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Home » Products » Podcast » Season 1 » S01 E06 – Trojan Horses

S01 E06 – Trojan Horses

In this episode of the Tao of WAO podcast, hosts Laura Hilliger and Doug Belshaw discuss the intersection of technology, society, and internet culture in learning design. We emphasize the importance of creating engaging, relational learning experiences and the role of emotion in learning design. We also discuss their work with Participate and open badges, as well as the challenges of scaling relational and emotional learning experiences.


Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.

Learning Design

Participatory methodologies

Other things


Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:27] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I am Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:40] And I am Doug Belshaw. You can support this podcast and other. We are open projects and products at open all one word open forward slash. We are open. So Laura, we started this podcast. Why why did we start this podcast? What’s the point of it?

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:00] To talk about the intersection of technology and stuff that we put in the intro.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:07] Yeah, but like it was also a way to kind of just start a conversation with people outside, bring some people in who we want to have a conversation about that kind of thing. Um, and just really kind of have those conversations that we don’t usually have, I guess.

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:24] Yeah, that’s in the working world. There’s not a lot of room for the philosophical conversation, and I feel like we do that quite a bit in our cooperative meetings where we kind of go down a rabbit hole and sort of sideline and start talking about things more of a meta level. And I think the reason that we propose to we are open co-op, that we run this podcast and that we that we make it and that the co op is our kind sponsor for. It was really so that we could see where those philosophical conversations lead and get other people to contribute to them.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:01] Yes. In the spirit of being open, there’s two things, really. First of all, we propose to our co op where two members of we’re open co op. We propose doing six episodes to begin with and see how things are going. And as part of that, really we have got some good feedback so far from people. We’ve had some feedback in terms of, Oh, I like it when you and Laura do this, but less when you Laura do that. And so really we’d love to know from you, dear listener, what you like and what you hate about what we’re now calling Series one or season one. I think Americans say season one and we say series one in the UK, but we’re going to do six episodes as a first series. And then all things being equal, we’ll start a new series or season towards the end of the summer. So if you let us know what your favourite episode was and why that is, anything that you really liked or really anything that you really hated, and if you just want to give us a thumbs up to keep on going or just to say, Actually, I prefer your written work, it’s all cool. Feedback is great, let us know.

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:04] Yeah. And we will take that feedback into our quote unquote planning process, which is currently a messy etherpad that Doug and I are looking at and we are going to think about who who we can bring on as guests, what kind of topics we should talk about. If there are segments that people really like, maybe having regular segments, we don’t know. We’re being pretty easy about it. But again, your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:31] Absolutely. So today we’re going to be talking a little bit about learning design. So before we dive into that a little bit for people who maybe don’t work in the space of education, learning, development, that kind of thing, how would you characterise learning design? Laura?

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:47] Well, I think of learning design really at a sort of again, meta level. I keep wanting to say German words. I notice just interesting.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:58] Just when you do learning.

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:59] Stuff. Yeah, yeah. Well I did my, I have a master’s in media and education and I did it in German. So when I talk specifically about pedagogical stuff or learning stuff, I find that every once in a while there’s like one specific word that I want to use, and I’m like, Wait, no English? What’s the English?

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:17] A really long German compound noun?

Laura Hilliger: [00:04:20] Well, yes, it is Virtuality. It’s wrong. No, it’s not.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:25] Does that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:04:25] Mean. I think I actually wrote an entire blog. I’ll have to. I will dig that out. I wrote a blog post about that word when I was doing my master’s because I was like, that is I mean, it’s basically like storing your brain in the virtual environment, but they actually have a word for it. And it’s literally translated virtual virtual storage facility.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:49] That is awesome.

Laura Hilliger: [00:04:50] I have to I’m pretty sure I have a blog post about that because it really threw me. I mean, it has to be noted when I did my master’s, I’d only been speaking German for about a year and a half.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:00] So that is insane.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:02] I basically when I got my master’s, I said I never have to do anything again because I just got a master’s in education in German.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:10] So that is quite impressive.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:12] Yeah peak, I peaked already a while ago.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:15] No, you didn’t. So learning.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:17] Design. Learning design in English, what is it?

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:20] Right. So it’s for me it is the practice of taking both knowledge like a knowledge bank as well as the visceral connection to that knowledge or the inspiration of virtual connection and arranging it in such a way that you can transfer that knowledge, but also the emotion surrounding that knowledge to another person. That’s a very complicated way to think about learning design, but it’s it’s really a structural process, I think.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:54] I think it’s very interesting and I think we’ll probably come to this later about how you put a motion in there. Um, I guess I’m coming at this from a slightly different angle. Like I used to be a teacher in formal education. Um, and so I guess drilled into me in teacher training were two things. First of all, focus on knowledge, skills and understanding and scaffold that either in ways which have been mandated obviously, or in ways which are going to there’s a lot of kind of focus on things like differentiation within classrooms, like lots of learners are at different levels and you have to make sure that everyone makes progress and that kind of thing. But the other thing which I know that you want to talk about is about. During my Pgce postgraduate certificate in education. My tutor said that to all of us that we need to be an enlarged version of ourselves. And I’ve said this a lot of times in your presence before you do this particularly well. So it’s not like there is a way of being a teacher or a learning facilitator. It’s like how ever you are, whatever your personality is, be an enlarged version of that. And I’ve seen you do this loads of times and I just want to think that’s a really interesting connection to emotion. And I wondered like from your perspective, how that how that works. Like, why is it that you’re an enlarged version of yourself? Why do you bring that emotion into it?

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:27] I think that’s. I think that’s a really interesting way to think about teaching as an enlarged version of yourself. The reason that I bring emotion into learning design is because I also learned how to construct a different bits of knowledge so that it’s, you know, easier for other people to learn and how to scaffold and write curriculum or learning materials in a way that gives people orientational knowledge before asking them to, you know, have a practical understanding of it and these kinds of things. But the emotion bit is really, I think it’s just something that I’ve learned over the past, whatever 15, 20 years of working in EdTech, I’ve found that people connect more easily to information when their visceral senses are engaged. And so if I think about the way that I enlarge my personality or bring out, you know, the extroversion bit, there’s a couple of different things that I want to talk about in relationship to that. But I think the big one is how can we get people to feel like learning is something that they want to do? How do we engage them and how do we make it not a sort of a rote process of learning, but rather an experience that they’re going to take with them a memory? And that’s where the emotion comes in, because if you’re, you know, if you’re just standing in front of a room and droning on and on about something, it’s very easy to disconnect from the information. Whereas if you’re actually engaging with people, you are connecting to them as a as a person, as a human. And whatever it is that you’re transmitting is thereby also brought into that relationship. So I think of learning as a relational experience.

Doug Belshaw: [00:09:14] Absolutely. And the difficulty is that is dependent on the personality of the learner, but also on the personality of the teacher, which makes it very difficult to scale because the whole point of something which scales is that it’s reproducible no matter who you’re plugging in at either end, the learner or the teacher. And what we’re talking about here is actually something which is quite specific to the relationship between the learner and the teacher. And what’s really interesting for me as a learner myself, as, you know, as a former teacher and now as a as a parent, like I see my kids relationship with different subjects change depending on which teacher they have, which is obvious. That’s how I was when I was at school. So now, like my son loves English, didn’t love English last year. He loves it because the teacher he’s got, he’s got a really good relationship and he’s coming home talking about an inspector calls, which is unlike him, but it’s that relationship he’s got with his teacher. So I think that’s interesting. And I think the other thing is that it’s actually quite difficult.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:18] I think one of the reasons that what we’re talking about here doesn’t scale is because it takes a lot out of you. Relationships take a lot out of you. You know, the relationship you have with your with your spouse, with your parents, with whoever, that can take a lot of you because there’s emotions involved. And if you teach like that on a daily basis as like a a regular teacher, it burns you out because you’re putting a lot into those experiences every day. And that was actually my experience of being a teacher and one of the reasons I left the profession actually, because I couldn’t sustain that level, not just of a performance of being on stage, but the relationships with the kids and actually deeply caring about stuff. Now, I’m not saying that teachers don’t care. Of course they do. But you have to put on a little bit of a suit of armour if you want to do things at scale. So I think it’s really interesting that you bring out the relational, emotional side of of learning.

Laura Hilliger: [00:11:17] I’m trying to yeah, it’s it’s interesting because very early in my career, I, I taught software like probably 3 or 4 days a week. I taught for companies like Pixar. I worked through an organisation called the Bay Area Video Coalition and they, they were the people that trained Adobe staff on Adobe products. And I did all different kinds of classes. I did HTML and CSS and InDesign, Photoshop Illustrator, like you name it. If it was software there in the early 2000s, I was I was teaching it at universities and a couple of nonprofits around the Bay Area. And I had I don’t know if it was because I was younger that I had the same amount of energy that I bring in sporadic doses to projects that we do nowadays, or if you know, or if it’s just something that I can turn on quite a lot before I get burnt out. But I, I never really felt like I always felt really tired at the end of the day. But I never felt like, I don’t want to do this again tomorrow. Like that level of burnout in terms of, you know, teaching. So I don’t know. But like I said, I’ve never you know, I’ve never been a quote unquote, teacher teacher, in a school.

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:38] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think just to kind of. Just to kind of thread the needle of of that stuff that we’ve just been talking through, through experiences since then that we’ve just been talking about, kind of 2000, 2010 when you were doing what you’ve just been saying. And I was a teacher since then. Like there’s been Mozilla for both of us. There’s been Greenpeace for you, there’s been the stuff I’ve done at City and Guilds and Moodle. There’s been the stuff we’ve done together with the co op and I think those experiences are really interesting and that you can bring an amount of energy like a, like a focussed amount of energy for a given time period to something. But then let’s say you’re in an event or a conference. You can go back to your hotel room. And we were talking about this on Twitter actually the other day about our time in Portugal. I remember that, that those workshops as being quite intense. But then we went separately back to our hotel rooms and just sat and kind of recovered and then went back the next day and did stuff. Um, and that’s a different kind of experience. And I think when you’ve, when you’ve got that focus on relationships and emotion and whatever, people will still remember those workshops now, people will still understand some of the concepts that were introduced to them just because they have, like you say, that visceral connection to the content that we were delivering.

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:02] Yeah. And they had fun, right? I mean, you know, I think when I think back to the hundreds of workshops that I’ve done over the years with groups from everyone you just mentioned, you know, open Web community, various different hacker conferences, just workshops. I’ve done tons of workshops. And, you know, one of the things I always wanted to do was make it fun, you know, like people come came to those things mostly voluntarily. I mean, there were some that were required for people, but for the most part it was volunteer and like it gives me great pleasure to know that people or well, to know that for the most part, the people that I engaged with had fun and that they remember it because of even just, you know, that that that connection of I didn’t waste my time, I wasn’t bored. I got to do something different and interesting. Maybe the stuff I learned is not directly applicable, but, you know, the people I met was interesting. You know, that was it was a good time.

Doug Belshaw: [00:15:10] So, the there’s a quotation I used years ago as an undergraduate, and it was from William James’s varieties of religious experience, which is going to feel like a weird segway. And William James in this book says basically our faith. And he’s talking about religious faith. Our faith is actually in other people’s faith. You see other people around you believing in something, and that strengthens your belief. And I think the same is in terms of interest and enthusiasm and excitement about something. If someone’s really interested and enthusiastic and excited about something, you can’t help but be curious about, Why is that so interesting to someone? And then it kind of it’s infectious enthusiasm about about a particular area or a topic. And if you can bring that to bear on something, people are going to be drawn to it and kind of magnetised by it. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:01] Yes, I agree. We’re supposed to disagree on this.

Doug Belshaw: [00:16:05] We are supposed to disagree on this. That’s what we were told, some feedback. But anyway, this is all relevant to a blog post that we published today with some work that we’re doing with Participate. So we’re talking about learning design, which is in some ways of defining this kind of scaffolding, people’s learning and giving them some kind of experience or helping them have some kind of experience where they learn something. And yeah, should we just say a little bit about the work that we’re doing with participate, a little bit about them, maybe a little bit about the work we’re doing and just some of the design decisions we’ve made in terms of this experimental course, if that’s what we’re calling it.

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:46] Yeah, it’s funny because I hesitate to call it a course as well. I like the word experimental, but it’s the learning design of this particular piece is I feel like if you use the word course, people tend to think of something that’s quite linear, like it has a has a start and then it has an end and you need to work through it in that way, which is, I mean, not true. It’s just that the word course is a bit loaded. But yeah, participate is an organisation, they’re pretty big in the badges community and they help people learn about communities of practice and they’re at and they have been a we are open collaborator and client for quite some time actually. We’ve done quite some work with them. They’re really fun to work with, super interesting and kind of learning geeks like we are. I hope me. People learning geeks is not offensive. And the project that we’re working on is really, as Doug said, experimental, trying to think about how can we weave together some of the heavier theoretical concepts around communities of practice and open badges in a fun, engaging way while giving people practical experience of both communicating communities of practice and open badges. So Doug and I have kind of been wrapping our head around around that and playing around with the participate platform and thinking about how can we do this in a scaffolded way, both for participate as an organisation as well as end users.

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:28] One thing I want to pick up on what you said there in terms of the structure of courses usually so I’ve been hesitating to to call even though participate has parts of their platform which are called courses. I’ve been hesitating to refer to them as courses, but instead as activities. And I think for some people it’d be like, Well, who cares? Just call it whatever. But the way that we conceptualise things matters. Now there’s an image which must be at this point, what, like six, seven years old from Brian Mothers, who’s a member of our co-op. And it’s in this blog post that we’ve just referenced now in the bit underneath where it says Learning Journey design, there’s three different examples of badge pathways. So open badges, it’s a standard in terms of the way that you issue web native credentials, something that Laura and I worked on at Mozilla. So in this image, which you can go and have a look at, but I’ll describe briefly, the left hand side are stepping stones now in Morpeth in Northumberland where I live, we have stepping stones across the river and usually they’re available. But if someone else is coming across the other way, you, one of you has to back up. If you don’t want to go on those stepping stones, you’re going to put your foot in the river. And sometimes those stepping stones get flooded. Now I’m going to not explore the limits of that metaphor other than to say that this is a sequential, i.e. one after another and prescriptive, i.e. you have to go that way of doing some kind of course or learning experience.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:03] The second one though, is a bit like if you’ve played the game Trivial Pursuit. So in that game you collect what some people call cheeses or the people called parts of the pie, different colours and you can collect those in any order. So it’s kind of non-linear. You can do brown and green and yellow or blue, then green, then yellow, whatever you want to do. But you do have to collect all the different bits before you go into the middle. So it’s prescriptive, but it’s non-linear. But the third one is like constellations, so constellations in the sky, different stars. Those stars only exist to us in that kind of constellation because of our imagination and because of where we sit in the, in the solar system and in the universe. So you can draw any different kind of pattern between the stars. So they’re non-linear and also they’re not prescriptive, they’re descriptive of how you think things should join together. And I love this kind of metaphor for doing learning journey design, because it means that you can define the points, but how they make sense to people is kind of up to them and whoever’s facilitating the course. And just the last thing on that, this fits in really nicely with a learning theory called connectivism. And I’ll link to the Wikipedia article in the show notes. But this is a theory from George Siemens and Stephen Downes, which thinks about learners as nodes on a network. And to me that makes entire sense. Entire sense.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:36] I was just going to say that I, um. I really like this image from Brian when I’m thinking about learning design because I like to mash up all three of those. Because if you’re, if your program is big enough or if your audience is big enough, if your topic is big enough, um, there’s a lot of room for exploration and how you can mash different pathways together. So you could have the meta pathway being that sort of constellation where you can start anywhere. But when you tap on that first star, then there might be something that’s slightly more prescriptive. And I think that, you know, I think that that’s perfectly applicable way to, to design learning is to have a variation in the way that it’s constructed. And I really like.

Laura Hilliger: [00:22:22] Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re doing with participate and that’s I think that’s why I like projects like that so much because they they grow in complexity and I find that complexity really interesting. And with participate we found that, you know, we found that the constellation approach for the for everything that we wanted to do maybe is. I mean, I guess we could have done it, but it it isn’t the way.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:52] I think it’s because and I definitely agree and I think actually we have done this and I hadn’t thought about the link between these two images, which actually are pretty much above one another in the in the blog post. But I think for me, what it is with the Constellation model, you have to have been oriented in terms of all of those different nodes or all the different things that you’re looking at. You have to have a good understanding of those things. Whereas what we’re going through is a real introduction into communities of practice and open badges. That has to be scaffolded a lot more. So, you know, again, trying to explain the diagram which in the blog post. But as you say, Laura, like the first bit is sequential and prescriptive. The next bit is like, well, you can do these bits in any order, but the last bit where you’re like, Hey, do you fancy like designing your own badge? Do you fancy like coming up with your own community that is quite non-linear and you can do things almost any way that you want. So it’s, it’s mashing those together in interesting ways so that the learner feels secure and knows where they are, but at the same time has freedom to explore however they want as well.

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:05] Yeah. So we’re going to try this out. Our mash up here around communities of practice and open badges, I guess soon in the in the next couple of months.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:16] What it’s like. I tell you what it’s like. We are both gamers and we’ve both got Red Dead Redemption two and we’ve talked lots of times about sitting around the campfire having a meeting on Red Dead Redemption instead of on Zoom. But, you know, when you play a game like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption two, something like that. Like. There’s a sandbox element to it. You can go and I have done this many times, just ride around the lovely landscape and look at things and discover stuff. Yeah, that is that is a valid thing to do. I played a game years ago and I was about like a teenager called Frontier Elite two. That was the same deal. You could just go around the universe just looking at stuff. But there was an element of like a scaffolded story to it. So in Red Dead Redemption two, there’s a story mode and there’s different like multiplayer things you can do. There’s different prizes and like badges and things you can unlock. So however you want to approach it, you’re always going to be learning something however you want to do it. And it kind of maps onto those three ways of doing stuff. I know that Adam, who we actually play games with, Laura and I, along with my brother in law on a Sunday night, he is in charge of games design for the University of Southampton, and I think we should probably get him on this podcast at some point as well.

Laura Hilliger: [00:25:33] We should invite Adam. Adam, if you’re listening, we are inviting you. That would be fun. Let’s talk about games. Yeah, always call the um. I think they’re called open-world games like Grand Theft Auto and I love open World Games. And I, you know, I played I used since the pandemic. I’ve been playing a lot more games, I’ll say. But for the last ten years or so I’ve played one gigantic game, um, each year because in the winter when it’s dark and there’s nothing else to do, kind of. And since the pandemic, I’ve been playing a lot more. I joined your gaming crew. Thank you for inviting me. It’s fun. Um, we’re going off topic now, but yes, these open world games, they they do mash up these these different kind of pathways, right? So what you’re talking about, you know, having a constellation, which is kind of an open world. I definitely see like the way that we could kind of map gaming and learning in quite a few ways.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:33] Yeah. I think when we’re doing the open badges work at Mozilla, um oh, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but there was, you know, when there’s a skill tree like on Tomb Raider or whatever, you can choose to upgrade your character in different ways. Um, there’s this particular one Path of Exile, that’s what it’s called. Path of Exile has this immensely huge skill tree, and that was often put on the screen during presentations, including by me as imagining, like, imagine all of those are badges. Yeah. And imagine that this isn’t just like a semester’s course. This is like your journey for the rest of your life or something like that. How would that change the the situation? The other thing I want to mention and Laura, I know you haven’t read this, but I was looking at this literally before the podcast started. There’s this new publication by A16z, which is Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capitalist firm, and they’ve got this new publication. It’s a bit like a medium publication, and they’re talking about the evolution of remote work. And this person is talking about the future is multiplayer and how we have to think about asynchronous and synchronous modes within the workplace. So I think that actually what we’re talking about here sounds like it’s just learning design and kind of focussed on people learning new stuff. But actually it’s the way that we work. We’re always learning new things as we work. Um, and it links to kind of gaming as well, which is sometimes something that you do to relax and it’s leisure, but actually sometimes it’s the way that you learn things too, like gamification. So I think it all weaves in together work and learning and gaming and all that kind of Yeah, I think something in the middle.

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:08] I think this the, I think it also like weaves into a lot of the work that we’ve been doing with Catalyst. So digital transformation work, which is partially learning, um, learning design, but it’s also like the future is multiplayer. It’s a lot about how you collaborate in remote environments, what the world of remote work looks like, how you use different methodologies when you can’t be in the same office, in the same room with people. And of course, like the, you know, the Internet y kind of skills that go along with that. Like a lot of the catalyst charities that we’ve been working with, things like, you know, a Trello board or Agile methodologies are completely new to them. I was actually talking to a friend of mine who is starting a internship at a cybersecurity company as a programmer and he he had his first week of his internship and he was talking about the fact that in the tech industry we just jargon all the time for really simple concepts and we’ve essentially, you know, made up new methodologies that already exist but just retitled a bunch of the like the components. And he actually used Agile methodology as an example because he he is a certified Six Sigma project manager, right? And like Six Sigma, I don’t know the lingo for Six Sigma because I looked at it once and then it was like, hey, pay a bunch of thousands of euros to be certified in this thing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:29:36] And it’s like a kind of a. Close down methodology and I’m just don’t care enough to research it, to be honest. But I remember looking at it and being like, Oh, okay, what? You know, this is like any other project management methodology, except it’s using different words. And that was verified again, you know, the other way around. And the last Catalyst project that we did where one of the charities was quite explicit in how frustrating tech jargon is. And I just bring it up because like I see so many connections between learning design and project management methodologies and, you know, just some kinds of tech skills and frameworks. And it’s really interesting because I feel lucky that I studied education because I feel like having that theoretical overview of teaching and learning is something that has allowed me to see those connections between, you know, between games, methodologies, all these things and have a pre-established conceptual framework for understanding them.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:42] You’ve linked to a blog post of yours from 9 or 8 and a half years ago, which I don’t think I’ve read and is really interesting, especially given I talk about ambiguity quite a lot because you’re talking about people dismissing stuff as like semantics and like, Oh, we’ll just call them this. And they kind of links to what I was saying before about, I don’t want to call this thing a course, I want to call it something else. And also the fact that people repackage words in different ways. And it’s easy for people to dismiss that and say, well, this thing just means this thing. But it doesn’t because it links back to what you were saying about emotion and the relational. You know, we don’t just have relationships with other people. We have relationships with objects. Objects have different meaning to us depending on, you know, the relationships we’ve had with people, the relationship with that object and where you’ve taken it, all that kind of stuff. And so in this post, I got to the bottom and you want to use the term activator as like a new as a kind of a new hybrid word, like a portmanteau word. But the way that you get there is really interesting because what you want to do is define with people this new term. Because then it has a very like it has a it means something to that community. It’s different from this term. It’s different from this term. This is what we’re doing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:32:08] Yeah. I do have the disclaimer that I’ve been playing around with it and honestly, it did last a couple of years. Activating education was one of the themes that I ran at the Mozilla Festival years and years ago. We did play play around with that, that juxtaposition, but to be honest, I had forgotten that I wanted to play around with that word. And now nine years later, it I’m a little embarrassed. It’s like when people put Ninja on their business card, you know, it’s like it just didn’t age well. So but it’s still it’s still a good post and sort of clarifying like that. What you just said about the fact that people, you know, there are emotions attached to words and people do have a visceral connection to especially when they’re being addressed in a particular way. And this is really important in the non-profit space as well, because, you know, if if the object of a non-profit or the mission not the object, but the mission of a non-profit is to do a particular thing that is some sort of a social justice or environmental cause, It’s really important the words that you use because you know your mission is so important. You need to activate as many people as possible to understand that mission and to to be engaged by what you’re doing around it and to get on board and to help you achieve whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. And that’s I mean, words matter.

Doug Belshaw: [00:33:37] Well, it’s the co-creation which kind of matters. And that kind of takes us on to participatory stuff, which you’ve done loads about. And again, another blog post that you’ve put in here, which I hadn’t read before, was about, well, it starts off by talking about a kind of a hack fest that you go to as part of your Mozilla role, but you start talking about like a pedagogy of discomfort. So pedagogy for those who aren’t familiar with the lingo is kind of the way that you are the theory of how people learn, right? But why do you talk about a pedagogy of discomfort? What’s what’s with that?

Laura Hilliger: [00:34:16] Well, I think I mean, I think that this ties back to what you were talking about earlier around forced extroversion. Um, you know, one of the masks faces, things that I put on in a learning situation is I’m more than happy to be the fool in the room. I’m more than happy to make people discomfort. Discomfort, uncomfortable. Um, not just comfortable. Uncomfortable in the service of other people. Um, and like, for me, when I’m running a workshop or something, you know, adults especially, I’ve worked mostly with adults in my career, adults especially, they have learned sort of the social construct and way of being. And it is very scary to step outside of that. And you know, particularly for marginalised groups who have traditionally not been listened to and not, you know, not been able to to step up and have a voice and have, you know, been been oppressed by by the way that society is constructed, particularly for those people I’ve found in my teaching practice, it’s been really helpful to be the person that is is that fool and is is kind of has the shield against what other people might think of them. And I found that that having that sort of a presence in a workshop environment has given other people sort of the ability to participate in ways that maybe they weren’t really used to. I’ve written a lot about this on various publications, you know, writing about the different kinds of people that show up into into a workshop and how how you can facilitate in a way that is best for the collective whole. Um, so yeah

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:03] It’s kind of flipping the power dynamic because as you say, if you kind of play the fool a little bit or joking about or wear your expertise lightly, um, then you’re creating a space for other people to step into because we’ve all been in situations where maybe it comes from a lack of confidence or whatever it is. I’ve certainly been this person, but you’re like, I’m in charge. This is what we’re doing, and stick to the script. And that is usually the when someone’s under pressure, they usually react like that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:39] Doug I really like this phrase you just used. Wear your expertise lightly, I think. I think that we often assume that the person at the front of the room is, you know, the the expert and the the smartest person in the room. And so we act in a way that is in in accordance with that expectation. And it’s often not true. There’s often more collective knowledge in the room that can be brought out and especially in terms of like collaborating to get things. Done. I think it’s really important to draw out that that collective knowledge and if you wear your if you as a facilitator, wear your expertise lightly. It gives people sort of it makes them feel like their expertise or their idea is in line with with where you are. It is about power dynamics. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:37:30] Yeah. Because instead of everyone being on the same scale and this person is an expert and you’re not like the the landscape’s a bit more three dimensional. I’ll go back to that tutor. When I started off that tutor from my teacher training course, I thought he was genuinely thought he was an idiot. He was a professor of education at Durham University. And I was like, How is this person got to this position? But you realise over time, like he’s doing what you’ve just said. Laura He’s kind of like just flipping that dynamic. And one of the favourite things to start off with, it was horrendous, but one of the favourite things of his that he did. So these are all graduates? Yeah, some of them have come from like Oxford University with and I’m doing a secondary history course, so some of them have got like a degree from Oxford University in history. I didn’t do history at university. I did philosophy, right? So I’d had to convert and do all this kind of stuff. He would come into the classroom and was like, On the way over I had this little voice. It’s almost like a demon on my shoulder. And he was whispering in my ear and saying, Give them a test today.

Doug Belshaw: [00:38:33] Give them a test today. And I think I’m going to have to give you a test today, subject knowledge. So I don’t want 20 on a piece of paper and let’s just go through it and like, oh, my goodness, like, so now am I getting a test today? I don’t know. I better do I better just read all of the things and make sure my subject knowledge is really good because I might get a random test and the test doesn’t mean anything, but everyone else is going to know what I got, so I better not show myself up. So instead of it being like, This is a test you need to revise for the test, you yourself have to almost self like self-police to make sure have I got enough subject knowledge on this thing so that if he tests me on this. I know. I’ve got enough knowledge. It was just a very oblique way of making sure that you were getting up on your subject knowledge alongside your pedagogical knowledge. And for me, it was just an amazing example of how you can bring a bit of fun in and rigour at the same time.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:32] That doesn’t sound fun, though. That sounds horrifying and anxiety inducing.

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:36] I got two out of 20 the first time I did that, but I got over ten the next time because there was no way that I was going to be, you know.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:43] You were slacking.Off for the first one, huh?

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:45] Well, because I didn’t have the background knowledge. Now, the reason I think that this is interesting is because, you know, we’ve had kind of MeToo, Black Lives Matter, all the stuff that’s been having happening around Lgbtq+ rights. And then there’s been this pushback on cancel culture. And I’ve been very much on the side of, well, you know, if you need to self-censor, then you’re doing it wrong because it obviously means you’re a racist or like something like that. But actually, the more I read into it and there was an Edward Snowden article that we’ll put into the show notes, the more I read into it, if there’s some things that you can’t say at all in a particular environment, not because you want to say something racist, but because you want to explore the edges of something. If people immediately react and just withdraw, that’s like they’re not participating in this ambiguous space for learning. Now I’m going to struggle to give an example of this. Like, let’s say you’re doing the history of slavery or something in a history lesson at school. Now there’s going to be some people who approach this. Let’s give you example. There was a kid in my classroom when we were doing the Holocaust who sat there and laughed all the way through a film about Jews being burned to death. Yeah. Now.

Laura Hilliger: [00:41:07] I have questions about the kid. I have questions. Right. How old? What was his family background like?

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:15] 14.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:15] Like he’d been in and out of school in pupil referral units, that kind of stuff. He did not have the emotional maturity to be able to deal with that subject. Yeah. Now, what did I do in that situation? I sent him out the classroom. Because I didn’t know how to deal with that. He didn’t know how to deal with that. He hadn’t been prepared, mainly because he hadn’t been in the previous lessons, like the other kids had to watch that video. So if we exclude people from spaces because they’re not ready to deal with stuff or we’re not willing to go through things with them, like it becomes very difficult to learn stuff going back to the relational and emotional side of stuff. So for me. Do we just self-censor all the time and not put quite controversial and difficult things to deal with in front of students or other people? Do we always kind of pull back from that and say, Oh, that’s a topic that we can’t deal with? Or do we all go in in good faith into the situation? It’s a really difficult I wouldn’t like to be teaching a university right now.

Laura Hilliger: [00:42:22] How do you feel about that decision now to send him out of the classroom?

Doug Belshaw: [00:42:28] Well, he was in with a teaching assistant, and I asked the teaching assistant to take him out because I felt like the other kids. Like 29 other kids in the class. Yeah. Um, so strictly kind of utilitarian principle. Their learning experience was being damaged because of this, this other kid. But I don’t think I ever saw that kid again. I think he. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:42:54] Yeah. I mean, these are. I find that a very hard situation to consider. How would I how would I react to that? And also at this point in life, like knowing what I know about how the brain works and about trauma, about how early life experiences affect us, about how freaking hard it is actually, even even as an adult, to contemplate some of the really bad stuff that is going on in the world currently and in, you know, in the past. Um, but yeah, I think there is something here around how, you know, how can we have a conversation about the edges of things without repeating damaging patterns? And I don’t, I don’t have an answer. It’s just, you know, something I think about.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:49] Something which has kind of been going through the thread of our conversation is about power. And um, last week we updated our wiki, so wiki open co op. Now most of that is public. Um, and because it hasn’t got any personal personally identifiable information and it documents how we make decisions and all that kind of stuff, some of it is private because it does have that personally. Pii Um, when we shared that, we’d updated our wiki on Twitter. There’s a guy called Richard D Bartlett who was part of the Loomio team, which is a decentralised decision making platform which is used a lot by co ops. And he picked this up and he put this into this handbook for decentralised organising, which is fascinating. And the reason I think that that links to what we’re talking about here is that the locus of control in a classroom or in a course resides with the facilitator or the teacher. But if you can organise people in different ways and the power shifted and you can organise and decentralised ways, then you can have different kinds of learning experiences. A bit like the connectivism thing we talked about earlier, the original MOOCs were not, as you very well know, Laura were not. Let’s put a bunch of content and videos and stuff online and people work through it. The original MOOCs were community focussed. You didn’t necessarily know what you would learn as you went along. It’s a bit like the communities curriculum kind of stuff that we’ve talked about loads of times. It’s participatory, but the reason that that’s a very difficult thing to scale or to get institutional buy in for is because if you don’t know exactly what people are going to learn by the time they’re finished, well, how do you certify that? How do you like package that up in a way which is worth money?

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:35] Yeah, that’s, I think that, that that’s summarises how hard it is to often convince really large organisations that a sort of a participatory community based approach to some, some sort of learning endeavour is, is a good way to go. Um, and not just, not just like learn teaching and learning content, but also for like professional development stuff or for team building stuff. You know, and coming at it from that participatory angle when, you know, they, despite the fact that you might be the teaching and learning or educational expert in the room, it’s hard to convince people that that is, in my opinion, a better way to learn because what they’re used to is that really hierarchical scaffolded subject matter, moving from.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:25] Command and control.

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:26] Command and control, moving from this side to that side in a straight line.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:30] This was one of the reasons why I found the open badges work, especially when I was at Mozilla. Like paid to go to, I think like 50 events, 52 events or whatever it was, 50 events and 52 weeks I think I counted up. Um, and having all these conversations because all the badges is a visual image with metadata. So information inside the badge and it can show anything you want, really. So quite a simple bit of technology, but the conversations it opened up within institutions and organisations about like why do we do things like this? And if we use badges and had pathways, we’d be able to like show that and people would be able to go this way or that way. And all of a sudden everyone’s a learning designer in the organisation because that’s so simple to be able to package up stuff. And that quality framework that takes two years to for a university to go through. Well, we can just kind of bypass that and do some interesting stuff on the side. So I found badges as a Trojan horse really interesting about that kind of control learning journeys assessment, even for organisations which wouldn’t usually think of themselves as being like learning focussed organisations. So housing associations or professional bodies or, you know, all those kinds of organisations that all of a sudden have to think, why do we do this? Like what do we want to do? Rather than just taking things as like off the shelf as being the way that we do things around here?

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:56] Yeah, I think, I mean, I. I think that there is learning design in everything that we do at the co-op to some degree, and we don’t just work with educational institutions. I mean, you know, a lot of a lot of the digital transformation stuff that we do, team building, stuff that we do. And there is, you know, it might not be called learning. And this reminds me this reminds me of a very big debate in the biological world that happened a few years back when there was a study around how plants, quote, communicate. And the authors of the study were writing words like they learn, they communicate, they do this, they do that. And they were using these they were using words that require neurones and plants don’t have neurones. So the scientific community there is like, you know, there is a bit of a battle between you can’t you can’t say that plants can learn, they can’t learn, they don’t have neurones. Um, and I just remember that because I, there’s, I think that we do educational stuff totally as a Trojan horse. Like it looks like the project is about strategy or something, but actually there’s a pretty big piece in here that’s really about learning design and helping people, you know, actually become. One one step different than than what they are when they come into development.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:21] Absolutely. Development. That’s human beings. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:24] You put a quotation on this pad from that blog post, the one where you talk about kind of a pedagogy of discomfort. Um, I’m interested in, in where this comes from, other than your blog post, and maybe you can read it out because you’ll give a better stresses in the right place than I will.

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:42] Yeah, this is, um, this is from, I kind of geek out quite a bit on anything that has to do with the brain, which people who know my read my newsletter know that sometimes I go down full down the rabbit hole of how the brain functions. And I’ve been really interested in the past couple of years at how much we’re learning about the brain because of technology and our ability to 3D print and stuff like that. And and this, this quotation comes from scientists who has really looked at the relationship between cognition and emotion. Um, and it says, it says emotional content can change the formation and recollection of a memory event consistent with findings in both human and animal studies. Compared to neural terms, humans remember better emotionally arousing information, including emotionally charged stories, film clips, pictures and words. And the quote is from Dr. Luis Posa.

Doug Belshaw: [00:50:43] Yes, I think that backs up all of the things we’ve been talking about really, um, like emotionally arousing information, like we don’t talk about we don’t talk about arousal. Usually when.

Doug Belshaw: [00:50:55] We don’t we don’t talk about arousal arousal much. Maybe in next season you’re going to have to come back to hear that bit of the podcast.

Doug Belshaw: [00:51:05] Well, indeed, indeed.

Doug Belshaw: [00:51:06] Indeed. Um, okay. So I think given the time we should start wrapping things up in terms of some of the other links that we’ve come across or put links into Laura’s newsletter, if you don’t get that on a Friday, then you really should. My newsletter now goes out once a month, but I publish stuff regularly thought but um on thought shrapnel. There was this thing that I came across via Reddit and as often happens this basically I came across it via someone linking to it and read it and a week later my my wife found it on Facebook and sent it to me. So this is the names of things you probably different didn’t know. Um, and I wondered, first of all, Laura, if you knew any of these words on this 20 item list and what they mean, and if there’s any in particular that you think are quite fun.

Laura Hilliger: [00:52:01] I did not know a single one of these words before today, even though even though. What was the publication? I don’t know if it was it might have been Reader’s Digest. When I was a kid, my grandparents got Reader’s Digest and I think they had like a segment that was like a quotable, quotable, no quotable quotes was a different segment. It’s a magazine. And they had they had a word thing in there. And when I was a kid then I always tried to remember the 50 cent words. Um, yeah. And I had four years of Latin and still all of these words new, new for me just clicked on the link right before we started recording. So I’m going to have to have a closer read.

Doug Belshaw: [00:52:45] We use§d to have a stack of Reader’s Digest in the like old Reader’s Digest that my great aunt had subscribed to in the toilet actually when I was growing up. So that would be the thing that you’d read while you were on there. But the words that I knew before sharing this with you, there was one. There’s one number 13 The Interrobang. And the reason I know about that is because of a podcast called 99% Invisible, which had a whole episode on it, which I thought was interesting. I think I knew about Crapulence. I can remember people talking about Crapulent and I think I know knew that the thing to measure your feet at the shoe store is called a Banach device.

Doug Belshaw: [00:53:24] Yeah, but the rest of them, I’m.

Laura Hilliger: [00:53:25] Pretty sure I knew number 12 Vocables the na na na and la la la. Which don’t really have any meaning in the lyrics. In the lyrics of a song are called Vocables. I think I knew that one too. Yeah. And I. And I really like number five that the cry of a newborn baby is called a vagitus. That’s, um. I don’t know. That’s. I find that interesting, considering where the baby just came from.

Doug Belshaw: [00:53:50] Indeed. And I think that there are some words in here which could easily kind of just weave into my everyday conversation. So when your stomach rumbles, when your stomach rumbles, that’s a Womble, a Womble, I should say. Um, the space between your eyebrows is called a glabella. And the way that it smells after it rains is called petrichor. Now it rains quite a bit in the north of England, so that might be quite useful.

Laura Hilliger: [00:54:19] I just remembered that I recently learned a British phrase which I have been waiting to bust out on you and I wanted to weave it in. But now I just told you that I just learned it. But I learned a damp squib.

Laura Hilliger: [00:54:36] I.

Laura Hilliger: [00:54:37] Is this actually a British phrase or am I being trolled?

Doug Belshaw: [00:54:40] Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

Laura Hilliger: [00:54:41] Okay. Well, don’t be a damp squib and wrap up the podcast because we’re at 54 minutes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:54:48] Very good.

Doug Belshaw: [00:54:49] David Lloyd George, British prime minister after the Second World War, famously used well, it was used about him saying that it was like replacing a damp squib squib with like a firework because he was so charismatic and amazing. Do you.

Laura Hilliger: [00:55:05] Think that the England.

Laura Hilliger: [00:55:06] The the American English was about to say the English equivalent, but the American English equivalent of damp squib is lame duck? Not quite right.

Doug Belshaw: [00:55:18] Maybe later. A damp squib is just like someone who’s boring and got no kind of, like, get up and go. Um, but a lame duck would be like, you usually use that of a president, don’t you? Like you’re just waiting for them to go out of office kind of thing. They’re not going to be able to do anything. But it’s similar. It’s in the same ballpark anyways.

Laura Hilliger: [00:55:38] I didn’t know the word squib was a word, and I like it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:55:41] So this is the end of season one or series one, depending on if you’re using American or English or British English. What have you enjoyed about this, this, these last six episodes? Laura?

Laura Hilliger: [00:55:55] Um, I am quite pleased with the fact that we got off the overthinking it train quite early and have had a lot of good conversations. My favourite two episodes were the two that where we had guests, we had Brian and John. Come on. Um, and I’m, yeah, I’m looking forward to, to seeing where our conversations go in the next season.

Doug Belshaw: [00:56:21] I really enjoy the fact that we’ve got an intro and an outro which is performed by your talented husband. I’m also really enjoying the fact that unbeknown to people listening to this, you have taken over the responsibilities for editing and producing the podcast, which takes a lot of responsibility off me. So thank you for that. And if you’re listening to this, like I said at the beginning, go to open if you’d like to support this. If you’ve just got some ideas or some feedback, you can hit us up on Twitter forward slash we’re open co op or at our individual Twitter handles. What’s yours.

Laura Hilliger: [00:56:56] epileptic rabbit.

Doug Belshaw: [00:56:59] Mine is DAJ Belshaw. There’s a whole story about why I’ve got three names which I’ll save for another podcast. Um, and yeah, thanks for now. Thanks for listening. If you’ve listened to all six, you’re awesome. If you haven’t, go back and listen to the rest, Cheers!

Laura Hilliger: [00:57:14] Cheers!