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.

The Downtime Learner theory

I’ve followed Steve Wheeler’s recent commentary on Twitter and personal learning networks and thought I’d extend on the discussion, as I see these things a little differently. Have blog, will theorise.

One of my pet theories is that digital learning for in-service teachers is best served on the run, in short bursts anywhere you can access it. This is my ‘downtime-learning’ theory that’s based on the ideas of Mr Downes around Connectivism.

The resilience of systems, the lack of funding for in-service professional development, and perhaps a certain optimism that ‘they’ll do it themselves for free’ has to my mind created an enviable monster under the bed for education – almost inadvertently.

It is undeniably true and reported by scholars that top down technology initiatives fail time and time again to prepare teachers adequately, which in turn fails to alter their dominant belief and attitude towards everyday pedagogical approaches. Furthermore, professional development in a formal sense tends to treat adults as they do children – locking them in rooms with computers.

Part One – The Downtimer theory

The solution, for reflective-teacher-learners is to explore and consider the role of technology from their seat on the bus or train (not the car – you’ll crash). We dip into learning in the park, waiting for a friend or ordering a coffee fix.

This I’m calling my ‘downtime-learning’ theory.

My hypothesis is that digital-mastery among teachers occurs sporadically in networks, powered more by gamer theory than any single educational theory. Furthermore mobile learning is more satisfying and generative than either the home or the workplace – and there is almost no design imperatives to create similar environments. We learn more when we are not at desk so to speak.

The importance of this for teacher educators is their systems and institutions will remain ineffective in comparison, unable to shake a legacy method and unwilling to declare failure.

In addition, smart-teachers build personal capacity and activate it inside networks and tempted to leave any organisation that tries to tame their ambition or access. The option of working entirely ‘online’ isn’t a delusion it’s the most significant threat to stability of essential ‘ground based’ places of learning. After all, most kids don’t have any other option – we still need local communities and strong social connections to people.

Part Two – Scale is impossible if you build walls.

To broaden my argument, stand in a public space or take public transport as an observer. You’ll see all sort of people doing all manner of tapping digital objects – as we shake out information and experiences. The physical keyboard and mouse inside 4 walls is a DEAD belief. We can learn anywhere if we have people worth learning from. We just need someone to lead us until we can lead ourselves – which is the ultimate instructional designer’s goal – and the empirical basis of good game design. Downtimer theory is about sustainable and stable learning centred around the person, regardless of where they work or where they study. By 2020, Australia will represent less than 2% of the world internet access – and yet currently has one of the highest mobile phone ownership rates. Why will be be bottom very soon? I think this picture is a big clue. This isn’t how we see the world? We are learning in downtime, they are learning because it creates massive up-time.

sustainabilty flows from the mobile form factor

Zoom in on individuals with mobile phones. What are they doing? – the are cheating our societies downtime, finding something to occupy their restless subconscious – experiential learners on a course of their own design. We still go to and from work, but we’re learning in the middle.

People on their mobile devices do a surprisingly small number of things repeatedly.

They check their text messages, email, Twitter, Facebook, they follow network-links and investigate people they see as interesting. They do this hundreds of times a day. Input, find, process, respond – question and confirm. IPFR – QR is a kind of ugly acronym, so I think ‘downtimer‘ or ‘downtime-learner’ is better – and far better than digital-native or immigrant.

Actually deciding on what to do is much harder than following a prompt. Twitter generates thousands of personal prompts a day for each person. We’ve learned that trying to decide isn’t effective. The freedom of interpretation (I have this 5 freedoms theory too).

Education is all about following prompts where as networks are all about following people and ideas.

Social media has created a vivid, diverse and unpredictable experience – that feels increadibly satisfying. The constant pinging of our networks, its the time-clock as we look for clues and ideas from other people to make sense of problems, challenges and dilemmas.

Twitter is a mastery dash-board. You don’t need to be gifted know it’s works on connections, however it’s ability to create smart-sets of mentors and influencers allows us to performance measure ourselves verses everyone. It’s a flow of qualitative data to make sense of, rather than a transmission tool, providing information to make false dichotomous decisions. It takes a long time to work that out – and makes the idea of telling people about Twitter almost impossible. Each use case is personal.

Twitter is one example of numerous exploits for the game of education itself.

Rather than being stuck inside a perpetual feedback loop (the annual predicability of content, test scores, performance appraisals) it allows teachers to break out and and not wallow in problems. Rather that wait for an idea or problem to be processed by someone else, astute teachers use it to short-circuit the hurdle – instantly.

Do you find it annoying if your question takes a few hours not seconds to get a response? How does that compare to traditional learning? – Lag lag lag … you question is likely to be classified – off task or irrelevant to the lesson … that doesn’t happen on Twitter, Facebook or Games.

So when I think about my theory and look broadly at how we set about in-service professional development, or how distance education sees distance learning, I have to wonder why we designing for the long-course. It clearly has major problems that won’t be solved by buying HD webcasts over standard def webcasts, or embedding YouTube into an LMS.

I’m sticking to my ‘downtime-learning’ theory for now. To be an effective learner in a world with unprecedented access to people and information means being obsessed with learning everything and prepared to take action before you have learned everything you might want to know. This belief makes Twitter very useful. However it’s abstract for most teachers. My downtimer theory calls for teacher educators to start playing games with teachers … not training them if we want to win hearts and minds.

I’m going to prove this by working up a Games Based Learning Course for in-service teachers, leaving it as a theory isn’t much fun.