A few days ago I sent this tweet:

“I know that you feel differently about, say, different haircuts. But could you describe exactly how these feelings differ? No. This is why explaining Affective Context is hard.”

One of the problems I have experienced in explaining Affective Context is that people immediately think of global emotional states – happy, angry etc. – rather than the subtle differences in affective reaction to say – different haircuts.

I’m going to try and tell some of the first stories about learning that you have ever heard:

Story 1:

Thousands of years ago, two of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – Ug-ak-u-lak and Wa-ki-cha - sat round the fire to tell stories. Wa-ki-cha had great admiration for Ug-ak-u-lak; whom he felt was a fierce and imposing hunter. Ug-ak-u-lak was also a good storyteller, acting out his story complete with facial expressions. Tonight, he told a story of how he had been hunting monkey.

Many years ago I won a ‘Gold Award’ from what was then called the Institute for IT Training for a ‘people development strategy’. We won this because we had figured out how to get 95% completion rates for our e-learning modules.

The wizard wheeze involved a complex system of job grades, each with associated rewards. Movement between grades was governed by completion of ‘gateway tests’ for which you were only eligible if you had completed the prescribed e-learning.

I’ve noticed a great many articles about automation recently. They are often based on dire predictions regarding jobs that robots will do, but fail to make useful suggestions regarding the practical steps that companies need to take. Instead you're left to wonder at what point an army of sentient automatons will arrive to do your work - or if you should start talking to some IT people about 'developing an app'.

The (edited) transcript for a recent interview:

Interviewer: one of your central themes is a critique of conventional training – you’ve described traditional Instructional Design as ‘mumbo jumbo’ for example – can you tell me why?

Me: Yes. These things are not on a firm foundation – I mean they don’t stem from a basic understanding of learning, so they are – for the most part – just a mix of folklore and artifacts.

Interviewer: can you give me an example?

Me: Sure.

What makes people tick?

Mostly, we avoid life’s big questions. A couple of weeks ago, in Copenhagen, I enjoyed one of those dinner conversations where no-one feels embarrassed to talk about the things that really matter.

There was a time when I thought Kahneman had it covered: people, he says, can be thought of as having two systems: ‘system 1’ and ‘system 2’. System 1 is where the decision-making really happens – a vast, unconscious (and I argue affective) processing system.

In an era of of click-bait and likes, ratings and relatability, it turns out that the thing I really want to say has – so far as I can tell – an audience of absolutely zero.

I say this because over the last decade or so the ideas of shifting from courses to resources, and from classroom to experience design have gained traction – but the central idea on which these developments are based – the affective context model - remains obscure.

The history of education could be summed up as a series of failed attempts to dump knowledge into people's heads.

A bit of a generalization I know, but it irks me that where education does get something right (like project-based learning) nobody really understands why - and so the madness continues.

"Memory retains no more than a millionth, a hundred-millionth, in short an utterly infinitesimal bit of the lived life." - Milan Kundera, Ignorance.

Ironically, of all Milan Kundera’s works I remember only a couple of fragments – of which this is one.

Predictably, I discovered that I didn’t even remember it accurately. What I remember is this: ‘You think you remember everything, but at the end of your life you have only a few snapshots’.

The bad news is that we are living through an era where the need to learn is being systematically eliminated. The good news is that if you’re a learning professional, that’s now your job.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

To understand why learning is being erased, imagine that you are running a London taxi company in the 1980s.