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Being there
Sunday, November 06, 2005
DSC01885Yesterday I had lunch with an amazing man, John Sperling. I worked for John nearly thirty years ago, developing the business program for what morphed into the University of Phoenix. To my delight, I found John to be the same energetic, spunky crusader as before, his energy and interests undiminished by age. We talked about what made the UoP such a runaway success, things like group process, small class size, clear objectives, and faculty as mentor, not instructor. John's vision has shaped the way I see the world more than I'd realized.

I've been writing about technology-assisted learning for eight or nine years now, but talking with John at a table at Il Fornaio in Levi Plaza yesterday reinforced my current belief that there's no substitute for meeting face-to-face. I used to think that super-high-resolution screens and 180ยบ immersive environments would one day make mediated conversation as good as being there. It's certainly hasn't even come close thus far. I'm adding this to my list of informal learning technologies: Being there.

I asked John to what he attributed his journey from a cabin in the Ozarks to revolutionizing higher education. "I was stupid until the age of 19," he told me. When he went to sea, there was no background noise. He overcame his learning disability. In spades. After receiving a doctorate in economic history from Cambridge, he became a professor at San Jose State. Friends thought he was nuts when, in his fifties, he resigned his tenured position to follow his heart and found the University of Phoenix. (Don't think of Phoenix, Arizona. Instead, think of mid-career adults getting a second chance.) Ever since, John has been "doing well by doing good."

DSC01881(Smokey the wonderdog is sold on this "being there" concept. When I returned from Learning 2005 this week, he camped out in my open suitcase in hopes that would keep me at home.)

Tonight I begin my round-the-world odyssey so I'm somewhat distracted by contemplating what to pack. Nonetheless, I'm thinking about how I learn things. Writing here in the blog is part of it.

After an encounter, like chatting with John, ideas float through my head. I try not to judge them too early. I put them aside for a while. I reflect on them as I sleep. (Might this be the cause of my sleep apnea?) I awake with the new thoughts forming connections to pre-existing mental patterns. At this point, I may craft a blog entry.

All learning is co-creation. When I express myself in the blog, I necessarily have to think about how you see things. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind pissing you off. But I recognize that you wouldn't get much were I just spouting gibberish, so I try to write coherent sentences. Most of the time. This helps me crystalize my thinking, and that sets off another round of pattern formation in my head.

Which is all to say that while being there is vitally important, it doesn't negate the power of technology to leverage individual learning.

Geez. I almost forget the point of this entry. I'm organizing my book on informal learning, and I just realized I'd left out a thread: my story. My story doesn't hold a candle to John's, but it is illustrative. And different. So later today, I'm going to try weaving a thread of my journey through UoP, SmartForce, and the blogosphere into the fabric of the book.

When I downloaded John's and Smokey's photos from my camera, this morning I discovered a batch of photos from Learning 2005 that I'd totally forgotten. Here, for you visual types, are pics of Beth Thomas, Bjorn Brillhart, and the LearningLand community boards:

DSC01876 DSC01875 DSC01874 DSC01873 DSC01870 DSC01866


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