Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
January 20, 2003

Getting a Handle on Learning Content Management Systems I wish people would stop using the phrase "human capital" as the author does at the start of this article. It implies - as did its predecessor "human resources" - that people can be owned by corporations. I feel the same way when I'm told that "our people are our greatest asset." But I am not anyone's asset! I am an independent agent in a democratic society who has agreed to exchange some of my services in exchange for a compensation package including money, benefits and - yes - learning. And while this article talks a lot about managing learning, building the corporate case and ROI, the fact is that corporate e-learning will never realize its potential if it must be justified by the bean counters. Because real learning is an asset acquired by - and owned by - the learner. If a company wants some of that back - in the form of increased performance or contributions to a knowledge base - it should be prepared to respect and repay this right of ownership. But I think that, instead, they see it as a way of obtaining knowledge on the cheap. By David A. Williams, Darwin, january, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Hollywood and Silicon Valley: Together at last? Discussion of the recenrly formed alliance between the technology companies and the recording industry which asks whether it should be up to these two entities on their own to decide the future of copyright. And the answer is, of course, no. But who else is there to do the lobbying? By Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon, January 15, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Preliminary Heuristics for the Design and Evaluation of Online Communities of Practice Systems Though they claim to have discovered "uncovered additional issues previously unrecognized", the source for this warmed-over set of best practices for online communities is now thoroughly obscured, recycled as it is as a set of "heuristics drawn from published academic research into online communities of practice." Extracted and summarized, the advice offered by these authors is as old as the hills:

  • Support the creation of new ideas
  • Structure interaction around a regular servies of events
  • A community should have a unifying sense of purpose
  • Be able to add, change and delete information
  • Give individuals and groups a place to express their identity
  • Establish social rules through moderation
  • Use a variety of discussion tools
  • Create a space for interaction and learning
  • Connect to offline events and activities
All of this could be taken (almost word for word) from Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo or Hegel and Armstrong in the mid to late 90s. Would it have hurt to acknowledge the source - not to mention the age - of this advice?

What really gets me - as this is intended to be a set of heuristics - is that it has been shown to be possible to do all of the above and yet fail to have created a viable online community. Just ask HotWired (d. 1998) and many others. Online community has evolved far beyond the idea that participants will gather in some predefined and designed website and exchange ideas. The combination of instant messaging, mobile computing, weblogs and content syndication have made that idea obsolete.

So what should a proper - and original - article about learning communities in 2003 look like? It should shift the focus from an institutional environment to an individual's access to a set of services. It should discuss the creation of a distributed network of interacting knowledge workers (or knowledge seekers). It should talk about fostering a set of communication channels - such as email newsletters, aggregator websites, IM advice circles. It should address combining the roles of gaming, simulation, correspondance, commentary and assessment. It should emphasize the skill sets required in order to foster the creation of knowledge through a collaborative process. By Mark Notess and Josh Plaskoff, eLearn Magazine, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

So Sorry Adobe Urges More DMCA Busts This white paper touts the benefits of e-learning in supply chain management. If you need ammunition for a business case this paper may help you. But it's not really at the forefront of thinking in the field. By Michael G. Mikurak and David Y. Smith, Line 56, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Hooking kids on Lindows The producers of Lindows, an open source alternative to Windows, are training their attention on the education market. "It's an old strategy, but a good one: Get the young folks using your technology when they're in school, and they just might get hooked for a lifetime." For $500, a school can get a copy of Lindows to install in as many computers as they want. By John K. Waters, ADTmag, January 20, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Image Gate From the website: "Image Gate is The New York Public Library's first full working version of its new digital image database. Image Gate provides free and open access to thousands of The New York Public Library's digitized images, taken from the Research Libraries' collections. At its inception, the Image Gate database contains approximately 80,000 images spanning a wide range of subjects. This number will grow as The Library digitizes more images; this phased rollout will end in 2004, when the site will include more than 600,000 images." By Various Authors, New York Public Library, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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