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Corporate Learners, the Renaissance, and Autodidacticism

Last week I spent a few days in Orlando at Masie’s 2011 Learning Conference. There was a great line-up of speakers this year—Bill Clinton, John Lithgow, Dean Kamen, Betsy Myers, Sharon Begley, Betsy Sparrow, etc. I’ve learned to appreciate this particular conference—not so much for specific or applicable content—as much as for inspiration and context. This year, I was paying particular attention to new directions, future trends, and emerging technologies, mostly because Ron and I have been doing a little research (for a recent sales summit) and partly because I’ll be participating in an upcoming think tank where we’ll collaborate on a future-state vision for customer education.

In some ways, what I saw at this year’s Learning 2011 is a return to Renaissance models of education—apprenticeship, autodidacticism, etc. I recently read a couple of novels that illustrate some of the parallels—one is a novel about Leonardo da Vinci, The Memory Cathedral by Jack Dann, and the other is a cyberpunk/steampunk novel, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. (Thanks Stefanie for the book recommendation!) The classical memory theatre (or memory cathedral) brought to life in Dann’s novel has a lot in common with the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer in Stephenson. Both are used to teach, record, and enhance working memory and intelligence in the learner.

Masie’s opening keynote on Sunday night featured Betsy Sparrow, who talked about the effect of Google on memory and how we’re becoming increasing reliant on storing a fair amount of our memory on our computers, in the cloud, etc. It created a theme for the week—at least for me—and I thought I’d give you my quick-and-dirty thumbnail sketch of the learning conference from this perspective (that of my new TOE or theory of everything).

Previously Now and in the Future
Learner recall Transactive memory (Sparrow)
Individual expertise Ambient intelligence (Oblinger)
Digital ADD Decision science (Begley)
Sports & entertainment heroes (models) Culture shift toward science & technology (Kamen)
One-time interventions Systems & systemic change (Clinton)
Expert-dictated design Mass customized learning (Hodgins, Schwahn, McGarvey)
Pedantic approaches Storytelling (Lithgow, Karet)
Teacher/student models Mentoring (Myers)
Classroom/podium models Spatial design, learning spaces (Fouchea, Vredevoogd)
Self-contained knowledge Cloud learning (Casserly, van Dam, Jindrich, Beaudry, Prabju)

Obviously I’ve omitted (or made implicit) the transitions and connections, but I hope that you’ll still get the gist. Change is life—let’s be part of it.

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