Learning Applications Simple Enough Complex Enough

Saturday, 27 March 2021   557 Views

Recently, I was told some of my team’s work might not be simple enough to understand. I got to thinking how so much of the time I am promoting sophistication. With the blazing speed that complexity is being introduced into software applications, there is a requirement for a deep layered integration. Most applications require some type of cloud integration, machine learning, and use of algorithms. I think an Einstein quote sums up simplicity and complexity well:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

As a leader, I got to thinking how I pitch my teams three main products: Skills Based Approach SM (2013), Skills Culture SM (2016) and Skills Label TM (2016) related to simplicity and complexity.

From the start, I always thought Skill Based Approach greatly simplifies education and career planning. The concept is summarized in a one-liner: “(Learner or professionals) constantly cycle through fours stages with an evolving skill set.” Add another longer clause and you really understand: “The stages are planning, building, presenting, and validating; the mechanics and goals of the stages: tasks, objectives, platforms, and credentials, respectively.”

But the actual application of the methodology is quite complex. The methodology is well documented in two full size books (released in 2013 and 2020). Many of the predictions and the themes in the 2013 book hit their mark and are represented in the later book. Building an internet application to apply the methodology is also a challenge. The goal is to put a learner or professional in the ‘driver’s seat’ of their learning tasking whenever workable; this is a daunting objective.

Skills Culture SM is a growth mindset to learning. Again, the theme is summarized with a good tagline: “Every Experience is an Opportunity to Apply Skills”. To promote the ideology, I provide tee-shirts. The goal is to reinforce being in the moment to conscientiously apply skills properly.

If you think through all the premises, the concept is deep. It requires mindfulness (like someone practicing a martial art), deliberateness (like a team applies in a debate), or attentiveness to detail (like in programming). There is also a published book documenting Skills Culture on Amazon ($0.99). The practical goal with Skills Culture is to build an online community to share best practices (and the seeding is there with already 100+ posts and 100K views).

The case for simplicity within the Skills Label SM system is the conciseness and readability of the learning and job labels, which summarize learning expectations and job requirements, respectively. A huge value proposition is how the labels fit on a standard smartphone, no need to scroll up/down or left/right. Another case could be made for the simplicity and responsiveness of the learning dashboards and pathways, which connect jobs, courses (syllabi), projects / lesson plans, and tasks / experiences (labels).

How the system works is complex and could / should get much more complex. Because the system is patent pending, it is novel and valuable. With the structure, there is a substantial web application (optimal for regular and large screens), three mobile web applications, and a newly released Android application. There are a few deep algorithms, which should be relevant for many years in the future. Finally, there are a few use cases for cloud computing and machine learning.

I get the need for simplicity, particularly for building consensus among a team. I get the need for complexity, particularly in systems and applications by progressively adopting the latest technologies. In our three applications, my team accomplishes both.