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Jay Cross on the Web

Internet Time Group

Essays and articles

Ireland photos

Jay's purse

Cross edits SmartForceUpdate

He is webmaster for Berkeley Path Wanderers

He strongly supports eLearningForum


"The learning revolution is over" comes from a presentation by Jon Levy to eLearningForum. The economist joke was told by Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann during a webcast on innovation sponsored by Enron.

The Power of Mindful Learning, Ellen Langer, April 1998.

Learning in Action, David Garvin, April 2000.

Future Wealth by Stan Davis and Chris Meyer, March 2000

The story on students who can't read appeared in Feed January 17, 2000. The report on English teens who never heard of Churchill appeared in the International Herald Tribune, October 30, 2000.

Fasten your seat belt. The ride ahead will be fast and precarious. We’re going to blast through two-dozen little chunks of advice, wisdom, entertainment, and the author’s idiosyncratic whims, all the while reinforcing a few philosophies that reside at the core of learning, to wit:

1.   You are in control.
These days, learners always are. Read what you want here but please don’t read everything. Be selective. Read aggressively. Skip around. Do what you like.

“each of us is at the center of the universe.
 so is everyone else.” — e. e. cummings

2.   Be a skeptic.
Question everything. Ask yourself, “Is this bullshit? Do I buy it? What’s in it for me?” Skeptics learn; know-it-alls don’t. One person’s variable is another person’s constant.

3.   Always apply the 80/20 rule.
If you’re not getting enough bang for your time, skip a page. Or skip to the next article. This is not for everyone.

Warning: Some of this material is extremely controversial. That’s just my opinion. I might be wrong.

Links for impatient readers:

Words to ponder

New-Age Instructional Design

Weird science

Mirror, mirror

Commit to taking at least one concept from this essay. When you find it, write it down. Put it to use. The human mind is like a muscle. Without exercise it atrophies. Give yours a workout today.

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we tap out crude rhythms for bears to dance to while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” — Gustave Flaubert

“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” — John Wesley

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” — William Yeats

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” — E. M. Forster

“Learn to unlearn.” — Benjamin Disraeli

“We've upped our standards. Up yours.” — Pat Paulsen

“Learning is tolerated only when it affects immediate performance. This attitude, of course, ultimately undercuts performance since even optimal performance can't be maintained unless people keep learning.” — W. Timothy Gallwey

“We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.” — Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall

Treat the learner as a customer. Make it easy for the learner to buy (learn). Use interactivity, relevance, wit, and excitement to keep the learner/customer engaged. If the customers aren’t buying, it’s your fault, not theirs.

The learning revolution is over. The learners won. Take control by giving control.

Problem formulation often counts for more than problem solution. School always gives you the formulated problem; life does not.

An economist is walking his granddaughter in the park when she spies a $20 bill on the sidewalk. “Grandfather, can I pick it up?”

“No,” he replies. “If it were there, someone would already have picked it up.”

(If trigonometry were there, I’d have picked it up. Actually, I did, but then I lost it because I never found any problems it could solve for me.)

eLearning is a philosophy, not a technology. It may include web-based training but it needn’t involve the web at all. Trust me on this. I was one of the first, if not the first, to use the term eLearning.

Take two groups of students. Tell the first group to read an essay and answer a set of questions about it. Tell the second group to read the same essay but tell them the material is terribly controversial.

The second group will answer more questions correctly. Uncertainty engages the mind.

Ellen Langer writes that uncertainty challenges people to refine and internalize their take on things. This is what learning is: mapping a subject’s relative position in one’s personal context. In the real world, everything flows. Nothing is certain. Meaning is relative.

Optimal learning requires the learner to be:
  • open to new perspectives (knowledge is provisional)
  • aware of personal biases (we see what we want to see)
  • exposed to unfiltered data (not watered-down interpretations)
  • humble (no one has all the answers)
“I’ve experienced a lot of things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
—Mark Twain

Shaker Design Guidelines

Industry: Do all your work as if you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.

Honesty: Be what you seem to be; and seem to be what you really are; don't carry two faces.

Functionalism: That which in itself has the highest use possesses the greatest beauty.

Secrets of the New Economy

1.      Everything’s connected.

2.      Time matters.

3.      Nothing’s ever finished.

Old paradigm

New economy



Timing is everything. Duration. Sequence. Context. Antecedents. Consequence. Awareness.

The ROI of learning depends on the learner's degree of freedom and performance-level. Imagine a spectrum of workers, arrayed by how well they perform. Provide training. Often you'll receive a:

         50% gain from a worker in the lowest 25%

         200% gain from an average worker

         500% gain from a worker in the top 25%

         10,000% gain from a top 1% worker

One group of interviewers assessed job candidates in one-hour interviews. Another assessed fifteen-second video clips of the same job candidates shaking hands. The results were nearly the same. The power of first impressions suggests that human beings have a particular kind of pre-rational ability for making searching judgments about others. “Thinking only gets in the way,” reports The New Yorker's May 29, 2000 issue.

In the 1970s, the Navy did a study to find out how long people can listen to other people talk. How long could they listen? 18 minutes.

Don't trust your memory. The New York Times reported on university researchers who repeated a study asking 73 boys all manner of questions about their lives. Only this second time was nearly four decades later and the “boys” were an average of 48 years old.

On the most basic issues, there was often no correlation between the two sets of answers. They had no idea what they had said the first time.

In the 60s, for example, 28 percent of the boys said they did not like homework or school; later, 58 percent said they did not like them. On the other hand, while 82 percent of the boys said they were disciplined physically, only 33 of the men said they had been.

A beautiful woman approached Pablo Picasso in a Paris cafe. She asked him to sketch her and offered to pay fair value. In a few minutes, the artist created a drawing—and asked for 500,000 francs.

“But it only took you a few minutes,” the tourist protested.

“No,” Picasso supposedly replied, “it took me about 40 years.”

Earlier this year, Feed described a study of 10,000 community college students in California. In the 18-25-year age group, just 17% of the men could acquire information efficiently through reading text. For the remaining 83%, the standard college textbook was little more than dead weight to carry around in their bag! The figure for women in the same age group is a bit higher: just under 35% can learn well from textually presented information.

As Disney sings, “It’s a small world after all...”

Two-thirds of British young people between the ages of 18 and 24 don’t know who Churchill was. 77% don’t know what the Magna Carta is. 80% don’t know that Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. 81% cannot name a novel by Charles Dickens. 93% don’t know that Milton wrote Paradise Lost. 93% do know the name of rocker Fatboy Slim.

An editorial in The International Herald Tribune noted that, “Some knowledge of history and literature and other subjects is vital for making sense of the world. Without it, one wanders down streets named after unknowns, past statues that might as well be from a lost civilization and hears the argument of one’s countrymen as one would the words of strangers.”

Sound and simple motion convey 90% of the content carried by full-motion video. Personally, I often enjoy the book more than the movie because the colors are better.

The convergence of work and learning is hardly a new concept:

“Genuine knowledge resides and proliferates where people live and work, not in some abstract formal realm. Good tools should support and augment that knowledge as it is rather than attempting to 'engineer' it to fit some model-theoretic framework entirely divorced from the work itself. We desperately need more and better software tools whose design reflects this fundamental insight, and that will therefore aid our best people in articulating, modifying and improving their understanding of the work environments they inhabit. Most crucially, we need tools that will substantially assist knowledge workers—and today this category should include nearly all workers—in sharing their understanding across the currently rigid boundaries of functional specialization.”

Christopher Locke, now known as the author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, wrote those words nearly ten years ago in an article in Concurrent Engineering.

Beware of learning that comes in same-size packages. When you come upon a group of workshops, each precisely fifty minutes long, you’ll probably find some filler whose only purpose is to round out the time slot. The essence may be only five minutes worth. Let the 80/20 rule be your guide, not the clock. Don’t waste time on non-essentials.

In thirty years in the training business, I’ve come upon scores of training companies with atrocious internal training. What’s up with that?

Jimmy Swaggart is the first cousin of screaming rock music pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire”) and shares his cousin’s frenetic energy.

Jimmy became a Bible-belt, fire-and-brimstone tele-vangelist who energetically exhorted his flock not to sin. Jimmy himself would have benefited from his sermons: he was caught in a sleazy motel with a sleazy woman doing things you don’t want to think about. (It involved a sock.)

My father-in-law was one of the original Volkswagen mechanics yet his own car was always breaking down. He saw his role as fixing other people’s cars, not his own.

The cobbler’s shoeless children show up so often in business that you can use it to discover things about others they may not be aware of. Ask a competitor what another competitor needs to do. Many times, the Jimmy Swaggart syndrome kicks in, and your competitor will tell you what he needs to do.

Take this another step. Picture a close friend. What does she need to do to have a happier, more productive life?

Consider, was that really advice for your friend? Or was it advice for you?

Did you follow the instructions? Skip over things? Good. If you come back to any article in this LiNE Zine, make it this one. More awaits you.

Bookmark this article. That’s Control-D on your browser. See ya.

Jay Cross is CEO of Internet Time Group, a think tank and consultancy that helps organizations make eLearning decisions. He has pioneered new approaches to technology-assisted learning since the Stone Age. (At least it feels like it. "Since the early seventies" is closer to reality.) Creative despite degrees from both Princeton and Harvard, he lives in the hills of Berkeley, California, with his tennis-playing wife, 17-year old geek son, and two miniature longhaired dachshunds. You can reach him at or on the web at



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