Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop cyberbullying

Today is the day that has been identified for those who wish to speak out against the campaign of cyberbullying that has been levelled against Kathy Sierra. This is my small contribution. My small voice joining what I hope will prove to be many. In my view, what Kathy has endured has gone beyond cyberbullying - much of it would warrant the term cyber-rape.

I happen to like Kathy Sierra's blog very much. I discovered it before I knew what blogs were, and have been reading it ever since. I feel as if I come to know her well enough through her posts to say I like her. In the final analysis, that is not what this post is about. It doesn't matter whether you like Kathy Sierra or loathe her. It doesn't matter if you think she reveals deep and profound wisdom or complete drivel. In fact, this isn't really about Kathy at all. It's about you. It's about me. It's about US. Kathy's right to occupy space online should be inviolate. As should yours. No-one is justified in hiding behind the anonymity of the online environment to objectify, humiliate, belittle, frighten, threaten, victimise, harass another person on line. The rules of decency around our online presence should mirror those of our physical world.

People who resort to such behaviour are obviously riven with baggage, insecurities and issues.

I know that there are those who think that it's more frightening to know the name of your bully than not, but I would dispute that. It's bad enough to be harassed someone when you know who they are, but at least you have the chance of taking action if you can work up the courage. How do you defend against an identifiable bully? How can you be sure it isn't someone you know and like - someone you think likes you? How do you ever feel safe again?

Victimising someone anonymously is sheer cowardice. It shows a lack of courage of convictions. The knowledge that your view will not stand up to scrutiny and is indefensible, otherwise surely you would be proud to claim it as your own.

I have joined the Stop Cyberbullying network on Ning. Perhaps you might consider doing the same. Not just for Kathy, but for yourself, for your friends, for your children, for their friends.

It might be a while before Kathy recovers her effervescence! Let's hope she soon feels brave enough to start posting again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where are the boundaries... if they exist at all?

I recently attended the online Connectivism Conference, during which I met many very interesting people and made more direct contact with others I already knew (well, their online personae anyway). Out of this has arisen an interesting situation, which I will try to relate effectively without mentioning names.

During the conference, I encountered two people whose fields of work overlap fairly extensively with my own. Of course, this meant that we had an interest in furthering our acquaintance. For myself, I have begun to read their blogs, and have befriended one of them on Explode. One of them approached me with a view to getting together to exchange ideas. The other approached me for possible insights into a project he was working on. And that's when I got hit with the politics stick!

My manager's gut instinct was that the "exchange of ideas" would prove to be an attempt to sell me something and that I would be at risk because the person in question works for an organisation that is a direct competitor of ours. So I stopped being just me and started being a representative of my employer.

Also, with regard to the request for insight, the client in this case was one of our biggest clients and internal to our group. So the feeling was that the work should have come to us in the first place. The words "conflict of interest" were raised. So once again, I stopped being just me, and became an asset/resource of my employer.

I really enjoy and have come to depend on the online exchange of ideas with people outside of the team, the company, the country, the field. I have gleaned so much from these conversations that my professional practice has changed to something completely unrecognisable as the work of the same person. I enjoy the transparency, the generosity. I have benefitted enormously from these attitudes. Now I feel as if I am ducking to the cloakroom when it's my turn to buy a round. I recognise that I tend to quite naieve and openhanded. This, I have been told over and over in my life, is not the corporate way. When it comes to corporate politics, I am really thick. I have neither the skill nor the stomach for it, let alone the patience. Which is why I had to ask the advice of my line manager.

Was he right? Is Kathy Sierra's experience a sign to us all to be more circumspect? Does connectivism trump corporate? If so, do I "publish and be damned"... well, sacked anyway?

My brain hurts!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Kathy Sierra becomes a victim of the worst kind of cyberbullying

Now this is just wrong. Seriously not on. I have been reading Kathy's blog since before I knew what blogs were. She is a respected member of the blogging community and has been reduced to a recluse. I trust that the perpetrators of this appalling behaviour will be apprehended and stopped and that she will emerge triumphant.

I find it hard to believe that the people who appear to be behaving in this fashion actually are the people behind it. Please tell me that this is some kind of identity theft. If not, well I don't know where that leaves us!

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Excellence in learning" what do YOU think it means?

I would really appreciate feedback from as wide a range of people as possible on this point. Students, teachers, learning professionals of all descriptions. Formal education sector, workplace learning, informal learning, the lot!

I have been challenged to identify what constitutes "excellence in learning" and to suggest creative ways to deliver that. So I thought I would ask you what you think the phrase means. I'm quite happy to think about the "creative ways" - it's the defining bit I'm finding unexpectedly challenging. It's one of those things you assume you know until someone actually pins you down and asks you to quantify.

Please, please, any blurkers who have not yet been tempted to comment - your perspective is as valuable as anyone else's, and I would deeply appreciate it if you would venture to comment in this one instance. If you would prefer to post on your own blog, please tag me to alert me to this fact...

March's Big Question: What would you do to support new managers?

Very glad to learn that LCB is not a spam blog after all (well duh!). So let's have a very quick look at this month's Big Question before this month becomes last month.

What would I do to support new managers?

First and foremost, I would appoint them mentor and facilitate a meeting between the mentor and the new manager, in which the mentor (not the facilitator) would lead a discussion on the nature of their relationship going forward, the preferred method of communication, the sort of support on offer, other potential resources and, if necessary, set boundaries. The mentor would also be expected to introduce them to the rest of the management community, identifying particular areas of strength of each individual.

The new manager would follow an induction programme that would include a pointer to online support resources available. These would be:

An online guide to company policies and procedures, accessible on a JIT basis. This guide would include guidelines on how to apply the policies and follow the procedures, outlining the expectations on him/her. This guide would also point to...

Learning materials/opportunities available, should the manager feel the need to upskill in any area.

Social media, such as wikis, glossaries (for jargon busting), FAQs, discussion forums, blogs, etc. which the manager could use as preferred.

Regular performance appraisals with a line manager - quarterly for the first year, then half yearly thereafter. Of course, a good line manager won't wait until the PA is due if something needs addressing before then, but that's a separate issue.

I'm sure I'll think of other things once I've posted this, but I guess that's it for now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A lesson in micro history from a living legend

Last night I met a genuine living legend. I met John Kani. You may not have heard of him, but to me, meeting him was second only to meeting Nelson Mandela.

Let me just say that I don't do starstruck. I have rubbed shoulders with some pretty famous people in my life. Heck, I have even had a brief and inconsequential brush with celebrity myself, and I know for a fact that famous people use loo paper like for the same purpose as everyone else. I am not impressed by overpaid footballers or platinum disk singers or oscar winning actors or even royalty. I am impressed by people who make a difference.

John Kani is such a man.

Last night my husband took me to see Sizwe Bansi is Dead which Kani co-wrote with his fellow cast member Winston Ntshona and Athol Fugard. Courtesy of the University of Cape Town alumni association, we got to attend a reception after the show with John Kani.

Hang on... Kani is an actor/playwright, so why am I impressed by him if I'm not the starstruck type? To quote from an article written by the South African journalist and activist Donald Woods:

"One day, if a historic assessment is made of the most effective opponents of the apartheid system in South Africa, two remarkable actors will be well to the forefront of the heroes of that era. John Kani and Winston Ntshona, through their art and passion as well as the great courage it took to do what they did in that time, broke new ground politically as well as artistically in defiance of the most vicious of all the apartheid regime's Security Police - those of the Eastern Cape."
Ntshona and Kani are more than institutions of South African theatre, and they have been performing this piece together since 1972 - interspersed with other work, of course. This is its last run. Not having seen the piece before I could not pass up this opportunity.

It was a history lesson. In fact, it was a history lesson of my own era.

If history tells the story of the victor, art tells the story of everyman. Kani, Fugard and Ntshona are all native to the part of South Africa where I lived from 1973 to 1987. This play tells the story of black people in the Eastern Cape at around that time - the era of the pass laws (see the Sharpeville massacre). It was a life ordinary white people never got to see or hear about. The personae of the story are not notable characters, not leaders of the struggle. They are just ordinary men trying to provide for their families within a system that seemed designed to make this impossible. Of course, there was plenty of wry humour - especially when the benefit of hindsight illustrated to an increasingly enlightened public how ridiculous many of the rules and processes were. It broke my heart - all the more because I realised that these two great men had been subjected to the indignities portrayed on stage.

When John Kani arrived at the reception, I walked up to this complete stranger and tearfully hugged him. I couldn't have explained why, but fortunately, I didn't need to. He hugged me right back and kissed me on the head. Not one of those pretentious theatrical air kisses, but a genuine gesture of affection for a woman caught in the clutches of emotions she couldn't explain. His response gave me a sense of peace that just sounds trite when I try to explain it, so I won't. I suspect he has been hugged by many white South Africans of my vintage over the years, and has dispensed that peace many times over. Someone took our picture shortly afterwards and has promised to email it to me. When it comes, I will proudly add it to this post, even though I know it will not be flattering to me - my eyes were swollen from weeping and my make-up was long gone (and I'm not a pretty sight without it these days!) [Edit: as promised - the picture]

In my teens I was a very minor political activist and was ejected from more than one place for my views on equality. Increasingly, however, I realise that I was a romantic idealist who knew nothing of the reality of daily life that faced the people whose cause I thought I was championing. Adulthood and the passage of time have brought comprehension. Last night gave it perspective. This is a blog about learning. Last night I learnt a lot!

On the train journey home after the reception, I was exhausted and kept dozing off, rousing myself occasionally to turn to my husband and say contentedly, "I met John Kani." To which my understanding husband replied squeezing my hand, "You did. You even hugged him, and he hugged you right back and kissed you."

Now if only someone from the Alumni association would make it possible for me to meet Madiba (Nelson Mandela)... ;-)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Change of name

It has come to my attention that there is another Karyn out there with a blog which she has used to raise money to get herself out of financial trouble. While I bear her no ill will, I don't want this blog being confused with hers. I decided to change my blog name to something that gave a clearer indication of what a reader might expect to find in my posts.

I asked my family for some suggestions for new names. They weren't a great deal of help. They just came up with a whole bunch of puns on my name. You see, while Scandinavians and Germanics have no trouble with the long "a" sound in my first name, it totally flummoxes British, North American and Antipodean English speakers who all naturally opt for the shorter version. In order to give people something to hang onto when trying to get their tongues around the simple but unexpected vowel sounds, we have adopted a few tactics which my younger son alluded to when suggesting "Karyn the Garage". My elder son suggested "Karyn Surance", while my tactless husband suggested "Karyn Full Spate".

Fat lot of use, I'm sure you'll agree!

Anyway, I hope that the new title suits the content.

Blogging for beginners

Mark Berthelemy recently ran a workshop for our wider team at work, introducing them to the concept of blogging. I was unable to attend on the day, since it clashed with a lecture for my Masters' course. However, technology being what it is, I have been able to attend the workshop this morning.

Have you been trying to sell the idea of blogging to colleagues, friends, relatives? Or are you a newbie, still trying to get your own head around the concept of what blogging is and isn't. Mark's workshop is pitched at a very accessible level.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Labels, uniforms, style wars and the bully mentality

I recently posted about my 13 year old son's repeated experience of "happy slapping". A subsequent conversation with the school raised the question of uniforms and labels. The school my sons attend have well over 2500 children enrolled, divided into 6 halls or sub-schools. Many of the teachers have never met each other. Some may well not even have heard of each other. Unlike other British schools, the school does not dictate a uniform. Also unlike other schools, all staff members - teachers, administration, support staff - are known by their first names. The stated reasoning behind this is respect. Respect for the individual, no matter what their role in the community.

It's a wonderful ideal. I wish it worked!

When I spoke to my son's tutor, she indicated that there was a strong likelihood that he was being victimised because of his appearance. This seems very likely. She expressed her regret at this fact, stating that the school taught respect for the individual's right to self-expression - hence the lack of uniform.

I felt compelled to disabuse her. While the school may not impose a uniform, the children have established their own dress code. It is a very clearcut means by which to categorise themselves and one another and each group has a name. It isn't far from gang mentality. The enmity between the groups occasionally escalates to violence, but usually takes the form of verbal expressions of loathing and disgust.

So what are these uniforms? I'll do the best I can (many of the links below are to flickr files - I'm not sure if you'll be able to see them without an account, but I wasn't sure about the rules regarding the reproduction of the photos in my post, so I decided to play it safe):

Chavs. This is the group with the worst reputation for violence. They dress in tracksuits, in the case of the boys, usually worn with the hoods up. The boys wear their hair cropped short, with peaked caps far back on their heads - the peaks pointing almost straight up. The girls' tracksuits are often in pastel colours with a slogan across the butt. They are likely to tie their hair in a tight pony tail - often high on their heads, with a great deal of make-up. They have a predeliction for "blingage" oversized gold jewellery. They often hail from the rougher estates. They listen to rap, hip-hop, R&B. There preference for the Burberry brand has been said to have done the brand harm.

Goths. These kids usually dress entirely in black, and have a rather eccentric taste in clothing. They have a preference for oversized boots with rubber platform heels. They are likely to dye their hair pitch black or a bright colour like red or purples. Both boys and girls are likely to wear lashings of black eyeliner - not necessarily just around their eyes, either. They are likely to listen to death metal music, and are attracted to "dark" experiences and spirituality. There can be associations with vampirism.

Emos. Think goth-meets-punk. Lots of eccentric combinations. Emo boys are likely to have long fringes that hang down over their eyes. Two-tone dye-jobs are also a distinct possibility. Emo being short for emotional, emos are said to be big on self-harming. Boys wear their jeans very low slung - usually well below their butts. Girls may wear trousers, leggings or ripped tights with short skirts over the top, fingerless gloves, thumb rings, black or mismatched nail varnish. Once again there is a tendency towards black eyeliner for both boys and girls, and a pair of ceramic hair straighteners are a must. Music of preference: rock such as My Chemical Romance

Scenes. This is a subset or breakaway group from emos. Not into self-harming (not that all - or even most - emos really are!). The dress is slightly toned down and the hats are different, although you'd probably have to be a teen to tell them apart. Both girls and boys wear their jeans slung low with underwear on display. Note - this does not mean thongs (g-strings) - that would be chavvy!

Grebos. This is apparently a contraction of "greasy b*st*rds" and applies to fans of indie rock and post punk musical styles. Grebos may opt for dreadlocks, boots and baggy clothes and funky hats. Sometimes also referred to as "grungies". These folks are roundly despised by chavs. Just seeing a grebe walk past is often enough to get their blood boiling.

Trendies. These, my sons tell me, are people who wear good quality mainstream clothes. According to them, my husband and I fall into this category. I thought this was a good thing, until I read what the urban dictionary had to say about them! I certainly don't relate to any of the stereotypes. They listen to mainstream pop, read magazines and watch popular television programmes.

And these are the uniforms in evidence in my sons' school - so much for the no-uniform approach. My older son's style of dress is muted enough not to attract undue attention. He tends to be grebo/scene. My younger son, however, achieves some fairly outlandish looks some days. This obviously riles some kids. On four occasions he has had some minor violence inflicted on him by boys he has referred to as chavs. Take any teenager and stand them on a street corner. Ask them to identify the kids that walk past, and they'll tell you without pausing: grebe, goth, chav, emo... Never mind what the kids might have worn yesterday or might wear tomorrow. It's what they're wearing today, right now that, if the "right" combination of factors comes into play, could result in abuse or injury.

I never expected the day that I would think with longing of uniforms, but they are great levellers. Kids from the poorest homes can look as smart as kids from the richest and the punishment inflicted on the parents' bank balances is less severe! Policemen, soldiers, nurses, pilots, firemen, store assistants and countless others wear uniforms as they go about their duties - they seem to manage to express their individuality in other ways.

I'm not really sure that I've had a complete change of heart on this - the proof of the pudding would be my reaction if they decided to introduce a uniform at the school. But for now, because his chosen dress code is making my son a target, I'm wavering...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Their space

It's about time someone produced something like this! To quote from the blurb "Their Space: Education for a digital generation draws on qualitative research with children and polling of parents to counter the myths obscuring the true value of digital media."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Online safety - whose responsibility is it?

Interesting post on Linda's blog (nod to Vicki Davis for the link) about online safety. Linda takes issue with the ruling of judge who declared that it is the parents' responsibility to teach their children online safety. At this point, I think I agree more with the judge.

Linda lists five groups of stakeholders who she says need to take ownership of and be held accountable for Internet safety:

  • Industry companies & organizations
  • Governments & regulators
  • Law enforcement & oversight boards
  • Individuals & families
  • Schools & other educational resources.
I agree that all these parties carry a responsibility. However, my view of the balance of responsibility is a little different. Linda likens the judge's ruling in this case as being on a par with holding parents responsible for the traffic deaths of their children, saying: "If someone hands a 14-year-old keys to a faulty car and says “go have fun” down a poorly maintained freeway that doesn’t warn of steep curves would society blame the parents for the ensuing crash?"

If the child had been properly educated by his parents and to a lesser extent, his community and his teachers, he would not take those keys, any more than he would have taken candy from a stranger as a pre-schooler. He would know it was both wrong and dangerous. He would have too much respect for his own safety, and for the safety of others to take such a risk.

While I support the concept of due care on the part of manufacturers, let's bear in mind that they are simply producing a product. The manufacturers of the car in the analogy above are not expected to shoulder responsibility when a child takes the wheel.

There is a worrying increase in reliance on regulations to protect our children and an abdication of parental responsibility. I have no desire to live in a society that is completely regulated "for my own good". Too Orwell, too Equilibrium.

One of the primary needs of every human being is safety/shelter. Sadly, we have lost much of the notion of community that existed in previous generations. However, a community of sorts still exists in the extended family and the school. Until I am convinced otherwise, I maintain that it is this community, most especially the parents, upon whom the onus rests to meet all a child's primary needs.

Linda makes the point that consumers have the right to be informed of the risks associated with any new product or feature. I agree. However, I would like to point out that many parents (and sadly many teachers) can't be bothered to make the effort to access the information that is available to them. For many of us, as long as the children are being quiet and aren't demanding our attention, we are content to let them get on with it. It is all too often only when the wheels fall off that parents sit up, take notice and look for someone to blame.

People like Vicki Davis expend an enormous amount of energy teaching children about netiquette and safety online. It is a tragedy that her efforts are so notable - they should be the norm.

Friday, March 09, 2007

XplanaZine: Math and Mentos: How E-Learning Can Learn from Numb3rs and YouTube

A worthwhile read from XplanaZine today.

Happy slapping ISN'T happy!

Note: this is a rant!

This morning I was on my way to the office when my phone rang. It was my 13 year old son. He should have been at school. He had been on his way to school. In fact he was almost there when two boys on a bicycle emptied a 6 pint bottle of milk over his head as they passed. Of course, there was no way he could go to school in that state, so he turned around and headed home, and he had phoned me to inform me of this fact.

This is the third time that this child has been targeted in one of these random acts that all seem to form part of the culture known as "happy slapping". Originally, the idea was to walk up to some random stranger and slap them, while friends recorded the event on their mobile phones. Hilarious, I don't think! Whatever endorphins that act released obviously became very attractive, because it has now become de rigeur to commit acts of minor violence upon random strangers even when there is nobody there to record the event. Somehow this seems worse to me.

This is the third time my son has been the victim of one of these "attacks". The first one took place when he was on his way to a guitar lesson. A kid punched him in the face as he cycled past, leaving him with a swollen, bruised cheekbone. The second time was on his way to school, when a child smacked him upside the head.

On the first occasion, we reported the matter to the police, who were very kind and very efficient but of course, nothing transpired - they have bigger fish to fry! The second occasion was different. My son recognised the child from school, so we escalated the matter through school channels and the perpetrator was given community service. He was puzzled, since, as he put it, he was only "having a bit of fun", and thought it unresaonable of my son to take exception to that.

With his eyes full of milk, my son was unable to tell whether he knew the perpetrators today, and among close to 3000 children in 6 separate halls (sort of sub-schools), there is little chance that the staff will have any luck. At a school this size, staff members don't even know all the other staff members, let alone the students!

After today's incident, my son was forced to go home and change his clothes, shower and wash his (long, very thick) hair. He felt violated and humiliated, and he refused to return to school for the day. I have set him some research tasks to do around the work he is currently doing at school, but he will miss an end of module science assessment today. He has never enjoyed school and I am concerned that this incident will make it difficult to presuade him to return to school on Monday. I am not in a position to home-school him, and I lack the skills to do an effective job even if I made the necessary changes to my life.

I feel impotent, which is not helped by the fact that there seems to be nothing anyone can do!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Scott Adams hits the nail on the head

Scott Adams writes the Dilbert cartoon, but he also keeps a blog. In this post he turns is astute eye on the education system and curriculum. I don't think I need to add anything to it other than to suggest you read it!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Peacemaker game

One of my lecturers posted this link to the Peacemaker Game on our module discussion board this morning. A colleague of his is planning to use it for a project for an undergraduate module about the values of gaming. The premise of Peacemaker is that the player takes the role of the Israeli Prime Minister or the the Palestinian President, reacts to events happening in the war and attempts to resolve the conflict.

The game was piloted in 2005 in a university project in which two Carnegie Mellon classrooms (one in Pittsburgh, the other in Qatar), linked via video conferencing, played the game simultaneously. This was treated as a user test opportunity. The producers interviewed students playing the game and asked them to relate their thoughts and feelings as they made decisions in the game.

The producers are very frank about their expectations regarding Peacemaker - they have no delusions about resolving the middle east conflict through their game - but they have observed an increased depth of understanding of the issues in the students involved in the project.

Very touchingly, Asi Burak, one of the producers of Peacemaker says that in between the many games about violence, war and destruction, "we say a simple thing: there is certainly a place for one, little game about peace."

Sadly, there is a cost associated with the game itself. At US$20, it isn't going to break the bank, and I'm sure the producers could defend that cost most credibly. But my own view is that a game intended to get people talking and thinking about peace should surely be free...?


I confess I know nothing about the mathematics behind fractals. All I know is how fascinating, how beautiful fractal images are. These images (from TechRepublic - nod to my non-blogging husband for the link) of chaos are indeed beautiful, but looking at them, my first reaction is that they are so, well, unchaotic. I won't even try to unpack the deep philosophical issues that underlie this observation. Instead, I will simply invite you to go and admire the view.

If you like, you can even download your apps to generate your own fractals...

The Big Question about the big question

Tony Karrer has provided an explanation as to why March's big question has not been forthcoming. Apparently, the LCB (Learning Circuits Blog) site has been wheelclamped by Google as being a spam blog. Interesting. Web 2.0 is (in large part) about conversation. LCB is about conversation. But it appears to have fallen victim to its own success - the volume of traffic in and out has attracted the notice of the Google policebots.

Dave Lee, communicating through the sidebar, jokingly suggests that the big question for March should be "Do you really exist if Google says you don't?"

This is a conspiracy theorist's dream come true. Supposedly, no-one is in control of the web, supposedly it is driven by the world wide community, and yet, in a case of mistaken identity, LCB has been cut off and now has to fight to clear its name and be "released". It's all too "Enemy of the State"

Friday, March 02, 2007

Science of learning

I have been ruminating over this for some days, and if I don't get this post done now, it's going to eat at me for the next several days, too - days which I really need to focus my attention on something else, so here goes...

I confess that I had never heard of Itiel Dror, until I read Clive's post and Stephen's rejoinder. Perhaps this is a sign of my ignorance, since Clive’s post indicates that he is a man of significant standing in the e-learning community in the UK. Be that as it may, this is an interesting conversation, and one that needs to see more of the light of day, since my view is that the field of corporate e-learning employs a worrying number of people who have no concept of the learning process or interest in the learner experience.

There seems to be a large number of immigrants from instructor-led training or formal education. Teachers who have completed a PGCE will certainly have received some teaching on the learning process (although the validity of some of that teaching may be brought into question – particularly on the subject of learning styles). Trainers, on the other hand, are drawn from a variety of backgrounds. They have often entered their field as a consequence of subject matter expertise rather than teaching skills or an understanding of the learning process.

I remember when "computing" in business (not yet called IT) was a field in its infancy. Recruiters were pillaging maths courses at university, enticing undergrads away with the promise of a good salary and the chance to "earn while you learn". They even did the rounds of some of the better performing high schools and made offers to top maths students. The connection was made that in order to programme computers in the very late 70s, you needed to understand algorithms which were a mathematical function. Ergo, maths whizzes were the answer. Seems logical – I wonder if it proved to be an accurate assumption. My point is that the demands of the industry and the lack of historical human resources meant that people were proactively sourced from supposedly related fields and thrown in at the deep end, where they embarked on a programme of informal learning that never seemed to stabilise.

I wonder if that isn't what we're seeing here. People have been brought into learning design from hypothetically related fields. They don't necessarily come with an understanding of learning or even an interest in the experience of the learner at the end of the day.

Those who have had some teaching around the learning process often come with views similar to those that Dror seems to be expressing. There would seem to me to be a generous pinch of behaviourism and teacher-centredness in Dror’s view of the world – or at least in my understanding of Clive’s understanding of it. I’m certainly not well-versed in neuroscience, but I have read that the notion that specific parts of the brain can be reliably and consistently associated with specific tasks is being challenged (Stephen makes an excellent point when he refers to the incontinence of older people). All the points that reinforce this view strike a harsh discord with me – although I confess that I have no rational basis for saying so, other than other articles I have read which I find more believable, but which may just as easily be wrong. Also, there is increasing concern that our growing understanding of the brain brings us no nearer to understanding the mind. I posted on this a while back, strangely enough.

I would echo Stephen’s assertion that there is “a distinction between knowing how something works and knowing how best to use it”

I would humbly suggest that, in addition to the two suggested “strategies to reduce the risk of learners experiencing cognitive overload” (namely: “provide less information” or “take much more care about how this information is communicated”), there might be a third: provide the learner with a means to access the information on an ad hoc JIT basis, thereby reducing the pressure to process all the information at any one time. So instead of having an e-learning course which aims to communicate in one hit everything the learner will ever need to know about a subject, you have a searchable, interactive online resource which will provide the learner with both context for the information and access to the information itself at the point of need. Even better if you can couple that together with the facility to put learners in touch with one another (and possibly even an acknowledged expert) so that they can process the information in their own time in their own way.

I am so glad that Stephen also raised the question: “is it better for the teacher to present the material already grouped?” That was my first thought, too, when reading this part of the summary. This is something that exercises me, and I am long way from having a definitive answer. When you’re in a classroom setting, you can facilitate a session where the learners group the information themselves and compare their groupings. There is bound to be a variety, and one learner may be inspired by another’s grouping - recognising a more effective framework than their own. However, when designing an online resource, there is a bit of a fine line. An online learner is usually alone at the time of accessing the material, and will often only have (at best) asynchronous contact with other learners. Many of these will need more support than a complete lack of grouping would provide – not all learners are totally independent!

What I try to do is to build in a variety of routes in to the material: via this grouping structure, via that grouping structure, or direct access (via search) to a specific piece of information. The trick is to come up with the right groupings, since you can’t possibly cover them all. On a previous project, unwisely following the client’s instructions I created a resource structured according to given criteria. We tried to explain to the client that this would be a barrier to the user, but we presented an ineffective argument and were unsuccessful. My fault. Only when it was finished and being tested did it become plain to the client what we had been trying to say all along – even better, they now thought it was their idea. Free of charge, I spent a weekend restructuring the resource along more intuitive lines. Much better.

I like the idea of a synchronous (f2f or online) session which provides context and introduces the resource, whereafter users can interrogate the resource as they see fit.

The thing is: I work in a corporate environment. I am not bound by curriculum and exams. Usually the adoption of new policies, procedures, tools, can be handled through performance management – so much more negotiable than national curriculum with a set syllabus. How this approach would translate into a school under the current system goes beyond my ability to speculate…