Nationhood: Statues, Salutes, and Narratives of Power

A #WorkingOutLoud post today, part of my thought process to understand the fragmented debate around national identity and social justice in the United States. Specifically, i wanted to take time to explore two elements: the notion of flash points, and the narrative of underlying power. I’ll try to contextualise it as this: in the last few days, statues and flags have become flash points of conflict, and individuals with high social status (by which i mean privileged through their role in society, granted to them through formal status, celebrity power, or high authenticity) have started to slug it out in a new structure of power.

Narratives of Power

Whilst i may refer to the United States, the ideas correlate closely to other evolutions of power and societal shifts we see elsewhere. All national identities are selective stories, written through bloody history, evolving, and disputed. But it’s rare to see the story written so clearly, publicly, and directly, in a stable democracy.

I am unsure if what we are seeing is a conflict within a stable system, or an evolution of the system and notion of nationhood itself. The former maybe comforting to the established structure, the latter may be more likely to be true.

The United States gives a clue in the title (much the same as the ‘United Kingdom’), a title that is both descriptive, was once celebratory, but may now be more aspirational than true. We have seen colonial eras, slavery, civil war, and, more recently, apparently stable systems emerge, but built upon a fractured legacy.

America is not an equal society: disparities of wealth, access to education, quality of education, access to healthcare, and proximity to the New Victorians and the United Emergent Technology Empire of the West Coast, wildly varied and variably distributed. It is a story of difference as much as a story of similarity.

Within this context, flash points emerge. Take the statues of civil war ‘heroes’. Bronze statues are the ways that a country memorialises it’s heritage: they are almost universally contextual, cast by the winners, emotionally laden, and often entirely ignored. You can live in a city your whole life and not be able to name one of the statues that adorn the parks and public spaces. Statues exist as perches for pigeons and aggregators for the empty beer bottles of serenading teenagers. Until they catch fire.

Memorials are not just a thing, they are an idea, an abstracted representation of power, a repression of certain stories, a celebration of others. All culturally associated artefacts have imbued power from context, but the damnable thing about context is that it’s contextual. So the statue that, for years, sat at the heart of a university complex, or in a city park, innocuous and innocent, may suddenly be awarded or bestowed with disproportionate power as part of an evolving national story.

It’s no coincidence that some of the powerful footage of the fall of Saddam Hussein was imagery of his statues being pulled to the ground, decapitated, beaten with shoes, spat upon. Statues represent, codify power. The very notion of ‘bronze’ is culturally associated with memorial and power.

This presents a dilemma: on the one hand, statues are part of our history, part of our story. Expunging, destroying, or removing the, renaming buildings, hiding them away, in some way is to deny history, revise it, or try to rewrite the story. But the problem is this: statues are not neutral artistic symbols of power, they are dynamic repositories of it, and they exist in this fractured and unequal society. To some extent, statues codify and cement the predominant narrative of power, at a time when the narrative of power is being rewritten.

The United States has only had one black president, against a succession of white ones, and has never had a female leader. The UK, which has managed one female Prime Minister had, until recently only one statue of a female figure in Parliament, located, i believe, in a broom cupboard. The power of the past largely dictates the power of the present. In the UK, the landed gentry still carry wealth, and in the US, the white families of oil and industry still carry a great percentage of wealth and establishment power. And through control of the system, perpetuate that power.

It’s a sad but true adage that often white men in a privileged society are proponents of change right up until the point where that change challenges their experience of privilege.

Our cultural artefacts do not simply memorialise history, they actively impose an interpretation of power on the present.

Look at a different angle: i was in Munich this week and, incredibly, saw a tourist goose stepping, laughing as they posed for a camera. Just as statues carry power, so too can movement itself. Ballet is an expression of story through movement, a representation of established power, whilst perhaps break dancing represents more movement from the street, where it is often performed. To perform a nazi salute is illegal in Germany, but not in the United States, where these images have been captured on camera.

Again, it’s the imbued meaning of the symbol that carries the power: a power of association but also, more ominously, a power of intent.

Rewriting history books to remove references to slavery would be censorship, revisionist, and unethical. But statues are not formal histories: they are totemic impositions of power within a contextual structure of power. So removing them may, in some contexts, be appropriate.

Which might take us to a new part of the narrative: how should statues be removed? With chains and hammers, or by curators and conservationists. Should they be melted down, ground up, detonated, or simply moved to museums? Removal can be orderly, or viscerally visual. And, again, each method provides an alternating context.

Removal is a continuation of a current system: destruction is in opposition to it. Vandalising statues, much as the spraying of graffiti, is a claimed voice against the system, claimed with a socially held power, not a formal one.

Museums themselves are interesting: they are a decontextualised space where symbols of power can be stripped of context and meaning. Indeed, sometimes, when we look at prehistoric artefacts, we simply do not know the meaning. It’s lost to us. Whilst the metal and stone have physical characteristics that we can measure, the cultural meaning is held within the culture, it’s tribal knowledge that is easily lost.

If i try to draw this together, i could offer the following narrative: multiple flash points, such as police shootings, statues, flags, salutes, each represent a struggle within a narrative of power. These are not simple matters of discontent within a broadly fair society: they offer a view of an inherently divided one. The backdrop of the Social Age provides the collectivising agency to respond at scale to this inequality: strong social storytellers emerge, social heroes, highly authentic individuals with strong social authority who act as aggregators and amplifiers of the new narrative.

Earlier this week a young lady was killed at a rally, run down by a far right protester: her mother made an impassioned statement, granted high social authority and deep authenticity, through the assault upon her daughter. When it comes to cultural context, the level of power that can be granted to an asset or individual may be almost limitless. Look no further than the ways the varied religions of our societies treat their sacred artefacts: artefacts of power and intent.

We live in uncertain times: the new leaders of our technology companies, and many others, are awarded social power and authority to equal or often exceed our formal leaders. And indeed, in many ways their impact upon our lives is larger. We see movements of dissent against the status quo empowered and enabled at scale by the new levels and mechanisms of social connectivity. And we see established power structures that are often playing substantially by yesterdays rules.

Our cultural landscape will be rewritten around us as the underlying narratives of power evolve. This is why you can now watch ballet in the cinema, buy cheap tickets for the Opera, or see graffiti exhibited in world class galleries. Culture is not owned by the ruling structures, which is why statues are torn down by crowds, not committees. And why sometimes they are smashed, not conserved, because the video of them being smashed itself becomes a cultural artefact.

The Berlin Wall was a formal totem of power and control, the video of teenagers tearing it down with hammers, likewise. And we should not underestimate the sweeping power of the crowd. Within a fractured and fractious history, within a deeply unequal society, the alternative stories of power may easily tear our society apart: i say that not in an alarmist way, but simply as an observation of the one thing we know to be true. All empires fall, no power is eternal, no story that cannot be rewritten and revised.

What is our role in this? If we are not standing up for what is right, we are accepting what is wrong. But we must engage in more than just our similarities: we must engage in our very differences. Reconciliation involves change, but also acceptance of difference. So we must not rewrite our history, but we may need to smash some statues along the way. The leadership we need may come from our formal leaders, but much of it may rest within our communities, because the true narratives of power are fluid and evolutionary, and every voice must have it’s say.

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The Sphere of Consequence

I’ve been reflecting on consequence: how it’s owned, how it’s applied, and it’s role in engagement and trust. I’ve previously described a ‘sphere of consequence’, the notion that we each exist within a sphere, a bubble of consequence, part of which we project, and part of which is imposed upon us. Today, i just wanted to build out that notion a little further: the applications are significant. Firstly, organisations can only affect the external imposition of consequence, the ways they apply it, they cannot directly affect our own project of anticipated consequence (and hence our withdrawal from risk), secondly, our individual projection of consequence may not be calculated on multiple factors, sometimes conflicting, but almost certainly related to trust. I also want to introduce the notion of an ‘insulation gap’, which represents the space between imposed, and projected consequence.

The Sphere of Consequence

To explore this in more detail, consider how we exist within that bubble: we sit inside it, and understand how consequence is applied. Some of this consequence is held in the rules of the organisation, it’s clear, break a rule, and you will be sanctioned. But other aspects of consequence are held within group behaviour and societal norms: if i push in front of someone in a queue, i will be judged as rude, and may even be sanctioned by the others in the queue, even though there is not official ‘rule book of queueing’. Perhaps i will write one… but in it’s absence, both the rules, and the judgement, are held in tribal knowledge.

There is a complication around this: organisations may own formal rules, but they do not always apply them evenly. They use discretion, which is a good thing, but can lead to uncertainty, and uncertainty broadens the insulation gap.

The Sphere of Consequence

The second type of consequence is projected from within: imagine that we meet up and talk about our respective jobs. Imagine that you accidentally reveal a secret from your organisation, a juicy project that you are part of, but which you are not allowed to share. Then i tweet about it. You will be sanctioned, because in your sphere of consequence, sanction can be applied by the organisation. I, by contrast, will not, because my sphere is different from yours. I do not have the same relationship with your organisation, so my applied consequence is different.

In this context, we tend to hold ourselves away from the hard edge of the sphere: we will be cautious rather than reckless, and the less predictable the organisation, the more cautious we will be, and the wider the insulation gap that we leave.

In an organisation that heavily applies consequence, but does so somewhat unevenly, we will tend to trust it less, and hence behave with great caution: we build an insulation gap that is very wide. Simply saying ‘you can trust me’ counts for nothing: it’s the lived experience that counts. It’s like when organisations say ‘it’s fine to fail, it’s part of learning’. They often don’t mean it: what they mean is, ‘it’s fine to fail when we think it’s fine, but at some point, it will stop being fine and you will be sanctioned’, so the context and application of consequence is variable, and hence we step away from the hard edge.

Consequence, it turns out, is complex. But also, a key driver of engagement, resistance, and trust.

I think it’s valuable to consider the mechanisms by which we can make consequence explicit, and hence impact engagement, by reducing the need for a wide insulation gap. This can be done through behaviour, and through signposting. We can signpost spaces according to the type of consequence that is applied there: for ‘learning’ spaces, consequence should be low, whilst for ‘assessment’, or ‘performance’ spaces, it may be high. You can literally signpost it as red, amber, or green. But then the organisation has to stick by the rules: be even in application of consequence. That’s a much harder task to achieve, and leads into an understanding of social capital in Social Leadership, and the ways in which we earn trust (and specifically the way that trust is held in implicit contracts, a subject for another day).

Organisations often assume that engagement will come if it’s asked for: they provide the technology, the assets, and the support, but they fail to address consequence. Look at whistleblowers, who report malpractice in the National Health Service: there is a hotline to call, a process to follow, and yet the reward for reporting malpractice is often bullying, hatred, and exclusion. The consequence is high, so people don’t report it. Why risk it? Just build a bigger insulation gap. This is equally true in other contexts, and is a key component in cultural failure: look at the Marines in the US, found guilty of sharing naked images of fellow female Marines. Did every individual in the groups involved feel that it was right: probably not, but the social consequence of dissent would have been too high. So they went along with it. This is how culture fails, even when most people within it don’t want it to.

Consequence is complex, but a key factor in engagement, and a key challenge for Social Leaders to engage with.

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Normalising Dolly

Clarks shoes found themselves laced in controversy last week through a largely predictable set of circumstances: a range of children’s shoes released in two lines, one for boys, one for girls. The boys shoes range was called ‘leader’, and the girls were gifted with a range entitled ‘dolly babe’. Your mental image of the associated colour schemes is likely correct, with pink hearts competing against blue tractors. But there’s more than that: Clarks had previously been called out for the way that their boys shoes were tougher, offered more ankle support, and were positioned as suitable for tree climbing, whilst the girl’s shoes were not.

Normalising Inequality

I have some sympathy for Clarks: anyone of a certain age in Britain (probably an age between 15 and 80, grew up with Clarks shoes, apparently none the worse for it, but there is something to learn about falling out of time. In retrospect, i suspect the fault is obvious.

Inequality is normalised, sexism accepted, normalisation being an intriguing mechanisms by which we come to believe that something is simply so, simply because it seemly always has been. Boys climb trees, girls play with dolls, unless they are a ‘tomboy’, whereby they are allowed to play like boys, on condition that they cut their hair short and have grubby knees to cut any ties with a conventional notion of ‘girlhood’.

Girls may wear pink shoes. And they may also climb trees. As may boys. The question is not one of capability, it’s one of normalisation and expectation: if a girl climbs trees, does she do so in opposition to normalised views, or in line with them.

If Clarks made any mistake, it may be the most obvious one of name choices: i personally know no girl who would relish being called ‘dolly’, or ‘babe’, or at least certainly not by my. ‘Leader’ carries none of those connotations. Words are powerful, and best used with care.

The shoe company was naturally called out on Twitter in short order, and withdrew the range in short order. All good action to take when suddenly and, i suspect, unexpectedly, one finds oneself in the Twitter crosshairs.

For me, normalisation is an insidious aspect of inequality: some of the harder battles we have already fought, meaning it’s no longer viewed as ok to offer an unwanted pinch or slap on the behind, and yet even this week a friend in her thirties regaled stories of being whistled and catcalled by builders as she walked past. The second degree of inequality is more deeply embedded, and harder to shift, often and largely because we simply see no need to shift it.

Like pay inequality: why are we even having an ongoing conversation about this? If organisations believe that they pay equally, they could simply commission a blind study of role and renumeration to evidence that. And yet they don’t.

One of the roles of Social Leaders is to reduce inequality, to fight for fairness, not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because if we do not hear all the voices, if we only hear those who were gifted the leadership shoes, we are organisationally weaker for it.

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The Walls That Tumble Down

Our experience is one of two systems: ‘formal’ systems, of technology, visible organisation, and formal power, and ‘social’ systems, systems of reputation, relationships, and trust, the two systems superimposed, one upon the other. The formal system is the visible one, a system of contracts, technologies, communication media, formal rules, hierarchies of power, and formal sanction, whilst the social system is less visible, although somehow more ‘real’ in the immediacy of it’s impact upon us. We ‘feel’ the pressure of the social system implicitly, through the behaviours and responses of others, whilst the formal system tends to impinge upon us when we hit hard boundaries, when we break rules, or when new frameworks are imposed upon us.

Into the Social Age

The formal system is rules based, dominated by formal power structures, whilst the social system is moral and ethical, bonded by notions of ‘fairness’, ‘right’, ‘truth’, and ‘trust’, all subjective terms, and all subject to the clustering effects of tribal forces and confirmation bias.

I’m thinking about this in terms of how formal systems are able to adapt, to thrive, or simply to survive, in times of unprecedented change. As with any systemic approach, we move to complexity fast, but i think there are broad principles to consider: new technologies, new social movements, new politics, all these things impact on the formal system, and we can adapt that accordingly, but they also impact on social systems, and the ways that those systems adapt is less clear, and less controlled. Or, more specifically, less controlled by the existing formal power.

Take something like banking: historically, banks were mechanisms of formal power, their power held in physical infrastructure, literally in the strength of their vaults, and the bars on the tellers counter, you were physically separated from the money. We invested not just money, but trust, within the banking system. Compare that to today: today, i am interested in whether my pension fund invests in GM foods, or ethically dubious economies. I am interested not simply in the functional utility of security, but the moral aspect of it too. I want fair investments. Similarly, i want access: not between the hours of nine and five, but around the clock, and from my ipad.

We can read this shift in a number of ways: it’s the technology that has shifted me away from the old model, where i had to travel to the bank, and pay by paper cheques, through to the new model, where my money is held digitally, and i can carry the ‘bank’ on my phone, but with that shift, the walls have come tumbling down.

We see this as a ground level effect of the Social Age: old models of business, of structure, of control, are challenged, subverted, and eroded, by newer models, typically more distributed, democratised, adaptive, and fluid, and, crucially, indicative of new types of power and less direct control.

To me, these are systemic changes, change that will impact not simply banking, but the nature of nations themselves, notions of identity (national vs tribal, and all more fluid and contextual), notions of healthcare (away from a model of ‘emergency and exception’, to one of ‘constant companion’), even notions of ownership (shared services vs ownership), and certainly of privacy.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation - Bonds of Trust

I’m interested in this, because both systems are in flux: the formal systems represents the codified power at play behind an outdated understanding of power and control: the ways we live, in cities and towns, is less relevant in a world of super fast internet connection and distributed online community, the ways we organise production, distribution, retail, consumption, all are in flux. Even the nature of conflict is changing: nations that maintain fleets of ships and armies of tanks find themselves confronted by cyber threats and insurgency that their physical might may hold small sway against.

The narrative is clear: formal systems emerge to organise and operate within known structures and spaces. They represent known power structures, and known ways of working.

Social systems evolve around these: both shaping and subverting them, but ultimately, finding ways to coexist.

But neither of these systems is fixed, and that’s the key point: the challenge we face is not the emergence of an empowered social system, in large part, the challenge we face is the increasing redundancy of our formal systems. The movement of the social system is simply a reaction to that.

Technology has enabled social change: social change has eroded the known, formal, structure (Amazon, eBay, AirBnB, drones, PayPal, Trump, and Brexit, AI, Robots, Blue Origin, Steve Jobs, and Pirate Bay, none of these are the problem or the solution: they are all signs of emergent spaces and new niches in a diversifying ecosystem).

We are not at a solution point: we are at a transition point. The walls come tumbling down, and existing social systems are shaken, formal systems eroded. The question is not ‘how do we stop it’, the question is ‘how do we learn to change’.

Our ethical stance, our notions of privacy, our understanding of ‘ownership’, our sense of nationhood, our view of religion, our understanding of trust, our belief in technological utopias or dystopias, all of this will evolve.

My contention is that we need a new breed of explorer, and a new type of organisation to exist within. We need Social Leaders, with a humility to learn, and reputation that allows them to lead, and we need organisations that are adapted, with a strength rooted in individual agency, not simply in physical infrastructure and formal control.

The Social Age is a time of transformation: the only question is whether we are ready to face that challenge, or if we will expend our efforts in denying it.

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The Projection and Failure of Trust

As the Landscape of Trust research progresses, i’m developing out frameworks and ideas for understanding how trust works, development activities to build trust in teams, and diagnosis of the underlying Landscape of Trust within an organisation. Today, i want to share a sketch that’s been taking shape in my mind for a few weeks: it deals with the mechanisms of development and failure of trust, and specifically the ways that we project expectation, in the form of frames, onto others.

How Trust Fails

This builds out of the narratives and description of how trust fails: people talk about the breaching of implicit rules. I thought we had trust, but it was never explicit, but now that you’ve done something to breach ‘our’ implicit rules, i trust you less. Or if you (accidentally) stay within the frame i’ve set, i trust you more. So here’s the model:

1. Projection – when we meet, we project a frame of trust onto the other person. This is influenced by culturally determined factors, such as ethnicity, age, dress, status, gender. This frame is both invisible, and imposed, without any insight or agreement from the other party.

2. Population – In the early stages, we populate that frame, and validate our assumptions.

3. Validation – In the third stage, colour is added and we fill out the detail. We validate or refute the frame.

4. Judgement – at some point, the frame is breached and either the implicit rules are justified, or breached.

5. Failure – as the rules are breached, we impose failure. We are let down.

Clearly there are a wide range of reasons why trust fails, but in this specific context, i’m interested in the ways that trust seems to be held in small subsets, in localised groups. Trust is not universal.

I’ll continue to #WorkOutLoud as i extend the research, and build out the interventions and thinking.

If you haven’t yet taken part in the Landscape of Trust research, you can do so here.

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The Psychology of Mixed Realities. #WorkingOutLoud [Part 2]

Yesterday i shared the first part of a new piece of work, looking at the psychology of mixed realities: how do virtual and augmented learning spaces differ from those that we are used to, both from a design perspective, and that of a learner experience. This work is part of a wider project around ‘Learning Architecture’, which is intended to provide a contemporary vision of how Organisations can adapt and update their entire view of learning to be fit for the Social Age. Here are the six elements that i introduced yesterday.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

I shared writing around ‘Consequence’, ‘Neurology’, and ‘Context’, in that piece, and today, i will build out the ideas around ‘Perception’, ‘Geospatial’ aspects, and ‘Manipulation’.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

PERCEPTION in virtual reality is immediate, the pathway from incoming sensation, interpreted to perception (our ‘sense making’) happening as fast as it does in the real world. That immediacy differentiates the experience from any form of ‘imagination’ or roleplay. There is no leap of faith to take. The experience is taken as ‘real’, as evidenced by the clear fear people display when approaching virtual cliff edges, or when something swoops towards them: we are fooled, at least up to a certain point. The immediacy of our response is significant, because we are more likely to react in the instinctive, normalised ways that we know from real life, but the whole sequence is inherently manipulated, or manipulable: we can change aspects of the ‘virtual’, to stretch credibility, or extend both sensation and understanding. Virtual environments are entirely configurable: we can make aspects visible, add contextual overlays, even change the laws of physics and consequence.

Two interesting aspects are trust and authenticity: if the environment closely reflects what we know from real life, then trust may transfer, and authenticity be transposed, but these mixed realities are not ‘real’, we can vary consequence, and some consequence simply does not apply (for example, if something falls on you, it does not do damage), so in some ways, the experience, lacking consequence, may look real, but be treated as inauthentic. So the ways that people behave in immersive environments may not be true to how they will react in ‘real’ ones, limiting potentially the value for assessment, unless the consequence is made explicit.

One really fascinating aspect of mixed realities is the social collaborative one: in shared social immersive experiences, we mirror the conditions in which strong social ties are built, building the potential to develop virtually facilitated broader webs of strong social ties, something that is directly relevant in induction, and explorations of organisational effectiveness.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

GEOSPATIAL aspects are fascinating in mixed realities: central to the benefits we have are that virtual environments are exploratory, and in the Learning Methodology, ‘exploration’ is a key learning stage. There is not doubt that this exploratory ability will be central to the benefit we feel from mixed realities, at least if the experience design is solid. Our ability to physically engage with objects, even to receive tactile or haptic feedback (in the most advanced work being done on virtual touch), will further reinforce the authenticity and value.

There will clearly be both risks and opportunities around accessibility: we can liberate ourselves from physical constraint, but equally people may be limited in their ability to benefit from geospatial aspects of engagement by their own capability, so at the very least, we need to be mindful of this.

Finally, geospatial engagement provides great opportunity to be playful, playful with physical constraints and physics rules, but also with the ways we engage. We can create playful co-creative and exploratory spaces, especially using puzzle based approaches, and, even better, collaborative puzzle solving spaces.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

The last aspect to explore is MANIPULATION itself: the ability to build, to move, to interact with the environment, this is what makes these spaces so potentially exciting. Making is, itself, a powerful engager. People can experience pride through creation, and these spaces are superb for supporting rapid sketching and prototyping: some of the newest pre-visualisation tools are high speed to competency, low tech for the end user, close to intuitive. We can unlock creativity if the tools don’t have steep learning curves.

Our ability to vary rules around manipulation (vary virtual weight for example) broaden the scope of our ability to experiment. Mechanisms of experimentation and failure, both the ability to participate in and, crucially, the experience of both these things, can greatly enrich a learning environment.

This has been a brief pass through aspects of the psychology of mixed realities: i wanted to include it within the Learning Architecture work because, already, we see many organisations following predictable paths to failure. If we apply existing pedagogical approaches to new spaces, we will limit or damage our potential. This is a time to explore, but to explore not simply new technologies, but new storytelling and experiential models.

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The Psychology Of Mixed Realities. #WorkingOutLoud [Part 1]

There’s a great buzz. Or certainly a great hype. Virtual, immersive, and augmented realty is a transformative event in learning: not simply from an experiential view but, if we focus on design and pedagogy, an effectiveness one. The technology is not simply emerging, it’s cascading, with the price of both creative and consumer kit tumbling. But effective learning will not be caused by technology: it may be facilitated by it, if we understand the forces at play. If we understand just what changes in ‘learning’ as we move from ‘physical’ through to truly ‘immersive’ experiences.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

Today, i’m preparing a session to present at the new Realities360 Conference in San Jose. The title is ‘The Psychology of Mixed Realities’, and it’s really a first draft of factors that we can build into an overall Learning Architecture. I’m primarily interested in ‘what’ is different in the experience of mixed realities and, crucially, how that influences our instructional design approach.

The Learning Architecture is an ongoing stream of work i’m developing, bringing together my previous books on ‘Learning Methodology’, ‘Social Learning’, and ‘Mobile Learning’, and attempting to create a holistic view of learning, with a focus on effectiveness and agility, achieved through the creation of spaces and communities to learn within.


Julian Stodd’s 6 stage methodology for learning design

For this session, i’ve sketched out six initial factors to consider: i doubt that these are the final ones that i’ll use, but that’s the joy of #WorkingOutLoud, i can prototype these, and see how the narrative shapes. The initial factors that i want to consider are: ‘Consequence’, ‘Neurology’, ‘Context’, ‘Perception’, ‘Geospatial’, and ‘Manipulation’. An eclectic selection, i’ll warrant, but they let me start the thought process. I’ll take a brief walk through each, to outline my thinking.

The Psychology of Mixed Realties

CONSEQUENCE is immediate within immersive environments: we take an action, and the consequence is as immediate as it would be in the ‘real’ world. I drop something, it smashes. Perhaps i should say ‘physical’ consequence is immediate: reputation based, or behavioural consequence may still be delayed. But there is an immediacy of consequence to action that reflects very closely what we experience in reality: this is fundamentally different from what we experience in eLearning, or abstract classroom based approaches. Immediacy of consequence impacts learning significantly, but unlike in the real world, we can make this fluid: we can play with temporal factors, slowing things down, and allowing us to repeat actions. So, for example, we can simulate experiences, but manipulate the flow and application of consequence. We can provide narratives to overlay it. We can shape the experience beyond what is possible in either classroom or real life contexts.

Our reflexes in immersive reality are more instinctive: the engagement of our vestibular system, the sense of movement and balance, the sensory overload, all of this makes it a more visceral experience, something that reflects in the fact that there is a persistency effect of our feeling: unlike much classroom based training on empathy, for example, experiential training on bullying in virtual environments leads to a persistency of empathy. This is one hint at the power of immersive approaches.

The Psychology of Mixed Realties

NEUROLOGY is a section in which i want to explore the underlying cognitive experience: what’s happening at an intrinsic, instinctive level, in immersive realties? Well, certainly our ‘experience’ is immediate. Super fast in fact. We make millisecond judgements much as we do in the real world. Unlike in, for example, branching scenarios, or roleplay, where we tend to have far more reflective space, we act more closely to how we do in ‘real’ life. We may be highly subject to forces of confirmation bias, be wilfully blind, we may exhibit cultural and ethnic bias in our decisions, made rapidly, according to cognitive processes of ‘normalisation’, as explored in the research around implicit association and unconscious bias. The lack of reflective time (unless we wilfully manipulate the temporal flow) leaves us subject to the same bias and prejudice we exhibit in real life.

The Psychology of Mixed Realties

CONTEXT is a fascinating aspect of mixed realities: because of the inherently artificial nature of the experience, we can precisely replicate the space, either to allow repetition, or to provide shared experience. Of course, the converse is true, in that we can deliberately vary the experience, in either expected, or unexpected ways, which is particularly important for developing resilience, creativity, agility, and collaboration. Or at least it is if we design it right! We can also prime people by pre-visualising a situation, allowing us to explicitly experiment with or test confirmation bias and presumption, stereotyping and categorisation errors. For aspects such as military or emergency service training, this can be highly valuable.

I’ll conclude this post tomorrow…

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