Real-time activity switching & the implications for learning professionals

October, wow. You were crazy. Here’s what it looked like for me. San Jose > Ithaca > Orlando > San Jose > Las Vegas > New York; from October 7 through yesterday, October 30. But yeah, I’m back after being rerouted through Detroit yesterday and very fortunate that somehow(!) the beautiful Hudson Valley where I live, minus the riverfront towns, escaped virtually unscathed from Sandy’s wrath - s/he was badass. New York has never looked so beaten. Let the healing begin.

I was lucky to attend & present at two amazing conferences in between work travel this month and promised myself and many of you some key insights, so here we go. First was Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012 - with the tweet stream at #LRN2012. This was my first Masie conference and it will not be my last - yes a recommendation if you’ve been considering. I also attended the Adobe Learning Summit - find the tweet stream at #AdobeLS12 - which is co-located with DevLearn, which I chose not to attend this year.  

So what did I learn? A better question might be where to begin? It’s funny because when I arrived in Orlando for Learning 2012, I tweeted that I was going to break my typical conference practice of live-tweeting and instead share a single core learning at the end. That didn’t happen and I broke my break idea and live-tweeted the entire time anyway. But that left me with a promise to myself about a single core learning. Well, I’m so grateful for great friends like @mdaimler (must follow!) for peer accountability! So instead of focusing on a specific track or session at either conference, I will share reflections on real-time activity switching based both on what I observed and what I practiced. I hope my reflections open a conversation around the current state of how we learn and the implications and peripheral considerations for learning professionals. Obviously welcome your comments below and promise to conclude with questions. So at last…

We seem to ebb and flow in between increasingly smaller and smaller bits of our own attention, with our focus more fleeting than it’s ever been. There has always been a non-linear truth about learning, how & when & where it happens, even while our lives appear to unfold very deliberately in a forward direction. I actually love this tension because it never resolves itself. What fun are answers anyway?

So there I am in every session, even those I was presenting in, live-tweeting & twit-pic’n away. Not everything of course, but reflections that resonated most with me. This practice of throwing my attention at something, pulling it back almost immediately after a learning begins to crystalize, digesting more new information, synthesizing thoughts, (re-)calibrating opinions and then broadcasting my findings - this is real-time activity switching, and I have no idea yet if it’s a good or bad thing for learning, BUT my intuition tells me it’s very good. Eager to hear your thoughts below, and obviously, welcome contrary intuition.

So our bits of attention coupled with our obvious human passion to share and broadcast ourselves as evidenced in the explosion of social media, is really quite amazing. Especially as the bits of attention result in faster and faster releases of our broadcasts, for me, often in the form of tweets. Instant consumption, instant calibration, instant learning, instant broadcast, instant feedback, repeat. This is real-time activity switching, and almost every day we have more and more activity streams to choose from. Text, videos, images, quotes, opinions, short form, long form, tweener form, interactive & dynamic content, shitty content, great content, funny content, and on and on and on. And the discussion layer that wraps all media now making it social - the unfolding conversation at the very fringe of our thinking, on any topic, in real time, at any time - presents itself to us in multiple streams persistently. All we have to do is opt in as we please.

In one session at Learning 2012 after being buried in the tweet stream for a few moments, I looked up from my iPhone following a resonate tweet of my own (instant RTs!) to see a majority of heads down, buried in their own devices, the facilitator totally unfazed, kept going, doing a great job of getting physically out into the audience. Interesting how work-emailers look guilty and those tweeting do not. Odd? I asked the presenter (Richard Culatta; follow, people!) at the close if it bothered him. Nope, normal.

So where does this leave us? Where are we headed next? It’s clear information won’t slow down any time soon, and so it’s not really a surprise that learning wants to keep pace. But maybe all this speed is degrading the quality of learning? Not sure, you tell me. But as a learning designer, if this is how I’m learning today, what are the implications for designing learning given this context? Do we have a responsibility to address and/or embrace the unstructured & undefined learning happening today? Should we ignore this trend, just leave it alone!, and focus on ever higher quality formal learning experiences in our orgs? Do we do this even when we might intuitively sense that 70-20-10 is now more like 95-4-1? Have you started designing differently? If so how? Where do we put our energy now? Where are you putting yours?

When I think about the current state of learning powered by the influence of social media in our lives, it’s hard for me not to reduce what’s happening to the very essence of what’s driving social… the conversation. I suggested earlier that the discussion layer is the cutting edge of our practice, it’s where we push beyond our core understanding and into the fringe of the unknown, into thinking we’re exploring for the first time which will lead to things we’ve never tried before. If we reverse-engineer discussion itself, we ultimately arrive at a core, underlying question layer. Questions open discussion through discovery and exploration, they align with our curiosities and passions, and when we ask them, there is no greater expression of personalization - a key theme at Learning 2012. Questions and the conversations that follow challenge our assumptions, reframe our perspectives and ultimately change the way we think and behave. Social platforms are simply expediting the pace at which these conversations are taking place. Immediacy has never been more awesome than it is now, yes? I could keep going here, but time to open it up to questions…

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