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Translating Brick & Mortar Courses for a Virtual Delivery

Greetings All! It has been a while since I’ve had the time to put up a proper blog post, but a colleague of mine has an upcoming webinar that I want to tell you about. It is all about converting existing classroom courses to e-learning (or blended solutions) and it is spot on for a lot of the work I find myself doing these days.
His name is Pat Smith and he is the principal at EnvolveMedia, a performance improvement company that specializes in the development of e-learning and the production of webinars and large online learning events. I’ve had the benefit of working with Pat or a wide range of projects over the last few years. His experience and expertise is a huge value-add to any project. He is especially good at converting higher-order learning objectives into engaging and effective e-learning simulations and interactions.
Pat’s webinar, Translating Brick & Mortar Courses for a Virtual Delivery, will be held on February 17, 2015 at 3:00pm (Eastern).

Please Click Here to Register for the Webinar

 

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An Inmagic Chat About Knowledge Ecosystems

Inmagic PrestoA week or so ago, I was invited to chat with the folks at Inmagic about the current and future state of knowledge management and its relationship to social media.  They recorded the conversation for a podcast. I will leave it to their fine prose to explain the call (only adding that I was a biologist once – B.S in Biology from Purdue University – and I still don’t like the sound of my own voice ;o).
After you listen to the podcast, I would love to hear your thoughts on the conversation and whether you have encountered any resistance to social media from knowledge management practitioners.

Posted in: Adapting, Business, Internet, Learning

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KM vs. Social Media: Beware the Warmongers

In a stark example of ageist bigotry parading as insight, Venkatesh Rao is trying to instigate a war that does not, and need not, exist.  He believes that knowledge management (KM) advocates and social media (SM) advocates are at odds with each other.  His divisive post imagines a war between KM and SM.  Evidently, after encountering resistance to his polarized view of SM, he authored the dense tirade as a call to a war that does not exist.  His post brings to mind William Randolph Hearst’s quote, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” (Although that is history and Rao dismisses the importance of such institutional knowledge.  He’s doomed to repeat a great deal of history, I suppose.)
I see no reason why we should respond to Rao’s call to war.  His evidence in support of war are little more than petulant responses to people’s inevitable resistance to change.  He supports his opinions with fallacy in an attempt to create generational conflict.  My personal favorite: “…RSS and Mash-ups are culturally Gen X ideas…” I wonder how Dave Winer, the primary inventor/advocate of RSS, would feel about that statement since he falls solidly in the Boomer generation that Rao seems to disdain.  Statements like “The Boomers don’t really get or like engineering and organizational complexity,” beg a cultural flame-war.  But I will resist.  Instead, let me make a case for KM and SM peace.
A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch. All change champions encounter resistance – sad fact of the human condition.  And many entrenched incumbents can be especially resistant to the status quo.  But we paint with too broad a brush if we let a handful of stubborn dinosaurs define an entire group of people.  I have been in KM for over a decade and have been active in SM since the term was coined.  And amongst the advocates of both, I see many more examples of integration than I do of segregation.
Social media actualizes the idealism of KM. In the workshops I deliver on Enterprise 2.0, I often refer to it as “KM 1.53”  This alludes to the fact that the goals of E2.0 are nearly identical to the goals of KM.  E2.0 (SM in the workplace) delivers the platforms and tools necessary to reach the KM ideals we have sought for years.  While the inherent ungoverned disorder of social media seems radical to some KM administrators, most KM advocates welcome these tools in their quest to free information and improve performance.
Most KM practitioners recognize the value of SM.  I have presented keynotes and workshops on SM at KM Australia and KM Asia.  At both, I have found many more eager adopters than resistant dinosaurs.  Based on my experience, most KM practitioners are excited about SM tools and platforms and are looking for ways to incorporate them into the current KM strategies as soon as possible.  As for the less structured aspect of SM, the response to my “Abandon Your Content Management System – KM in the age of GooTube” presentation at KM Australia was very positive.
Rao ended his post with his prediction of how the war will end.  Please read it yourself, but I would summarize it as: the old resistant people will die and the young righteous people will prevail.  I will close with my prediction of how the peace will continue:  Our technology and society will continue to evolve; people will continue to be resistant to (but finally adapt to) change; youth will continue to disdain their elders until they become tempered by wisdom; and the opportunities to learn and prosper will continue to grow for those wise enough to do so.

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From Knowledge Management to Knowledge Ecosystem

This post is based on the keynote I delivered at Knowledge Management Australia this summer (I know – but better late than never).  I entitled the talk “Abandon Your Content Management: KM in the Age of GooTube”. When I developed it I was under the questionable influence of two books: Clay Sirky’s Here Comes Everybody and David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous.  But here I want to share the main premise of the talk: that we should focus less on managing our information and focus more on capturing it and then making it discoverable.
(A note before we begin.  I will be using the terms “information management” and “content management” in place of what many people would refer to as “knowledge management.”  I define knowledge as “information in action” – and that action can only take place in the human mind.  Since I’m not fond of the idea of mind management, I believe “information” is actually what we are managing, not knowledge.)
Most traditional information management or content management systems and programs follow a highly centralized model:

Traditional CMS Model

Think about those three verbs: Gather, Organize, Publish.  Those are the verbs of centralization and governance.  It implies one system (or group) is responsible for information management.  And often the majority of the resources within that system are devoted to “Organize” – organizing (and controlling) the information in the system.  In an age when search makes unorganized information easily discoverable, this is probably a waste of resources.
The focus on organizing grew out of natural human reaction to trying to understand an increasingly complex environment.  There was so much information available that we had to develop ways of organizing it in order to cope.  Over time, this resulted in what David Weinberger refers to as the “three orders of order”:

The three orders of order

  1. Organizing the objects themselves based on shared traits. This does have some basis in logic and is exemplified by placing flora and fauna into related Kingdom, Phylum, Class, etc. or in organizing a department store into clothing items, kitchen items, electronic items, etc.  But even this has its limitations.  Does an under-kitchen-counter TV go in the kitchen department or the electronic department?  This order of order is based on organizing the physical objects themselves.
  2. Organizing “pointers” that represent the actual objects based on some arbitrary system. This order of order evolved to address the sheer volume of objects that needed to be discoverable.  We could create new smaller objects that “point” to the real object and then organize those “meta-objects”.  The arbitrary way these meta-objects were organized (think alphabetization or the Dewey Decimal system) often removed any “natural relations” they might have.  And again, their use and discoverability were limited by the fact that they were still physical objects.
  3. Digitizing the objects (or meta-objects) allows us to return to the “natural state of chaos”. This new order of order reconsiders the reason we organized objects in light of our new digital world. The core driver of our past organization was to make objects easily (and hopefully logically) discoverable.  But in the digitized world, we can discover without the need for organization.  Search is the key that unlocks the chaos of information.  So, Weinberger’s (arguable) proposal is this: In a digital world power by full search, we no longer need to order (organize) our information to be able to find and use it.

If Weinberger is correct and we can return to chaos comfortably, it brings us to a more natural state of knowledge capture and discovery.  To illustrate this, let’s first consider a (grossly simplified) picture of an ecosystem:

Ecosystem cycle graphic

Within ecosystems, resources (food, energy) are circulated within the environment from producers to consumers and then (again, grossly simplified) back around to producers again.  If we apply this ecosystems model to our old information management model, we will see “Organize” drop out entirely, “Gather” become “Capture” and “Publish” become “Discover.”

Think about these new verbs, Capture and Discover.  These are not centrally controlled and they abhor governance.  Given an open system, anyone can capture information as they create it (or discover it) and then everyone can discover all that has been captured (via search – as well as links, recommendations, etc.).  And if the ecosystem (i.e., information management system) is designed properly, every act of discovery is automatically an act of capture that returns value to the ecosystem.  Let’s consider the ideal application of the two verbs in more detail:
Capture. All the content (information) in our knowledge ecosystem is generated by people (people who need people – sorry…).  We should design our work applications and procedures to capture everything that people produce as they work.  There should be no separation between the tools of production and the tools of information capture.  And, of course, those tools should have discovery built into them.  Imagine if every time information of value to the ecosystem was generated – whether in a spreadsheet, database, e-mail, conference call, IM or Tweet – it was immediately captured, indexed and discoverable through search, cross-linking, and extensions.  People working in that that ecosystem would thrive.
Discover. First and foremost, our information ecosystem must have comprehensive search.  In addition, it should incorporate every tool or process for improving discoverability such as tagging, syndication, linking, the “database of intentions“, and recommendations.  Moreover the system must recognize that the information is being captured and discovered by people (people who need people – damn! sorry…).  As we move from the information age into the connected age and the importance of social networks increases, the system must support the socialization of information.  Our ideas and information are satellites orbiting us just as the people in our social graph do.  The ecosystem must recognize that information and the people who created or discovered it should be inseparable.  We gain far greater value from social information than orphan information.
So how does one go about building a knowledge ecosystem? What are the basic requirements of a system to support the continuous cycle of capture and discover? That’s what the buzzword d’jour, “Enterprise 2.0” (aka “Knowledge Management 1.53”) is all about.  By applying the social ideals and platforms sweeping the Web to the enterprise, we can approach (carefully) a knowledge ecosystem.  One of the best (though techno-centric) models to capture the elements needed within a knowledge ecosystem is the FLATNESSES checklist created by Dion Hinchcliffe (based on the original SLATES checklist created by Andrew McAfee):

Hinchcliffe's FLATNESSES checklist

I encourage you to review it and the other “Enterprise 2.0” information out there.  Applying those ideas can help you begin to shift from knowledge management to knowledge ecosystem.

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Is Guttenberg Making Us Stoopid? – What Books are Doing to Our Minds & Spirit

(England, July 2, 1508) – In the latest edition of the Ye Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas of Carr despairs over the toll that books and reading are taking upon the minds and spirit of man.  A noted jongleur and philosopher, Nicholas attests that he and many members of the jongleur guild are losing their ability to sing epic poems from memory.  He plainly believes books are the cause.  “It is as if these instruments are agents of Lucifer trying to steal away God’s gift of memory”, he laments in the article.  And the danger may be more than the loss of the jongleur gift.  While it seems ludicrous, Nicholas foresees a future in which even peasants have learned to read books.  People from every class would lose the ability to remember even the simplest parable or psalm as they rely on the insidious books to remember it for them.  While admitting that relying on books would provide him more epics and ideas to share with his audience, Nicholas worries that doing so will weaken his mind and spirit.  “To rely on the crutch of a book when I sing a poem cheats my audience and demoralizes me,” declares Nicholas of Carr.
OK, unless you are an Atlantic Monthly reader, you are probably thinking that this is a very strange way to start a post.  If you would like to better understand my lame attempt at parody, please read this:


Is Google Making us Stupid?

Nicholas Carr’s love/hate relationship with technology have given us very interesting food for thought such as Does IT Matter?, The Amorality of Web 2.0, and his recent, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google.  All his works are thought provoking and often challenge ideological extremism and divisiveness that tends to echo rampantly in the blogosphere.

I will leave the critical diatribe to others (see Jay Cross’s petulance).  This is a blog on learning and performance improvement.  So, in that regard, let me share the ideas that struck me as I read the article:
Acquired ADD – Carr laments how he and colleagues can’t read lengthy articles any longer.  They have been conditioned by the Web (so he contends) to do drive-by reading (my term d’art), only gathering the information they need and then moving on.  Yea, so?  Let’s face it, we are moving into an attention economy.  My time is valuable, I need to get what I need to perform and move on quickly if I want to remain competitive.  And when I do compete well enough to win some leisure time, I will still “scuba dive in the sea of words” (Carr’s reference to deeply reading a whole book).  But that book better be engaging (which is rare in non-fiction) or I’ll quickly find another book that is.  Does this mean we are worse readers, or just demanding better quality reading?
It’s the Economy Stupid – Like it or not, we all have to compete in this dynamic economy.  That means using the best tools available to innovate, solve problems, and out produce your competitors.  Carr shares that pathologist Bruce Friedman’s feels his thinking has taken on a “staccato” quality – “scanning short passages of text from many sources online.”  So?  If the only downside is you can’t plod through War and Peace any longer and the upside is you perform more efficiently, I’m OK with that.
The Brain : Mind Barrier – Carr’s most dark and insidious concern throughout the article is that we are flirting with a future where machines have surpassed the human brain.  He even claims that the Google gang stated that “we’d be better off” if are brains were replaced by an artificial intelligence (I’m guessing they stated “supplemented” instead of “replaced”).  Indeed, Carr closes with his fears of a 2001: A Space Odyssey world where “people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine.”  Well, that makes for a nice, spooky movie, but it is fiction.  To make that leap, we would have to agree that the brain and the mind are one.  We would have to have concluded that self-awareness, reasoning, cognizance, and intelligence are all just a by-product of an efficiently wired brain.  I don’t believe that conclusion is already settled and universal.  The Web may become an ancillary brain for us, but it can never replace the human mind.
Maslow's Needs PyramidMaslow on Google – If we drop the economic argument (after all the market may not always know what is best for us) of performance improvement, how does Carr’s claim impact us as individuals?  Will our collective inability to finish lengthy tomes upset our personal success?  If it does turn out that a “staccato intellect” results in me better meeting my needs, it is well worth it.  To contemplate this, let’s revisit Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as influenced by the Web:

  • Physiological Needs (Breathing, Drinking, Eating, Excretion) – Other than the fact that the eventual demise of newspapers and magazines will alter my excretion behaviors, I do not believe the Web impacts us at this level.
  • Safety Needs (Personal Security, Financial Security, Health and Well-Being) – Even if the Web has given me ADD, it has provided me with a host of tools and information to find a better home, clothing, invest more wisely, and learn how to take better care of my health.
  • Social Needs (Friendship, Family, Sex) – Others could argue finer points, but overall I would say the Web has proven to be a wonderful platform to help meet these needs.  It helps us find and stay in touch with friends, find spouses and communicate with the families we create with them, and find opportunities to have sex (with others or alone ;).
  • Esteem Needs (Self-Esteem, Confidence, Achievement, Respect for/of Others) – Now on this need, the Web’s influence becomes arguable.  The Web, like any tool or communication platform, can be used for good and bad.  Via the Web I can build great esteem, or have my esteem destroyed by others.  I’m going to call this one a draw now, but as we grow into the new mores of radical transparency and attention trust, the good will soon outweigh the bad.
  • Self-Actualization Needs (Morality, Creativity, Spontaneity, Problem Solving) – And finally, we reach the level most directly addressed by Carr’s concerns.  This is our need to become the best we are capable of becoming.  Learning, creating, reading, curiosity are all the traits that Carr worries the Web might be undermining.  Again, I will argue that the good outweighs the bad.  Through “drive-by learning” I can still gather more ideas that feed my morality, creativity, and problem solving abilities.  Inevitably, I will still be forced to more deeply contemplate those ideas as I weave them into my world view.  And often the Web (or people on the Web) will be what challenges me to contemplate them more deeply.

Learning 2.0 – And finally onto what this blog is supposed to be considering: How do people learn differently in this new, Web-driven era?  Carr’s article included many examples of how new technologies (such as the mechanical clock) have literally changed the way we think and behave.  Carr’s basic concern is the Web has ruined our ability to read deeply which (he references to the work of Maryanne Wolf) will ruin are ability to think deeply.  (Which begs the question: Can illiterate people think deeply?)  There is certainly no research to support that assertion, yet.  But there is no doubt that the Web is changing the way we work and learn.  So, the important question for us in learning is: How does our pedagogy have to change to support this new way of working and learning?  Even if this new era of acquired ADD does not alter our brain function or our ability for higher-level thought, it is a death knell for lengthy (boring) learning – whether it be in a classroom or online.  We need to move from structured learning programs to flexible, nimble chunks of instruction along the lines of what used to be called “electronic performance support systems” (and is now just called “Google”).  This does not mean the extinction of complex learning programs, but those programs’ design and delivery need to radically change.  They must rely on more self-directed, mentor-monitored learning that is tightly integrated with daily job performance to meet the learning and development objectives.
So ends my Nicholas Carr inspired prattle.  If you made it this far, I congratulate you!  Your Web-induced ADD is not as advanced as Bruce Friedman’s, who is quoted in Carr’s article:

“I can’t read War and Peace anymore.  I’ve lost the ability to do that.  Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb.  I skim it.”

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Why Predeterminism is Bad for All of Us

Here is a very interesting research paper:

The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating

I added this to today’s links list, but wanted to highlight it. If you want the short version, here is the abstract from the article:

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether
inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read excerpts that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased immoral behavior on a passive cheating task that involved allowing a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that participants should have been solving themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, exposure to deterministic statements led participants to overpay themselves on a cognitive test relative to participants who were exposed to statements endorsing free will as well as participants in numerous control conditions. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

Now, I have long been a proponent of free will theory and opposed to any concept of predetermination. I believe that it undermines individual potential. Predeterminism recuses you from personal accountability. Even those who believe in predetermination but profess “many paths to the predetermined result” makes them accountable are fooling only themselves. If you know in your heart of hearts that the outcome is already determined, you divest responsibility.
What I had never stopped to consider (because I’m not terribly bright) is the impact beyond the individual. This research discussed in the article illustrates the toll predeterminism can take on our society. Frankly stated, the research shows that predetermination is immoral. To strengthen our society, all institutions should be teaching the importance of free will. Now, this could become a discussion of whether free will exists or not, but instead I want to consider what we should be teaching people to strengthen our society. Whether you believe in free will or not, I leave you with a quote from the article:

It is also crucial to emphasize that the present findings do not speak to the larger issue of whether free will actually exists. It is possible that free will is an illusion that nevertheless offers some functionality. It may be that a necessary cost of public awareness regarding the science of human behavior will be the dampening of certain beliefs about personal agency (Wegner, 2002). Conversely, it may prove possible to integrate a genuine sense of free will into scientific accounts of human behavior (see Baumeister, in press; Dennett, 2004; Kane, 1996; Shariff et al., in press). Although the concept of free will remains scientifically in question, the present results point to a significant value in believing that free will exists.

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One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO: First Impressions

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines after undergrad. Not only was it the best education I ever got, but it made me keenly aware of the amazing burden children in developing nations have trying to get an education while helping to put food on the family table. So, I was very excited by Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child project when it began three years ago. It speaks to my passions for education, developing nations, and techno-geek cool toys. ;o) So, I eagerly signed up for the “give one – get one” program they had last fall so I could donate an XO Laptop as well as buy one myself to test it out. I order on December 12, 2007 and by then demand had already outstripped their supply for the program and I didn’t get my XO until March 22, 2008.
Though I was keen to put the XO through the paces from a tech-geek perspective, I decided to take another approach. (If you want to see detailed technology analysis of the XO, a great place to start is the Wikipedia entry.) I wanted to get the perspective of how the laptop would be received and put to use by a child in a developing nation. Now, I don’t have any travel to developing nations planned any time soon, so I decided to take the next best route: I would give the boxed XO to my eight year old son, Ian, and let him have at it with no direction or assistance.
So, on March 24, I plopped the XO box on our dining room table, got out my camera and notepad, and told my son to have at his new laptop. What follows is a summary of what transpired.
Assembling the XO laptop 3:40pm: Ian quickly opens the box, shreds through the protective wrappings of the XO and the battery and begins to assemble it. He struggled a bit with getting the battery to fit in properly. Three attempts later he had the battery in and was ready to open the laptop. This proved more difficult than expected. At one point he was perplexed enough he decided to check the setup instructions. There were none included – well practically none – only simple visuals of what the basic buttons on the XO do and they already showed the XO opened. (This makes sense – trying to develop instructions for every possible language would be a fool’s errand and it should be simple enough to not need directions.) From one of the pictures included that showed the XO open he was able to deduce how to get it open. That done, he found the on/off button quickly. Fortunately the battery was juiced up and it began a slow boot process.
OLPC XO boot completing3:51pm: The boot is complete and Ian has started playing with some of the applications included. Being very computer savvy (he has had a computer since he could sit up – a touch screen PC I rigged up especially for him) he was quickly bored and at 3:59 he said, “This should really come with the mouse.” He found the touchpad and buttons frustrating to use. (Note: I later plugged in a USB mouse and it worked fine with no driver install required.) As expected, Ian was anxious to get online and he found the browser and opened it at 4:04pm. The browser teased by showing a Google screen, but when he tried to search, he got a “no connection” error. He tried a bit to figure out how to get an Internet connection himself, but then looked at me expectantly. (Since he is only eight, I still provide all the IT support in our home. I look forward to his reaching puberty so he can take that over. ;o)
Network setup dialog on XO4:08pm: Dad weighs in. So, it may be that a child given an XO in a developing country may not be given any support in setting it up and using it. Hopefully, this will not be the case, And even if it was, I have little doubt that desire and ingenuity will get every XO connected eventually. But in our house, it was time for Dad to get the XO online. Though I wouldn’t say that navigating the mesh network interface was intuitive, I did have the XO connected to our secured wireless network by 4:12pm.
4:13pm: Ian is surfing using the browser installed with XO and immediately goes to Adventure Quest to play (so much for the educational value of the OLPC program ;o). This causes a problem. The browser does not support Flash (read why here) and like many sites kids visit to learn and play, Flash is required at Adventure Quest. This is where IT support gets really frustrating. I’m now on a mission to get the XO to where it will display Flash content. To make a long story short, this means I have to install a version of the Opera browser for XO, then install an (somewhat) older version of Flash, and then reboot the XO. This was not simple stuff. It took over an hour for me to complete. This will be a considerable additional burden to whoever is supporting the XO in developing nations if the kids using them need to access Flash-based websites.
Using the Opera browser on XO5:45pm: Ian is back on the XO now that he can use the Opera browser to access the Flash-based websites he frequents (Adventure Quest, Club Penguin, Webkinz, PBSKids, Playhouse Disney, etc.). While I’m impressed by the picture and sound quality (I know how little muscle the XO has), Ian is frustrated by the slowness of the graphics and game play. Obviously he is not the intended audience and is visiting sites that this educational tool was not designed to handle. But given the huge amount of e-learning that is produced in Flash (or Authorware), the XO may not be able to deliver a host of learning. In any case, my experiment has come to an end at 6:04pm because Ian has lost interest in trying to use the XO with any of his favorite sites. (I do plan to do some additional experimenting with him: I want him to use the XO to research, write, and print one of the small assignments he gets from school – hopefully that will be in a post coming soon.)
7:04pm – The XO battery goes dead. I had continued to put the XO through some paces after Ian quit. I wanted to see just how long the battery would last as I continued to surf the Web and try out the other XO applications. The battery warning light went on at 6:34, so I would have had ample time to save any work and find a way to recharge. But, at a little over three hours since boot, the battery life was impressive.

First Impressions and Thoughts

So, as I worked through this little experiment and put the XO through some (very limited) paces, this is what struck me:

  1. The XO seems to be quite durable and though it is lacking (probably unnecessary) computing muscle, it boasts a number of features such as webcam, speakers, microphone, USB ports, etc. It’s power consumption is low and it seems like it could stand up to the rough and tumble life in a developing country fairly well.
  2. The mesh network is a great feature. This will allow an entire village to leverage one Internet connection. This is crucial for the XO to move beyond communication tool and become a learning tool.
  3. Given how tech savvy the Peace Corps volunteers (and all the other development workers worldwide) are these days, I’m sure they would love to get a truckload of XOs and implement an advanced learning program at schools.
  4. A small matter perhaps, but I though it was important that the battery was fully charged upon delivery. I can foresee implementations where power will not be immediately available and adoption could drop substantially if the initial experience is no experience at all.
  5. I was very disappointed in the poor browser and lack of Flash support. I understand why they did this (read here), but I feel they could have come up with a better solution. There should be simple service that educators configuring the XO could run quickly on each laptop to install Opera and Flash. There is simply too much valuable learning content available only as Flash – the OLPC committee needs to make it easier to support Flash.
  6. Speaking of IT support, I’m sure any many instances the XO will be deployed through a program that has the resources needed to reconfigure and continually support the laptops to assure they perform as needed. But I also foresee situations where individual users are simply given an “out of the box” XO and left to fend for themselves. In such situations, it would be helpful to have some type of support documentation included in the box. The should be at least enough to get them booted up to access additional support documentation on the XO. The documentation loaded on the XO is tucked way down under “Other” in the Browse activity and only addresses using some of the included software, but nothing on setting up an Internet connection, etc.
  7. Finally, the though that kept haunting me as I worked with it was this: Has the XO’s window of opportunity passed it by?  Is what was a great idea three years ago now behind the times?  Many people are predicting that mobile devices are where the Web is going.  Should we be working on “one iPhone per child” instead.  There are many sound arguments on the XO/laptop side, but as mobile devices continue to improve their computing power, perhaps they make more sense in a developing country.  There are many locations throughout the world that are soaked with cellular connectivity with little or no WLAN connectivity to be found.  Thene there is also the fact that I can purchase refurbished laptops with all the features of XO and running Windows XP for nearly the same price as XO.  Granted they are not as rugged and they consume more power, but would they be meet the same learning goal as the XO without us having to create new PCs?  It is interesting the Intel abandoned the OLPC project to continue developing a competing product (read more here).  The OLPC program has just begun its implementation of the XOs worldwide and I will be anxious to see if they are widely adopted or are superseded by newer, cheaper mobile devices.

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The Language of the Web is The Language of Learning

International travel is always exciting and wonderfully educational. Last November I did a long bit of globetrotting to deliver Web 2.0 training events in Switzerland, Italy, Singapore, England, and France. Given the challenge of discussing Web 2.0 with colleagues who speak a wide variety of languages, the topic of the language of the Web often pops up. Usually at dinner (especially after the second bottle of Chianti), passionate predictions of Web 3.0, 4.0 and beyond are debated. As the predictions turn to the issue of language, some espouse that English will prevail given its current dominance and foothold in markup and programming languages. Others suggest that China’s size and economic growth will overwhelm all other languages and dominant the Web. And then there was one person predicting that Latin would be resurrected as the language of the Web – but he was also the person who drank the majority of the Chianti.
Now, my crystal ball is no clearer than anyone else’s. But since the past and the present often give insight into the future, I decided to learn a few things from the Web:
The first thing I found was this reference from World Internet Stats (I have no idea on how accurate their data is) that shows the “Top Internet Languages” as of November 2007:

Languages of the Web Image

While interesting (and perhaps relevant in a roundabout way) this speaks to the digital divide more than the language of the Web. This is the (primary) languages of the people using the Web, not the language of the Web pages themselves. And as we see, currently 30% of the Web’s users speak English according to World Internet Stats. What is interesting further down the page is the table that shows the growth rate of languages on the Web. From 2000 to 2007, the number of English Web users grew 167%. Chinese speaking users grew at 472% (and Arabic speaking users grew at an amazing 1,575% – unfortunately, no statistics were provided for Latin speakers ;o). If we see the same growth over the next seven years, by 2015 the number of English speaking and Chinese speaking Web users will be roughly equal at about 1 billion. But that still tells us only what language the speak – not what language they are reading on the Web. So, on we go…
Next I found the Future of the Internet II report from the always interesting Pew Internet & American Life Project. In the survey for the report, they asked 742 Internet leaders, activists, builders and commentators about the effect of the Internet on social, political and economic life in the year 2020. With regard to language of the Internet in 2020, the report summarizes the results this way:

“Many respondents said they accept the idea that English will be the world’s lingua franca for cross-cultural communications in the next few decades. But notable numbers maintained English will not overwhelm other languages and, indeed, Mandarin and other languages will expand their influence online. Most respondents stressed that linguistic diversity is good and that the internet will allow the preservation of languages and associated cultures. Others noted that all languages evolve over time and argued that the internet will abet that evolution.”

And there is much more valuable and interesting info in that report. I highly recommend it. But I’m a numbers guy. I want to find more stats on than actual language of the pages being posted on the Web. So – on we go…
So, I searched on and on (I gave up after an hour) and could not find any statistics of what percentage of the billions ow Web pages out there were in which language. It was frustrating to say the least. So, in the spirit of Web 2.0, I fell finally upon David Sifry’s report on the growth of RSS to try to guesstimate the language of publication on the Web. From his April 2007 State of the Live Web post, I pulled this:

State of the Live Web - Posts by Language

So, based on RSS feeds (which is interpreted as blogs) and you can see that there are more RSS items in Japanese than in English. If you visit the page you will see that he also has statistics on new RSS items per hour by language. From this, he observes, “Again it would appear that both English and Spanish are more global languages based on consistency of posting through a 24 hour period, whereas other top languages, specifically Japanese, Chinese, and Italian, are more geographically correlated.” But again, this reflects only blogs (RSS feeds) and not the much larger Web as a whole.
So, I was not able to find any data from which I could fashion a crystal ball to predict the language of the Internet. If any of you have any stats that would be helpful, I would love to hear about them. But we do not have to predict what the future language of the Internet will be to move on to the point of this post. (Are you, like me, beginning to wonder if there is a point to this post?)
One last thought before I finally get to the point (Ha! – sorry, but it helps set the satge for the point). We should first pause to reflect on the great wisdom that has been already been imparted to humankind. I speak, of course of the great book chastises the great folly of man and provides keys to the future and how we must adapt to thrive. That book of wise parables and foresight, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. In that tome, the prophet Adams first introduced us to the Babelfish. The power of virtual Babelfish continues to grow and, one day, it may be the case that all languages are fully interchangeable. Until then, ideas will be more valuable in their native language – and more useful to native speakers.
So finally to my point. The Web has transformed the way we learn. To continually adapt to our dynamic environment, we must harvest ideas from the Web and assimilate them into the way we think and work. Assuming that no language lends an inherent advantage to idea generation – all ideas are created equal – the dominant language on the Web will deliver the majority of new, innovative ideas. The language of the Web is the language of learning. To gain competitive advantage in this flattening world, you must learn from the Web. Speaking the dominant language of the Web affords you advantage. So, for now, English speakers hold court. In the future, it might be Chinese, it might be Latin, who can say? But until we perfect the Babelfish, parents, educators, and businesses will be wise to have their children, students, and employees master the language of the Web.

Posted in: Adapting, Learning

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