Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

The illusion we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future

As mentioned in the last post I’m currently reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The title of this post comes from this quote from that book

The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future

Earlier in the same paragraph Kahneman writes

As Nassim Taleb pointed out in The Black Swan, our tendency to construct and believe coherent narratives of the past makes it difficult for us to accept the limits of our forecasting ability.

Later in the same chapter, Kahneman writes (my emphasis)

The main point of this chapter is not that people who attempt to predict the future make many errors; that goes without saying. The first lesson is that errors of prediction are inevitable because the world is unpredictable. The second is that high subjective confidence is not to be trusted as an indicator of accuracy (low confidence could be more informative).

The connection to e-learning and the LMS

I read this section of Kahneman’s book while at lunch. On returning I found that @sthcrft had written about “The post-LMS non-apocalypse” in part influenced by @timklapdor’s post from earlier this week Sit down we need to talk about the LMS.

In @sthcrft’s post she tries (and by her own admission somewhat fails) at describing what a “post-LMS” world might look like. She’s being asked to predict the future. Which given the above (and a range of other perspectives) a silly thing to try and do. And this is my main problem with the current top-down, “management science” driven approach being adopted by universities. An approach that is predicated on the assumption that you can predict the future. But, before moving onto management, lets just focus on the management of IT systems and the LMS.

(About to paraphrase some of my own comments on @sthcrft’s post).

I have a problem with the LMS as a product model. It has serious flaws. But in seeking to replace the LMS, most universities are continuing to use the same Process model. The plan-driven process model that underpins all enterprise information systems procurement/development assumes you can predict the future. In this case, that you can predict all of the features that are ever going to be required by all of the potential users of the system.
Not going to happen.

Even though I like @timklapdor’s idea of the environment as a much better product model. It will suffer from exactly the same problems if it is developed/implemented without changing the process model and all that it brings with it. The focus on the plan-driven process model ends up with hierarchical organisations with the wrong types of people/roles with the wrong types of inter-connections between them to deal with the “post-lms” world.

This is one of the reasons why I don’t think the adoption of open source LMSes (e.g. Moodle) are going to show any significant changes in the practice of e-learning.

This is the point I will try to make in an 2012 ASCILITE paper. In that same paper, I’ll briefly touch on an alternative. For the longer version of that story – made significantly inaccessible through the requirements of academic writing – see my thesis.

Management and narratives

On a related note, a conversation with a colleague today reinforced the idea that one of the primary tasks taken on by senior managers (e.g. Vice-Chancellors) of a certain type is the creation of coherent narratives. Creating a positive narrative of the institution and its direction and accomplishments seems to have become a necessary tool to demonstrate that the senior manager has made a positive contribution to the institution. It’s a narrative destined to please all stakeholders, perhaps especially the senior managers set of potential employers.

I wonder about the cause/impact that this increasing emphasis on a coherent institutional narrative has on the belief of those within organisations that you can and should predict the future? I wonder if this type of narrative preventing organisations from preparing to fulfil Alan Kay’s quotation

The best way to predict the future is to make it

Perhaps organisations with certain types of leaders are too busy focused on predicting the future that they can’t actually make it?
Management is all about constructing coherent narratives.


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