Eight Critical Skills for the Future

by Gary Woodill on April 8, 2011

What do you need to know to thrive in the future? Thomas Frey, Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, has listed eight critical skills for the future that he believes should be part of the education of young people. Adults could benefit from these skills as well. The skills in Frey’s list are:

  1. Communication Management
  2. Reputation Management
  3. Privacy Management
  4. Information Management
  5. Opportunity Management
  6. Technology Management
  7. Relationship Management
  8. Legacy Management

in addition to the eight new critical skills listed above, Frey says that there are “two traditional skills that need to be radically updated to match the needs of today’s world.” These are time management and money management.

The above list is not meant to be all-inclusive for what is needed in the future of learning. But read the descriptions of each of the above skills and you will see that we all need to shift our thinking about almost all aspects of your lives.

Eight Critical Skills for the Future | Futurist Speaker | Thomas Frey | 8 April 2011


A New Source of Great Talks on Learning

by Gary Woodill on February 25, 2011

I try to watch one or two outstanding TED videos every day, usually walking on a treadmill. Now there is another source of excellent videos, this time on learning and education. This collection of talks is centered on the annual Learning Without Frontiers (LWF) conference in London, UK, and attracts a wide range of speakers. To enjoy these talks, click here.

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Cognitive Load Theory – Is it just a Load?

by Gary Woodill on August 5, 2010

Note: This item has been cross-posted to Workplace Learning Today (Aug. 6, 2010), where I also blog.

Recently, well known author Jane Bozarth wrote an article on “Brain Bandwidth – Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design” in Learning Solutions Magazine. Essentially, the argument in this theory is that “there is only so much new information the brain can process at one time.” This is called Cognitive Load Theory, and it is central to the work of such prominent researchers as Richard Mayer and Ruth Clark. One of the main pieces of evidence for the theory is a 1956 article by George Miller who “suggested that the largest number of discrete pieces of information the brain could manage was seven, plus or minus 2.”

Stephen Downes, in OLDaily, points to Jane’s article, but makes this critical comment: “I think cognitive load theory misrepresents how we acquire and store information. It supposes that information is atomic and symbolic, like a string of numbers.”

I have to agree with Stephen on this point.

In fact, the idea of a limited capacity of the brain to memorize a list of items goes way back to Hermann Ebbinghaus, a philosophy instructor at the University of Berlin in the 1880s. How he came up with this idea is documented in Frank Smith’s 1998 critique of learning theory, The Book of Learning and Forgetting, published by Teacher’s College Press. I quote at some length:

How could anyone make comparisons on any aspect of learning when people are so different, especially in the two things that make learning possible for anyone (according to the classic point of view) – interest and past experience? In the revealing language of science, interest and past experiences “contaminate” experiments and “invalidate” results. People who have a great interest in the topic or activity, and who have had a greater experience of it, are bound to learn more. And they ruin experiments. What experiments need is a method of control… so that the learning task is fundamentally the same for everyone.

…This was Ebbinghaus’s world-changing revelation: if you want to study how people learn without the involvement of interest and past experience — study how they learned nonsense. By definition, no one is interested in anything that makes no sense to them, and by definition, nothing in past experience can help anyone learned nonsense.

Ebbinghaus invented the nonsense syllable, a staple of psychological research ever since. He also described “the learning curve” which is that the ability to memorize nonsense syllables drops off around 10 items, and “the forgetting curve”, which is the memory of most of the nonsense syllables quickly drops off within a few hours.

As Kurt Danziger (one of my professors at York University in the late 1960s) points out in his book Naming the Mind: how psychology found its language (Sage, 1997), Ebbinghaus “defined memory in terms of the work of memorizing and not in terms of the experience of remembering. In this context ‘learning’ was used as a synonym for memorizing, and experimental investigations were designed to answer questions about the relative efficiency of different techniques of learning.” In other words, before Ebbinghaus, the word learning had several meanings in psychological, biological, and philosophical writings, but after, at least in North American psychological literature, learning became synomous with memorizing.

Rereading George Miller’s original article shows that he was talking about a limited kind of task – the ability to discriminate among different audio tones (also a nonsense task). Around 7 different tones, people start to make lots more mistakes. But he also suggests many ways of overcoming this seeming limit on working memory.

It seems that by adding more dimensions and requiring crude, binary, yes-no judgments on each attribute we can extend the span of absolute judgment from seven to at least 150. Judging from our everyday behavior, the limit is probably in the thousands, if indeed there is a limit. In my opinion, we cannot go on compounding dimensions indefinitely. I suspect that there is also a span of perceptual dimensionality and that this span is somewhere in the neighborhood of ten, but I must add at once that there is no objective evidence to support this suspicion.

This hardly seems to be hard nosed science, but it is often cited as “research” for “evidence-based learning”. We need to examine our concepts carefully and critically, and move away from research into nonsense as the basis of our instructional designs. (GW)

Nuts and Bolts: Brain Bandwidth – Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design | Learning Solutions Magazine | Jane Bozarth | 3 August 2010


Shift Happens

July 28, 2010

This website represents a shift in my practice as a consultant and analyst for emerging information technologies. The shift includes a move to independent status for me, with several interesting clients. My largest account is Brandon Hall Research, where I continue to work as a senior analyst. But I have several other projects on the go, [...]

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Book Review: Blackberry Planet by Alastair Sweeny

October 15, 2009

A review of: Sweeny, Alastair (2009) Blackberry Planet: the story of Research in Motion and the little device that took the world by storm. Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada. In 1999, I attended a meeting on technology innovation at the Toronto Board of Trade. The person sitting next to me told me that [...]

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Webinar Presentation: The History of Classrooms as a Learning Technology

August 10, 2009

Why are classrooms so powerful, and so hard to change? That is my starting question for a webinar I am leading on Webnesday, August 12, from 1pm – 2pm Eastern Time.  In the webinar I look at modern classrooms as a learning technology that was first developed in 18th century Prussia, and then spread out [...]

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Books that have stuck with me…

August 4, 2009

My sister Sharon (PhD. student at Dalhousie University) tagged me with a new meme on naming the 15 most influential books that have stuck with me over the years: Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you [...]

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10 Twitter Tips for Beginners

July 2, 2009

While many people I know are on Twitter, there are lots of others still just looking at it or wondering how to get started. In response to a friend’s question on how to build up a list of people to follow and how to acquire followers, I wrote this set of tips. If they are [...]

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Compliance Requirements for Learning Management Systems

June 26, 2009

Many learning management system (LMS) vendors experience the following scenario. A prospective client arrives at their tradeshow booth and asks, “Does your LMS do compliance?” The answer to this question is not a simple one. The concern with compliance is driven by laws and regulations that require specific training, the desire of companies to avoid [...]

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Hacking my Heart

April 6, 2009

I spent a portion of today getting a software upgrade for my implanted defibrillator, as part of the checkup I get every six months to see how this life-saving device is functioning. It has already been subject to one recall, for the wire that goes into my heart, which in some cases can fray and [...]

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