Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

#CCK11: Week 1 Highlights - Connectivisim Defined

Given below are the highlights from the readings for the first week of the CCK11 course. 
Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age
  1. Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)
  2. In today’s environment, action is often needed without personal learning – that is, we need to act by drawing information outside of our primary knowledge.
  3. What adjustments need to be made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval)?
  4. …chaos states that meaning exists – the learner's challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden.
  5. The capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns, is required to learn in our knowledge economy.
  6. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.
  7. Connectivism also addresses the challenges that many corporations face in knowledge management activities. Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning.
  8. Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity.
What Connectivism Is
  1. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not 'constructed' through some sort of intentional action.
  2. Hence, in Connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge.
  3. What you are talking about as 'an understanding' is (at a best approximation) distributed across a network of connections.
  4. To teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.”
According to Connectivism:

- learning occurs as a distributed process in a network, based on recognizing and interpreting patterns

- the learning process is influenced by the diversity of the network, strength of the ties

- memory consists of adaptive patterns of connectivity representative of current state

- transfer occurs through a process of connecting

- best for complex learning, learning in rapidly changing domains
The learning process is influenced by the four elements of the semantic condition:
  • Diversity
  • Autonomy
  • Openness
  • Connectedness
Learning is not a process of ‘transfer' at all, much less a transfer than can be caused or created by a single identifiable donor.
  1. Tools augment our ability to interact with each other and to act. Tools are extensions of humanity, increasing our ability to externalize our thinking into forms that we can share with others.
  2. Connectivism is the application of network principles to define both knowledge and the process of learning.
  3. Connectivism focuses on the inclusion of technology as part of our distribution of cognition and knowledge. Our knowledge resides in the connections we form – whether to other people or to information sources such as databases.
  4. Connectivism recognizes the fluid nature of knowledge and connections based on context. As such, it becomes increasingly vital that we focus not on pre-made or pre-defined knowledge, but on our interactions with each other, and the context in which those interactions arise.
  5. Making of coherence in a subject matter one is new to is about dialoguing with other learners. Make conversations a priority and let learners interact with the content, with each other, with the technology they will use for sense-making.
1.       Connectivism focuses on:
  • Our need to externalize to make sense
  • Our need for frameworks/structures for sense-making
  • Our need to socialize and negotiate around knowledge
  • Our mind is a patterning mind: we are attuned to note, recognize and draw patterns from complex systems
  • Our desire to extend our humanity through technology
2.       The experience of learning is one of forming new neural connections and conceptual frameworks.
3.       Learning occurs in continually fluctuating space.
4.       Connectivism is focused on the primacy of connections and networks.
5.       Types of networked learning:
  • Neural-biological: neuroscience and AI states that learning is the formation of new neural connections.
  • External-Social
  • Conceptual
 6.    Connections create meaning: how we put together ideas is our conception of a particular field or state of knowing in that field.
 7.   Learning in a network sense is a function of:
  • Depth and diversity of connections
  • Frequency of exposure
  • Integration with existing ideas and concepts
  • Strong and weak ties (weak ties bridge separate worlds)
  • Different types of networks with different types of attributes will serve different types of learning needs
Technology increases our ability to dialogue with others which results in a complexification of opinion.

#CCK11: Introductory Post--Reasons for joining

I joined the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK11) MOOC a tad late. It is a 12 week course that started on January 17 and will continue till April 11. I am really excited to see what it holds. This is my introductory post. I am a bit worried that I am lagging behind in my reading but not too worried since many of the articles and posts that are linked are stuff I have already read. I am eager to go through this journey as a part of a group of people who are passionate and keen about the same things that I am.
The course syllabus was especially intriguing, and my special interest is the Adaptive Systems which is coming up in Week 7.
Week 1: Connectivism
Week 2: Patterns
Week 3: Knowledge
Week 4: Unique?
Week 5: Groups, Networks
Week 6: PLENK
Week 7: Adaptive Systems
Week 8: Power & Authority
Week 9: Openness
Week 10: Net Pedagogy
Week 11: Research & Analytics
Week 12: Changing views

Key reasons:
  1. I have been reading and am highly influenced by the writings of George Siemens and Stephen Downes.
  2. The theory of Connectivism fascinates me, and I see its absolute relevance in this age of networked learning.
  3. I am also intrigued by complexity and chaos theory and do quite a bit of reading around these topics, which gets random at times. I tend to stray on the web. This course provides focus and a “guided” yet flexible path that will help me to do concentrated reading.
  4. I wanted to experience the feel of a MOOC. I think MOOCs will increasingly become a way of sharing and learning together.
  5. Dave Cromier’s video on What is a MOOC? pushed me to join. It rocks! It made me want to be a part of this learning experience.
  6. The fact that I don’t need to read everything but the more I do cover, the more I can participate. This is a great motivator for me to cover as much as possible because I hate to feel left out.

10 things that Dave Cromier says about a MOOC that inspired me to join CCK11
  1. The key characteristic of a MOOC as a participatory, open and distributed course
  2. It’s an event around which people who care about a topic get together (although learning is not an "event")
  3. All the course work gets done in areas accessible to everyone—absolute transparency of the learning process
  4. Everyone gets to learn from everyone’s work
  5. A MOOC promotes network creation and facilitates engagement with other participants (a key learning skill of the 21st C where knowledge resides in friends and “knowing where is more important than knowing how or when”)
  6. There’s no single path through the course—I can choose my learning path and different ideas can coexist and new ideas emerge
  7. A MOOC is a lot like being on the web but it is paced, which also gives me a good reason to keep focused
  8. The need to “declare” myself and create artifacts that will help me to make my learning process transparent (this post for example is a start)
  9. It is a perfect blend of curated content and emergent knowledge, ideas and viewpoints
  10. The 5 steps to be successful in a MOOC—Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus—are also the key learning skills required in the networked age. This, I thought, would be a great place to hone these skills. 
The points are synthesized from the following 2 videos:
So, I signed up.
What did I do next?
  1. I joined the Google group here.
  2. I went through the webinar recordings.
  3. Saved the Twitter search for #CCK11
  4. Scanned through the creations for CCK11
  5. Subscribed to the CCK11 Daily
This has been my Saturday morning so far. I am now settling down with another cup of coffee to watch the 2 webinars:
  • The Course Introduction and Overview
  • Educational Data Mining: A Methodological Review
I will try to follow these up with some more readings from the daily. Will be back soon with my next post. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Negative Capability and Cognitive Bias

A response by Richard Foreman to this year's question on the Edge World Question Center reminded me of Keat's famous concept of Negative Capbility. As an English Literature Honours graduate who had Romanticism as one of my special papers, this was a concept I had read about in some detail in those days. I am just surprised that it had slipped so far back into my subconscious as to be virtually forgotten.

Anyhow, the point is when I re-read the crux of the concept, I was amazed at its applicability to our current times. Let me quote what Keat's said:

...I mean NEGATIVE CAPABILITY, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason...~ John Keats

"The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems."

In his 1818 sonnet To Homer, Keats captures the ambiguity that is an essence of life:

Aye on the shores of darkness there is light,
And precipices show untrodden green,
There is a budding morrow in midnight,
There is a triple sight in blindness keen. . . .

I find a strange relevance of this poem to the world of work and learning today.

Isn't this what we have to learn to do? Given that our world is in a state of constant flux or perpetual beta--use whichever phrase you like--our endeavour is learn to fight the need for closure, accept dichotomy and ambiguity.

Andy Hunt, when speaking about Cognitive Biases, in Why Johnny Can’t Be Agile writes: I think the most significant cognitive bias that affects agile methods in particular is our Need for Closure. In general, people are not comfortable with doubt and uncertainty—so much so that we’ll go to great lengths to resolve open issues and to remove uncertainty and reach closure. In other words, our default wiring says it’s better to make the wrong decision now instead of waiting and making a better decision later.

There is an almost uncanny resemblance between the words of the Romantic poet and the Agile guru.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wicked Problems, Complexity and Learning

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them. ~ Laurence J. Peter
Recently, while doing a keyword search for complexity, I stumbled across an article called Wicked ProblemsThe term was coined by Horst Rittel, the inventor of the Issue-Based Information System (IBIS) structure upon which Dialogue Mapping is based.

The first paragraph of the said article caught my attention. It defines wicked problems thus:

A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented.
Wicked problems always occur in a social context -- the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.

Most projects in organizations -- and virtually all technology-related projects these days -- are about wicked problems. Indeed, it is the social complexity of these problems, not their technical complexity, that overwhelms most current problem solving and project management approaches.

This description seemed cannily similar to the description of Complex problems in the Cynefin framework.

The article further elucidates the characteristics of wicked problems. I have listed down the characteristics verbatim but the interpretations are mine.

  1. You don't understand the problem until you have developed a solution: According to the Cynefin framework, a problem that falls in the realm of the complex or chaotic cannot be analyzed or categorized without first being acted upon. Only when one acts on the problem does a solution emerge.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.**: By definition, a wicked problem arises out of a condition that cannot be clearly defined. Hence, it solution or end-point can’t be foreseen either.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong: These problems are unique, complex, and non-linear. There is no direct cause and effect relationship that exist when problems are simple. Without a one-on-one relationship between the cause and effect, it is not possible to have a single solution. There can only be better ways of solving it but never the best or the only way.
  4. Every wicked problem is essentially unique and novel: This is self-explanatory. That is precisely why they are called wicked.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation,"
  6. Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions: At any given point of time, an approach to solving a wicked problem will lead to the problem morphing into something else—not necessarily a worse state but just a different one. This precludes the possibility of there being multiple ways of solving this problem at the outset. One needs to keep adapting and evolving solutions to address wicked problems. 
**By this definition, putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth was a tame problem albeit with a lot of complexity. It required complex heuristics and problem-solving approaches to come up with ways and means of achieving success; however, the problem per se had a definite end point and it was possible to know when the mission was accomplished.
Wicked problem is compounded or created out of fragmentation. The paper on Wicked Problems and Social Complexity defines fragmentation thus:

Fragmentation can be hidden, as when stakeholders don’t even realize that there are incompatible tacit assumptions about the problem, and each believes that his or her understandings are complete and shared by all.

Since wicked problems defy codification and clear articulation and yet they are the ones that plague the work environments today, a team working on a wicked problem often faces a major issue of collective understanding.

The following image depicts what typically happens:

 Image taken from: The Agile Warrior

This pain is one of fragmentation because the tools, methods, and approaches used are more suited for “tame” problems—what Cynefin framework slots as simple or, maybe, complicated at the most. What further compounds the problem is that people directly involved in the transactions fail to realize that their tools are inadequate for the issue at hand. 

The aforementioned article describes a “tame” problem thus:

A ‘tame problem’ is one for which the traditional linear process is sufficient to produce a workable solution in an acceptable time frame. A tame problem:
  1. Has a well-defined and stable problem statement
  2. Has a definite stopping point, i.e., when the solution is reached
  3. Has a solution which can be objectively evaluated as right or wrong
  4. Belongs to a class of similar problems which are all solved in the same similar way
  5. Has solutions which can be easily tried and abandoned
  6. Comes with a limited set of alternative solutions

The Traditional wisdom for solving problems follows a typical classic Waterfall model. It is linear, logical, and analytical.

But trying to solve a wicked problem using such tools is like trying to tame a tiger using a dog leash. Wicked problems require creativity, expertise, and sometimes that leap of faith to solve. It also requires adaptive thinking abilities

The Agile method of problem-solving with its iterative steps, continuous feedback, test driven development and retros come close to an ideal way of, if not solving, at least approaching wicked problem for the following reasons:
  1. It allows for self and course correction
  2. Mistakes are caught before they become too expensive
  3. Early detection of mistakes leads to prompt feedback and associated learning
  4. Iterative development process allows for application of that new learning
  5. The opportunity to apply the learning prevents the forgetting curve from becoming dominant
The approach, if plotted on a graph would look like this:

Image taken from:

The article describes this jagged line of opportunity-driven problem solving as a picture of learning. And as delineated above, it comes very close to the Agile approach.

To the non-initiated or the inexperienced, this looks chaotic and there appears to be little progress, but the experienced knows that this reflects the deeper order of a cognitive process and learning. The Waterfall method depicted above is a picture of already knowing where one applies pre-defined steps to solve simple or known problems following sequential steps.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Coherence vs Fragmentation

The antidote for fragmentation is coherence. How, then, do we create coherence? In organizations and project teams – in situations where collaboration is the life blood of success – coherence amounts to shared understanding and shared commitment.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adaptive Thinking, Deliberate Practice, and Complexity

In military parlance, the term Adaptive Thinking has been used to describe the cognitive behavior of an officer who is confronted by unanticipated circumstances during the execution of a planned military operation. It refers to the thinking a leader must do to adapt operations to the requirements of unfolding events and is thus a key component of competency in battle command. Adaptive Thinking is a behavior.
(Source: Think Like a Commander.PDF)  

I discussed the need for Adaptive Thinking in this earlier post as well. I mentioned that Adaptive Thinking that promotes adaptive expertise is what makes us learners, takes us out of our preconceived notions formed by our domain expertise, and allows us to probe and respond to changing situations with greater elasticity. In short, this helps us to deal with complex situations.

The article Think Like a Commander takes an in-depth look at Adaptive Thinking and how it can be “taught”. Here, by taught I am trying to imply that Adaptive Thinking can be acquired. It can be acquired through deliberate, focused practice. 

This post is a summary of the key learnings from the article. I have paraphrased liberally from the article. The interpretations, however, are mine and any errors in understanding associated with those are entirely mine.

The Adaptive Thinking Training Methodology (ATTM) and Think Like a Commander (TLAC) represent a method and tool for training adaptive leaders.
  1.   Adaptive Thinking focuses on training how to think rather than what to think.
  2. Adaptive Thinking is different from lateral, creative or out-of-the box thinking. It is defined by the conditions under which it occurs. The conditions or constraints need to be taken into account and a solution sought within that. This is also the hallmark of a creative problem-solver, one who is unfazed by constraints but adapts herself/himself to get the maximum benefit out of the situation.   
  3. Adaptive Thinking, as the term implies, indicates thinking while performing. This is different from thinking in an environment of calm reflection. This is why it becomes important to develop Adaptive Thinking skills through deliberation. Under conditions of stress, it is human nature to react automatically, using approaches that come most naturally and effortlessly.
Hence, the military where situations can change their course within the blink of an eye train leaders and decision-makers on Adaptive Thinking skills. Expertise in Adaptive Thinking develops out of deliberate practice, which is at the heart of ATTM. 

Deliberate practice has the following characteristics: 
(Source: Think Like a Commander.PDF)  
  1. Repetition: Task performance occurs repetitively rather than at its naturally occurring frequency. A goal of deliberate practice is to develop habits that operate expertly and automatically.
  2. Focused feedback: Coaches/trainers are at hand to provide corrective feedback and help the learners model their behaviors.
  3. Immediacy of performance: After corrective feedback on performance, there is an immediate repetition so that the task can be performed more in accordance with expert norms.
  4. Stop and start: Because of the repetition and feedback, deliberate practice is typically seen as a series of short performances rather than a continuous flow. This series of iterative, feedback-driven practice instills confidence and takes away the stress.
  5. Emphasis on difficult aspects: Deliberate practice will focus on more difficult aspects. E.g., rarely occurring emergencies can be exercised frequently in deliberate practice.  
  6. Focus on areas of weakness: Deliberate practice can be tailored to the individual and focus on areas of weakness.
  7. Conscious focus: In deliberate practice, the learner may consciously attend to the element because improving performance at the task is more important in this situation than performing one’s best.
  8. Work vs play: Characteristically, deliberate practice feels more like work and is more effortful than casual performance. The motivation generally comes from a sense that one is improving in skill.
  9. Active Coaching: Typically, a coach must be very active during deliberate practice, monitoring performance, assessing adequacy, and controlling the structure of training.
Therefore, it is characteristic of deliberate practice to focus on behavior on does not do well; while during actual performance such behaviors are avoided as far as possible.
Now the question remains, how will this help knowledge workers deal with complex and chaotic challenges that are unprecedented? 

This is precisely the aim of Adaptive Thinking. It focuses on training how to think and what to think about rather than what to think. By including deliberate practice, ATTM ensures that leaders become comfortable with the approach. The situations can and will change but someone trained to “think on their feet” will be able to handle complexity with greater ease. 

In today’s workplace where Knowledge Work is characterized by:
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity
  • Novelty
  • Diversity (of opinions, people, issues, domains, technology, etc.)
  • Information overload coupled with “not exactly what I need” syndrome
  • Vanishing shelf-life of knowledge
Adaptive Thinking seems to be one of the keys to handling the onslaught. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave your response to the post.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 in Retrospect: Top Few Blogs and Books

This post should have made its appearance a few days back—at least a day back—but procrastination sometimes overtakes me. This time, it was compounded by the lure of spending more time with my daughter (since I am in Mumbai after quite a few months) and the writing of the post just never got done. But I have promised myself that this year I will turn more ideas into actions and will not let procrastination rule. In that spirit, I am aiming to get this post out.

This is a quick recap and a list of the posts, articles, and books that have shaped my thinking, provided me with insights and supported or challenged my assumptions. To make it slightly easy for myself, I have divided the list into two parts—1) posts and articles and 2) books.

Posts and Articles

1.       Corporate Learning’s focus by Harold Jarche
2.       Where Social Learning Thrives by Marcia Conner
3.       Designing Training for Organization 2.0 by Gautam Ghosh
4.       21st Century L&D Skills by Charles Jennings
5.       2010 Shift Index - Passion and Performance by John Hagel
6.       Why we need to kill "social media" by Rob Key
8.       Generations, Social and Enterprise: adopt vs adapt by Martijn Linssen
9.       The Evolving Social Organization by Harold Jarche
11.   The Wolf Pack and Learning by Dan Pontefract
12.   No silver bullet in KM by Nick Milton
13.   Rendering knowledge from Cognitive Edge
14.   Work is learning, learning work by Harold Jarche
15.   The Power of Meaning by Thierry de Baillon
19.   Success depends on who we work with by Harold Jarche


  1. The Power of Pull by John Seely Brown
  2. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Create Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies by Scott E. Page
  3. The Drive by Daniel Pink
  4. The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Daniel Pink
  5. Beyond E-Learning: Approaches and Technologies to Enhance Organizational Knowledge, Learning, and Performance by Marc J. Rosenberg
  6. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
  7. The Future of Management by Gary Hamel
  8. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  9. Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results by Morten Hansen
  10. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  11. Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement by Ruth Colvin Clark
  12. Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt
  13. Social Media for Trainers by Jane Bozarth
  14. The New Social Learning by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham
  15. The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams
  16. Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson
  17. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  18. Working Smarter Fieldbook

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...