Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Are You Riding the Waves or the Ripples? Tracking Learning Trends

The Thought/Action Wave and the Brain/Technology Wave are two particular learning principles that enable faster, cheaper and easier learning. The speed at which innovations propel these learning concepts are discussed here. __________________________________________________________________________

I am not a surfer. The closest I can get to do a balancing act is riding a bike.

A surfer possesses the skills to ride the waves and swim through the ripples with right timing - not too soon and not too late.

As an observer and a consistent student of learning trends, I am constantly challenged to surf the waves and ripples of changes. There are instances when I miscalculate, overestimate or misread trends. At certain times, I feel off-balance, fail to ride the waves and end up swimming through the ripples instead. Yet surely, I determine to always stay afloat and survive. At particular opportune times, I find myself on  the crest of the waves, not just drifting with the ripples.

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Strong Waves

There are two strong waves that I pay attention to: the Thought/Action Wave and the Brain/Technology Wave.

Thought/Action Wave

In the 18th century, education, learning and training have focused on thought or knowledge
retention. Thinkers of that era believed that when learners retain abundant knowledge, they perform on the job when needed: “Thought First - Action Later” (Johnson, 2002). In decades past, however, evidence showed that “Thought First - Action Later” was inadequate. The alternative approach: “Thought and Action are One” (learn and apply, learning by doing) gained popularity.

Yet, the momentum gained by the “Thought First-Action Later” principles and practices  in large institutions and infrastructures – schools, book publishers, teachers/educators, government, corporate training, business processes, others – still exists. The wave is powerful. It persists. The current is strong.

Understanding and deciphering the Thought/Action Wave is critical to decision making with regard to the focus of our energies and resources. Oftentimes, we find ourselves  solving a problem with palliatives and failing at it rather than directly addressing the

true issues.

As an example, designers and developers are frustrated that subject matter experts throw PowerPoint files and linear and page turning lessons unto their laps (remnant of the “thought first – action later” practice). Without presenting an alternative way of writing content, SMEs will cling to these traditonal methods.

Instead of banging our heads on the wall (swimming through the ripples), we need to ask, “What exactly is the problem (wave) and how do we find a solution (riding the wave)?”.

Brain/Technology Wave

Scientists and pioneering entrepreneurs are confident that a "thinking machine" will be perfected in the next few years, comparable to how the human brain works. The Singularity movement spearheads the conversations and forum for exchanges about the Brain/Technology Wave.

Unlike the approaches of earlier decades, where primary focus was on computing power, today’s scientists use the discoveries on how the brain works in their design of the "thinking machines."

There is a convergence of technology and brain sciences brought about by multidisciplinary research. IBM's Watson and robotics will change how we learn and work. The “thinking machines” will perform mundane and heavy data lifting and processing so we can spend more time on higher-thinking tasks or decisions. In profound ways, this will impact learning principles and practices. More and more we will find ourselves subordinating our knowledge to “thinking machines”. Such reality is now evident in ubiquitous tools like smart phones, GPSs, sequencing the human genomes and in many fields.

The Brain/Technology Wave is a dominant driver and accelerates this change in all facets of government and industries. Ray Kurzweil calls this the “Law of Accelerating Returns.”  Apparently, faster–paced changes are poised to happen in the next few years compared to progress in the past.

My Vantage Point and Balancing Acts – Riding or Falling

I don’t have a crystal ball to foretell what solutions will succeed or fail. However, patterns (ripples) emerge from big (trends) waves. They reveal the drivers of the solutions.

My intent is to share with you my interest areas and studies with the hope of providing you with a different vantage point.

See the diagram “Tracking Learning Trends: Are you Riding the Waves or the Ripples?”.

 Click to view larger image

Contextual Learning

People learn the natural way - through the interdependencies of things. Thoughts, ideas and knowledge have to be experienced. People need to discover meaning. This is the "Thought and Action as One" philosophy. John Dewey tells us, paraphrasing: “when we see a wagon, we just don’t see the parts, but the way people use the wagon.” Contextual Learning and Teaching are adapted methods in many universities and the adoption is growing.

Leaving ADDIE for SAM

Michael Allen in his book “Learning ADDIE for SAM” confirms what I have suspected all along – we need to develop courses reiteratively - small review cycles - and select what works in our environment (I stressed this in my book “3-Minute eLearning
). Allen boosts our confidence that there are different ways to design and implement eLearning courses. SAM (the successive approximation model) describes what many of us do under the radar.


The Microlearning practitioners espouse the use of micro-content to make knowledge flexible, searchable and contextually relevant in work environments. The goal is to redesign work conditions to permit the instant occurrence of Microlearning. We see the effort in the direction of the 'Thought and Action are one" concept. See Microlearning Conference and Marcia Conner’s article. I made a study in 2007 on the Impacts of Microlearning.

Story and Experience Based Learning Design

I follow and continue to apply key principles and practices that Roger Schank pioneered. “Stories index memories and it is by stories that we recall and learn new things.” Through stories, learners find the meaning and context of the content that help them apply ideas in real-life work situations. See Roger Schank's "Tell Me a Story", “Teaching Minds and my workshop on Story-Based eLearning Design.

Social Media and Learning

In "Informal Learning", Jay Cross relates that 90% of knowledge and skills are acquired by learners informally. Furthermore, Jane Bozarth (Social Media for Trainers) shows us how to use social media to optimize informal learning opportunities.

Social Learning encourages learners to share and contribute their learning and experiences. This aids them to connect ideas with real-life work situations. By now, you recognize how the trend and the above developments support the promotion of the "Thought and Action as One" principle.


Mario Herger, at the Caltech Entrepreneurs’ Forum last Jan. 12, 2013, spoke of how they have made training on software at SAP more engaging for workers with the use of gamification. When workers were asked, “How’s your training going?”, the response was, “Don’t you see I am working hard. I need to win this exercise!” Gamification accelerates “Thought and Action is One“ learning.


ZebraZapps is an authoring tool created for the next generation of learners and developers. It is a sophisticated and advance technology for developing highly interactive content. It signals the growing maturity of software development for the learning industry. It supports the embedding of interactive design in programs. One would be embarrassed to producing page-turning programs in ZebraZapps.


Articulate has succeeded in providing developers and designers a new milestone in authoring tools. Storyline adds the power of Flash in authoring without a single scripting line. It enables many “do-it-yourselfers” in eLearning, to develop
faster, cheaper and smarter interactive programs. See my workshop on Storyline Authoring.

Experience API

Experience API is a new simple learning utility that allows companies to track and encourage informal learning and sharing of experiences. I emphasize “ encourage” because it is my hope that this will turn out to be a recognition of how learners learn from real-life situations which lead to faster and cheaper ways of providing learning opportunities. The risk, to my mind, is that Experience API becomes another “big brother” and SCORM-type of tracking for “cover your __ (CYA) type of learning.”

Whole Brain

I had the distinct privilege of working with Perla Tayko at the Assumption University, Bangkok, to help students use software I developed for “thinking through” learning content. Tayko says, “to take advantage of the explosion in digital technology, we need to employ the whole brain thinking for improved learning and decision making.” 

Recursive Design

I have been following the work of Jürgen Schmidhuber on self-learning machines. His works on neural networks and building robots endowed me with curiosity and creative feed for my study on the learner’s ability to learn from small events, incrementally and rapidly. I am fascinated with his applications of the self-supervised learning in robots.


Mlearning is the new eLearning. Mobile tools enable the learners to learn on need, wherever and wherever. Mobile learning is where “Brain/Technology Wave” and “Thought/Action Wave” juxtapose. We are enamored by the freedom and impact on productivity and our quality of life. We often forget that Mlearning is the tip of the wave that liberates and accelerates the learner’s capability  to “Think/Act” at the same time. The ubiquitous Mlearning tools will forever bury the delay and hindrances caused by the “thought, action later” thinking. Now, we think-act-educate-use simultaneously.


Chris Anderson left Wired Magazine to launch the “do-it-yourself” venture into the mass production of drones. What is fascinating to me is the amazing speed of technology transfer from military use to civilian use. Furthermore, Anderson worked with a young kid to evolve the concept from the inception of the project - an application of crowd sourcing. This suggests that innovation comes from all around us.

Cloud Computing

The “cloud” will enable us to afford cheaper, faster and easier ways to design and deliver learning. Check out Jane Hart’s website for the newest and greatest of learning software. One can see the abundance of tools and enablers to help us implement learning environments.

Robotics and Learning

Steve Wheeler discloses how we will never be able to separate our learning and work away from some form of robotics. Today, this happens in the high-fidelity-simulation type of training.


We are all familiar with IBM’s Watson. In the healthcare industry, Watson works with mobile devices to help doctors and staff. In Fortune’s January 14, 2013 issue, an article illustrates how our lives are now so intertwined and dependent on drones, medical devices, surgical robots and supercomputers. “Thinking machines” will most likely help us to act faster and better by outsourcing the data mining drudgery, while allowing us to think through and make decisions on more important things. 

Fascinating future, here and now.

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

1 comment:

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