The Capacity to Recall vs. the Capacity to be Resourceful

In a post entitled Brain 2.0 : eLearning Technology, Tony Karrer discusses whether or not it is more important to be knowledge-able rather than knowledgeable. The basic premise is whether or not is more important to:

  • store a bunch of information in our minds that we can recall at any time (recall), or
  • know which information to access, where to find it and how to verify it’s accuracy (resourcefulness)

This reminds me of the research methods class I took a few years back. During one of the first lectures, we learned basic statistical formulas such as alpha coefficient and chi square. Now numbers and I aren’t always friends. I can work through formulas by following instructions but it takes all my concentration to do so and I often make mistakes. I have a tendency to inverse numbers a lot too. Anyhow…

I asked the professor when would it be appropriate to use chi square as opposed to alpha coefficient (I know now that they don’t do the same thing but I’m still not clear on what it is that they do). He answered that it depended on the data and when I would have my data, I’d need to listen to the data. For the exam, all I needed to do is memorize the formulas. Oh boy. That is perhaps when I decided I’d look for a thesis topic that would lend itself well to qualitative inquiry!

I need to learn things in context. If I know why I’m learning something or I have a set use for it, I’m more likely to remember it. So at this time, I can’t remember the formulas for either. But I know that they are available online. The thing is, that right now I have no idea when to use them, nor can I assess the validity of the resource. So I got a B in research methods, lowest grade during my whole MA, but I passed, but not without developing a total aversion to statistics. How absolutely unfortunate.

Tony Karrer refers to Brent Schlenker’s There is no Brain2.0…so why Learning2.0?, where Brent evaluates the pros and the cons of the e in eLearning, something I’ve addressed in another post. He argues that:

We must better understand the learning process in order to create better content and experiences. Its not just behavior that we need to understand. We MUST understand the human brain. (link from original post)

Absolutely, we need to understand how the brain works in order to design better content. If more people did, we’d have less of these page turning eLearning course with information recall assessments at the end of them. We’d create simulations and problem-based learning courses. And if we created these types of courses, perhaps “training” would give individual tools to make contextual decisions rather then be bounded to a set script.

Now I agree with Brent that technology is an important factor and that is where the “e” comes in. However, the technology can be used to store the tools and resources (formulas, language rules, procedures, etc) that we don’t use on a daily basis so that we can concentrate on thinking.


When Did We Forget How to Draw?

In a recent blog post on Visual Thinking, George Siemens wrote:

I’m not a visual person. Ok, not totally true. I’m a visual person, but I lack skills to express myself visually.

He then provided a great link to Joan Vinall-Cox’s article on Visual Literacy and Visual Thinking. I wanted to thank him on his blog but it seems I do not have the right permissions to leave a comment – so if you surf past this little bit of cyberspace, thanks George, and perhaps you’ll find more resources below!

I personally understand things better when they are put in a visual form. When I was a child, I first learned to draw. In fact, I learned to talk first (and, according to my dad, haven’t ever stopped since) and then I learned how to draw, and then I learned how to read and write.

Universal Recycling Symbol
Universal Recycling Symbol

History shows us that early civilizations drew pictograph’s on the cave walls, then came proto-writing and eventually came the modern alphabets as we know them today. But we still commonly use symbols and images to communicate. An strong example is the Universal Recycling Symbol which is an internationally-recognized symbol.

I recently picked up Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin in which he explains that we are essentially visual people and that drawing is an inherent talent to all. With the most basic of drawing skills—a square, a circle, an arrow, a stick figure and a smiley face—one can communicate effectively, leveraging hand drawn sketches on a napkin (or by extension on a whiteboard). You can watch an hour long video presenting the key concepts by the author made available by Authors@Google.

Back of the Napkin - The 66 Rule
Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin

I’d love to hear about other resources you might recommend!


Getting All Things Done Means Getting the Balance Right

In one of her recent blog posts, Janet Clarey poses the question How hard is it for you to balance innovation and execution? She compares and contrasts taking time to think and innovate with working in “execution” mode. She explains that when returning from vacation, she was in execution mode, which was good because, according to Janet: “too much time spent on innovation means nothing gets done”.

Also, I’m sure Janet’s to-do list was overflowing, like would be most professionals when they come back from vacation, so execution mode is inevitable! But then Janet adds the flip side: “Of course too much time executing means lack of vision.”

And she poses the grand the question: “How do you balance all the innovative discoveries that present themselves with the need to execute?”

This got me thinking about my own time management strategies. I look on my bookshelf at the copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done which I purchased a year ago (I ordered it on online at, which makes me both efficient and Canadian!). I haven’t had time to read it yet. Blame it on the thesis once again? Actually, it’s because I don’t think I really need it. I’m naturally a good time manager. Ok, certain things slip through the cracks now and then, but I tend to amaze people in how I do everything that I do and still can sit on a terrace at happy hour on Thursdays and enjoy a martini, looking relaxed, the sun beaming on my face.

But then, there are the things I have a really hard time getting done. The big things that require more then just power over time. They require a whole other type of power: willpower. Enter thesis.

Then I notice Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles which actually was quite helpful. Here is the opening section of his book entitled “What I Do

I get up, take a shower, have breakfast. I read the paper, brush my teeth. If I have phone calls to make, I make them. I’ve got my coffee now. I put on my lucky work boots and stitch up the lucky laces that my niece Meredith gave me. I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO name tag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, that my dear mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten-thirty now. I sit down and plunge in. When I start making typos, I know I’m getting tired. That’s four hours or so. I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. I wrap for the day. Copy whatever I’ve done to disk and stash the disk in the glove compartment of my truck in case there’s a fire and I have to run for it. I power down. It’s three, three-thirty. The office is closed. How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.

And he goes on about overcoming resistance in this inspiring gem of a book. I read this book about three years ago. It was a gift from a friend who saw me struggling with multiple levels of resistance. I decided to do much like Steven Pressfield and analyze how my average day happens. But because I’m more adept with graphs then words, I made a visual representation of how I try to achieve the balance Janet was referring too. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge it.

Mapping my Brain Cycles to Maximize my Efficiency Potential
Mapping my Brain Cycles to Maximize my Efficiency Potential

How does your average day look?


Over / Under Thinking and Perception

[or How I Finally Snuck my Love of Shopping into a Blog Post]

Yesterday, I went shopping with my neighbour who is 26, 10 years my junior. I followed her into a “young girl store”, the type of store with the high cut tops and the low cut pants and other garments that would ultimately reveal my penchant for “sitting” rather then “sit-ups”…

We wandered in. The sales girls (they weren’t women yet) smiled at me and addressed her. One even said to her “out shopping with your sister?” Ok, so we are both blue-eyed blondes, but still!

However, in that loud, colourful, flashy seemingly “way too young for me” store, I found the most perfect pair of Cargo Capris. It’s like they were made for me. It just goes to show that sometimes we need to venture into that place we avoid out of fear and see just what we can find.

In a recent post entitle How clear cut is cause and effect?, Karyn Romeis talks about jumping to conclusions.

One worrying consequence of the results-driven society in which we live is the perception that there must be a clear cut explanation for everything.

Karyn’s post was about “overthinking” to which I commented that sometimes, we underthink:

I think people look for and draw cause and effect conclusions much too rapidly. I also feel that it is at the source of much of the prejudice we see. […] I believe that people will stop looking for these black and white answers once they start learning to look at things with a broader and more critical perspective.

In Karyn’s response to me, she resumed the dichotomous issue quite accurately, in my opinion:

So, on the one hand we’re oversimplistic and on the other, we have a tendency to behave like ‘sheeple’ where it is not tolerated to have an opinion that differs from that of the masses? You’re probably right.

[Our exchange digressed into shopping, which makes me think Karyn & I share a weakness 😉 ]

In a recent blog post about Reframing Questions, Dave Pollard discusses false myths:

The problem with the false myths are that they can blind you to the truth if you accept them uncritically. They can constrain your imagination of other possibilities that are contrary to the false myth ‘conventional wisdom’. They can lead you to make very bad decisions.

He’s obviously arguing against the oversimplification side of things:

The problem with limiting generalizations is that they can lead you to oversimplify (“to get ahead in business women have to think and act like men”), to draw false dichotomies (“we either have to find new domestic oil or be forever dependent on foreign suppliers”) and to stereotype (“working class whites will always vote Republican” which can lead you to draw false inferences from correlations, to write off classes of people, and to inhibit your creativity.

Dave offers a helpful comparative table of ten false myths and limiting generalizations that he regularly encounters and reframe questions that might show another way to see the situation.


Information R/evolution

I’m almost done editing my 165+ page thesis which I’ll be defending at the end of the summer. When I look at this video, I cringe to think of what it was like to write a thesis back in the olden days!


If an Image is Worth a Thousand Words, How Much is an Animation Worth?

Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D. recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network.

What is fantastic with this article published online is that there is a page with supplementary material containing an animation entitled: Dynamic Graphic Representation of a Portion of the Framingham Heart Study Social Network (pump up the volume).

I’ll admit – I didn’t read the article. My eyes are too exhausted from editing my thesis (and yet somehow I find the will to blog). However, the animation was clear enough, and though I may not have as much information as I would have had by reading the article, I believe I got the essential information that I needed, and because I’m a very visual person, was able to comprehend the message quite quickly.

If only I could have done a giant Tag Cloud of my jumbled thoughts for my thesis!


Visual Display of Information

A few years ago, I discovered Edward Tufte, who has been writing about how to efficiently display information. Here are 2 exerpts from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983) – click the images to enlarge.

Fuel Economy Standards for Autos - New York Times, August 9, 1978, p.D-2.
The Shrinking Family Doctor - Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1979, p.3.

I was thoroughly impressed with the multiple examples of clever mix of text and images. It made me reflect quite a bit on the use of images in my own presentations. Now I’ve been known to use a lot of charts, diagrams and other methods to visually display information when I make presentations or posters. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person, but I find it really helps me understand, process… well visualize the information.

In his November 2007 blog post entitled Warning: Using the Wrong Images Can Confuse Your Learners, Tom Kuhlmann discusses the importance of using images appropriately. He starts his post off with:

To lessen the cognitive load and make your content more memorable, it’s important to use images that contribute to the learning experience rather than detract from it.

Images are powerful, as are words. There seems to be a trend about adding some kind of a visual display to words on the Web 2.0. The Tag Cloud is gaining popularity. Wordle seems to be on many web aficionados’ radar lately. Below is my wordle of The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

Wordle: Gashlycrumb Tinies

And my personal new favorite discovery is Many Eyes. Click on the vignette below to see my Dr Seuss word tree!


Dropping the “e” – A Sign of the Times!

My title has recently been changed from Director of eLearning to Director, Blended Learning Strategies. Yesterday I received my new business cards and had the opportunity to hand them out for the first time today. They were well received. Actually, one of the comments was “oh, so you do more then just eLearning then?”, which is exactly the response I was looking for.

I think a few years ago, when there was the second boom of eLearning, it was strategic to have such a title. However, lately I found that it limited me more then anything, and more often then not, I was grouped with the IT people rather then the education, training and performance people. Of course I’m a bit of both, and this new title is more representative.

And perhaps also strategic. Since we can learn just about anywhere, anytime and with a multiplicity of methods, the idea of segregating the “eLearning” for the rest of the learning process is in my opinion quickly becoming outdated. A comprehensive learning strategy will have a blend of various learning solutions.

Leveraging Technology to Turn Virtual Organization into Vehicles of Collaboration

I love social media and online collaborative tools. I truly see the potential in it. The thing is, though I see the potential, I don’t think it’s being leveraged not nearly as much as it can be. And why? Perhaps because it’s relatively new and we are still experimenting with it.

Interestingly enough, I came across the following report from the workshops on Building Effective Virtual Organizations: Beyond Being There: A Blueprint for Advancing the Design, Development, and Evaluation of Virtual Organizations [PDF 3.3 MB]. The researchers identified many of the components, characteristics, practices, and transformative impact of effective Virtual Organizations as well as topics for future research that will inform the ongoing design, development, and analysis. So what is a Virtual Organization, or VO? According to the researchers:

A virtual organization (VO) is a group of individuals whose members and resources may be dispersed geographically and institutionally, yet who function as a coherent unit through the use ofcyberinfrastructure (CI).

I their report, the researchers discuss a “new technology continuum” they have observed in which, at one end, there is a grid to coordinate resource-sharing and problem-solving whereas on the other, there is a much more informal emerging set of technologies that are highly influenced by the gamut of popular social media tools such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Second Life, and so on which have changed how individuals congregate, collaborate, and communicate. The thing is, that at this end of the spectrum:

VOs may be more like “containers” rather than “vehicles” of collaboration in that they are not necessarily driven by common goals or comparable inputs. Nevertheless, VOs of this type may accumulate the results of many seemingly uncoordinated individual actions, creating a whole that becomes an integrated collection.

So how do we turn VOs into “vehicles” of collaboration? Part of it is harnessing and leveraging the technology and aligning it with processes, procedures and needs. But what else?

I’m quite interested in VOs, as I work in one. I’d say we’re leveraging quite a bit, but every day we face new hurdles and have to come up with solutions. Sometimes however, I feel we are so much in the trenches we need to take a step back and assess. If we were to building a model for VOs, what would need to be addressed?