Will the real early adopters please stand up, please stand up, please stand up…

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Sorry, heard Eminem a few hours ago and “please stand up” is echoing around my brain…

One of my favorite bloggers is Harold Jarche. I have been reading his blog for the past year or so and its one of the few that I always make the time to read. I initially began to read it because my first blog was call Life in Permanent Beta so I thought we may have things in common – kismet, synchronicity, maybe. I was right and wrong. We do share many common interests but unlike me he actually understands Cynefin. He’s way ahead of me in so many areas lol.  Anyway, his latest post has struck a chord with me that I can only decribe as resembling.. uhm envy… maybe…

New questions for job interviews

In the post he suggests asking prospective employees a set of questions around how they manage their learning. I think this is great idea and is something that I have been doing for a number of years. Learning is my “thing” so I make room for questions about learning in interviews and include it in performance reviews (when I have to do them, not my fave way to go) and of course I promote work place learning in all its many forms. One of my first attempts at promoting narrated learning at work was in 2004ish when I talked my employer into letting us use the then obscure Moodle platform as an intranet. The idea was to provide the space for staff and volunteers to create their own online portfolio of what they learned and examples of how they used that in practice. Keeping in mind that many people still didn’t have email addresses at that time… well lets just say it failed quickly. I won’t even go into the wiki experiment :-/

So when I read Mr. Jarche’s narrations of his work and learning I get it, I love it, I applaude it and in my own corner of my first world country I am still not seeing it in the work place. I see it online, a lot, but not in place based work environments.

In his latest post Harold suggest a great list of questions to ask at a job interview beginning with “What can you do for the organization today? Tell us about your PKM.” In my world I most often begin with “Do you have an email address?”

How many people use network technology to network?

One of the things we forget, we being those of us who have embraced technology, is that almost half of the folks in Canada and the US have not… embraced it that is. 50% of people over 16 are on Facebook. Outstanding! 50% are not. 30% of  businesses use Twitter/Foursquare/LinkedIn. Fantastic! 70% do not. I can attest that in smaller communities of say 100K or less the numbers of social media users is even smaller. I am a Foursquare mayor of at least a half dozen local gas stations and cafes and all it has gotten me is strange looks. A recent HBR post reports the following stats:

50% of the population currently uses Facebook, and more than 37% use Twitter. Yet among Fortune 500 CEOs, the report says, only 7.6% are present on Facebook, only 4% use Twitter, and less than 1% use Google Plus. LinkedIn is the only social network where CEOs are slightly ahead of the general populace, the study concludes: Twenty-six percent of CEOs surveyed use LinkedIn, compared to 20.15% of the population at large.

So you may be thinking that I must work in a field that is comprised of non-professionals. Not so. I have a couple of official jobs and volunteer positions and all put me in direct contact with professional types. I am a health manager for four First Nations communities, I blog for a tech start up and I am on the board of a non-profit. Lets unpack the PKM and real technological use of each of these.

Aboriginal Communities

I helped create the communication toolkit for the First Nation Health Council’s Community Engagement Hubs. I have to say that the First Nations Health Council and the Interim First Nations Health Authority are perhaps the most transparent and forward thinking organization I have ever worked with. They embraced social media and networked approaches right from the beginning. However, this is not a reflection of how the rest of the varied Aboriginal populations in BC work. Many First Nations communities do not have stable internet connections. I work in the Fraser Canyon and I can say for certain that there are days and sometimes weeks that my office has no internet and at times no phone connection. And that’s only a couple of hours outside of Vancouver.  Beautiful and rugged terrain with low populations has a price.

In these areas, where connectivity is sparse, inconsistent and    s    l    o    w  people have not adopted the use of the internet, never mind developing a PKM strategy outside of their immediate family. I currently have several very professional staff who do not have email.. at all. My weekly sharing of what I learned this week (I narrate everything) always has a subject line that says “PRINT THIS FOR….”. This makes sense. Why would you adopt something you can’t access consistently.

The other side of this is that many Aboriginal communities and individual do have access and in fact were early adopters of technology. There is digital divide and there is an addition digital divide within communities. Some of this is due to connectivity challenges and some id due to socio-economics. Poor people, and Aboriginal folks lead the pack in the low income race, may have access to technology but its not easy access. There are barriers. Many, many barriers. That lack of access means low familiarity and until you get to the point where you are comfortable in the environment you are not likely to move into advanced use like using technology to grow a PLN.

Tech start ups

I love coders. They are a special group and I admire their collective ability to understand all that… code stuff. I can manage “Hello World” but that’s about it. Thank you WordPress and WYSIWYG editors! Coders do not blog. Coders do not read blogs. Coders do not partake in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (unless you beg them to put up a profile so your company looks like it really does have staff). I know some do, most don’t. They do narrate their work for other coders but it’s not the kind of narration of work we are talking about here. There is no associated introspection around how this or that particular line of code made them feel or how it will change the world.. unless they are writing code for a game.. different story there… Many do use their own niche social networks like message boards to get help with problems or support others with work related challenges but not in the way we think of as networked learning. Same for graphic artists and other creative brainiac types. This is not a blanket statement based on fact, more of an observation. I know a lot of computer programmers, graphic artists and scary smart people. Many game, they don’t Tweet. If they use the internet at all away from work its for pleasure not for learning. If they use it for learning at work its with surgical like precision. I think it seems like they rule the social media space because the ones that are networking online do it really, really well. We all listen to them and the quality of their sharing makes it seem “as if” all technocrats frequente the online world that we think of as PLEs.

Non profit boards

Oh dear, board members, please check your email more than once a week. Please wake up to the potential of sharing your ideas, successes and challenges in an open, networked environment. This week I received several really interesting emails about learning opportunities for and by non-profits. Not a single one included an easy way to share the information. What I got was a pdf poster attached to an email. (insert really long drawn out sigh here). Again, many NPOs are brilliant at social media, social networking online, building capacity by narrating their work. yada, yada, yada.. and most are not. I sit on one board of 10 people with a support person and an executive director and not a single one uses Twitter or LinkedIn. Two do use Facebook but that is a recent adoption for them. None blog or read blogs, most have no idea what a blog is. Unbelievably the Facebook page I set up for them has a growing list of page Likes and is proving to be really useful .They are “getting” Facebook but are miles away from “getting” the value of a PKE, PKN or PKM. What makes that ok is that so are the majority of people.

Where are we on the adoption of innovation curve?

I am not sure but I suspect that we are not nearly as far along as we think we are. Those at the bleeding edge have a perspective not shared by the majority. Lee Smallwood (@leesmallwood on Twitter) explains this best on his blog by sharing the two graphics below.

Adoption of Innovation in real life

So I’m a little envious of companies and organizations that can ask those kinds of question now. “Show me your wirearchy” will no doubt be part of the future interview, which will probably not be face to face.. We aren’t there yet. I hope we get there soon.

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The Environments of Learning

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This video was shared by Tom Whitford in response to a post by David Culberhouse aka @DCulberhouse. The post asks us to think deeply about how environment impacts learning. To quote Dave,

As we question whether our instructional methods are fitting to our changing times…we also have to determine if our physical environments are conducive to supporting learning in the 21st century.  Environment is not about whether we are using rows or group seating in our classrooms…it is about taking a deep and reflective look at the environment of our entire organization.  And being able to decipher what message our organization’s physical environment is sending…

Absolutely! The way we design our physical environments says something. We need to pay more attention to the physical environment that we ask people (kids are people too) to be in while they learn.

What does your space say?

A few years ago I worked for a fairly well known non-profit. They did some amazing work in advocating and directly helping women and children. They also had this policy and practice around the counters in their office spaces. The counters were all over 4 feet high and had additional glass barriers on top of that. The message was very clear. It said we are afraid of you and we sure as heck don’t trust you. I did some digging and sure enough the counters were in response to one incident when an irate and mentally ill client jumped the counter. They didn’t understand that by sending the message through their environment that “you scare us” they were most likely increasing the likelihood of having people act out. They were also making it hard for their staff to be the respectful and caring people that they were.

The emotional environment

I recently had to pick up one of my grandkids at her middle school. It was awful. I felt like I was doing something wrong just by being there. There is a massive empty space at the entrance that looks like it might be used during lunch and other breaks, but as this was class time there we no kids. The main office was just off to the side of this space and like most school offices, it was built like a fortess. I have been in correctional institutions that were more and inviting than this school. (Corrections folks know about the impact of environment on behaviour.)

The real challenge with this particular grandkid pickup event was the emotional environment set by the office staff. I went to the window and there were two staff chatting at he back of the room and one sitting at a desk near the window. The all did the office staff stare when I approached. you know the one. The look that says, “we see you and will get over to you when we it’s convenient for us”. No smile, not even a neutral expression. A definite message message though. The visit went downhill from there. I understand the need for vigilance and child safety but alienating the majority is not the best route.

Signs that say welcome

The other story I have about environment and messages relates to parking spaces. I had a meeting at a school district office recently and there was literally one space for visitor parking and it was really hard to find.  The sign for the one space said something like “Visitor Parking. Do not park in stall marked for staff. You will be towed.” How about something like “So sorry we only have one stall for you. Please use it so the tow truck stays away”. Both say the same thing but the message is very different.


The video at the top of this post describes an environment that is aligned with recent research on empathy and children.

Notre Dame Psychology Professor Darcia Narvaez show a relationship between child rearing practices common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies (how we humans have spent about 99 percent of our history) and better mental health, greater empathy and conscience development, and higher intelligence in children. (Science Daily 2010)

Narvaez identified six practices that may increase empathy, intelligence and overall well being in children.

  • Lots of positive touch — as in no spanking — but nearly constant carrying, cuddling and holding;
  • Prompt response to baby’s fusses and cries. You can’t “spoil” a baby. This means meeting a child’s needs before they get upset and the brain is flooded with toxic chemicals. “Warm, responsive caregiving like this keeps the infant’s brain calm in the years it is forming its personality and response to the world,” Narvaez says.
  • Breastfeeding, ideally 2 to 5 years. A child’s immune system isn’t fully formed until age 6 and breast milk provides its building blocks.
  • Multiple adult caregivers — people beyond mom and dad who also love the child.
  • Free play with multi-age playmates. Studies show that kids who don’t play enough are more likely to have ADHD and other mental health issues.
  • Natural childbirth, which provides mothers with the hormone boosts that give the energy to care for a newborn.

Schools can’t provide most of these, only parents and caregivers can. Schools can create environments that promote interactions between children of differing ages and increase the number of adult caregivers that that children form attachments with.

The other BIG thing that stood out for me in the video, also related to the idea of grouping kids with multi-age playmates, has to do with how we learn. In the video they call this flex grouping and one of the teachers in the video talks about kids teaching other kids and how that helps them learn.

In a brain scan of a child doing four distinct learning activities – reading, writing, listening and telling – the brain activity is most active when the child is telling someone about that he had read or heard. Telling, explaining, showing, describing, teaching activates the brain and learning becomes deeper, richer and more connected, literally. Providing opportunities for kids to learn by teaching other kids should be front and centre in considering learning spaces and practices.

Horses and carts

One final word. In Tom’s response to Dave original blog on this he offers us a glimpse into his wife’s mind more than her classroom. A new environment alone will not change learning. Teachers all over the world create warm and inviting spaces because their environment is a reflection of who they are. Great teachers with access to great environments are going to do great work. Great teachers in awful environments will still find a way to connect with their learners. But the best environment in the world will not make an uninformed or disconnected teacher great.


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