Do you have the keys to tomorrow?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Lin Pernille Photography

I recently wrote about how I believe most of the innovation in education is being developed in individual’s downtime moments. This post is about why social-keys being used by Downtime Learners can lock a non-networked manager or organisation out of the future in under 140 characters. Ask a movie producer what a Tweet can do, not just for your movie, but for the entire future of an industry.

We see people using downtime so productively for personal development and connecting in public spaces, we hardly consider it a disruption. We don’t really think about it. So, imagine if a city street had 2000 phone boxes and a line of 10 people at each. Imagine no one on the phone every hung up and the line never moved. Technology has not only enabled this to be possible, it creates a society which virtual people walk among the non-virtual. We cannot tell who is human and who is cyborg, what they are doing or what they want because cyborgs use coded-keys.

My theory is that much of the convenient debate around classroom learning and distance education assumes people work at home in largely the same way the do on campus. It doesn’t fully consider other alternatives.

I didn’t understand this until I started playing online games. Now it makes so much sense that  I use it all the time, If I was smarter, I’d write a book about being a life-coach and tell people how to do the same. Except it wouldn’t work, though I might sell a lot of books.

What I didn’t talk about in my original post was the power and importance of key generation and exchange.

This are really important aspects, usually also ignored and one of my pet hates about professional ‘fly-in and fly-out’ developer. They don’t get the idea of keys or downtime – or if they do, this isn’t their business. I’m not saying what they do or say isn’t good or useful, just that it’s up-time learning, and so completely different.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by El Bibliomata

The significance of keys to Downtime Learner Theory

The key to getting in to college is to get a standardised key (the score) from a key-giver (the teacher). This is the game of education. The key to getting a job is to have further key, from another teacher using a score.

Society likes keys. It uses them to symbolise and create order, They are physically and metaphorically used select who enters society and who can’t – and at what level. Early books had keys so that only the right people learned to read them. Personal Diaries had keys. Even today, vast amounts of information is under lock and key – from walled University systems, to journal databases and even the private ‘communities’ we see training teachers in technology. As a society we are public and private keys obsessive in regard to to both information and knowledge networks. We love our keys, and like to assume only a small group of people can make them, and choose who will be issued with them to play the game. Think of the corporate firewall. You log in, you don’t have permissions, you only see what you need to see, based on they keys you hold already. Downtime learning is life-hacking, and we see how much organisations like (or tolerate) this though their actions.

Connectivism uses highly encrypted keys to function as a digital-theory. This too is not understood very well by outside observers. Both knowledge and information that is created, processed and re-issued in these networks is always in some way incomplete and coded. Each time data is placed online, be that a Tweet or a blog post, the creator carefully codes the message. Unlike a catchy inane headline like “7 ways to make you rich” or “10 people who are the best teachers on the web” – coded keys that pass between tight networks don’t need to ‘advertise’ or resort to ‘link-baiting’. The public text is only part of the cipher. You cannot know what it actually means, just by reading it. So, why people tell other people to get on Twitter is beyond me. It’s not as simple as hitting the follow button.

Downtime learners quickly learn to code their efforts for all sorts of reasons. Over time, their network(s) become socially-saturated and impossible to read without sufficient keys. This makes the U-Boat problem the Allies had seem rather primitive. But as we’ve seen in nations using online networks in times of conflict, can have life and death outcomes. This saturation process (which can be initiated by an organsation) effectively starves it as the cycle progresses. This has dramatic implications for organisations as no initiative to ‘social-media-ify’ teachers will be sustainable without really thinking hard about leakage and coding. Public declarations are only ever a partial communiqué, and never intend to use the codes that those outside it might prefer.

Welcome to cybercuture, maybe we don’t want to fit in, maybe we do.

One problem ed-tech salesmen face is that in 90% of the time they spend in front of teachers, they don’t exchange satisfactory numbers of encoded keys to fully explain themselves. Have you sat in a presentation? Did you get all the key’s you needed to unpack each slide? Of course not, that’s the game. This is why so much of PD around technology is ineffective. it’s still lecture/tutorial thinking.

People simply want a glass of water – and instead are given the severed head of a giraffe.

Finally I want to take a pot shot at the word ‘community’. A network doesn’t need someone else to make a community. It needs to teach everyone in the room how to be a community and then find other communities. Cattle-Pen communities only suit the Cattlemen. It’s another word for loyalty programme.

Just because you join, doesn’t mean you will get to exchange all they keys you’d like to. Most of the time, the owners of the community prompt key exchanges between their flock, but use high levels of encryption between the elite to ensure that they remain alpha-leaders. This creates tremendous bias and reshaping of what people actually get to talk about, do or become. Downtime learners with key’s don’t need to join these, and in most cases are not interested. On the flip side, Cattle-Communities make no in-roads into other communities, simply because they have a flag to wave. No one cares if you’re a Google Certified Teacher. As a parent, I just hope you’re a good teacher – as a colleague, I hope you can help my network solve problems.

So why bother with online networks at all? – Because this is where the keys to innovation lie and these keys are essential to decoding information and knowledge between humans.  The velocity of this inside networks is impressive. Imagine if you had something to say, and it took three years for it to be said – and only a handful of people read it and only a small proportion of those responded in another publication years later.

My mission (if I have one) is to try and create experiences where teachers remain human experts they always were and exchange the right keys with increasing relevance and velocity to their community. This starts with one key between two people.

There are ways to do this, especially with games, but I don’t much feel like explaining it right now. What matters is to think about whether or not downtime and keys matter to your future. Do you actually need them or want them between tomorrow and the day you plan to retire? Would we in fact be where we are without it, and be thankful that to get to this point, teachers have become fiercely  independent life-hackers. Without resistance, we might well be worse off.