NOTE: The following is the second excerpt from the small contribution I was proud to have made to the “Learning Perspectives 2010” collection put out by The Masie Center in memory and commemoration of Jonathan Kays. (see previous postings for details).
It is my contention that changes falling resulting from the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization such as the Third Industrial Revolution I covered in the previous posting and the dramatic transformation of “physically real” things are disruptive changes that will shake up and shape our future at a holistic and societal level. In addition to their direct use and applications to learning my greater concern and excitement is on the new skills, competencies and knowledge required by all of us as “students” living in this world and therefore the challenges and opportunities this presents to learning, education and training.
Enjoy and please add your comments or create your own postings with your reactions!
The Snowflake Effect is causing dramatic changes in the world of things as they rapidly transform from being mass produced to mass personalized and, in the process, become snowflakes themselves. Flexible manufacturing was one of the initial enablers of this transformation, but that was just the beginning. With the advent of more computer-controlled design and machining, and, more recently, the introduction of affordable 3D printers and scanners, we are seeing an increase in the personalization of individual items that can be designed and produced to match the unique context of an individual person/situation for no more - and often for less - cost than previously mass produced things.
This is about disruptive innovation: not disruptive elimination. We do not want or need everything to be unique. Large scale items such as airplanes and cruise ships will likely continue to be produced in quantity; but even now, these items are uniquely built to match the individual customer and be adapted to match some specific routes or conditions. Many large scale items are already being designed and built so that they can be changed over time to match contextual changes, whether predicted or not. For example, several of the world’s naval forces are building their newest ships so that they can be reconfigured to match different contexts of use, like switching from a configuration best suited for military situations to one that better accommodates response to natural disasters.
There will likely always be a need for some mass produced parts. We will still want large numbers of exactly the same thing (like fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts, etc.). There will be instances when many people will want to have the exact same thing and there will continue to be fads around popular books, songs and movies. But these will be at the front end of the Long Tail and small in number. As you move down the curve of the Long Tail, you find that more and more things for more and more people have less and less in common.
For example, even if I really like the pen you just showed me and we can “print” an exact duplicate for me, I might want to modify it a bit - to be shorter, heavier or more curved to better fit my hand and match the way I write. The same dynamics will play out for coffee cups, eyeglasses, shoes, chairs and certainly our learning in both process and content. In this way, there will be an equivalent Long Tail of things and it will be a spectrum with products falling at all points along the exponential curve towards uniqueness. As we are seeing with the Long Tail effect on music, movies, books and the like, the transition will be such that the volume of objects at the unique end of the tail will rise dramatically and become the majority in terms of instances, business and learning.
Above and beyond being mass customized and personalized by their design and production, things are increasingly connected to each other and us as we use them. One version of this is often referred to as “The Internet of Things”. A commonly cited example is the way in which home appliances are being connected to each other and the Internet for everything from monitoring energy use to setting thermostats and timing when to turn things off and on. All the items in your fridge are able to dynamically update their status in terms of how full they are, their expiration date, peak freshness and so on to help you choose what’s best to make for dinner tonight and what to pick up at the grocery store on your way home.
Start to think smaller and smarter: imagine and prepare yourself for things like “smart” and digital dust, dirt, pixels, locations, ink dots and paint. Products or “things” are going to increasingly be snowflakes themselves; alike, perhaps, but no two exactly the same. Just like us, as things become more like snowflakes, they too will start to have their own identity, networks, conversations and even their own “social networks”. Indeed, if you’re paying attention, many already do! But it is the more far reaching and latent effects of these changes - especially those on how, when, where and what we learn - that are most exciting.
The revolution in the world of learning is upon us and it is as daunting as it is exciting and powerful. The best way to predict the future is to design your own; therefore, we can strategically and serendipitously lead the transformation of learning, training and education rather than have it happen to us. By exploring and better understanding current trends and directions of the Snowflake Effect on the world of “things”, we will be able to bring the power of mass personalization to the world of learning. Each of us will be able to experience great learning moments every day.