Thursday, June 29, 2006

George Siemens: Changing Nature of Knowledge

George has created a podcast about the changing nature of knowledge in our society. He gives a brief overview of the sorts of view of knowledge that exist, including:

  • the pyramidical notion that I have extrapolated into a graphic as follows:
  • the concept of knowledge as understanding through experience and interaction, with reference to tacit, explicit and implicit knowledge
  • knowledge as the sum of information and judgement from which meaning can be drawn
Trying to define knowledge is a little like trying to nail jelly to a wall. George acknowledges this, but has a stab at it anyway:
Knowledge is an entity (physical or otherwise) that helps to explain some part of the world, that we can use as a source of or catalyst for action. (This is a paraphrase)
Starting from this point, he looks at ten different respects in which knowledge has changed in recent years:
  1. Pace
  2. Representation
  3. Access
  4. Interdisciplinary awareness
  5. Our relationship to knowledge
  6. Climate
  7. Flow
  8. Suspended certainty
  9. Function of networks
  10. Feedback (collaborative co-creation)
None of this is really new, but I think George is trying to establish a kind of situation report. This is where we were, this is how things have changed, this is (roughly) where we are now. For those of us who work in this field, it provides a useful summary.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Figuring it out as we go along

George Siemens has an interesting post on his Connectivism Blog about Knowing before doing. He refers to the gradual awakening of organisations to social media, but, he says,

"the language is still ensconced in the mindset of hierarchy and control"
I concur. Recently, a colleague and I ran a blogging workshop for a group of local authority education consultants. The person who had requisitioned the workshop had hit on the idea that blogging would be a good way for these widely dispersed people to support one another. The problem was, as the day progressed, it became evident that he had in mind to keep the whole matter under pretty tight, centralised control. The word "control" was in fact used several times. It wasn't easy to explain that there would be no centralised control over the forum, that the result would be a peer-to-peer network rather than a cascade or a neat centre-out arrangement... and that would be a strength rather than a weakness. This was very much a case of applying old paradigms to new technologies (new wine in old wineskins?).

Man has always had a fear of the unknown, of things he can't control, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised. We see evidence of this mistrust, this reluctance to relinquish control everywhere. The old adage "if you want a thing done properly, do it yourself" didn't become a cliche through lack of supporting (if subjective) evidence.

The current approach is to figure it out as we go along. Not to expect or even try to have all the answers sorted out, all our ducks in a row before we set off down a particular learning journey. It takes a great deal of courage to allocate budget to this sort of learning, since it isn't always clear before you start what you're going to wind up with in the end. When I get frustrated by a client's reluctance to embrace the suck-it-and-see mentality, I try to imagine myself trying to explain to some tunnel-visioned, bottom-line-focused holder-of-the-purse-strings that I have spent £x,000 on a knowledge/learning solution, but I have no idea what it will look like, yet.

One other interesting point: George says "I don’t really want to join a CoP", referring to the hierarchical view of CoPs as a community which one joins. I have never seen CoPs in that light. To me, a CoP is just as much a loose collection of people with an interest in common. Each "member" having their own unique, handpicked version. In fact, a person's Blogroll is probably far closer to being their community of practice than any formally structured equivalent. And, while he might not want to join one, I see George as being a pillar of mine!-)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One size fits some: minimally guided learning

I came across a publication today (probably via Tony Karrer), called Why Minimally Guided Instruction Does Not Work. I am still busy working through it (it's pretty heavy going), but the title brought me screeching to a halt. Wow! Does not work. For anyone? Ever? At all? Exhaustive tests have been done, I presume? I would prefer it to be called "Why Minimally Guided Instruction Does Not Work for Everyone".

I have worked in an open learning environment before, and I have seen it work to varying degrees. Many learners experienced feelings of abandonment and built up a head of resentment about having to "do all the work". I heard things like "If I knew how to do this, I wouldn't have to be here, would I, so why doesn't anyone teach me?"

Those who stuck with it were often able to adapt to the approach and managed to take ownership of their learning to the necessary extent. A few rocketed off at speeds they would never have achieved in an instructed environment.

I would be interested to see a personality profile of the sort of person for whom it does work. I formed my own views during my time at the centre, but nothing genuinely empirical or quantifiable (I'm not qualified to profile people anyway!).

I will say most categorically, though, that, if age could in any way be said to be a defining factor, the older learners adapted better - and I mean older. Of course, some of them really struggled, having not undertaken any formal education since behaviourism was the order of the day. But my two top performers were a 69 year old man and a 74 year old woman. Many of the younger learners lacked the sort of perseverance that seems to come with a wealth of experience of what life has to offer. Very few under 20's stayed the course. This relates to Vicki's post yesterday (If you want me to try, tell me why) and a recent post of my own about the painful process of learning. It's not just the current generation who is guilty of wanting instant gratification - it's been the way of things since generations were invented. Endurance, perseverance, these are part of the affective domain and, in my experience, tend to come with maturity.

I used to work as a second on the Comrades' Marathon, and the balance of the field was definitely towards the greyer (or balder) head. These were people who were prepared to put in the hours of slog, because they knew the reward would be worth it. I used to be a sprinter: 400m and 4X100m. Making the transition to 5km events was tough - it required far more fitness, far more cardio-vascular work, hill work, endurance, grind. But once I had achieved it, I knew that I was fitter than I had been in my sprinting prime. Not faster. Fitter. I ran a 5km fun run at 16 - it took me 54 mins and I walked most of the way. The next one I ran was at the age of 40 - it took me 30mins and I ran at a steady pace from start to (almost) finish (saving a little show-off sprint for the end).

Minimally guided instruction doesn't suit everyone. The attrition rate in the centre was high. But it suits some and can be learned by others in absence of their own ideal. I think the same can probably be said of most learning and teaching methodologies.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Learning to pick your expert

I'm busy working my way very slowly through the Futurelab paper on Social Software and Learning. There is just so much in there to mull over and digest that it will be some time before I'm done. However, one section that particularly speaks to me is section 3: Does learning change in an information society? It focuses on so many of the issues that I have been following and engaging with in the blogosphere: the learner as creator of knowledge; learner-driven learning; loosening the stranglehold of the national curriculum; increased kinaesthetic learning; the learning community.

One issue that is visited in some detail is 'the crit', defined as "a critical dialogue between peers where work-in-progress is exposed for developmental discussion." With my roots in the theatre, this is home turf to me. I understand crits. They are vital to the process incremental improvement in creative practice, resulting in an iterative spiral, gradually closing in on the ideal. The paper contends that this principle can be transferred to a wider range of learning activities via social media. Some conditions are identified as being essential for the existence of this spiral:

  • attitude: the intention/aspiration to create knowledge
  • autonomy
  • creative chaos
  • redundancy (having more ideas than can be used)
  • access to a variety of resources
Thanks to Tony Karrer's post about whether learning professionals make the worst learners, I found myself assessing my own situation in the terms of these points. It makes for an interesting, and rather telling, exercise.

Central to the success of the crit, has got to be the ability to pick your expert. This skill has got to be right up there with learning how to learn on the list of Things Today's Kids Need to Know. With genuine experts, enthusiastic amateurs and opinionated empty vessels all having equal access to the crit forum, an inability to sort wheat from chaff is going to confuse and possibly even demotivate the learner.

I remember when our first son was born - everyone knew what we should be doing and how, and they were both very liberal and very divergent with their advice. Dress him warmly, dress him lightly; lay him on his back, his side, his front; give him a dummy, don't give him a dummy. We quickly learnt to select one expert/group of experts for each area of his life and to ignore the rest. We listened to the doctor on matters of physical health and ignored him on the correct response to crying; we listened to the hospital staff on matters of bathing, and ignored them on tightly scheduled feeding; we listened to breastfeeding clinic counsellors (all mothers themselves with oodles of experience with both their own and other people's babies) on practically everything else. I ignored my mother-in-law's advice on all subjects completely (as you do). We went from feeling like frazzled failures to the relative peace of knowing whom to trust in any given situation.

When the deluge of critique lands and everyone has a different view, it will remove a great deal of pressure on the learner if he has a mentor, a benchmark by which to assess the value of the contributions. In time, he might outgrow his mentor (I have experienced this myself) and that's fine, too. He simply needs to find another one and redraw the lines, and by then he should have the confidence to do exactly that. But everyone needs a starting point - someone to hold their hand as they learn to cross the street.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Learning can be painful

Not knowing how to do something is often a scary business - especially when the learning process may result in injury! Today's Calvin and Hobbes cartoon illustrates this admirably.
This is part of a series of strips in which Calvin's father, an avid cyclist (who obviously entertains visions of taking father-son-bonding-type cycles with his son) is trying to teach him to ride a bicycle.

Calvin's lack of motivation for the task, his non-athleticism and his overactive imagination (not to mention the fact that his legs don't actually reach the pedals!) are enormous barriers to learning this skill. More than once in the series, he comes a cropper and gets injured.

When it comes to sports or physical activities, I have a low tolerance for the learning curve. I don't want to learn how to do a thing. I want to know how to do a thing. I want to know how to do it well. Now. I want to win. Today.

Years ago, a boyfriend tried to teach me to play squash. He was confident that my natural aggression and competitive nature would make me a natural for the game. The very first time he took me out on the court, he regretted it.

The thing with squash is that the ball has to heat up before it will bounce properly. The problem is that you have to warm it up by hitting it, which means you have to be able to hit before you know how to hit it, if you see what I mean. I found this teeth-grindlingly frustrating, and kept trying to murder the flipping thing. Each successive failure caused my aggression and frustration to rise until I was seething. It was at about this point that the ball finally warmed up enough to behave the way it does when hit by "proper" players. With every ounce of pent up emotion, but with absolutely no skill or control, I smashed that ball... straight into the hapless man's, well, man bits. He sank to the floor with nary a sound.

To give him his due, he did continue to teach me, and I continued to learn. But I confess that I hated the fact that squash courts have glass backs, putting my ignorance and incompetence on display. Sadly, my knees started to pack in long before I learnt sufficient control of my temper to become as good at the game as I might have been. However, by the time I was forced to give it up, I had broken at least one racquet and caused myself uncountable bruises by miscalculating the distance to the wall. I had also decorated my boyfriend with several of those telltale circular bruises.

Unlike Calvin, my pride will not allow me to give in, and I keep stubbornly returning to the thing I can't do. Like Calvin, I regularly sport the evidence of my ignorance.

An aeon ago, when I played netball for the school team, I would go out onto the court with guards on both elbows and knees. Opponents often assessed me as being injured or fragile and therefore easy to get past. Actually, the guards were there to protect me from injury, because I would risk life and limb to prevent a ball from getting past me, and spent a lot of time picking myself up off the floor. If I had had more skill, I might have known how to put myself where the ball was going to be (a la Wayne Gretzky who famously answered an interviewer's question about his superior skill by saying that other players skate to where the puck is, while he skated to where it would be), but I hadn't learnt that level of analytical play, yet - I never did, to be honest - and my ignorance caused me (and my fellow players on both teams) many an injury.

So why do I say that learning can be painful, when it is plainly the ignorance that hurts? Well, take today's cartoon. If Calvin's Dad had never decided to teach Calvin to ride. If he had never bought the bike, Calvin would never suffer the injuries he sustains in the series. But... he would still be ignorant. So it's in trying to reduce (banish?) the ignorance that we can get hurt.

It is Calvin's stated goal never to learn anything from any situation. There is a where his teacher asks him what state he lives in. He says: "Denial". She resignedly admits that she can't argue with that! We could buy the house next door to Calvin in his blissful home state, or we can tackle the ignorance and take the consequences, which may not always involve physical pain, of course.

We have to allow for the learning curve. We have to accept that there will be a transition phase. We can't just go from "not knowing" to "knowing" without first passing through the dangerous valley of Little Knowledge.

Where would I find...?

I'm not too clever on the subject of mashups, so I don't know if what I'm hoping for qualifies for the description. I only wish I had the brains to do this myself, but since I don't, I have to hope that someone else has come up with the same idea and been smart enough to create the solution. This is my wish list:

When I "google" something, why can't I tick off those items that I've read, so that next time I google the same thing, I don't have to wade through all the same listings in search of a possible new entry? Perhaps a question could pop up that said "List previously read items? Yes No". How cool would that be?

When I use Google Maps to get driving directions from one place to another, why can't I save/bookmark those co-ordinates for future reference, so that I don't need to repeat the process for the same directions next time? I'd like a list of previously selected towns/addresses, from which I could identify "from" and "to" points, while still obviously being able to select other destinations not listed. Such a time saver. After all, most of the time, I look for directions from either my office or my house to some other place. Why should I have to keep reminding the system where I live/work? There should be permanent markers on the map in that position - a kind of My World situation.

I realise that both these dreams would necessitate some kid of log-in/identification, but perhaps it would be worth it. Surely someone else must have had the same frustrations? Someone less firmly entrenched as an end-user. Someone who has been able to build a solution.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Media in the East Midlands

The region where I live and work is one of those that seems to defy definition. Depending on who you ask, we may be part of the south east of England, the midlands or the east midlands. However, I am happy to be an east midlander for a while, in order to see how much of this will turn out to be of use to me going forward. Link via Josie Fraser.

But what is my motivation, luvvie?

This post from Kathy Sierra has some bearing on my previous post - in particular, Stephen's comment and my response. Although her frame of reference is different, several of the principles translate very well. There are enough barriers to learning as it is. We need to make sure that we don't raise any more by distracting from the learning experience in any way.

We have all heard that cliche from actors (as in the title of this post) when instructed to do/say some or other thing. The reason for this is that, from the very first acting lesson, actors are taught that every single thing that happens on-screen/stage must, in some way, contribute to the main story line. There must be no superfluity, no distractions... and only deliberate red herrings. We would be well-advised to adopt the same approach.

Perhaps my roots at drama school are showing, here, but I am repeatedly amazed at how many of the principles I was taught all those years ago as a stage performer have served me well since my move to the learning industry.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Do we see with our eyes?

This post about eyetracking from Jared Spool via Stephen Downes.

I had pretty much decided not to read this post, thinking that it had little to do with me and what I do. But Stephen's admission that he has experience with not seeing the thing his gaze is focused on made me curious.

What it does highlight for me is that the direction of our gaze seems to have less to do with what we see than one might think. As an idle aside, I wonder if anyone has actually researched what Spool refers to as "male refrigerator blindness". I wonder just how male it is. My own version of this selective blindness manifests when I am looking for a kitchen utensil in the (rather untidy) drawer. The drawer is shallow - there is little chance that the utensil I want is out of sight - and yet it takes me ages to sort through all the messages my brain is receiving to identify the one utensil I'm after. Over the years I have developed a few techniques that I fondly believe help the process: I will either stand there saying the name of the utensil over and over again (I mean as in "spatula", I'm not quite sad enough to have given them all names like Brian and Fred), or I will make the shape of the thing with my free hand as the other rummages frantically. My sons find this hilarious and I have absolutely no concrete evidence that it works, but at least it makes me feel as if I'm doing something.

So if we can find the scroll bar without looking, click unerringly on something we've barely glanced at but totally miss something we're gazing at, what does this say about the communication between eyes and brain? And how much notice, as a learning designer, should I take of this?


Clive Shepherd posted this in favour of collaborative online learning.

He makes a valid point regarding the relevance of formal learning materials:

"It's becoming ever more clear to me that formal learning materials - interactive self-study materials, papers, etc. provided by so-called experts - are increasingly peripheral to the process of online learning, and in many cases could be unnecessary. Students can and do find the information that they need using Google and by calling on each other's help and experience. What they come up with is far more precious than a piece of CBT or a handout because it is their own."
For me, one of the biggest downsides to online learning has always been the isolation. This is not a problem for workflow learning, but can become quite demoralising when working to achieve an extended series of specific outcomes in pursuit of accreditation. The collaborative approach has the potential to address this to some extent. However, from my own experience, working on a document in collaboration with others does not necessarily require genuine contact between the contributors, and may not address the isolation at all. Using a tool like Writely, I can access a collaborative document and make changes without ever discussing the matter with other contributors. There is the danger that it takes on a serial nature, rather than true collaboration. And in this situation, it is not only likely but almost inevitable that one contributor will take the lead role, while the contributions of others may vary considerably. Far better would be if the learners were able to video conference, Skype or IM one another as they worked, forming a cohesive approach to the output, so that the result is a true hearts-and-minds collaboration. I think this might also go some way towards addressing some of the weaknesses of the approach that Clive mentions in that it would require scheduling on the part of the collaborators and would even out the distribution of input.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Exploring social media

This link via Stephen Downes.

This post comes from Joseph Ugoretz of Academic Commons and explores the potential uses and abuses of social media. Although the post title indicates that this is within a college context, the (apparently real) examples used are drawn from a variety of life situations. Like any other resource, social media are open to abuse, as Ugoretz nicely describes. However, the benefits would seem to far outweigh the disadvantages. I don't know if he chose examples that would emphasise one view over another, but it seems to me that substituting a picture of Senator Palpatine for one of the pope doesn't outweigh saving a child's life. Perhaps that's just me, though.

At the moment there is an ad campaign on British television, inviting people to express their opinions about the Internet. The ad campaign runs along the lines of: some people think the Internet is a good thing, because... with another version giving the opposite view, complete with reasons. In both cases, the ad ends with "What do you think?"

I can't help wondering: what are they planning to do with the information? If most people say that the Internet is a Bad Thing, will they shut it off? I thought not.

It's also a bit weird. I wonder if there was ever an opinion poll as to whether libraries were good or bad things, for nearly all the same pro and con reasons given in this campaign. I'm fairly sure that the answer is no. Somehow it's different when computers are involved. Perhaps we've been fed so much futuristic horror-pulp over the years, that anything that has to do with machines makes people nervous.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Neil Lasher's 4 A's of learning design

I can't for the life of me remember how I came across this paper from Neil Lasher on the 4A's of Learning Design, so apologies for not giving credit to the person behid the heads-up. There's nothing very new here, but the paper is well laid out and the arguments well developed. Perhaps it resonates with me, because it reflects a fair amount of my own current thinking. ADDIE adherents might find it challenging. Lasher starts with Bloom and Gagne and then moves on to his 4A's which are:

  • Attraction - drawing the user in
  • Attention - retaining the user's focus
  • Availability - which could perhaps equally be called Access
  • Application - enticing the user to apply the new knowledge
My attention was particularly caught by the third of these A's: Availability. Lasher quotes Einstein as having said, "It's not what you know, it's knowing where to find it." I'm going to have to take his word for that, because I hadn't come across that before, and can't find the evidence for or against this being an Einstein quote. (Ironically, what I did find was this:
I believe that the horrifying deterioration in the ethical conduct of people today stems from the mechanization and dehumanization of our lives - the disastrous by-product of the scientific and technical mentality. Nostra culpa. Man grows cold faster than the planet he inhabits.
I wonder what he would have made of our currently connected, technology driven world! But I digress...)

Whether or not it was Einstein, this is very much what I am driving towards. Lasher calls it "Learn, use and forget." I want to create a resource that delivers the goods so that learners will come back to it again and again, trusting that it will provide them with usable, workable solutions.

I stuck a bit on the last A: Application. Lasher talks about the need to show the learner the benefit of applying the learning. Is the current trend not making this obsolete? If the learning is designed to meet the need of the learner in the workplace, presumably the motivation to apply the learning is already there. Did the learner not access the material in the first place to acquire learning for the precise purpose of applying it then and there? This is what I'm aiming for.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

It's about life...

A while back, Stephen remarked in a podcast (made during or shortly after his hiatus) to the effect that it's not about the learning, it's about the life... Well, that wasn't quite how he said it, but that was my take on it. While he and I differ widely on the purpose of that life, I agree with the principle.

Yesterday, I took the day off work. I went to London to spend the day with someone I hadn't seen since she was a baby 22 years ago. I switched off my phone, and focused on the person in front of me. As I commented on one of David Warlick's posts, nothing takes the place of people - real people with skin on.

We chatted all day - fascinated by what had happened in one another's lives in the intervening 22 years, finding points of convergence and divergence. It was a learning experience of a different sort. I came away having experienced a profound healing. A missing piece of my life's jigsaw had slotted quietly into place. No amount of life online could ever achieve that.

Interestly enough - and perhaps of more relevance to this blog - the young lady in question is an English teacher in Australia. We got onto the subject of blogs and she mentioned, as if it were a given, that she she uses blogs in her teaching. I was tickled by this for many reasons, one of which is that so few of the registered edubloggers are Australian, that one might be forgiven for thinking that the technology is going unnoticed there. It seems this is not the case. If her view is anything to go by, the language teachers there are leading the way in the use of social media in education as much as anywhere else. It would be good to hear more noise from them, though!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Harold Jarche on the relevance of the learning professional

I don't know if I've ever thought about the relevance of my job. I guess I've always just assumed that it is relevant because one of the primary functions of my role is needs analysis. The fact that I analyse learning needs and then set about finding ways to meet them implies relevance. So my curiosity was piqued when I came across this post from Harold.

The topic of the flatness of the world comes up from time to time and Harold refers to it in this post as "lumpy". I think the word "mountainous" more appropriate. There are still places where learners have to make do without electricity, let alone the www. From their perspective, it must be vertical! But that's not really the issue.

My attention was assured when I read these words:

"The challenge for learning professionals will be to change their toolsets from prescriptive to supportive."
and then:
I really do not believe that formal approaches, like instructional systems design, will be able to help these learning needs.
More and more, lately, I've been finding that my thinking about learning solutions looks like knowledge solutions. I have been a learning professional for nigh on 20 years now, and have always believed in what I've done. For most of those years, I tried to keep my content honed and neatly structured and packaged. Recently I have felt the need for a little more "mess". In the years (and years and years) that I ran MS Access (other database software is available :-)) courses for beginners, I taught my learners that the records in the database were like a huge black bin bag of data. They could be entered in any order and to varying degrees of completeness. That was not the issue. What was the issue was the manner in which the data was interrogated. A variety of users could draw untold wealths of useful information from that one black sack by virtue of appropriate interrogation, and that was the bit that really needed to work well.

I'm seeing learning a lot like that these days. There's this huge (untidy) quantity of information available. My job is increasingly to make sure that it's in a place where people can get at it, and then to create/provide a variety of safe and useful ways for the learner to access it and draw benefit from it. So, yes, I guess I see my role as having become more supportive than prescriptive.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Update on my quest for a master's degree (2)

Calloo callay! Today I received an unconditional offer of a place on MA Educational Studies course. I feel ridiculously pleased about this. Whether or not I am able to go forward with the studies (finances, you understand), the fact that, without a B Hons degree, I have managed to piece together enough scraps of formal education along the way to qualify for entry has got me grinning like an idiot.

I'll have to figure out why it is that I am so pleased with myself about this. Perhaps I feel as if I have been able to buck the system. Perhaps it's the validation of being evaluated and found worthy - I know, I know: it sounds pompous, but perhaps that's what it is.

Whatever the reason and with no regard for how my feelings might have changed tomorrow, this is me doing a little hooray-hop!

Death Forecast

With a big nod to Tony Karrer, I have learned today, via Death Forecast that I have an estimated 46 years left to live. Wahey! I Haven't reached the halfway point yet!

Of course, I realise that I could get hit by a bus long before then. I believe that the date, time and circumstances of my death have in any case long since been decided, so it was just idle curiosity that made me investigate the site.

What I find interesting is that the tool makes no enquiries about the country in which one currently lives (think about it: Iraq v Australia), nor indeed whether one lives in a city or in a rural location (central Johannesburg v rural Wisconsin). It makes no enquiries about one's occupation (war correspondent v yoga instructor). It doesn't even ask whether or not you are HIV+.

Like Tony, I wish that the site would also give information on how to improve one's chances of longevity. Don't get me wrong, I have no desire to live to such an old age that I become a burden on my (grand?)children or am going to church more often for funerals than for worship. However, I would like to retain good health for as long as possible, and the creators of this forecast tool must presumably be in possession of information regarding optimum lifestyle choices, having employed it in their calculations.

I think it was Tony who recently posted about outcomes on their own not being particularly helpful. Hmm.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Learning through adaptation... and failure

On Saturday, I took part in an event called Race for Life with approximately 3600 other women (a further 3600 were expected for the repeat event the following day). This is a sponsored 5km (roughly 3 miles) ladies' "race" held in various centres through the year, raising money for Cancer Research UK, specifically for women's cancers. (Note: I have heard that this caused a furore in the US among male survivors of breast cancer and their families, but I'm not going down that road today)

All three of my Dad's sisters had breast cancer. Only one survived. Needless to say, I buy into the work of this charity! This was my third year of participation, and I entered confidently, knowing that I had completed the event easily for the past two years, raising a respectable amount of money for this charity in the process. I told people I expected to finish in 30 minutes. That's roughly 6mins/km (or 10mins/mile). No problem. Some of the sponsors took me at my word and agreed to up their sponsorship money if I managed to complete the event in under that time. Now it must be pointed out that I am a South African. A nation not known for a relaxed attitude towards sports and competition. That proviso had the word challenge all over it and, strangely, the look of a gauntlet about it...

I immediately adjusted the chips on my shoulders and trained carefully with a view to squeezing that extra money out of them.

The day of the race dawned bright and clear. Not a cloud in the sky. Just before 1pm, we headed up to the helipad, where the event was to start and finish. After a suitable aerobic warmup, we were advised that the start of the event would be delayed, as someone had parked across the route of the race. Once that had been sorted out (which took a little time), we were able to start. I got stuck way back in the field at the start, so was unable to get away as quickly as I would have liked.

Once I did get underway, it was no more than 100 metres before the first bottleneck. Immediately after that, we had a very steep down hill on a narrow gravel (!) path. Suddenly all my careful training was inadequate. I had trained on the flat. We always ran on the flat before, and here we were, facing hills! As I am an experienced runner, I like to keep a steady pace and move up the field as I go, but the route was very narrow and we hit several more bottlenecks along the way. I finished a full 5:19 outside of my target time, and roared in frustration as I crossed the finish line. By contrast, other women around me were whopping in triumph.

So what lessons did I learn out of this?

  1. Preparing for an event doesn't always prepare you for the event. My training wasn't fit for purpose. It helped. I was able to keep a steady pace, and I adapted to the unexpected better for having had the training than I would have without. The world is changing so fast that what we're learning now may not suit the situations life throws at us tomorrow. But we'll be better prepared with the learning that is available than we would be without any at all and we're smart - we'll figure out how to cope when the need arises.
  2. You don't always achieve your goals. I didn't finish in my goal time... but I finished. If I hadn't started with a goal in mind, I might have taken even longer. If we frame goals based on what we think lies ahead, we have a better chance of achieving something than if we don't. We might have to adapt those goals on the fly once we realise what we're up against.
  3. Other people have an impact on what you achieve. The worst part of the whole thing was the delayed start thanks to the bright spark who had parked across the route. Sometimes there will be someone who thoughtlessly blocks your path, and you may have to wait for him/her to move or be moved. Breathe. Breathe. The nature of the event also means that it attracts a lot of "enthusiastic amateurs". They have a habit of haring off at breakneck speeds and then almost coming to a complete standstill smack dab in front of you. Or they run carrying hockey sticks or "magic wands" that endanger life and limb of everyone in the vicinity. The temptation is to yell at them to get out of the way, but you know what? Their hearts are in the right place, and they're doing the best they can with the knowledge that they have. I need to temper my overdeveloped sense of competitiveness and get a life. I heard one woman saying "I can't run fast" and I was able to advise her: don't go for fast, go for steady. Sing a song in your head that gives you a rhythm you can stick to. Sing it all the way to the finish line (and then groan because you can't it out of your head). I suggest Nelly the Elephant, Natasha Bedingfield's Single or Weapon of Mass Destruction by Faithless. We can share our knowledge and experience and help each other along the way.
  4. The environment has an impact on what you achieve. I didn't get to pick the course. I didn't even like the course. In fact, I thought it was downright dangerous in places: there were bottlenecks in several places. But it was reality. I just had to deal with it. It was a hot day. I drank fluids, but I still got a bit dehydrated along the way. My left knee (which is none too clever at the best of times) was not happy with the last hill. External factors can have a role to play in our progress. We don't always have control.
  5. One person's failure is another person's success. Women finishing behind me were delighted. They whooped. I was frustrated. I roared (I do that). We had started out with different goals in mind and they had bettered theirs while I had fallen short of mine. Of the 200 or so women who finished ahead of me, no doubt some were pleased, while others were disappointed in their times, too. Perspective. I was not pleased to finish ahead of this person, or disappointed to finish behind that one. I was disappointed at not achieving my goal. Not everyone can achieve the same goals. Each person's sense of achievement (or failure) should be based on their own potential. (However, having said that, if a team is needed to compete against other teams, they should select the fastest runners - no question! My competitive streak doesn't stand aside for political correctness.)
I'm sure there's a lot more besides, but that will do for now. So what comes next? Well, I am running for my employer in a team event in London in a few weeks. I will be training for that. And guess what? That training will include hills! I'm not going to make assumptions about the course ahead of time. That's something else I've learned!

If you're interested, my review of the event with pictures can be found here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Social media: Getting the word out

Just doing my bit to help get the word out. Ewan McIntosh ( is asking for input to a wiki on social media in education. I'm not sure whether he wants to keep this a UK thing (although I can't think why he would), but I just know there are loads of people out there with a story to tell.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Knowledge behaviours

(via George Siemens's elearnspace weekly summary email) this was my first encounter with a blog called Anecdote, but I found the list of knowledge behaviours in this post quite affirming.

Always on connectivity?

Ages and ages ago (oh, alright - 3 March), I read with interest this post in praise of always on connectivity. Even more interesting than the post was the flurry of responses it received. I was particularly struck by one anonymous comment that said:

The rest of the world works 9-5 as normal business hours. Work those hours. Feel free to be where ever you want outside of those hours.
It was one of those moments when you find out you do still know how to make coffee come out of your nose! It was such an anachronistic remark and so out of kilter with the philosophy of the virtual company I keep in the blogosphere, that I felt compelled to contribute my 2p worth:
What world is that? If you work for a multinational organisation 9-5 becomes somewhat moot, since 9-5 in London doesn't co-incide with 9-5 in New York and Hong Kong.
I was speaking from vicarious experience, since my husband manages (from London) a department within a multinational company with bases in both NewYork and Hong Kong (as well as a few other places in between).

I had all but forgotten that exchange until this Dilbert cartoon landed in my bloglines this morning. If you aren't a daily Dilbert reader, it might be worth backtracking over the past few days to get the context, although I think the strip manages to stand okay on its own.