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Volume 9, Number 7: April 9, 2003

Book Review
The Experience Designer: Learning, Networks and the Cybersphere
Brian Alger,
Tucson: Fenestra Books, 2002


Reviewed by M. Kayt Sunwood,
UW-Superior

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In my estimation, it is essential that everyone in the education, corporate, government, and cultural sectors attend to the message behind a book entitled The Experience Designer: Learning, Networks and the Cybersphere. I believe that, unfortunately, few education, corporate, government, or cultural leaders will end up getting the vital message this book attempts to impart.

My fear is that the abysmal to nonexistent copy-editing of The Experience Designer will keep readers from getting past the first page, where the thesis of the entire book is mangled and obscured through the omission of the word out. (I have added the bold type for emphasis and clarity, the italics are from the original):

e-Learning is the most powerful force influencing the evolution of the internet. The potential of e-Learning cannot, however, be realized without a vibrant conception of the word learning.

Instead of the intended thesis statement above (incorporating the word without), in bold type, in the second paragraph of the book, the thesis statement appears as:

e-Learning is the most powerful force influencing the evolution of the internet. The potential of e-Learning cannot, however, be realized with a vibrant conception of the word learning.

I found the above statement quite curious at first reading, but I soon realized, in the paragraph that followed, that out had been omitted when I read this sentence:

The real source of design for e-Learning is a vibrant conception of the word learning.

While I was relieved that this with/without incongruence was due to an unfortunate word omission, I was dismayed as the word omissions, typos, letter/word reversals, and sundry errors that should have been caught by decent copy-editing, instead continued, built, and spiralled throughout the book.

I am belabouring this point because I am so conflicted about what to say in this review. Even though the message behind this book is incredibly important, I find it hard to recommend the purchase of a volume that wasn't even rudimentarily edited for errors. What I have decided to do is to synthesize the message of the book here so that those reading this review will at least be exposed its main points. (Readers who have patience for poor editing and are interested in actually examining the book should email me at ksunwood@uwsuper.edu. I will send you the "free" copy I received for writing this review; that way, we won't be encouraging substandard editing by contributing to sales of The Experience Designer.)

The following are the valuable nuggets that I salvaged from The Experience Designer after sorting through the inadequately copy-edited chaff.

E-Learning Has Yet to be Invented

I appreciated Alger's bold pronouncements in the preface that:

Businesses, governments, education systems and cultural enterprises focused on the mass production and distribution of information bits and bytes through e-Learning are destined for extinction (p. 1).

Before we attach the letter "e" to learning we need to first ensure that our conception of "learning" is in fact useful in order to make certain that we do not develop sophisticated electronic products based on ideas that are less than useful (p. 2).

Alger invites readers to "engage in an innovative system of thinking that explores, invents, imagines, probes, provokes, and builds ideas about e-Learning" (p. 5). He circuitously spirals through sections entitled Learning, Networks, and The Cybersphere in order to put forth his "Vision for e-Learning."

The following quotes will hopefully provide elucidation of Alger's vision of and for e-Learning.

Learning

Learning is the most critical human resource and source of stability for the unavoidably lifelong and lifewide confluence of modern life. … Learning is simultaneously a public concourse and a private discourse (p. 5).

The idea of Narrative [the stories we tell to explain ourselves to ourselves] is at the nucleus of what learning means. Learning is fundamentally a quest for building connections and relationships that promote stability in our lives. Stability is learned through the development and preservation of our private and public identity. Our interface with experience is our identity, or how we construct our stories about our connections with and relationships to the world we live in (p. 6).

Critical Vitality and Creative Vitality are the two most fundamental sources of passion and motivation for learning. Taken together these elements form the nucleus of the phenomena of learning (p. 13).

Critical Vitality represents the collection of thoughts and actions that allow us to clarify our experiences so that new conditions for growth and innovation can be established (p. 14).

Creative Vitality represents the multitude of ways in which we design, build, construct and invent new contexts, situations and circumstances that lead to growth and innovation (p. 15).

Networks

A network is a system of interaction that facilitates the creation of connections and relationships across a diversity of people, places and things over time. It is not an idea that merely refers to the physical hardware and software used to support the Internet. A network is a means to structure and coordinate powerful sets of environmental conditions for learning. A network learning environment focuses learning on the creation and strategic use of connections and relationships. It is a coordinated set of situations and circumstances for learning that empowers the learner to create and evolve a range of experiences across people, places and things. … The means to coordinate a network learning environment is called interaction design (p. 8).

The Cybersphere

The Cybersphere is the electronic gathering space for network learning. The most important design consideration for e-Learning is to think of it as a unique kind of electronic habitat within the more comprehensive idea of a network learning environment. An e-Learning environment is primarily designed to facilitate human ingenuity (p. 10).

e-Learning Design - The future of e-Learning technology requires a network learning environment that integrates the corporate, government, education and cultural sectors. The rationale for this is based on the following:
a. no one sector has the necessary intelligence to evolve e-Learning to new levels of value and performance
b. learning is a source of design that transcends any one sector
c. network technologies are most effectively developed by powerful, adaptive and flexible networks of relationships
In the end, the e-Learning design results in a unified and distributed array of network tools that are combined and repurposed in response to the needs of the learner (p. 11).

I am thrilled and energized by Alger's ideas about the future of e-Learning because I feel that the University of Wisconsin System is indeed engaged in the innovative system of thinking for which The Experience Designer calls. UW's work with and through the Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab, the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT), and SCORM (the Sharable Content Object Reference Model) is providing leadership in exploring, inventing, imagining, probing, provoking, and building ideas about e-Learning. And the UW System Course Management System Task Force is charged with meeting the Web-based learning needs of the University of Wisconsin System by recommending selection of a course management system capable of supporting a range of learning needs from blended courses that combine online with traditional learning styles to fully web-based asynchronous courses. UW is facilitating corporate, government, educational and cultural envisioning, development, and sustenance of powerful yet adaptable scaffolded learning environments. The CMS Task Force seems to be embodying Alger's suggestion that, "if learning is to be a 'solution' to anything, it must emanate from ideas about stability, durability and sustainability in the face of change and innovation" (p. 19).

As we each engage in exploring, inventing, imagining, probing, provoking, and building ideas about e-Learning, I hope that the following quotes from The Experience Designer will energize our work:

Information is a narcissistic predator of attention in the digital age. … Corporate and public education curricula that ignore or confine the confluence of modern life to information prisons are not helpful (p. 20).

If learning is about creating and expressing meaning in our lives then information must be sensibly and sensitively connected to experience (p. 26).

In a technological sense, learning is not and cannot be a form of push technology. In a social sense, learning is not and cannot be a form of monologue (p. 31).

When we are learning, we are constantly engaged in bringing a high quality of action to the people, places and things involved in the learning process in order to explore an issue, investigate a problem, discover a new solution, create a new product and design a strategic direction … Interactivity then, is the human capability for bringing a high quality of action to the people, places and things in our lives (p. 30).

A network-or the quality of connections, relationships, and associations we create across people, places, and things-is the foundation for a new approach to instructional [interaction] design (p. 85).

The idea of designing experiences invites all participants into a world of authentic narrative creation and preservation, the human ecology of interactivity, and the private and public mobility of our mind, body and spirit (p. 19).

The opportunity to elevate e-Learning beyond its current confines cannot occur unless a critical mass of people reach beyond the current paradigm of using new technologies to further entrench old ideas (p. 162).

The future of e-Learning is dependent upon providing unity, not uniformity, across the diversity of possibilities for leveraging the cybersphere to support a holistic approach to learning (p. 190).

I believe those of us affiliated with the University of Wisconsin System are well positioned to carry out the exploring, inventing, imagining, probing, provoking, and building ideas about e-Learning championed in Alger's Experience Designer: Learning, Networks and the Cybersphere. I hope that we will remember to spell-check, and edit the narrative(s) of our experience(s) and e-Learning work(s) so that our contributions will not be buried and/or obscured beneath typos and poorly edited text.

I think that The Experience Designer: Learning, Networks and the Cybersphere's message is essential to/for all sectors of society. I wish that Alger had availed himself of proofreading and proofreaders though, so that his message wouldn't be so hard to sort from the typos!


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