Credit: David Blake

 With respect to the traditional training sessions involving the "sage on the stage" with his or her multitude of Powerpoint slides, this just does not cut it if the performance goals are based on in house learning alone.

"It is important to remember that the training culture has its roots in the industrial age which is long past. The age of learning, technology and innovation works on a new set of parameters. The differences between the training culture and the newly evolved learning culture are becoming starkly apparent."

On a basic level of comparison, the following would apply:

Credit: Vikas Tyagi (2013)

In comparing the above parameters it can be deduced that there has been a shift from organizational needs to employee needs. Why? The answer lies in the need of an organization to empower employee engagement in an age where personal learning and collaboration in a networked world are the key elements to innovation which is the key to competing in a globally connected digital economy.

Credit: David Blake

If training culture no longer fits the needs of 21st century business, what other evidence supports such a radical conclusion. As we piece the evidence together, we start to see how advancing technology and the explosion in new knowledge is giving shape to a new type of learner who become employees and leaders.

Credit: www. Biz

Credit: David Blake

In this post you will notice that I have not attempted to "train you" but instead to get you to think about your own business organization in the context of the globally connected digital economy. In Part II of this post, I will detail more as to what an effective learning culture in business should look like. I do leave you with the following question:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Global E-Learning: Rising to the Challenge of Nation Building--Part I

[Author's Note: My apologies to the readers! Part II was published before Part I. This post was the one you should have read first. Cyberspace is not always kind to the creative effort.]

A Story To Tell....

In 1982, I was a classroom teacher in Calgary, Alberta, Canada at the grade 8 level. It was September, the beginning of a new school year and my assignment was to instruct students in the area of Social Studies and Current Events for several grade 8 classes. All the students were bubbling over with excitement. Okay, some were lukewarm. I was informed that I would be receiving a new student, whose family had just arrived from the country of Lebanon. Since I was a current events teacher, I knew that Lebanon had been involved in a civil war with a number of factions still fighting there. Nothing could prepare me for what I was to experience that day when Ali entered my class.
A class assignment was given that day to describe having students describe what a typical daily schedule was like for them at home and then share what they wrote with the rest of the class. This is what Ali read to us:

"..In Lebanon, early in the morning before breakfast my father would gather me and my younger brother together in another room. My father would then blindfold each of us and then place an AK47 automatic rifle in front of us and tell us to take it completely apart and he would time us. After recording our times, he would then then tell us to reassemble it while blindfolded and again he would time us. He would always say that we need to get quicker and more efficient. After our tests we would eat breakfast. Then we would pick up our freshly cleaned weapons and father would tell us to follow him and we would go out quietly and pick spots under cover so that we could kill members of the Christian militia. After doing that we would gather up weapons and ammunition and then go among the ruins to scavenge for things that my father thought we could use..."

After hearing the story, a couple of students asked a question:

Student: " Didn't your mother try to stop you from killing people?"

Ali: "No, my father said that we had to do this or they would kill us. My mother went along with whatever, my father said."

Student: "Why did you come to Canada?"

Ali: "My mother was killed by the militia. My father, with many tears, said that we must leave this place and go somewhere where he could grow old and see his children go to school, get an occupation, get married and have many children. He heard that Canada was a safe place for such things and a beautiful country."

That day many of us grew up after spending most of our young lives taking much for granted.

The Power of Education to Change the World

The power of education to change the world for the better has been an ideal that has been debated through the ages but no more has it been most valued than when a country has lapsed into difficult times brought on by poverty and war. It is at these times when the access to education is removed that we see the growth of injustices, persecution, and that which is morally abhorrent in the eyes of humanity.

 Due to the fact that education has the power to free people from ignorance, enables them to help themselves improve the quality of their lives and in the end, collectively build democratic, viable nations. Tyrants, dictators and others who cherish power and the wealth it provides them, fear the power of education. In many countries where military coups have occurred, educators have been targeted by those who do not want the people under their control to be led to hope that a better life is possible.

Education in Conflict Zones

Most rational individuals would agree that if young people had the opportunity to grow up and be educated free from an atmosphere of hate, mistrust, war and civil instability, that we would see the rise of doctors, lawyers, engineers,..etc dedicated to improving the quality of life of their people in their own countries and perhaps also contributing to the quality of life of peoples on a global scale. Given the truth of such a statement, we are faced with a sobering question:

"How many generations are we willing to sacrifice who have the potential to become nation builders?"


Looking at the current conflict zones, the statistics and conditions speak to the frightening answer to that question:


For those children who survive but remain in a conflict zone surrounded by hate and destruction and with no access to education, they become part of the violence in order to survive.

Those who don't survive do not just become statistics but become a nail in the coffin of hope for a country.


Credit: www.baodatviet.un

The Case of Syria

In a recent newspaper series titled: "The Great Exodus of Our Time" by Michael Petrou, the journalist meticulously  highlights individual cases of children who as a result of the devastation in their homelands and the need to labour in order to support their families because their parents have been physically incapacitated or even killed, have no hope for an education in any form. As he points out:

"...What chance does a 12 yr. old boy---who was six when the Syrian war began and has never been to school---have of catching up to his peers elsewhere or even learning to read?.."(Petrou, 2017)

For girls, early marriage, robs many Syrian refugees of an education. As one female student by the name of Safa Zreiqi points out:

 'Some of us don't want to get married. We didn't go to school for nothing. What's a shame is that we studied and got degrees and can't get work.'

As Petrou very aptly points out:

"These boys and girls, an entire generation of Syrians, will one day be men and women who will shape Syria and the Middle East. They will have a far more consequential impact on the region than now." (Petrou, 2017)

My question to you, as educators, is one that is daunting to our souls:

" Given the state of lack of education for thousands of refugee children in Syria and abroad, will the cycle of hate and destruction continue to grow with no end in sight or will it finally be broken so that the coming generations will be peace builders?"

Global E-Learning and Nation Building

Coming back to Nelson Mandela' s statement that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, as an educator you either believe this to be a true statement or you write it off as just another cute meme.

The numbers of refugees from the Syrian conflict have overwhelmed the resources of the countries taking them in. For example Jordan, a country of 6.5 million people is host to 1.5 million refugees whereas the country of Canada with a population of approximately 36 million people has taken in 40 000 refugees since 2015. We could look at the different European countries and the numbers of refugees that they have taken in but that is not the point of this article.

Credit: Filippo Grandi-UNHCR
As Filippo Grandi points out, how we educate refugee children will determine what the future Syria, Iraq, and other conflict areas in Africa, South America, and Asia will look like. What we are talking about is developing nation builders or re-builders who will break the perpetual cycle of violence found in their home countries. On reading this your response might be:

"Noble sentiment! But how?"

Global E-Learning and Empowering Generations to Be Nation Builders

The nation of Canada just celebrated 150 years as an independent and free nation on July 1, 2017. When we look back to the sacrifices made by past Canadians we recognize that it took real nation builders to unite a land into the second largest country in land mass in the world and yet with a comparatively small population compared to our powerful neighbours to the south. People of those times said that what we were attempting was impossible. Our fathers of confederation built the Canadian Pacific Railway that would unite our land from west to east coast. At the time all bets were against accomplishing such a feat given the varied terrain but we accomplished in 10 years what others said would take 25 yrs.

We know that the key to developing nation builders is to provide an environment where hope for the future of a country can be nourished. Obviously, this can not be done in a war zone.

What I am going to propose to you is an unorthodox solution, a solution as impossible as building a railway across a sea of mountains using only equipment from the 19th century and yet it may spark other thoughts because it has become the moral imperative of our time to counter those who have spent the last generation as nation destroyers with a new generation of nation builders.

Global e-Learning is part of this solution that I will describe in Part II.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Global E-Learning: Rising to the Challenge of Nation Building--Part II

[Author's Note: Be sure to read Part I of this article first for the sake of continuity]

It would be an understatement to suggest how unprepared Europe and North America were for the waves of refugees fleeing the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq in particular. Regardless of what the media headlines say in order to sell their wares, heroic efforts were made by all countries to accommodate the families now  arriving and continue to arrive at their borders, many requiring food, shelter and immediate medical care.


However, in settling refugee families, there is a fundamental mistake being made in regards to the education of children and a missed opportunity.

Refugees vs. Immigrants---Education

In order to understand the educational needs of new families arriving from foreign lands, it is important to make a distinction between landed immigrants and refugees. Landed immigrants make a personal choice to leave their home countries and apply for landed immigrant status in another country. It may be for such reasons as:

  • better employment opportunities
  • better education opportunities
  • better opportunity to acquire and settle on land
  • to join other members of the family already living in the host country

The important point to emphasize is that it is the family's personal choice to move which is often based upon the pros and cons of moving to a host country. As such, the focus of helping families adapt to the host country involves an education that allows for a smooth "assimilation" into the culture of the host country whether based upon the "mosaic" or "melting pot" models.

Does the assimilation always work? Not always! Some groups seek to stay closely associated with their cultural and linguistic roots once they arrive in the host country. In Canada, as an example, big cities such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto often have areas of the city where specific cultural groups have chosen to work and live together. They still have pledged allegiance to their host country but it is a hyphenated allegiance.

For refugees, the situation is quite different because their choice to leave has been a forced choice in order to survive. So, the questions that need some reflection are:

"Do these refugee groups want to be assimilated into the culture of the host country and even more important, should the education they receive have as its focus the preparation for assimilation?"

As has been witnessed in many European countries, such as Germany, failure to ask these questions have led to clashes of very different civilizations with violence and mistrust on both sides.

Point of View of Refugees

If you were to speak to refugee families about what life was like for them before their homeland became a conflict zone, you would see hesitant smiles as they remembered their family's lives and the lives lived by their fathers and grandfathers. In some instances life was hard but for many despite the hardships, they still had peace, even if it was enforced by a dictator such as Saddam Hussein. Many would tell you that they would like to pass on their traditions to their children and grandchildren but only if there was a democratic government in place that guaranteed certain freedoms that citizens in a country like Canada enjoys. 

If such a future was made possible in their ancestral homelands, would they want to return with their families? Many would say "yes!" Many would like to see their children grow up to become doctors, engineers, nurses, agriculturalists, scientists, lawyers, teachers, writers...etc. and especially if their children could be the ones to re-build their nations. However, such an opportunity is not available in a war zone. However, such an opportunity could be made possible in the host countries.

The Phoenix Project----A Radical Proposal

Rationale for Name: The choice of the name of the project reflects the desire to see nations rise from the ashes through the efforts of those whose futures were forfeited  as a result of being born into a conflict zone. This represents an opportunity for those most affected to re-build their homelands and re-claim their heritage.


Purpose: To establish "sanctuary education zones" within host countries where the children of refugees (roughly ages 12 and up) may go to access a networked online school system dedicated to educating the children of refugees in all areas of knowledge related to the necessary skillsets for nation building.

Credit: Nefertari (1984)

Mission: To educate and empower the children of refugees in the skills of nation building for the purpose of helping to create a viable future for their homelands. By being educated in professions vital to re-building their homelands, they would return to their homelands to fill the vacuum created by conflict and sow the seeds of peace for their people.

At first glance, such a vision might seem improbable, impossible or even grossly naive but even now in the Middle East there are model visionaries for the children to learn from. Such an example is the one set by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the UAE.


Creation of a Global Networked Online School and Sanctuary Education Zones

In order to layout a framework for how such a project would be structured, it is best to think about some pertinent questions:

1. How do we identify and encourage parents of refugee children to consider this type of education path for their children? When refugee families enter host countries and are being processed, we describe what we have in mind and why we see this as a good path for their children. For those who are living in temporary refugee camps and are receiving medical help, this offer can be made to parents of age appropriate children. Otherwise, public announcements made in the different languages of the refugees are posted in areas where refugee families go to get food and water.

2. Do we have the technology available for creating a globally connected online school? The fact that we already have online schools and universities established means that we do have the technology and the knowledge for setting such a school up. The technology is advancing in such a way as to give more control to all individuals regardless of their status and language is becoming less and less of a barrier

Credit: Roger Hamilton

3. What do these "sanctuary education zones" in the host countries offer? These zones contain technology centers that are set up for children to go and login to their education. They are manned by mentors who are trained to interact with the children in English but also interpreters could be added so that they can receive instructions in their own languages. These zones also offer the opportunity for children to collaborate with children in other sanctuary education zones to exchange ideas, solve real world problems and educate each other with respect to their cultural traditions. Part of the path to peaceful co-existence is to be able to communicate with each other in a non-threatening environment.

4. What happens if these "sanctuary education zones" should be threatened in some manner? Having the school and its courses online would also mean that children could access their education from mobile devices such as Smart Phones, tablets and any other mobile device on a 24/7 time basis. This means that if the centres need to be closed down because of a potential threat, children would not be prevented from continuing their education. With the creation of virtual online communities and worlds, access to education becomes more and more of a collaborative experience.

Credit: Roger Hamilton

Although the above is just an example, our lessons from the experience with virtual worlds in "Second Life" has taught us that we can collaborate on a global scale. The caveat is that cybersecurity is just as important in the online world as it is in our very real world.

5. How will this project be financially supported? This would require participation by stakeholders willing to do their part in seeking to achieve a higher purpose. LMS providers to digital entrepreneurs would be involved. In order for something like this to happen, we have to come to terms with what value nations place upon providing education for its children and especially in these times, the education of displaced children living in refugee camps and in host countries. The facts speak for themselves:



It is time to change the above ratios!

6. Of what benefit is such a project to the host countries and the rest of the nations? 

Considering the financial drain that the cycle of conflicts have placed on the economies such as the United States , Russia, and other European nations, such a plan would present an opportunity to break that cycle and allow nations to divert funding into more peaceful endeavors. This brings forth a sobering question:

"Is it not about time that we re-task our spending as nations so that we break the cycle of having children who are born into a cycle of violence in favor of spending more to educate new generations to become nation builders?"


Credit: Thaer Mohanmmed

Global e-Learning presents us with an opportunity to educate, nurture and connect generations of children who could become re-builders of their homelands if provided with a peaceful sanctuary in which to grow and acquires the skills of nation building. The inheritance of a peaceful future where they can grow, build families and establish life long friendships on a global scale should not be kept from them any longer. We have the knowledge and the evolving technology to make it happen but do we have the wisdom to put self-interest aside and work for something far more precious and greater than ourselves? That is the tipping point of this proposal.

(If you are passionate about not losing more generations of potential scientists, doctors, engineers, nurses, educators to the vicious cycle of war where children are taught to embrace death, make these two articles go viral on the web! 

For business organizations this should be a wake up call because if you hope to prosper on a global level, keep in mind that the generations that we don't pull from the quagmire of cyclical violence will wage war against society on the new battlefield, the world wide web! Not a threat, just a growing reality.)