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How phenomenology explains why people may still be adrift of the desired learning response.

Between formal and informal learning design styles

Highly prescriptive vs call up the information you need as you go along. So defined instructions vs figuring it out for themselves. Perhaps using tools to guide and inform. We were given the simplest of tasks, teaching students how to cross a busy road in safety.

I made a point about any group requiring leadership or a champion.

I made a point on Randy Pausch whose 3D lecture series included mixing up student groups who then had to vote on each other’s levels of collaboration in the group.

There was a discussion on informal peer assessment that I didn’t entirely follow, certainly my notes are somewhat cryptic. Hopefully the session was recorded so I can listen back.

It is the unexpected insights in a synchronous session that prove valuable, especially the asides in the break-out room.

Assemble the books and papers you plan to refer to ahead of writing.

This is a new one to me. I prefer to write what I want and deal with the referencing after rather than fitting the assignment to the books and papers.

Perhaps a combination of the two is required.

The learning plan you produce may not be followed closely given the myriad of ways people respond. Many are drawn in by the assessment but not all.

Can such divergent styles be accommodated?

As the Elluminate discussion progressed, four students, one tutor moderator, I did a doodle.


Having shared the idea I then corrected it.

From Wenger (1998:233)

‘There is an inherent uncertainty between design and its realization in practice, since practice is not the result of design but rather a response to it’.

Phenomenology explains why people may still be adrift of the desired response.

The notes reads ‘design as well as we can … ‘the students share the outcome. We set the learning, that is then displaced to or set in the context of each learner. We might have a learning objective, but students can and diverge from this’. (A good thing if you want diversity and originality)

As a learning designer you have to anticipate a variety of behaviours and plan for not too many being wildly divergent. This can be achieved by understanding the students.


The right leader or teacher will greatly enhance the learning experience and project outcomes

How a ‘contagion of positive emotions’ from and of the right leader or teacher will greatly enhance the learning experience and project outcomes.

The problem is, you need to be there to get the vibe. I dare say parenting therefore has a huge impact on the developing child – nurtured or knackered?

But what does this say about the role of distance learning?

A bit, not a lot. Tutorials from time to time may pay dividends. We should stop being such e-learning purists and meet face to face when and where we can … at least online, if not in the flesh.

And before I go anywhere, thanks to someone for the link to this which I received in my daily maelstrom of Linked In forum threads, emails, comments and what not.

Advances in neuroscience may help us understand the internal mechanisms that enable some people to be effective leaders, and some not. Boyatzis (2011)

The leadership role is moving away from a “results-orientation” towards a relationship orientation. Boyatzis (2011)

People who feel inspired and supported give their best, are open to new ideas and have a more social orientation to others. Boyatzis (2011)

The difference between resonant and dissonance in relationships was tested, for example the difference between an inspired and engaging leader, compared to one who makes demands and sets goals.

While undergoing an MRI scan people were asked to recall specific experiences with resonant leaders and with dissonant leaders. When thinking about ‘resonant’ leaders there was significant activation of 14 regions of interest in the brain while with dissonant leaders there was significant activation of 6 and but deactivation in 11 regions. i.e. people are turned off by certain kinds of leadership. Boyatzis (2011)

The conclusion is that being concerned about one’s relationships may enable others to perform better and more innovatively– and lead to better results i.e. be an inspired, motivating leader, not a dictatorial or demanding one.

How therefore if running a course online does the course chair or a tutor engender these kind of feelings in their students?

The other lesson from this is to appreciate how quickly impressions of others get formed or the neural mechanisms involved.

First impressions count

They impact on how one person responds to another for some time to come. We are emotional beings, however much we’d like to control our behaviour.

The other idea is of ‘emotional contagion’ or ‘emotional arousal’ being picked up in the neural systems activate endocrine systems; that imitation and mimicry are important i.e. you cannot lead at arm’s-length – you have to be there, as must be your team, and by implication, where learning is involved, you students. Boyatzis (2011)

What you pick up in the presence of others is:

  • the context of an observed action or setting
  • the action
  • the intention of the other living being.

‘A sympathetic hemo-dynamic that creates the same ability for us to relate to another’s emotions and intention’ (Decety & Michalaks, 2010).

There are three implications of these observations Boyatzis (2011):

  1. the speed of activation
  2. the sequence of activation
  3. the endocrine/neural system interactions.

Our emotions are determining cognitive interpretation more than previously admitted.

Our unconscious emotional states arouse emotions in those with whom we interact before we or they know it. And it spreads from these interactions to others.

Research has suggested that negative emotions are stronger than positive emotions which may serve evolutionary functions but, paradoxically, it may limit learning. Boyatzis (2011)

i.e. where the teacher shows leadership that engenders a positive response the learning experience is increased (think of the fictional character played by Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, think of Randy Pausch the late Carnegie Mellon Professor of Virtual reality) … whereas negative emotions.

From a student’s point of view if you have a teacher you do NOT like (or no one likes) this will have overly significant NEGATIVE impact on your learning experience.

So it matters WHO and HOW you are taught, not simply an interest or passion for a subject.

‘A contagion of positive emotions seems to arouse the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which stimulates adult neurogenesis (i.e., growth of new neurons) (Erickson et. al., 1998), a sense of well being, better immune system functioning, and cognitive, emotional, and perceptual openness’ (McEwen, 1998; Janig and Habler, 1999; Boyatzis, Jack, Cesaro, Passarelli, & Khawaja, 2010).

The sustainability of leadership effectiveness is directly a function of a person’s ability to adapt and activate neural plasticity. Boyatzis (2011)

The SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System) and PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System ) are both needed for human functioning.

They each have an impact on neural plasticity. Arousal affects the growth of the size and shape of our brain. Neurogenesis allows the human to build new neurons. The endocrines aroused in the PNS allow the immune system to function at its best to help preserve existing tissue (Dickerson and Kemeny, 2004).


Leaders bear the primary responsibility for knowing what they are feeling and therefore, managing the ‘contagion’ that they infect in others.

(Is a disease metaphor and its negative connotations the appropriate metaphor to use here?)

It requires a heightened emotional self-awareness.

This means having techniques to notice the feelings, label what they are and then signal yourself that you should do something to change your mood and state.

Merely saying to yourself that you will “put on a happy face” does not hide the fast and unconscious transmission of your real feelings to others around you.

Leaders should be coaches in helping to motivate and inspire those around them (Boyatzis, Smith & Blaize, 2006).

But not any old form of coaching will help.

Coaching others with compassion, that is, toward the Positive Emotional Attractor, appears to activate neural systems that help a person open themselves to new possibilities– to learn and adapt. Meanwhile, the more typical coaching of others to change in imposed ways (i.e., trying to get them to conform to the views of the boss) may create an arousal of the SNS and puts the person in a defensive posture. This moves a person toward the Negative Emotional Attractor and to being more closed to possibilities.


Boyatzis, R. (2011) Neuroscience and Leadership: The Promise of Insights Leadership | January / February 2011

Boyatzis, R.E., Smith, M. and Blaize, N. (2006) “Developing sustainable leaders through coaching and compassion, Academy of Management Journal on Learning and Education. 5(1): 8-24.

Boyatzis, R. E., Jack, A., Cesaro, R., Passarelli, A. & Khawaja, M. (2010). Coaching with Compassion: An fMRI Study of Coaching to the Positive or Negative Emotional Attractor. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Montreal.

Decety, J. & Michalska, K.J. (2010). Neurodevelopmental change in circuits underlying empathy and sympathy from childhood to adulthood. Developmental Science. 13: 6, 886-899.

Dickerson, S.S. & Kemeny, M.E. (2004). Acute stressors and cortisol responses: A theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychological Bulletin.130(3): 355-391.

Janig, W. & Habler, H-J. (1999). Organization of the autonomic nervous system: Structure and function. In O. Appendzeller (ed.). Handbook of Clinical Neurology: The Autonomic Nervous System: Part I: Normal Function, 74: 1-52.

McEwen, B. S. (1998). Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators. New England Journal of Medicine. 338: 171-179.

Asynchronous Spaced Education becomes synchronous and game-like

I might have interviewed Dr Price Kerfoot of Spaced-Ed for H807, ‘Innovations in E-learning’ a year ago.

I finally caught up with him this afternoon two weeks into the Spaced-Ed transmogrification that is Qstream.

We used Skype. Clear barely broken sound. Sharp video in colour. It worked.

It was a fascinating discussion.

I should have asked to record and done so.

Next time. I’m sure the conversation has only just begun.

Though armed with a set of questions used in TMA02 of H807 non were necessary. I’d prepared them to follow a narrative flow, and that is what we did.

We have something in common, we were both at Balliol College, Oxford.

I was there as an undergraduate 1984, he was there five years later as a Rhodes Scholar taking a BA in Medicine. Dr B P Kerfoot is now an Associate Professor of Harvard Medical School. He is also a passionate educator and e-learning entrepreneur. I suspect we will continue to hear a great deal about him – he has a passion for education, reminding me of the late Randy Pausch, even the Robin Williams character from Dead Poets Society; there is an unstoppable, engaging warmth backed by a profound intellect.

The narrative

Price had finished his surgical training when he went into education, an odd elective he admits, but one that through circumstances and surely an innate interest has proved fruitful.

What is the problem?

I didn’t need to make this prompt. You strive to fix something when you see it isn’t working. Learning outcomes from first year medical students were poor. Why, in US terms, spend $1000 dollars on a course only to find a year later that the traditional methods of acquisition and retention of knowledge has failed.

No problem, no fix.

Price looked to web-based teaching to create learning modules. Two concepts were devised, the spacing of questions proved successful. This is from one of a dozen papers authored by Kerfoot and his team; each one, naturally, a worthy, academic, professional appraisal.

Two reports are cited as we talk, one on the effect on the hippocampus of rats, another on phosphate levels in fruit flies. As an OU student these reports are readily available.

There is physiological evidence that ‘spaced learning works’.

This matters:

a) you want something that works,

b) you want something that will justify the investment.

We give it away, academics in the US are commercially savvy.

Its as if in the UK academics (individuals and institutions) are like bachelors and spinsters, whereas in North America they are eager to marry.

More importantly the research has shown that the Spaced-ed approach improves patient outcomes the goal it was found that cancer screening of patients improved by 40% for the year spaced-education was introduced.

In 2006 the methodology was submitted by Harvard for a patent application. Entrepreneurs and venture capital companies were also approached.

It’s a shame the Spaced-Ed blog hasn’t been maintained, though you’ll get some further insights here.

What began as continual education in medicine has expanded. If you go to the Spaced-Ed website there are all kinds of courses you can take, typically 20-30 questions of the multi-choice type fed to your laptop, SmartPhone or iPad. Writing these multiple choice questions is an effort and requires skill to get right,, indeed I can admit to wanting to create what I thought would be a simple set of questions relating to teaching swimming … but the correct construction of the questions, let alone the creation of appropriate images has held me back. It isn’t as easy to get this right as it looks. You don’t want to feed your audience lame questions, nor do you want to overstretchthem. There is also some negative feelings about Multi-choice, perhaps we have all had negative experiences at school … I personally remember what we described as ‘multi-guess’ that was so often used in Chemistry classes. Though clearly effective, not enough people have been persuaded to pay for these sets of questions, even a dollar or so.

The challenge, has been to move on from asynchronous to synchronous, real time learning, including video and other rich media. The new platform promoted as Qform is an Facebook App and Twitter-like in its approach. People elect to follow a Qstream which goes out to everyone. You join in collectively, rather than alone, which creates a sense of participation and competition. If I understand this correctly, as I’m yet to give it a go, you pose a response to an open question that others read. You then vote on the various responses given. As Price, engaging as Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society enthused about the platform I thought about Skype and Elluminate, even forum threads. Indeed, I wonder if we could all organise to be online and go to one of these threaded conversations to turn an asynchronous environment into a synchronous one. Harvard is also the home of Rotisserie, which rotates a threaded conversation between online learners to ensure that everyone has a turn… and of course Facebook.

Gameification is the key. You respond in a way that other s like and you get points for it and your name appears on a leader board.

Rich content and a range of responses is what’s new. And its live And its competitive

And so Qstream delivers synchronicity and a sense of community Price also talked about how to make it possible for answers to questions to become searchable in Google – I guess with the inclusion of the right metadata. I didn’t need to say it to find I’m told the more controversial responses would generate the most responses. Now it’s starting to sound like the format of the Oxford Union Debating Society – I guess Price went along there at some stage too. By listening to two sides battle it out you form your own opinion.

One final statistic – 85% of those studying urology in North America (that’s the US and Canada) are using Dr B Price Kerfoot’s 23 question Spaced-ed multi-choice Q&A.

The competitors are Quora, Stackoverflow and FormSpring or some such … I’ll go take a look.



J Gen Intern Med 23(7):973–8

DOI: 10.1007/s11606-008-0533-0

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2008

Kindle Joy Part 2 and How to Change the World Part 1

Not quite 24 hours, more like 18 hour, but much of this has been spent in the company of my Kindle.

Had it been back lit I might still be in bed. Once upon a time (twenty years ago) when my bed was my own I’d wake, read for an hour, then go back to sleep. Because I have to get up, I do.

It amuses me that I bought the stand it is resting on in 1982. My girlfriend at the time thought I was wasting my money. Here it still is. It pays to by something that will last.

The A5 Pad of Cartridge paper is meant for drawing, though it sometimes will double up for notes and mind maps.

Had I a Kindle at the time I would have the Kindle version of Media and Communication Technologies. For H800 I have read the introduction and conclusion and can draw on my notes done the old way: into a notebook, then typed up and blogged or stores in the MyStuff eportfolio.

The only book I have on the Kindle is this.
Excitement and ease of use has got me through five chapters in as many hours.

Kindle joy is here

The highlight tool is spot on, as is notetaking. I would have preferred a stylus, as my old PDA, but guess this would make it more expensive. Low cost is a factor (at least low enough).

The default images are a thing of joy and beauty. I recall seeing Mark Twain, Jane Austen and various pages from illuminate manuscripts and pages of animals from Victorian engravings.

I subscribe to How to Change the World on a 14 day trial. It starts with this. A lecture by Randy Pausch, age 48, an inspirational educator … months before he dies from cancer.

I’ve watched this through once, and will watch it several times over and take notes before I am finished. Randy Pausch has some inspired things to say and share. It will reduce you to tears and inspire you to be a better person and do great things.

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