Tuesday, September 30, 2003

elearnspace blog - Learning Communities and Learning Networks

"Courses are artifacts of a learning model that is becoming obsolete. Courses work in an environment when knowledge/information is fairly static and developing slowly. The more rapidly information develops, the more quickly courses cease to serve the needs of learners. The information is outdated before the ink is dry."

I would tend to agree. However, even in fields where information is changing rapidly, there is a place for courses. Courses are a perfectly good way of providing a general background knowledge that is necessary to be able to digest and analyze rapidly changing information. Courses can provide the basics. Learning networks allow people to continue learning about the latest information available throughout their lifetime.

I also see courses as opening up opportunities for people to start enlarging their learning networks and as offering opportunities for the creation of learning networks.

I don't think we go to college and take courses to know the latest information. We go to college to learn the basics in a particular field and then we learn through experience and personal learning networks for the rest of our careers/lives.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Social Edge - What Does it Take to Be a Social Entrepreneur?

This online discussion is taking place between September 22 and October 5 on the Social Edge web site. Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, is a Special Guest in the discussions.

Other Social Entrepreneurship resources:

Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship - Duke University
Institute for Social Entrepreneurship
National Center for Social Entrepreneurs
Social Entrepreneurship Resources
Center for Social Innovation - Stanford

Two reasons for me to be interested in this:
1. I think of myself as a social entrepreneur
2. There is a need for more emphasis on sustainable and/or commercially viable solutions in the ICT for Development sector.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Issue 18, July 2003
"Developing Capacities for ICT Enabled Development"

This new issue of the quarterly newsletter includes four key articles:
- Rethinking external support for ICT-enabled development
- Public-private partnerships for ICT development: the Ghanaian experience
- National competencies for ICT: the role of education and training
- The role of civil-society organizations in ICT capacity-building

Monday, September 15, 2003

Why Johnny Won't Post in "Converge", August 2003.

This is a short article highlighting 4 main explanations for students' resistance to participation in group discussion activities in online classes. These four explanations are: logistical, personal, educational, instructor-related.

We must always also remember a few things:
1) online learning is a new way for learning for many students to that while they may not participate much in their first online course, it's quite possible that once they get used to the idea and have more experience, they will be more comfortable participating in online discussions;

2) the same participation problems exist in traditional, face-to-face classroom and the fact that the same people are always quiet in a traditional classroom does not seem to worry to many instructors;

3) an online classroom where everyone participates in the discussions can become difficult to manage and the discussions can become difficult to follow. Small group discussions become essential.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Lessons learned from an Internet-based course on dynamics of the water sector

Some interesting lessons about a course for the international development community, somewhat more sophisticated and therefore more costly than what I have been implementing.
Still, the challenges remain very similar!
The european Network University

The European Network University offers a number of interesting courses for development professionals, including:
- Transforming Civil Conflict
- Post-conflict Transformation
- Gender and Conflict Transformation
- Socially Responsible Investment
- Dynamics of the Water Sector

Monday, August 25, 2003

An Initial Experiment for Attaining Education for All

Alfred Bork comes up again and again in various forums to argue for this project, a rather expensive (18 million dollars) experiment to use computers to achieve Education for All. The approach is meant to work for a very broad range of students from all possible cultural and national backgrounds and it is also meant to be scalable.

While I see the point of trying to come up with an approach that would really make a difference in trying to achieve Education for All, I am far from convinced of the power of computers as the main teaching tool. I still think that qualified teachers are also essential in guiding students individually and I am skeptical about this one-size-fits all approach. Perhaps I'm missing something!
Sharing Knowledge with Yourself

A post in Jim McGee's blog focusing on the need to start knowledge management at the personal level.

"I've concluded that one of the root problems with knowledge management is that I'm that lazy SOB. Until I start to do a better job of managing my own knowledge, why should I expect anyone else in the organization to do so? Weblogs are the first tool I've found that start me on the process of making my own knowledge more useful to me."

While I agree that starting a weblog has also helped me to start using my own knowledge for effectively, I still see a lot of space for improvement. For example, I've seen blogs that assign categories to posts, making it easier to sift through posts addressing a range of sub-topics. I would also want to be better able to search through my own posts.

Friday, August 15, 2003

"Unnecessary Complexity", by George Siemens.

A follow up to the previous post about using simple tools both for teaching and learning and avoiding "unnecessary complexity". That's what I usually call "technological minimalism". It's relevant to all environments, whether we are talking about highly developed countries with 24 hour connections or developing countries with limited and/or expensive web access.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Low Threshold Applications: "A Low Threshold Application (LTA) is a teaching/learning application of information technology that is reliable, accessible, easy to learn, non-intimidating and (incrementally) inexpensive. Each LTA has observable positive consequences, and contributes to important long term changes in teaching and/or learning. '... the potential user (teacher or learner) perceives an LTA as NOT challenging, not intimidating, not requiring a lot of additional work or new thinking. LTAs… are also 'low-threshold' in the sense of having low INCREMENTAL costs for purchase, training, support, and maintenance.' "

These types of applications are particularly useful to more carefully define my own approach to technological minimalism and financial sustainability. Need to find time, no... make time to look at all these low-threshold applications that have been developed and not reinvent the wheel!...

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

IIT, Oops bring the world to village kids

Here is one assumption we might want to reconsider: audio/videoconferencing requires a lot of bandwidth and is therefore not feasible for low-bandwidth environment predominant in developing countries.

This article presents audio/videoconferencing software developed in India that was specificallly designed to work in low-bandwidth environments.

The article mentions key applications in telemedicine and education.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Since I actually have borrowing privileges at a local university library this year, I am trying to take advantage of it. I picked up a couple of books on elearning today. Here's a nugget that caught my attention:

"Learning community-centered courses are intentionally created environments that recognize and emphasize the social aspects of learning. Although learning is often pursued for individual reasons, this environment promotes social interaction as a process that is critical for learning. Through the intentional creation of a safe psychological climate, learners with diverse backgrounds are able to learn from each other intensively and cooperatively.

Learning community-centered courses can help you integrate students' experiences with newly presented content, link practice to theory, build students' social and team skills, reduce student boredom and attrition rates, and validate the worth of each participant as a person and learner." (147 practical tips fro teaching online groups: Essentials of Web-Based Education, by Donald E. Hanna, Michelle Glowacki-Dudka & Simone Conceiçào-Runlee)

That's it... that's exactly what I want to try to do more effectively in my own courses. I would still give the option of using a learner-centered approach, where individual participants can select to do special projects on their own to address their specific interests, but the overall design of the course would remain centered on the need to develop and nurture a community of learners.

This would seem most appropriate for adult learners and most appropriate for a multinational, multicultural audience.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Personal Knowledge Management
Knowledge Management starts with individuals. Here are some resources to start with:

1. Steve Barth's Personal Knowledge Management site : Self-Organization

See in particular the toolkit. Here tools do refer to technology, and more specifically software that can help individuals handle information and knowledge tasks.

2. Peter F. Drucker, "Managing Knowledge Means Managing Oneself"

"Knowledge gives choice. It also explains why we suddenly have women in the same jobs as men. Historically, men and women have always had equal participation in the labor force -- the idea of the idle housewife is a 19th-century delusion. Men and women simply did different jobs. There's no civilization in which the two genders did the same work. However, knowledge work knows no gender; men and women do the same jobs. This, too, is a major change in the human condition."

The quote above doesn't represent the entire article and I don't know that I totally agree that knowledge work knows no gender... I do know that it still doesn't mean that men and women get paid the same amount of money for the same work......

3. Jason Frend and Carol Hixon, "Personal Knowledge Management: Who, What, How, When, Where, How?"
This is written in the context of learning in an academic environment, or PKM for students.

4. Personal Knowledge Networking, by John Sidoli

A series of articles on leveraging your personal intellectual capital.
Learning for Change: Principles and practices of learning organizations, by Bruce Britton, May 2002. Commissioned and published by the Swedish Mission Council.
This is, in my view, an excellent document that provides a clear overview of what being a learning organization can entail for a development organization. I like the focus on learning and I particularly liked the absence of discussion of technology and focus on tools in the sense of techniques and methods rather than technological tools. Just excellent!

Tuesday, July 15, 2003


Research supported by the MASIE Center and the e-Learning CONSORTIUM. Of greatest interest to me is the research on "Virtual Communities as Learning Networks."

The key research questions are:
How do virtual communities add value to organizations?
How do virtual communities impact informal and formal learning in organizations?
What makes virtual communities successful/persist?

I also have a reverse questions... Can learning networks (people who came together specifically to learn in an online environment) persist and be successful as ongoing virtual communities (after the formal or semi-formal training has ended?

How can we blend virtual communities of practice with informal online learning activities?

I was just thinking yesterday of using an email game in my ICTs course online and then realized the added value of the virtual community that has been created through the course. While each session is limited to 30 participants, the discussion list associated with the course has more than 150 subscribers, most of whom are past participants in the course who have stayed subscribed to continue to enjoy the benefits of the discussions.
If I use an email game over a period of several weeks, in parallel with the normal email-based discussions, I could make the game something that all subscribed members can participate in, not just the participants in the ongoing session. This would perhaps 1) keep the past participants engaged and connected, not just lurking; 2) foster they direct participation in the discussions; 3) help connect ongoing and past participants.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Knowledge Management Glossary
Here is a very nice Knowledge Management glossary by the National Electronic Library for Health in the UK. The site also includes many very useful documents about Knowledge Management. I found them particularly useful because they were written not so much from a private sector/business perspective but in a way that can be useful to a broad range of organizations.

Friday, July 11, 2003

GameZone.com - PC News - GZ Interview: Professor James Paul Gee shows the world the importance of video games

I've always had a somewhat skeptical approach to video and computer games. I've seen my older daughter play some games in a totally meaningless way, skipping all the steps that would actually make her learn something or even practice a skill she has already acquired. Yet, this article switched a little light when I read it.

I was focused on what I was hoping my daughter would learn from a game, so I would buy an educational game focused on math skills. The key however, is not the "what" but the "how". How is my daughter learning (or not learning) when she is playing the game. Perhaps what she is really doing is learning to avoid what she considers boring and going directly to the parts of the game that really interest her. I know she skips whatever she finds too difficult...

In short, learning how people play games, what makes them interesting to play (motivational factor) and how to design them to maximize learning about learning is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Also, I now see a parallel between computer games and instructional design. After all, when you are designing some instructional materials, you need to figure out how to present materials so that the learner will interact with the materials in a meaningful way and you need to make it "interesting" to avoid boring the learner to death.... Games are the same way...

Finally, there is nothing particularly new about instructional games, games that are played in classrooms or in online training situations. Those are not computer games but the idea of mixing fun and learning isn't new....

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

ItrainOnline: Resources for Trainers: MMTK

The Multimedia Training Kit (MMTK) is one of many very useful training resources developed by itrainonline. Units and modules can be combined by trainers to address a broad range of learning needs. The materials are mainly developed for face-to-face training workshops. I've used the materials specifically related to digital audio production as self-learning tools to try to find better ways to integrate audio files in course CD-ROMs. I found an open source audio editing software in the process that is now helping me to clean up audio files and eliminate the "noise" I was getting.

These are very useful materials, but they still require a certain amount of preexisting knowledge and understanding of technical issues. The materials are a good model for "How to" develop training materials.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Another Look at Learning, by Jay Cross

Cross brings the two meanings of "networks" together. People are networks, connect through social networks and have their own firewalls that filter connections.

"To learn is to optimize one's networks", and "Learning is making good connections", Cross notes. I totally agree with that.

I was just responding to a course participant's paper on knowledge management yesterday and noted that one of the key challenges we are facing is the need to change the way we think and learn, the need to change our brain routines to focus on learning. No matter how much (or how little) technology helps us handle information overload, transferring information into knowledge requires a brain. How well this brain filters, analyzes and handles the transformation is the key.

Monday, June 30, 2003

"Bridging the Divide: Distance Learning Options for International Organizations" by Charles Dufresne and Lynne Bethke of Interworks.

Interworks provides training, including distance learning, focused on humanitarian emergencies, peace building and sustainable development. The article itself is short, 4 pages, and doesn't say much, but I suspect it was meant for an audience that had no clue about the international digital divide and its impact on distance learning options.

"Designing the Blend for Audiences in Developing Countries" by Maureen Miller of the World Bank Institute.

This short paper provides an overview of how World Bank Institute/Global Development Learning Network courses are delivered through a blend of face-to-face facilitated activities in distance learning centers and videoconferences providing links across countries and continents.

Both papers were presented at the 2002 Distance Teaching & Learning in Madison, Wisconsin. The 2003 conference will be held in August.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Poverty Reduction Learning Network

I came across the site of the Poverty Reduction Learning Network today... something I should have come across sooner.

"The goal of the PRLN is to create an effective and inclusive learning community, which will facilitate the acquisition of the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are required for the attainment of the international development targets in Eastern and Southern Africa. The PRLN is being designed to support the learning needs of personnel in central and local government (including politicians), civil society (particularly service-oriented NGOs) and donor agencies, as well as anyone else who has an interest in eliminating global poverty."

This vision statement doesn't spell it out but the PRLN is primarily about distance learning. The initiative is still in its early stages and the first courses are planned for September 2003. The focus seems to be on establishing a network of learning centers that will provide a locally adapted curriculum to tackle poverty reduction. It's not clear yet what technologies will be used but the intent is to offer a formal degree, a Masters degree.

The planning documents make a lot of references to consultations with stakeholders at the country level as well as the need to have a consortium of donors to fund the full project. Clearly, there are related initiatives already operational (African Virtual University, Global Distance Learning Network) so .... there is going to be a need to coordinate and not duplicate, as usual....

I also learned a new acronym: SDMPs (Service Delivery Managers and Professionals)

Monday, June 23, 2003

Cookbooks and Toolkits

I have just now realized that it is totally unfashionable to produce "reports". We should now produce toolkits and cookbooks. Presumably, a toolkit provides many tools that can be used depending on what we need while a cookbook provides more specific recipes for success. Both (I think) are meant to make knowledge products more digestible. I suspect that it might even be useful to go a step beyond and transform some of these knowledge products into training kits meant for self-learning or for use in training-of-trainer initiatives.

Here's an idea... what if the self-paced version of the ICTs for Development course CD that I am currently preparing also included advice for teachers or trainers on how to use the materials for face-to-face training? That would expand the possible uses of the CD.

That's what Richard Heeks seems to be doing with a lot of his papers, spelling out questions that educators can use to stimulate discussions with students around the issues addressed in his papers.
Going back to books and finding the time....

I've been away from books for too long, spending too much time in front of the computer searching the web. While I usually find what I need, there is something about reading a book that makes the experience qualitatively different. In addition, finding time to read a book is part of an experiment I am doing to 'find time' for things that matter.

Here's what I picked up at my local library: "Big Vision, Small Business: 4 Keys to Success without Growing Big" by Jamie S. Walters

I never really wanted the company to expand, so what I really needed is to be inspired to stay small and yet "grow". There is more than one way to "grow" and many ways to define success. Small IS beautiful indeed. I discovered that I am a microenterprise. This may sound a little odd but I had a vision of the microenterprise as a woman in Bangladesh who got a small loan from the Grameen Bank and started raising chickens that she then sells for a profit. That's the danger of associating a word with one specific context rather than sticking to its strict definition.

Realizing that I am a 'microenterprise' also made me realize that there are lots of resources available from my county, state and at the federal level here in the US to help me if I need help.

What's important for a small business owner is to develop a clear vision. When I created "Knowledge for Development" almost a year ago, I wrote a business plan. I didn't really need to since I was not trying to apply for a business loan but I kept reading everywhere that I should have a business plan so I wrote one. Following the constrained framework of a traditional business plan resulted in something that was totally uninspired and certainly failed to inspire me. What I really had in my head was a vision of what was needed and what I could do to fill that need. That vision has evolved over the past year and I suspect that it will continue to evolve.

I really enjoy being a microenterprise and I don't expect to even become a small business with employees in the near future. However, because most of my work happens in the virtual world, there are some drawbacks to my current set up. I need to create opportunities for increased face-to-face interactions with the networks I work with. This would be the first step in creating new opportunities for collaborative work. That's it... stay small but build strong collaborative flexible arrangements with organizations or individuals who have complementary skills and interests.

There is a small chapter in the book dealing with time. I think discussing time and time management really deserved a much bigger section. Managing one's time to the point where we never say "I don't have time" is an important part of being or feeling successful.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Some thoughts about leaders.....

This is about two topics I have been working on:

1. eGovernment and more generally the role of governments in facilitating the effective deployment and use of ICTs in developing countries

2. learning leaders, or the role of management and leaders within organizations in nurturing and facilitating organizational learning

In "Leaders and Facilitators: The New Roles of Government in Digital Economies," Bruno Lanvin writes about the changing roles and functions of governments in supporting the diffusion and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). In the old paradigm, the government was a major producer and buyer of ICT and ICT-related products. In the new paradigm, the government is a leader and facilitator.

On the functional side, governments can use ICT in the delivery of government services and to improve interaction with citizens (e-government, e-administration and e-governance). When governments became leaders in the use of ICTs, the beneficial impacts on the overall diffusion and use of ICTs in the country could be significant.

Some of the existing literature on eGovernment warns, however, that models designed in the West may well fail in other settings. Richard Heeks in particular, notes that eGovernment models designed in the West have failed in Africa because they failed to take into account African public sector realities (See the eGovernment for Development Site to learn more about Heek's analysis and in particular the "design-reality" gap analytical framework).

Beyond promoting eGovernment, governments can also promote the use of ICTs in important fields such as health and education, where ICT applications can improve performance and help address critical development challenges.

Beyond becoming leaders in eGovernment, governments have important roles to play in setting up the right kind of regulatory and policy environment for the private sector to play its role. Whereas in the past, the government monopolies were in charge of building and operating the telecommunication infrastructure, this role is increasingly played by the public sector.

As leaders, governments must set priorities and innovate with regards to ICT deployment and utilization. As facilitators, governments must provide the proper legal and regulatory environment for ICT-related infrastructure and utilization to flourish.

How is that in any way related to leadership in learning within organizations? I see two connections: First, both are about change and the ability to adapt to new circumstances. Second (and more obvious), both are about leadership.

A quote from the wonderful "Development and the Learning Organization", a collection of papers recently put together in a book:

"..learning organizations are staffed by learning people and are led by learning leaders.. organizational learning cannot happen without individual learning."

That may sound obvious but when people talk or write about Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning, a lot of emphasis is put on "the organization", often missing the point that learning starts at the individual level. To become a learning organization, each individual within that organization must realize his/her potential as a learner. I am not talking about formal learning here but rather about a positive attitude towards learning. Leaders in learning organizations must make sure that individuals are encouraged to be learners and encouraged to participate in knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.

So, leaders must set the priorities, create the right environment, and be models themselves. That applies both to government leaders and leaders in learning organizations.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Informal Learning - the other 80%", by Jay Cross, May 8, 2003

The author of this paper argues that formal learning in the form of classes, workshops and online events is the source of only 10 to 20% of what we learn at work. Most of the paper is about the benefits of informal learning and highlights reasons why we seem to pay much more attention to formal training which is apparently much less effective.

Here's one part I found particularly interesting:

"Perhaps more importantly, how peole learn varies as they master a subject and what they already know. A novice needs familiarity with the basics and conceptual understanding. An apprentice needs foundation skills and practice. A seasoned professional needs to keep up with changes in his or her discipline. A master needs recognize when it's time to innovate and be open to inspirations. Everyone needs to keep up to date with changes."

Perhaps I am completely off track but what I have been trying to improve over the past few years is an "ICTs for Development" course that tries to address the learning needs of such a diverse group of learners, from the novice to the seasoned professional. In theory, the seasoned practitioners could share their knowledge with the novices. The novices would ask questions and perhaps even challenge accepted "truths" of the seasoned professionals... Given the flexibility in the assignments and the ability to audit the course, everyone should be able to find what they need, whether it's just a network of people working on similar issues or resources such as articles and reports, or whether what they need is a thorough review of the state-of-the-art in this field.

I've thought about delivering two different courses, one for novices and one for advanced professionals. Then two problems would arise: 1) How do I decide in which group each potential participant belongs; 2) we would be missing out on opportunities to share knowledge across participants.

Also, it seems that informal learning would fit nicely both within personal knowledge management and communities of practice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The Future of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, by Carlos Braga, John A. Daly and Bimal Sareen (May 2003).

The paper reviews some of the ongoing ICT technological trends that are closely related to the basic dimensions of the digital divide. I wanted to take a peak at what is likely to happen in this field from a technology perspective even though I do not claim to understand all of it. I'll skip what I didn't really connect for me and focus on what I got:

Some of the new technologies that are reaching the market have significant potential for improving access and use of ICT in developing countries. The authors highlight 4 "stepping stones":
1. Low-cost devices, including thin clients and handheld computers adapted for rural conditions, limited power sources and difficult climates.

2. Low-cost software (Free/Open Source Software), which is becoming more and more relevant for developing countries as they develop the technical capacity to utilize and build upon open source software.

3. Wireless solutions to leapfrog infrastructure bottlenecks, and allow rural areas to connect to the urban telecom infrastructure. Wi-Fi is mentioned as one technology that could help address rural connectivity bottlenecks.

4. Content localization, relevance and search technologies. Ongoing research is being done to develop a Universal Networking Language (UNL). This new "language" would help convert web content from one language to another. [This is not the same as computer translations]. Some initiatives are also underway to help developing countries build locally relevant content. See for example the Open Knowledge Network. Finally, there are ways to enhance access in low-bandwidth area by adapting the content, using web-to-email tools and linking the Internet to more traditional means of communication such as radio.

Friday, June 06, 2003

"New Courses"

I am definitely moving towards teaching more courses online, both through Knowledge for Development, LLC and through other institutions. I talk about new courses so much that my husband has completely lost track of what I am doing. Luckily, I haven't. So, here it is:

- Multicultural Foundations of Education, online course at Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas. This course is part of an Online Master Technology Teacher Program. I like the idea of working with graduate students in an academic environment, the fact that I will be using WebCT and will be able to concentrate on content and interaction and not have to worry too much about access issues. The graduate students are dispersed around Texas, not around the world. I like the idea of exploring with them the meaning of multiculturalism in the context of US classrooms.

- Knowledge Networking for Development, online through Knowledge for Development, LLC. I have been trying to find the time to develop this course for several years and it's finally moving forward. This is the heart of what Knowledge for Development, LLC is about and something I am quite passionate about... The most interesting thing about this course is probably the way I am developing it. I am working on what was supposed to be a skeleton of content that would be improved with content developed through the pilot session over the summer. One of the key differences between this type of course and the Multicultural Foundations of Education is that one has been taught multiple times in different institutions and is a standard course while the other does not exist anywhere yet (as far as I know). Certainly, it is much more difficult (though perhaps more interesting) to create a completely new course than to pick up what others have done and add/twist/shape.

- ICTs for Developing Countries: This is the new version of the course I have taught since 1999. Still taught with a CD-Rom and email, but I am working on a completely revised CD and new approach to assignments and discussions. Experimentation is the name of the game with this class... and lessons learned from these experiments can now be integrated into the Knowledge Networking course.. and to some extent into the Multicultural Foundations course. I am also developing a self-paced version of the course (on CD).

- UNDP's ICT4D module: That's an internal training module I will be facilitating this coming fall for UNDP staff. The challenge there is the time constraints (2.5 weeks online) and volume of participants (more than 100). See the outline on UNDP's Virtual Development Academy site.

I look forward to all of these and more to come....

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Social Network Analysis
Dave Pollard's Blog, "How to Save the World".
"Social Networks, Social Software, and the Future of Knowledge Management."

"Social networks can provide the essential context needed to make knowledge sharing possible, valuable, efficient and effective . What are 'social networks'? They are the circles in which we make a living and connect with other people. They transcend strict delineation between personal and business (there's often overlap between the two). They transcend organizational boundaries and hierarchies (we often trust and share more with people outside our companies, and outside our business units, than those inside, and often get better value from the exchange to boot)."

I particularly liked the diagram showing the social network crossing company boundaries, linking communities of practice and linking individual blogs.

1. Social Capital
According to the World Bank, "social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together."

I'm not an expert in social capital but I wonder if social network analysis can be applied to social capital in development contexts. Are there existing methodologies to map social capital at the community level?

It would seem that social capital (social science field) and social network analsis (business/KM) are very much related and could learn from each other.

Social Capital: The New Driver for Corporate Success in the Knowledge Era, Laurie Lock Lee
"Social Capital is a term generally associated with the social sciences in a social context of local communities, through to global economies. Simplistically, Social Capital is about "connections", both at a personal and/or organisational level. In this session I will introduce the topic by putting forward a case for Social Capital being considered the leading contributor to intangible market values in private sector firms and marketplaces. In the corporate context, Social Capital could be seen as how well connected staff are within and outside the firm and how well connected the firm itself is seen within its marketplace i.e. alliances, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions etc.. "

2. Interactions in online learning environments
How can we use social network analysis to map interactions in online learning environments so that we can visually see who is interacting with whom? Perhaps the ability to visualize ongoing interactions could help the facilitator to foster increased interactions among specific individuals or better target interventions meant to increase interaction. Core participants would be visible, the interactions of the facilitator with core and non-core participants would be visible, etc....

Friday, May 30, 2003

Blogs and Knowledge Management

"Blogs in Business: The Weblog as Filing Cabinet". Dave Pollard's Blog (March 3, 2003)

"Open Source Knowledge Management: The Blogging Phenomenon: What the Internet may have to teach corporate managers." Joe Katzman (November 2002).

See the review of recent articles/posts on KM and weblogs by Jim McGee.

How can weblogs be used in conjunction with CoPs in the international development community? Is it not going to favor development workers in the North who are often better able to use web-based tools while Southern partners are focused on email-based tools. What are the real differences between a weblog and an email-based discussion list with searchable archives. Is it possible to contribute to a weblog via email? I must be missing something.

Note to self: It will be easier to continue posting to this blog on a regular basis if it satisfies multiple purposes and builds on several ongoing projects rather than if I try to make it a separate daily activity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Laura Devries,"The Convergence of Knowledge Management and E-Learning"May 2002.

"People are more receptive to tacit knowledge when they are faced with a problem or an opportunity. But how can this knowledge be captured and applied to other situations? In fact, this is where Km and e-learning converge," notes Laura Devries. E-learning allows people to get familiar with key concepts, theories and examples or case studies while KM reinforces this background knowledge by enabling people to apply the lessons to real-world situations.

E-Learning should be an integral part of an organization's approach to KM. I have argued elsewhere that KM was not the most appropriate approach for development organizations and I am now working more on elaborating what Knowledge Networking across organizations and at the community level in developing countries would really mean. I am convinced that E-Learning will be a crucial component global knowledge networking for development. There are very few organizations catering to this need for E-Learning among development organizations at the moment. Just as KM initiatives have focused on the internal needs of large development organizations, existing E-Learning initiatives have been largely the domain of the same organizations (UNDP, World Bank, etc...). What is also needed, is a more grassroots approach to knowledge networking and E-Learning, making knowledge sharing and learning a reality at the level of the NGO worker and Community-Based Organizations in developing countries rather than in the headquarters of large development organizations.

So...do I think that Knowledge for Development, LLC has a future in this field? Absolutely! Knowledge for Development, LLC is just getting warmed up!

Monday, May 26, 2003

Coding Data Resource Kit

I have been trying for a few years to get some funding to do some systematic analysis of online course interactions through the discussion list used in my 'ICTs for Developing Countries' course. My research approach is qualitative and assuming that I do get some funding, this will involve a huge amount of time spent coding data. In this context, the data consists in email messages sent to the discussion list. In my preliminary research to develop the proposal, I looked for but did not find much practical explanations of how to handle this coding most efficiently and effectively.

Today I finally came across something that will be very, very useful. The Visible Knowledge Project (VKP) is a research project across several academic institutions with the goal of improving learning and teaching through effective uses of technology. Many of the specific research projects undertaken within the VKP include qualitative data analysis and coding. The project has therefore put together a coding toolkit that is very practical and more detailed than anything I had come across in the past.

There is much more on the project's site that deserves further visits to look at the research methodologies, research questions and findings.....

Friday, May 23, 2003

Carleen Shaffer. "A Tale of Two Online Communities: Personal Observations of Online Community Building"

The article has a very simple structure. The author first describes an online community that clearly failed where participants are not communicating with each other. ... well... that's not a real "community" I guess... The second section of the article describes a thriving online community where participants are actively engaged in sharing ideas, thoughts, etc... actively communicating with each other as a group. The third section highlights key strategies for building such a thriving online community. I can't say that I follow all of the strategies suggested in trying to build an online community in my courses, but I do try a lot of different things.

This rather simplistic idea that if you apply all the strategies you will get the thriving online community also implies that the responsibility for success or failure should be placed solely in the hands of the facilitator.

My own experience suggests something slightly different. The article describes two opposites. I see shades of success and failure within each session of my online courses, where some participants seem to engage with others and others don't. Whatever the reasons for interacting or failing to interact, I don't think it is entirely in the hands of the facilitator and I don't think we should underestimate the learning of lurkers who do not participate actively in the discussions. Also, at times, some of the most active participants are not necessarily those who contribute the most in terms of learning. The qualitative nature of each message also needs to be taken into account.

So... that is what I will be trying to do... raise the qualitative nature of messages while at the same time trying to encourage increased participation. The idea is that higher quality discussions will actually increase participation. Here the assumption is that low participation is the result of the perception among participants that the discussions do not contribute to their learning. If the quality of discussions is raised to the point where they see it as key to the learning process, then participation is more likely. The key is to avoid over-structuring and regulating the discussions to the point where it becomes a burden for participants and stiffles spontaneity and open discourse.

Monday, May 19, 2003


How can I structure discussion assignments to ensure participation and make sure that contributions demonstrate the participants' learning process?

How can I vary the writing assignments so that
1) not everyone is writing about the same thing;
2) participants get to try different types of writing assignments.

To what extent do I need to explain what I am trying to do to the participants so they understand what is asked of them and why?

There seems to be a significant amount of literature related to online discussions for academic/learning purposes but I have not yet come across anything that specifically applies some of the lessons from Writing-to-Learn to an online learning environment... though it would quite obvious that most online learning environment have a strong emphasis on written communications and therefore we might as well make the most of our writing as a learning instrument.

The key difference in an online learning environment is that writing is not just for learning, it is also meant as the primary communication tool between participants and with the teacher/facilitator. Does that mean that in an online learning environment it becomes important to differentiate between writing-to-learn (as in writing assignments) and writing to communicate? I can't imagine always being able to differentiate between the two.

Some resources:
Integrating writing into any course (Kate Kiefer)

Writing to Promote Learning (U. of Kansas)

Learning Logs

Writing Across the Curriculum

Friday, May 16, 2003

Here is a thought: Learning is connecting.
Two examples that make sense to me (that connect for me):

1. Knowledge Management has now been adopted to various degrees in many international development organizations and even some NGOs.... However, KM came from the business sector with a lot of its own jargon, tools and methodologies. If KM fails in international development organizations, I think it will be because they will have failed to connect it to what they were already doing. What they were doing may not have been called KM, perhaps it was called M&E (monitoring and evaluation). I am not saying that KM and M&E are the same thing and I would not say that M&E as practiced in development organizations is likely to bring the same results as KM. The point is that KM walked in the door and it was not sufficiently integrated and connected with existing "systems". When applied on top of existing systems, it will fail.

2. An even simpler example: Most of the posts in this blog are reflections based on my daily encounters with documents, web sites, etc... My intent is not so much to summarize what I read or come across. Neither do I try to highlight the intrinsic value of any particular item I post about. An item has value for me at a particular point because it triggers some thinking and helps me connect various ideas to one another and most importantly, it has value when it helps me think through something that has real implications in terms of action.

This particular post is the result of 1) a presentation on Knowledge Management I attended yesterday where the failure to "connect" was very obvious; 2) a paper on Personal Webpublishing as a reflective conversational tol for self-organized learning by Sebastian Fiedlerm that I came across this morning by following a link from George Siemens' elearnspace blog summary email; and 3) some earlier disorganized thinking around personal KM, writing and learning.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Keith B. Hopper, "In Defense of the Solitary Learner: A Response to Collaborative, Constructivist Education." Educational Technology, March-April 2003.

The article ends with this sentence, "Pedagogy and technology... must not exclude the solitary learner", which pretty much captures the essence of the article. It is not an attack on collaborative learning but rather a warning that constructivism may go overboard in failing to support students who by temperament, simply prefer to work alone. Collaborative learning, online or in the classroom, is not for everybody.

I certainly was one of those students who preferred to learn alone, did not appreciate being graded on my level of participation in the class discussions (since I never opened my mouth) and still managed to get a decent education and to survive in the real world of work... so while I try to encourage participation in online class discussions (otherwise we might as well do one-on-one tutoring), I remind myself once in a while that I would probably be one of those students online who do the readings, submit the assignments on time, sometimes read all the postings that other participants contribute to the discussions but never post themselves.... and there is nothing wrong with learning that way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Sivasailam Thiagarajan, "Unconventional Instructional Design: Faster, Cheaper, Better." Educational Technology, May-June 2002.

While there is an obvious connection between cheaper and faster, the connection between cheaper and better may seem contradictory. Since I was never indoctrinated into "instructional design", never studied it in formal educational settings, I tend to adopt what works for me rather than follow the rules as dictated by academia. Here are some key points highlighted by Thiagarajan:
1. When you are working faster, you limit yourself to the absolutely essential skills and concepts.
2. When you are working faster, you transfer more responsibility to the learner. The learner spends more time actively making sense of what is being taught, rather than passively listening and reading the content.

The focus of this faster and cheaper approach to instructional design is on ACTIVITIES rather than CONTENT.

One more thing I really like about this approach:
"Accept the fact that you are never going to produde The Final Version of any training package. Instead, keep continuously updating and upgrading training materials and methods." That's exactly what I have been doing for the past 4 years, that is how I avoid being bored teaching the same course session after session and that is what keeps me learning both about the content of the course and the methods and tools used to make it happen.

Other key principles listed by Thiagarajan and some thoughts about each:

1. Combine delivery and evaluation with revision activities.

It's the easiest and fastest way to make revisions because all the problems to be addressed are so fresh and clearly in front of you while delivering the course. In the post-course evaluation mode, the details are lost in the rush to close the session and move on.

2. Incorporate content generated by current participants in future versions of the training package

There are two types of participant generated content that I can think of. First, content is generated through the class discussions. With each session I promise myself to revise the instructor's notes (course notes) with inputs from the discussions and I have yet to find time to do this effectively. I have had more luck in reusing content generated in past discussions in ongoing discussions, and in particular reusing my own summaries of previous discussions and adapting them to ongoing discussions.
The second type of participant-generated content consists of assignments. I have included some participant assignments in the most recent edition of the course CD-ROM (with the authors' permission, of course!). I was able to do what with some assignments that were independent projects and not standard answers to the graded assignments.

3. Locate different types of existing content materials and incorporate them into training activities
It's usually not difficult to find relevant content materials. The difficulty is in determining which should become required readings and how they fit with the learning objectives and specific learning needs of the participants. There must be a way to use a pilot session of the course to test a broad range of readings and identify the most appropriate.

4. Reuse effective templates for learning activities in future training packages.
In my current context, it is more a matter of reusing materials previously developed or being inspired by experience with previous instructional design efforts.

5. Shift a significant part of the responsibility for training design and delivery to participants themselves.
That is exactly what I intend to do with the pilot session of the knowledge networking course.

6. Treat all evaluation as formative: Always use evaluation feedback to improve the training package.
To me, evaluation is about learning how to improve something. I do not care much to put a "success" or "failure" label on anything but I will always find ways to improve something.

A final quote from the article: "My model for instructional design is to combine what works, irrespective of what ism it is based on."

Guglielmo Trentin, "From Formal Training to Communities of Practice via Network-Based Learning." Education Technology (March-April 2001).

An interesting article that looks at internally driven training that is based on mutual learning within communities of practice rather than externally managed by training providers. Communities of practice are an important tool within knowledge management perhaps not so much because they really help to manage knowledge but more because they can help with knowledge creation because they focus on the transition from tacit to explicit knowledge. People communicating informally through electronic networks trying to address similar problems build up new understanding and knowledge in the process.

The key difference between learning online through formal courses and what the author calls "reciprocal learning" is that reciprocal learning within communities of practice is not structured. I tend to think that it's important to foster this type of reciprocal learning within more formal online courses as well.

This less formal approach to learning is part of what I hope to explore in the second research project I am currently involved in, looking at how transnational civil society organizations can use ICTs for capacity building purposes. See the project outline and resources for more information.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Greg Kearsley, "Is Online Learning for Everyone?" Educational Technology (Jan.-Feb. 2002).

Kearsley argues in this article that online learning is not the most appropriate approach in certain cases and for certain target audiences.
- 1 - Online learning is not for all students: It requires a lot of self-discipline and initiative. Some students simply prefer the classroom experience.

That's certainly true but the choice of online vs. classroom may not always be there!

- 2 - Online learning is not for all teachers: Not all teachers want to spend a lot of time in front of their computer answering messages from students.

Some teachers may find the ability to think through an answer and provide feedback to students via email more comfortable than having to provide immediate answers to questions in the classroom!

- 3 - Online learning is not appropriate for all content: Not every subject can be taught online. Soft skills such as leadership, communication, customer relations, etc... cannot easily be taught online. The same apply for hands-on skills.

I always think of health professionals and their need for hands-on training.

- 4 - Online learning is not for all organizations/institutions: If the organizational culture is not technology-oriented, online courses are not likely to be successful. Online learning is not always necessary if the classroom option is available and more convenient.

- 5 - Online learning is not for all cultures: Some groups do not embrace technology at all. Online learning can put those who have no or limited access to technology at a disadvantage.

I would add that since most online learning is still very much text based, it puts people from mostly oral cultures at a disadvantage. Well, there are all kinds of issues here... see my research project on Global Online Learning. I tend to think that there are many ways we can improve online learning so that it addresses different learning styles and cultures.

In short, online learning is not for all.... I would add that neither is classroom learning appropriate or effective for everyone.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Van der Velden, M. "Knowledge Facts, Knowledge Fiction: Notes on the Role of ICT in Knowledge Management for Development." Journal of International Development 14 (1) 2002.

An earlier version of this article was online at one point but I can't find it now. Maja van der Velden discusses the dangers of development agencies adopting corporate knowledge management approaches and suggests that alternative approaches are required. Such alternative approaches should focus on the "knower" and on the context for creating and sharing knowledge.

This article came up in my readings for today because I am collecting resources for my new Knowledge Networking for Development course and trying to focus on Knowledge Management only to the extent that it applies, fails to apply (or needs modifications) in the context of "knowledge for development." I had argued in an earlier paper that a key difference between corporate KM and KM for development is that corporate KM has a strong internal organizational focus while KM for development is much more about knowledge sharing across organizations and across cultures. There is more to it than that....

Now I need to take an in-depth look at the collection of papers on Knowledge and knowledge management in development agencies by Kenneth King and Simon McGrath at the University of Edinburg in the UK.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

More resources for assessing electronic discusions in the context of online courses:

1. Discussion Board Posts
2. Discussion Fora Evaluation Rubric

Some very good ideas about using electronic discussions in learning can be found on the Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum web site.

One of the key elements of effective discussions online is to make the expectations very clear. Having taught the ICTs course online a few times now I tend to expect that the participants know what they should be doing to contribute effectively to the discussions. Also, since there are always one or two participants who do a great job at contributing excellent messages, I tend to assume that other participants will know an excellent message when they see one and will us those excellent messages as models.

I have seen this happen to some extent. For example, one participant starts all of her messages " In response to so-and-so's question : "quoting the original question", I would like to say that...". After following this approach that for several messages, suddenly other participants start using the same approach in starting their messages without any prompting on my part as the facilitator.

This advice to start message by referring to the message the participants are answering has always been included in the course materials. It takes just one or two students to do it early on in the course for more students to see the model and copy it. Of course, it helps if the facilitator follows the same approach as well.

Monday, May 05, 2003

"Writing provides food for thought—it enables you to knead small, half-baked words and sentences into great big loaves of satisfying thought that then lead to more thoughts. Developing ideas involves getting some ideas—in whatever form—onto paper or screen so you can see them, return to them, explore them, question them, share them, clarify them, change them, and grow them." -- Catherine Copley in The Writer's Complex (1995).

This is exactly why I started this blog... to make time for this type of very productive "writing-to-learn"/"writing-to-think" activity. Now I am also thinking that I need to really make the most of this approach in class discussions of my online courses. The discussions are THE most important interactive part of the course yet few participants really use the discussions as a learning opportunity. The time has come for some changes. What if the discussions truly became 50% of the course's overall grade and the contributions to the discussions were graded more systematically, replacing some of the more time consuming written assignments that end up not being shared with other participants?

Friday, May 02, 2003

"Written Interaction: A Key Component in Online Learning."
An article by Judith Lapadat in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, July 2002.
Do we read the literature in our respective fields mostly to find confirmation of our existing ideas and opinions? I came across this article and immediately thought "I really like this. I could almost have written it!"

The article provides a rather detailed argument highlighting the value of interactive writing in asynchronous online conferencing environments. I happen to think that the class discussions in my own course are the heart of th course and where some of the most effective learning can happen. Of course the participants can learn from doing the assignments and the readings, but it's in the discussions that they can really do some interesting collaborative learning.

Until today, I had seen collaborative learning as something limited to group work and group work as an assignment that a small group of participant had to work on as a group and submit as a group. I have stayed away from this type of collaborative learning because it is simply not feasible with the target audience I am addressing. Group discussions reflect more than the sum of the messages posted, they reflect the interaction among the participants, they show how the participants reacted to the course notes, the readings, etc...

Well, that's in principle and it does happen but a good number of posting don't contribute a lot to this collaborative learning. And then, there are those participants who never post but still benefit from reading other participants' messages. So, what I'm really...really interested in is finding ways to maximize this potential for collaborative learning. This is particularly important in my existing course (and probably in future courses) because of the great diversity of participants and the great potential for harnessing this diversity of views, opinions and experiences.

The article also emphasizes the benefits of asynchronous communications as opposed to synchronous (chat) communications. I tend to agree with this as well. Synchronous tools are useful for community building and perhaps to motivate some of the students who find the asynchronous mode a little too challenging, but they are not very powerful "learning" tools.

Now, all of this is probably seriously biased by my own teaching/learning style (100% text based) and it fails to address some of the challenges in multicultural virtual classrooms such as the one I am facilitating. As a matter of fact, I am leaning away from the 100% text based approach and just developed an audio/slide presentation today to replace a previously 100% text based document. This particular document is an introduction to eLearning that is buried somewhere in the course CD and seems to get little attention from course participants. Putting it in audio/slide presentation format and in a more prominent location on the CD should help give it more visibility and attention.

Why did I start this blog?
Because writing helps me to remember ideas, thoughts and connections that suddenly emerge at unpredictable moments and because writing helps me to solidify my thinking. It helps me to think!

Why not use a journal and keep it to myself?
I need the pressure to post regularly and to try to make my posts reasonably coherent. Those are the same pressures students face when posting to an asynchronous discussion group. The key difference is that in this blog I am not interacting with other bloggers.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

"eLearning Course: and now for something completely different."
elearnspace article of August 27, 2002

This article describes an unusual and rather interesting approach to online course development where the content is minimal and build over the period of the course. In essence, the content is built by the course participants themselves. I am considering trying a modified version of this approach for K4D's new course on Knowledge Networking for Development (KN4D) which I have promised to develop for several years now. The time has come!

Here is a tentative plan of action!
Between now and the end of June, I will find the resources (lists of readings on the web), develop a basics structure for the course and identify key issues to be addressed in the group discussions. The non-course session will happen over a period of 6 to 8 weeks over the summer and a real session can perhaps start in September. The non-course would bring together carefully selected participants and would be free.

"I don't have to know everything. I just have to know where to find it when I need it."
A. Einstein.

I couldn't agree more but it seems that you need to know quite a lot if you're the course developer, instructional designer, facilitator, accounting, marketing and IT departments all in one. That's one of the challenges of the one-person business.

It's also one of the things I like most because it forces me to learn new things all the time. It certainly requires a little adjustement when I end up working as part of a larger team where my responsibilities are limited.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

E-Learning: You Build It - Now Promote It, by Jay Cross
January 20, 2003 issue of The eLearning Developers' Journal

The author notes that many well designed elearning programs fail to attract students and collapse. Appropriate marketing strategies can find solutions to this problem, using techniques such as branding, positioning, segmentation, and promotion. Objections are often the result of poor marketing practices, the article notes.

I think all of the marketing techniques mentioned in the article are relevant to Knowledge for Development's online courses. For me, the problem has not been finding students to register for the courses but rather finding a way to more carefully select the students to avoid having 20 participants who are really "observers" and 10 who are active participants. I would prefer a class of 20 active participants and 5 observers.

Does that mean my marketing should stress that the course is "demanding" and that "observers' are discouraged from registering?
I am not going to scare everyone away?

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Build and Teach a Successful Online Course (April 15, 2003 article in TechLearning).

This article provides simple and sound advice focused on web-based learning. What I am looking for is experience similar to mine, dealing with a mix of technologies to address the learning needs of development professionals who are not necessarily well connected and for whom web-based learning is too demanding in terms of connectivity.

While I have been calling my course "online learning", it is not web-based in the sense that all the content is on a CD-ROM and the communications are email-based rather than web-based. There seems to be relatively little experience with this mixed approach that tries to limit the connectivity requirements of web-based courses.

There is a clear tension in each session of the course between those who are already having trouble keeping up with the email-based communications because of technical failures (including power failures) and those who are expect real time chat sessions, streaming video or other advanced multimedia materials as part of the course.

While my own technical skills and ability to supply the higher end multimedia materials are improving with each session, I am again thinking that there is a need to develop different versions of the course for different target groups. The problem is that it is the current mix of wealthy country (paying) participants demanding or expecting multimedia and developing country (scholarship recipient) participants with low connectivity that makes the course sustainable and allows for interesting exchanges across the digital divide. To have two separate sessions, one with multimedia and profits and one very low tech session offered as a public service would result in the loss of important benefits arising from the diversity of participants within each session.

The diversity is challenging, but rewarding....

Friday, April 25, 2003

Learning through networking and information exchange: how NGOs can increase their impact
An extract: "In research by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Institute for Development Policy and Management, it is argued that learning from the field is essential to enable INGOs to influence wider policy-making and improve local accountability. As their focus changes from operational work to international advocacy, INGOs must strengthen institutional learning structures and learning skills."

So, what role can eLearning play in helping to build up the capacity of INGOs (International NGOs) to become "learning organizations"? Also, how can INGOs best use ICTs to develop knowledge networks that increase the effectiveness of their advocacy work as well as their operational effectiveness in the field? See the list of related resources on this site (a work in progress!) under the heading "Capacity Building for Transnational Civil Society Organizations".

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Approaches to Instruction
Instructional strategies described here include:
- Direct Instruction
- Indirect Instruction
- Experiential Learning
- Independent Studies
- Interactive Instruction

The main strategies that I have used and am comfortable with are Indirect Instruction and Independent Studies.
In "indirect instruction" the instructor asks the questions and guides a process of inquiry but does not provide direct answers. In "independent studies" the students are able to select specific topics of interest to explore on their own. I encourage the use of learning contracts for some of my students who come to a course with specific interests.
Designing for Diversity Within Online Learning Environments, by A. Holzl.
This isn't a new paper. It was presented at a conference in Australia in 1999. The paper describes a model for the design of online constructivist learning environments for tertiary education. The idea is to design around the benefits of diversity and to value the different perspectives that diverse participants bring to the learning experience rather than trying to change their perspective to accept a single "right" answer.

This is linked in my mind to the role of the online instructor as facilitator rather than "expert". At times I may not have any answer for a student's question, let alone the "right" answer, but I can always help them find some answers.

See also "Design of Constructivist Learning Environment" for a description of the key elements of such an environment.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Here is an old African proverb that one of my current students sent me today in an assignment:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle awakens knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion if it wants to stay alive. Every morning, a lion wakes up knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death.

Moral: It makes no difference whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running. End.

In short, we must run to survive and compete or we will risk being left behind. This also relates to a recent discussion online (GKD list) where one side argued that Africa could not afford ICTs and the other noted that the alternative, i.e., being left behind and further marginalized in the global knowledge economy would be even more costly.

I'm currently in a slowing down period, on purpose, to resource myself after a sprint that lasted almost 5 months. There's nothing wrong with slowing down to think. After all, lions spend most of their time sleeping and they take their time finding the slowest gazelle and carefully watching before their attack.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Wearing Four Pairs of Shoes: The Roles of E-Learning Facilitators
The E-Learning facilitator must act as "instructor, social director, program manager, and technical assistant."

Learning by Email in Higher Education
This is a list of resources on various aspects of the use of email in education, including a link to an article focusing on advice for online instructors to avoid drowning in online interaction.

One of the questions I've struggled with as an online instructor is the extent to which I should be directly guiding the discussions or encouraging the participants to take responsibility for the moderation. I've gone full circle, from interacting a lot in earlier sessions of the course when I was worried every post needed a response and other participants didn't seem to respond... to a period when I tried to put participants in charge. Putting participants in charge can result in one participant taking over the discussions in directions that are not necessarily the most appropriate from a pedagogical perspesctive. There is also a chance that discussions will simply die down if there are no active participants to maintain them. I have now gone back to actively moderating discussions, providing inputs and comments on many posts but trying to limit my own postings to a reasonable number and posting much more strategically than I had done in the past.

To say that I have learned a lot is an understatement but I still have a lot to learn! This is the beauty of action learning! There is no end to it.

Monday, April 21, 2003

"Cross-cultural Issues in Content Development and Teaching Online." A Quick Guide developed for the Australian National Training Authority. December 2002.

Elearning dropout rates are high and I think it would be fair to expect dropout rates to be even higher when online courses gather a widely diverse group of participants. Indeed, it has been argued that "the lack of cultural adaptation is a leading reason for why elearning fails to engage a globally distributed audience." It would then make a lot of sense for me to be interested in finding ways to improve my own courses with a view to make them more adapted to a multicultural learning environment.

It's important to take cultural differences into account at every phase of the design and delivery of online courses to meet the learners' needs. On the other hand, the diversity of participants is also what can make the course so rich and interesting through the participants' contributions to the class discussions.

I have tried using learning contracts to deal with (some of) the differences among participants but that has not been a very positive experience. Most participants are not familiar with learning contracts and I doubt that the idea of a learning contract makes a lot of sense to participants from a range of cultural backgrounds.

I have experienced online miscommunications that were the direct result of cultural differences. Some miscommunications can result in serious problems within a discussion but I suspect that most miscommunications go unnoticed.

The authors of this quick guide also note that constructivist approaches and communication options afforded by technologies expand opportunities for cultural inclusion into teaching methods. That's probably right but many participants are unfamiliar to constructivist approaches and would rather be taught the right answers. As a result, the instructor or facilitator also need to explain the pedagogical approach at the beginning of the program to make sure that the approach is understood and accepted.

Much more to learn about specific steps to take to develop course content that is appropriate for multi-cultural/cross-cultural target audiences!

Saturday, April 19, 2003

"Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't", a book by Jim Collins.

This book has been my first experience with audio books. I am a reader rather than a listener but this was a positive experience. The book was recommended by a participant in a past session of my course on ICTs for Development. It has very little to do with ICTs for Development, barely touches on technology and doesn't address development issues at all. Rather, it is about great companies and how they got to become great. I was wondering how any of it was going to relate to my one-person company but here it is:

The Flywheel Concept

In the book, Jim Collins argues that great companies spend time and energy defining their core purpose and ideology and then follow a steady course, relentlessly pursuing what needs to be done and never questioning that core purpose once it is set. The success of great companies is not characterized by breakthroughs but rather by continuous improvement and sustained momentum.
While I would not in any way want to suggest that my company is anywhere near great or even a good company, I understand the concept of the flywheel better than many of the other concepts introduced in the book.

Some other ideas from the book that made the point for me:
- Greatness doesn't depend on the size of the company.
- Not settling for mediocrity
- Meaningful work

One direct lesson from this book for me is to find the confidence to say "no" to contracts that come my way but either should really be done by someone else with the required skills and experience or simply do not fit squarely with K4D's core purpose. Those types of contracts may be necessary to pay the bills but they do not help build the momentum of the flywheel. Instead, they result in time and energy spent on things that do not contribute to the flywheel's momentum and may even slow it down.

I think I'll be ready for K4D's breakthrough by the time my kids are in college. By then, I will hopefully have gained a good (sorry, great!) understanding of what it is that K4D is meant to do and how to become a great company!:)

Thank you Skip for recommending the book!

Friday, April 18, 2003

An article about KM (Knowledge Management, eLearning and Blogging):
"Grassroots KM through Blogging", May 2001
Authors: Maish Nichani, Venkat Rajamanickam
Link: http://www.elearningpost.com/features/archives/001009.asp
This is actually a review of various books and articles dealing addressing "storytelling" (including Steve Denning's work) as a way of capturing and sharing knowledge. The authors compare blogs to "stories" and also look at blogs as KM tools.
This blog will help me to keep track of projects and ideas for Knowledge for Development's future and to share these ideas as well as related resources with others who might have similar interests.