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Archive for July, 2008

In one of my conversations with a reputed customer, we had an interesting discussion around a theme for our project. Essentially a gaming project as conceived initially, both teams got together to thrash out the underlying model – the processes, variables and algorithms that would constitute this project. As the teams got a better understanding of the project (and they separated out learning objectives from what they call gaming or simulation objectives), they began to present their case as to why it should be a simulation augmented by a fantasy experience rather than the other way around.

Their basic arguments were around the following factors:

  1. Level of real-life immersion required – the team felt that real-life decision making in this case was a little too complex to be fantasized in an abstract manner
  2. Complexity of algorithms and interactions between system variables – many different indicators exist for each state of the game and these were not only inter-related but also derived by decision making sets that the learner would have to make
  3. Learner motivation triggers – the team felt that fantasy could be placed to augment learner motivation (!) rather than as the basis for the central theme
  4. Extent of lateral transfer between a fantasy situation and real life skills – the team believed that lateral transfer of skills between a fantasy situation (such as fighting aliens) and the actual business skills that were to be practiced and concepts reinforced, was a bit of a stretch. In fact, the fantasy could serve to well distract the learner from achieving learning objectives.

It was an interesting debate and the team finally decided on a unifying theme with a blend of fantasy-game and real-life-simulation which seems to be ideal (at least at this point).

According to Dumlekar (2004) in the context of “Management simulations”: “ A simulation is a replica of reality. As a training program, it enables adult participants to learn through interactive experiences. Simulations contain elements of experiential learning and adult learning […] Simulations would therefore be useful to learn about complex situations (where data is incomplete, unreliable or unavailable), where the problems are unfamiliar, and where the cost of errors in making decisions is likely to be high. Therefore, simulations offer many benefits. They accelerate and compress time to offer a foresight of a hazy future. They are experimental, experiential, and rigorous. They promote creativity amongst the participants, who develop a shared view of their learning and behaviors. Above all, making decisions have no real-life cost implications.”

Simulation and gaming – EduTech Wiki (emphasis added)

Marc Prensky in Digital Game based Learning (McGraw-Hill 2001) attempts to map games and simulations to various learning types. This is an interesting classification and needs some serious thought. For example, he suggests that theories and systems types of learning are better handled through simulation based environments while a host of other learning types such as skills, procedures and communication can be handled well by game based learning. His chart is reproduced below.

As I write this, I am beset by another rambling thought. How do games and simulations, as we traditionally think of them, change or are impacted by the new 2.0/3.0/4.0 paradigms? For example, can we orchestrate role-playing for learning within a social community in an effective collaborative manner (what would be required to do that), or, can we harness the power of each community member’s PC to run a complex market simulation or collaborative team simulation? I think this merits some serious thought as well.

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We frequently say that people are an organization’s most important resource. Yet we seldom understand this truism in terms of the communities through which individuals develop and share the capacity to create and use knowledge.

CoP: Best Practices, Etienne Wenger, “Systems Thinker”, June 1998

I came across Wenger’s 1998 paper titled Communities of Practice, Learning as a social system. Very thought provoking and structured, Wenger traces the rationale for CoPs and gives them formal definition distinguishing them from interest groups, business/functional units, teams and networks (which he deems as a set of relationships).

He then proceeds to look at the role and relations of CoPs to the organization. What is really interesting is that he has identified the possible stages of evolution of a CoP – Potential, Coalescing, Active, Dispersed and Memorable as in the chart below.

He also draws out some of the key relationships of the CoP to the organization which include relationships such as Unrecognized (invisible to the organization), Legitimized and Transformative. While drawing out the importance of CoPs in an organization, Wenger provides a blueprint for some of the roles that can exist internal leadership of the CoP, which he believes are key to its development.

# The inspirational leadership provided by thought leaders and recognized experts
# The day-to-day leadership provided by those who organize activities
# The classificatory leadership provided by those who collect and organize information in order to document practices
# The interpersonal leadership provided by those who weave the community’s social fabric
# The boundary leadership provided by those who connect the community to other communities
# The institutional leadership provided by those who maintain links with other organizational constituencies, in particular the official hierarchy
# The cutting-edge leadership provided by those who shepherd “out-of-the-box” initiatives.

CoP: Best Practices

This is of special relevance as networks and social learning concepts are enabled by technology and best practices within organizations. As I have stated in an earlier post, the roles in Learning and Development divisions of organizations (and also business as a whole) need to evolve to encompass these additional internal leadership roles.

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George Siemens interesting and provocative presentation at D2L Fusion 2008 titled Connectives and Collectives: Learning Alone, together talks about the autonomy of self (Connectives) and the subsumption of self (Collectives). He quotes:

“Intense connectivity can homogenize the pool…high cohesiveness can lead to the sharing of common rather than novel information” Uzzi, Spiro (2005)

Excerpted slide from George's presentation

George suggests that as ties become stronger and individuals aggregate into groups and collectives, the discourse becomes normed (in fact there is a veritable coercion to the norm) that leads to a drying up of new ideas that are novel and diverse. In the diagram above, he also ties it up with autonomy to the learner, which he believes to decrease as these ties increase in strength and degree.

George goes on to quote:

“Diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality, out-perform groups of like-minded experts”
Scott Page

He states that a challenge facing us today is to preserve the unique values of connectives and collectives and that the role of educators is to build designs for varied levels of connectedness and to value collective effort insofar as it contributes to the whole.

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I talked not long ago of Networks of Practice and Learning Formations. I talked about learning effectiveness as a function of individual and network strength and possible optimizations of access to information and connections to people. And Twine is the perfect example of this. A networking site that incorporates evolutionary personalization of content and networking to meet your interest areas, Twine allows you create your own sub-networks and join and participate in related sub-networks of your choice.

A few interesting things that struck me about Twine which also echoed some of my thoughts. Firstly, when you create your Twine or sub-network, you can identify yourself as the administrator/originator. Secondly, you can set down (!) Rules for your Twine and take control of what others can publish to it. This second one is interesting because it defines the framework or funnel for all activities and resources in the group. Once you read the rules and decide to join, you are automatically “normed” to the group (exceptions being managed by the administrator). As a result, you would find a lot of focus and “seriousness” in the Twine. Consequently, the network would grow by including like-minded individuals with a specific aim of learning and sharing from each other, sort of like a community of practice. It would, of course, depend on the administrator’s individual strength and capacity to take this to a next step of concerted activities (to a more actively “performing” stage).

Thirdly, what interests me is their use of an evolutionary framework for personalization. They state that the more we ue Twine the better it would understand our interests and the more useful it would become. I echo that philosophy. It’s what Amazon started and countless other sites incorporated and enhanced.

The fourth interesting aspect, that of being able to collaboratively share social media, is semantically built into Twine using semantics around people, locations, organizations and tags. This specifies a particular epistemology for the Networks created through Twine that is intriguing to study and analyze. Perhaps it could be extended by aggregators like Yahoo! Pipes that could make it connected with the “outside the sub-network”, global network.

If we look at a sub-network as an “ingot of metal”,  unified, coherent, possibly  segregated,  focused and  perhaps fostering emergent and complex knowledge (the last is probably not true of Twine at the moment), then would it really be indicative of Learning 2.0? Isn’t it a very traditional 1.0 “style” (although “2.0” technology) learning platform?

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In a 2.0 world, what will constitute or determine learning effectiveness and learner engagement?

We have seen a lot of literature on the individual’s own impact on her learning, but a recent post by Tony Karrer on his Work Literacy blog struck me as profound.

So, while information is much more readily accessible and that changes some aspects of knowledge work, the bigger change is the ready access to more people and more of what they know. The key question is often “Who?” and not “What?” – yet most knowledge workers are not familiar with asking this question and finding ways to leverage collective wisdom.

Network Key Skill – More than Knowledge-able | Work Literacy

If learning effectiveness is seen as a function of network strength (defined as the quality and quantity of resources in an individual’s network that she can learn from), many new things become possible to investigate beyond simply ensuring accessibility to people and content. For example:

  • Is there a way to optimize the route to the right learning resource in much the manner that packets are routed on a physical network (can we create some algorithms such as OSPF [Open Shortest Path Forward] or BGP [Border Gateway Protocol] ?)
  • Is there a way that learning effectiveness is not constrained by capacity of learning sources? We would not want a learner with an immediate need not to be able to find a resource to learn from, would we?
  • Is there a way for us to match learning styles/preferences across resources so that learning effectiveness is maximized? By this I mean that if we postulate that our teaching style is going to be an amplification of the way we learn (our learning style), then is it possible to think of systems or attributes of the network that allow us to match styles between a source and a recipient?
  • Is there a way to reduce failed interactions by promoting nodes (in a participatory, non-exclusive fashion) that contribute or create more effective learning experiences?
  • Can bots or user agents optimize the learning effectiveness by saving human time? After all, I would hate to answer the same question 2 million times, wouldn’t I?

Can we also think of looking at how networks or formations could interact in ways that protect identity when desired? Are we talking bridges such as those between disparate networks? Maybe we could think of really evolving a folksonomy around learning formations that could help entire networks to collaborate/merge/transform?

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