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Update: If you do not have children in a large, urban school district this post may not make a lot of sense. You are among the lucky.

As someone who has used toilets for many, many years — with little formal training — I feel quite qualified to redesign our nation’s plumbing system to improve the performance issues that I’ve identified.

toilet(I’m basing this on the recent action of the State Board Of Education in Texas, in their amazing redesign of a curriculum created by professional teachers and learning designers. This is an attitude that I frequently encounter, in which someone who has experienced education feels that that qualifies them to design education for others.)

Now you might think that it would make more sense for me to ask a master plumber who has years of training and experience how to handle the waste that flows out of my home. But since I’ve spent so much time on the input side of the equation, I feel perfectly capable of making decisions without consulting one of these so called “plumbing gurus” and just going with my gut.  (First of many puns intended.)

My Ten-Point C.R.A.P. Program

With much thought, I’ve developed a Comprehensive Revised Aesthetics Processing (CRAP) program that will deliver a system flush with success and we’ll all come up smelling like roses.

  1. Your toilet will be assigned a particular plumber based on where you live, regardless of the quality of the plumber.  You can petition the local Plumbing Board to allow you to drive your toilet across town to a better plumber every morning, but we won’t pay to put it on a bus.
  2. If your plumber fails to unclog your toilet over and over, we’ll just move him to another geographic location.  Much like the Catholic Church, no matter how deep of a pile of shit he’s in we won’t admit it or take steps to remove him.
  3. We believe every single toilet is unique — so Plumbing Boards in each community must spend months deciding where to put the “flush” handle, how to connect the water, and whether or not the float is hollow. It would be impossible to have national standards of any kind for toilets. Local communities know better what they need.
  4. If, over several years, the toilet doesn’t perform well, we’ll just keep asking for more money for purchase of toilets.  And complaining that people don’t respect the work that toilets do.
  5. No toilet can be removed, even if it doesn’t perform at the most basic level.  Once installed, it’s there for life.  Best we can offer is a “substitute-potty” program where we have specialists come in for huge fees to try to fix the toilet and fail.
  6. Well over 50% of the budget for Toilet Repair will have to go to “Toilet Administration” — a group of people in nice suits who have never actually installed or used a toilet.  They’ll make charts, graphs, and evaluate the plumber as he is on his knees getting his hands dirty.
  7. If you have several toilets in your house, we will require that you balance the use of each amongst all family members.  Just because one is closer, performs better or has less gunfire will not be considered a factor.
  8. If you complain that your toilet doesn’t perform well, we will fight to the death any attempt to actually measure how well waste passes through.  Even though nearly every other profession in the world (from jet pilot to fry cook) is measured on results, we’re special. Plus, it might make the toilet feel bad if we labeled it as “failing” in some way.
  9. After 25 years, we’ll remove your toilet.  But you’ll still have to pay for it every month, along with a generous service allowance and perks.  And it’s free to go be a toilet for someone else and get paid twice for taking one load.
  10. Despite all this, you do have the option of installing your toilet in a “Charter RestRoom” that is sponsored locally for those who demand better performance.  You’ll still have to pay all the fees for that traditional toilet you’re not using, and at any time we retain the right to tell you we’re pulling the plug and your successful toilet no longer meets our standards.

Legislation is already in front of Congress (“No Behind Left Behind”) to implement this simple plan, and I encourage you to call your representative to urge them until it passes.  If they have trouble passing something of this size, there are aids available.

StarbucksSometimes, it’s a little hard to get your head around how you could implement new media channels into your existing education efforts. So this is Part I of a 435-part series entitled “What Could You Learn About Learning?” (My apologies to Stephen Colbert.)

I’ve picked five random things that are trademarks of the folks with the little green mermaid, and I think each can be used to remember a simple truth about pushing knowledge into little lizard brains. Let me know what you think.

First, Do One Thing Well

The online world is full of people who do everything — and nothing. It’s hard to define what they’re offering, hard to remember who they are, and hard to focus. Does your knowledge transfer experience map to that? Do you offer classes, online, offline, synchronous, asynchronous, job aids, reference materials and fireside chats?

Quantity isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s devilishly hard to create multiple learning models that actually complement and support each other. Start your move to new media by just producing a podcast. One podcast, about one course. When you’ve got that down solid, apply what you’ve learned and do another. Don’t rush off to video, or blogging, or thought-transfer pills.

If you’re in that much of a hurry, hire somebody who’s done this a lot to guide you — and even then, keep an eye on him.

Give Them A Consistent Experience

There’s a reason that the “next” button is in the lower right-hand corner on lots of e-learning products. (No, there isn’t really any data that suggests that’s the “best” place for it.) The reason is that most designers put it there, so we’ve come to expect it. That’s why toast comes out of the top of the toaster, shoes lace up in the front, and cats always have their butt facing you.

60 MinutesSo each video you create should have a common intro and outro, a similar introduction, even a similar look and feel surrounding the content. Think “60 Minutes” or “Publisher’s Clearinghouse” or “How My Toilet Works.” Sometimes knowing exactly what to expect is very comforting. Having to figure out a new system often just breaks your focus and becomes annoying.

Every Starbucks I’m in, there’s one stop to order and one stop to pickup. The products have the same names, sizes, and ingredients. And there’s always somebody sitting in the comfy chairs.

Allow Me To Add The Spice To My Experience

When I’m in Starbucks, I know there’s no chance that I can add fries. But I do know that I can have extra flavors, less milk, cinnamon, room for cream, or even soy milk. So I can really make “my drink” within the bounds of what’s available. Can your learners customize their experience, while still sticking to the “be consistent” rule? Can they add something, remove something, or customize the size?

Adults want to control their learning experience, and push back pretty hard if you present it as one-size-fits-all. That’s why the web has had such an impact on how people take in knowledge. We expect that it’s ok to start with Chapter 5. We want to look at the finished bookshelf before we start assembling. Going to a hotel without seeing the room in a preview is no longer ok with me.

Let Me Know What’s New, While I’m Waiting In Line

Filet ‘O MermaidEvery Starbucks has a little chalkboard sign, where the barristas put up a little note about what’s new. It might be a Pumpkin Spice Latte, Christmas Mint Cookies, or Filet of Mermaid. (Ok — I made that one up.)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t often take them up on it. But I like to know that there are choices available — in some ways, it makes mine feel a little more valid. It lets me know that it really is ok if I want to have the hazelnut syrup today. And I have confidence that each time I visit, there will be freedom to select just what I want.

I Don’t Want To Feel Your Pain

Whether I’m in the drive-up window or at the counter, I rarely have any idea of what’s going on behind the curtain. I’m sure that some days the steam is too hot, the milk is running out, or the microphone for the drive-up is not very easy to hear.

But I don’t ever hear that. Everyone I deal with is positive, smiling, polite and focused. Compare that experience to most other food experiences (heck — compare it to quick lube shops and Home Depot) and tell me what you see. When I’m in the middle of learning, I don’t want to hear that your server is unavailable. I don’t want to create a blog post and lose it in editing. I just don’t care that you’re upgrading the site and I can’t find the podcast anymore.


What could you learn from Starbucks? Who else do you learn from?

I left Microsoft about nine months ago, and many days I miss it.  Great people, nice campus, a private office and free soda.

But today, I downloaded a new app to try out, and it required .NET Framework 3.0.  I did my search, went to, and clicked download.  Nothing happened.  I clicked the “if this download doesn’t work” button.  Nothing happened.

Cynical bastard that I am, I opened up Internet Explorer (I usually run Firefox), pasted the link in, and it worked just fine.  Hmmmmm.

I looked around, and found a “UserAgentSwitcher” for Firefox — it lets me masquerade my browser as though it was IE 7.  Installed it.  Works fine to download, now.

Reminds me of when I was about 7 years old.  There was a little kid that had a bat, and a ball.  But he wasn’t willing to let anyone else touch either of them.  So he just stood out there in the rain, with tears streaming down his cheeks.  Eventually, he got all wrinkled and pruny.  He never married, had terrible athlete’s foot, and ended up as a precinct captain for the Democratic Party.

Ok, ok — I’m kidding.  He wasn’t crying.


If you’re a doctor, we can check how many patients die. If you’re a plumber, we can look for leaks. If you’re an exotic dancer, we can count the number of stiffies.

But if you deliver education, it seems that we can’t actually measure whether or not your consumers are getting their money’s worth. I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times, but it always shows up again in a new form.

My latest favorite is the “student testing” that’s going on here in Washington state, among others. Most educational professionals are aghast at the idea of actually measuring skills. Here are the facts we know:

  1. Many of our children cannot read. Many cannot do simple math. Many cannot write a simple declarative sentence.
  2. Over 50% of minority children will not graduate from high school.
  3. Parents with money move to districts that teach. Parents without money move to charter schools, Catholic schools, and home schools.
  4. Teaching is really pretty simple. Define the objective (“Student can add single digit integers”) and then measure success.

But the angry backlash I hear is amazing! Where do those citizens get off, expecting that they can measure whether the students are actually learning? They just don’t understand education. We can’t be expected to really get them to be able to do that stuff!

(If you’re a plumber, and you can’t fix the leaks, you’re out. Same with dead people and limp willies.)

I’ll be the first one to admit that being a teacher is no fun. (That’s why my education degree does NOT have a teaching certification, and never will.) You’re pulled from all sides, given multiple directions, and then not respected as you’d like to be.

But you should be measured. If you can’t teach those kidlets to add, leave. Go be a plumber. And if the next teacher (and the next, and the next) aren’t any more successful, the penny will finally drop. We’ll re-set expectations, change the objective, or maybe even decide that we don’t need to focus on them learning diversity and self-actualization and basket weaving.

If you stay, and complain, you’re part of the problem. (And don’t tell me you care about the children. If you care, support testing and teaching — and excel at it.)

And if you see my plumber, tell him that my leak is fine but now the toilet is running.

I had the chance to go to Las Vegas last week for a couple of days.  I lost $40 on the video poker machines, saw a space-age toilet, and attended the LMS 2007 event put on by Elliott Masie.

Elliott produces shows that are vastly different than the ones I’ve done over the years.  There is a real focus on learning, attendee needs, and giving great value.  He also makes the lion’s share of the content available immediately after the show — and you can watch the Keynotes, video from the General Sessions, LMS/CEO Panels, Implementer Interviews, highlights from Malcolm Gladwell’s interview — even a copy of an LMS PhD dissertation.


It’s interesting that most large shows protect their content like a mother grizzly with her cubs.  The theory is that if you give away the content, nobody will ever want to pay to attend your show.  So only a very small subset of the customer base ever gets to learn, grow, and apply new ideas.

Elliott, on the other hand, makes it easy for anyone to share in the riches.  And his shows sell out over and over and over again.


Information doesn’t want to be free.  Information wants to be valuable.

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