Tony Karrer's eLearning Blog on e-Learning Trends eLearning 2.0 Personal Learning Informal Learning eLearning Design Authoring Tools Rapid e-Learning Tools Blended e-Learning e-Learning Tools Learning Management Systems (LMS) e-Learning ROI and Metrics

Friday, March 07, 2008

Fight in the Blogosphere - Finally

It's Friday afternoon for me, I went to Bloglines to read some posts. And, I was happy to see some entertainment for a change. I apologize to those of you who feel this is serious stuff, this Friday afternoon, I'm not feeling that serious... With that preface...

I've got to say that in comparison to other worlds of blogging, all us folks in the learning and development world seem rather civilized - possibly verging on boring. Sure, once in a while Stephen Downes will call me out for being too control oriented and I'll say he's too much of a socialist and he'll correct both my definition of socialism and misconception that socialism is somehow not the answer (see Decomposting Socialism). This is always fun, but still relatively boring. But, finally, we have an honest to goodness fight emerging.

Bill Brantley has called out Jay Cross - Cross Calls Me Out (or was it the other way around?). Bill has particularly gone through a critical review of Jay's book to poke holes. I can't say I've not done similar things (see Thomas Davenport and Blogging - He is Wrong! : eLearning Technology). Luckily Davenport writes a blog, but either doesn't respond to other bloggers or doesn't read them. So, no fight emerged.

In Bill's series of posts he tells us (among other statements):
Informal learning is just another hype-filled, buzzword that pretends to be a radical change from the past but is really bits-and-pieces of other learning methods badly packaged.

Cross’ definition of informal learning is so wide open it can mean almost anything.

Cross has a marketing background which explains the breathless pace at which he writes.

Cross’ book is filled with hyperbolic assertions that training is just selling snake oil (p. 32), courses are dead (p. 167), and there is no sense in measuring return on investment for training (p. 165).
Ray Sims - Informal Learning Dustup at Sims Learning Connections and Harold Jarche - Growing, changing, learning, creating both mention Bill's post, but interestingly neither of them mention the food fight aspect. This would be another boring exchange without the use of terms like "hype-filled", "buzzword", "repackaged", and the rest. That at least makes it seem more interesting and entertaining on a Friday afternoon.

Unfortunately, Jay has only provided a very minor response via a couple of comments. Not enough to have a full blown fight on our hands. I'm still hopeful. Or maybe someone can more aggressively defend Jay or better yet simply attack Bill.

All that said, as a person who as a panel moderator, or the proctor of the Big Question, likes to instigate interesting discussion, debate, disagreement, I'm perversely happy to see this. On the other hand, I'm somewhat worried that the tone may put off people.

So, I'm curious:
  1. Are these kinds of debates good or bad?
  2. If it helps excite the crowd, is a little blood okay? Or should we always keep it civilized?
  3. Do you think it's good that Obama finally started attacking Hillary on her experience (okay, you don't have to answer, and yes it's US centric, but I couldn't resist)?


Harold Jarche said...

Bill is looking for Google-juice (he's self-aggrandizing) and I'm not going to give him any more links or the time of day.

Mark Frank said...

I am all for a bit of dispute. It is motivating, causes you to go and do things like check your facts and think critically, and makes it really easy to remember key points because they are just soaked in context and meaning.


Remember that no one ever changes their mind during the dispute (but they might afterwards).

Because of this you need a time-out mechanism. Otherwise you end up with endless circular bickering.

Just to prove the point I have to say I find Bill's points very persuasive - although I guess I should read Jay's book first :-)

Anonymous said...

Passionate disagreements can be good. I got to know Cammy Bean through our conversations after she commented one her disagreement with one of my posts. We still don't agree on that issue, but I'm so glad she started that conversation. Those discussions ended up being some of the best I've ever had on my blog.

But I think we can be passionate without using name-calling or drawing blood, and it can still get people riled up. Look at how many posts and comments Karl Kapp generated by saying IDs need degrees. That was a great discussion, with passionate disagreement, but everyone was very professional and civilized.

Mark's point about the time-out is good too; if arguments become purely emotional and personal, it's time to take a break.

The politics question is actually related here--Obama has run his campaign in such a way that he has to figure out how to criticize Hillary back without being nasty. He does have to fight back, but he has to do it so he can still maintain that higher standard of integrity.

Of course, at a personal and emotional level, I'd like to see him use a tiny bit more snark. Something along the lines of "Hillary is not a monster as far as I know. She says she's not and I take her at her word." (Apologies to anyone who doesn't spend their time reading American political blogs; I know that last bit won't make sense without the context.)

Donald Clark said...

These debates are always good, no matter if we like them or not because they tend to keep us out of "group think." Blood is fine as long as it is directed at the ideas, rather than the person. For example, Bill's attack on Jay's definition of informal learning as "being so wide open it can mean anything" is OK (I agree with Bill). However, when Bill brings up Jay's marketing background, then the attack is starting to turn towards the person. Different backgrounds are one of the other elements that keep us away from group think, thus we should always welcome them rather than scorn them.

As far as Jay's book, I gave it 4 out of 6 stars on Shelfari because it makes you think. Any book that makes you think is always worth reading, thus it is worth at least 3 or 4 stars. The reason I did not give it the other two stars is that the book plays fast and loose with the numbers and charts when it comes to comparing formal with informal learning. On this point it takes on the shady side of political debates -- the only way to pump up the benefits of our candidate (informal learning) is by Swiftboating the other candidate (formal learning). The book would have been more useful to the learning profession if it had taken on some of the aspect's of the "Medici Effect" by showing how informal and formal learning intersect.

Anonymous said...

Oh, there's plenty of fighting in the blogosphere, some of it pretty ugly, too - but it tends not to happen in this neighbourhood.

Even here, though, there is disagreement, it just tends to be conducted following the queensberry rules.

Harold Jarche and I got to know each other through our disagreement about social and sporting interaction in schools.

Josie Fraser and I disagree strongly on the whole gender issue (blogging awards for female bloggers, etc.) I find it sexist and patronising - she disagrees.

Yet I have the highest regard for these two people and (I think) they feel fairly well disposed towards me. When I disagree with them, I make sure to do so in such a way that will not damage the relationship.

Perhaps I should follow Bill's example, though - my technorati ranking has been dropping like a stone ;-)

Anonymous said...

As someone who has studied several forms of martial arts and an MMA/UFC junkie (confused...look it up), I love a good fight. I don't even mind if there's a bit of blood drawn in the process. I also tend to be quite argumentative on an intellectual basis and have never backed down from a good debate with anyone...employers, clients, you name it. But I think fighting and debating should be conducted in a "sportsman-like" manner. Play by the rules. Concentrate on the topic at hand. Employ superior strategies. Once a fight turns into a brawl, it's just plain stupid and uncovers the lack of skill and credibility of the participants.
Lastly, once the final bell has sounded, both fighters should congratulate their opponents on a beautiful war and walk away smiling...bloody face and all.

Karl Kapp said...


I think debates are appropriate and effective for helping to influence ideas and for making people think. I have engaged in several myself in the past in this blog space.

What I disagree with is taking a personel disagreement with someone and then making it public. You can review a person's work and ideas online but then when you start to make public sections of emails (which are sent privately) and then bits of personal conversations and then try to have topics taken off agendas and then you tell the blogosphere about your triumphs...I think that is over the line.

The rule should be that you treat others with respect and you treat them in the blogosphere as you would in a face-to-face discussion.

This fighting and brawling is much like a couple of teenagers. Intellectual discussions are ok but when it goes to a lower is not healthy.


Bill Sawyer said...

I think the profession absolutely demands these sorts of conflicts. They are creativity enhancing. Writing a substantive critique requires preparation and serious thought. Responding to a critique requires the same. Every great profession has its hallmark disputes. Heck, just put Kirkpatrick and Phillips in the same room, and I think you'd see some sparks.

Bill Sawyer

Tony Karrer said...

It's been good to see the responses here.

Harold - does slamming Jay's book give you Google Juice? Not sure I buy that. But certainly starting a fight is often cited as a great way to get people to come and read. Of course, if you don't sound good, then that's a different issue.

Mark - great comment!!!

Christy - on Obama - whoops we are too late. He's had to go negative. Although it does seem reasonable to question what experience as the First Lady really means.

Donald - great point about where the line belongs. Marketing background vs. wide open definition.

Karyn - Technorati changed their algorithm a while ago to only count 6 months prior activity. But you are right (and with Harold) may explain part of the reason to make attacks more vicious. Still, I enjoy the spirited discussion where I know I'll still be friends at the end.

Eric - my wife hates it, but I like watching MMA as well. And like you, I agree that it's really cool when they beat each other up and then congratulate each other at the end. Of course, even in MMA they have rules - no head kicks on the ground.

Karl - like the golden rule and good point about personal conversation. So, it's no personal attacks, no personal conversations and do unto others as you would in F2F in front of other people.

Bill - Every great profession has its hallmark disputes - what are ours?

Benjamin Hamilton said...

I've seen a few tussles come up every now and then, but agree that we are more of a civilized bunch. All too often, we tend to quickly comment on posts that we agree on, and shy away from posts that we don't agree on.

Debates are healthy and very needed. Removing ourselves from the blogosphere for a moment...some of the most boring classes were the ones where everyone agreed on what was said and no one challenged the status quo.

However, these debates were still civilized and centered on the topic at hand (i.e. we didn't spout off that we didn't like someone's clothes that day so they obviously didn't know what they were talking about). In the blogosphere, we need to have civilized debates rather than just criticizing someone for personal gain. Everyone does have their opinions, but what makes a debate good is when there are substantial data and facts to back it up... as opposed to "he said; she said".

P.S. Regarding our Halmark debates...the Clark/Kozma debate on Media vs. Method should rank up there towards the top. They used several peer reviewed articles to go back and forth...and this debate still comes up today.

Paul said...

"Fights" can be good, and there can even be fights/debates on one side or another of a given issue. I would say these bicker sessions are good for a field that seems otherwise quiet from my perspective. For good measure, get some teachers or professors involved and watch the fur fly.

Where MMA is concerned, I've become a consistent fan of it over the last several years. As far as the rules go though, it depends on which country/league is hosting. ;) PRIDE was certainly different, and seemed to attract a different kind of contestant. But I agree, these fighters don't hate each other like people think they do, and there's genuine respect in the vast majority of cases.

Regarding Obama/HRC, Obama will sharpen his attack mode fine. I think the guy's a genuine talent, and HRC is too old school. She's already lost by the numbers.

Bill said...

The funny thing about this whole dispute is that Cross nor his defenders (such as Jarche) have actually engaged me on the actual criticisms of his book. I believe I made substantive arguments against informal learning. And claiming that I made a personal attack because I mentioned Cross' marketing background is really reaching for an excuse.

There is no personal disagreement with Cross. As I said, I have never met the man. And I agree that personal emails shouldn't be quoted in public. The reason I made the exception here is that Cross falsely claimed I was personally attacking him and he threatened to "call me on it." That doesn't sound like honest and open debate when you try to censor your opponent.

Mark Frank is right on the need for a time-out on this dispute. Even though I wasn't the one that made this personal, I will be the first to put an end to this. For the next six months, I will leave Jay Cross and his interpretation of informal learning alone.

Specific response to Jarche - I have never heard of "Google-juice" before. Well, you can drop me but you are still on my blogroll because I like what you write. Enjoy the juice. :-)

Specific response to Karrer - I don't know if this is considered a significant issue but I still question the need for over 80 different learning models.