Dr. Gigi Johnson explores how technology shifts are changing how we relate to each other as whole systems change in education and media. As executive director of the Maremel Institute, she helps organizations engage in "big change" and builds new programs and partnerships to help people learn to learn and work better with changing technologies. Dr. Johnson also teaches at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and her graduate classes in digital disruption over the past ten years have taken her to Spain and Abu Dhabi. Prior to UCLA, she financed changing media industries for a decade at Bank of America. She is a member of the Interactive Peer Group in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, an advisor to the Interactive TV Alliance, and an active member of non-profit boards in education, media, and cultural industries. Dr. Johnson received her Ed.D. from Fielding Graduate University, her MBA from UCLA Anderson, and her BA in Cinema-Television Production from the University of Southern California.

EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW

Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: I like the word "trajectory." A career is like a pinball machine. The walls you bounce off of help create the work that you eventually do and the person that you become.

I’ve bounced quite a few times, both as a learner and as a teacher.

My trajectory has bounced through many spaces as a learner in life. I have learned a lot by financing media company winners and losers, by creating higher education programs exploring digital disruption, by running kids' educational VOD channels, and by launching Maremel 2001 as a place to put my creative and start-up interests outside of large, hard-to-move organizations. These intersected with my three degrees—USC film school, UCLA MBA, and an Ed.D.—to shoot me into three types of adventures:

1. Teaching and speaking on how to thrive under digital disruption,
2. Creating cross-platform educational content,
3. Helping start-ups and established organizations figure out how to expand and partner in learning, educational media, publishing, and other content arenas.

This trajectory lets me travel the world observing, researching, talking, and teaching.

Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: Failing repeatedly. Each of my failures has bounced me in new directions. Each of those directions weaves back in more complex ways later that I would never have seen if the original project or politics worked smoothly. In 2005, I bounced and cut loose from full-time academia. During that bounce, I produced several educational live-action web series before web video was "cool." When schools in Japan and England reached out after using the shows for teaching, I realized the power of creative tools for a global learning environment—and that learners were hungry for connected content.

I also have built opportunities by failing and flailing early and in public. My early quirky educational videos on Google Video introduced my work to every next platform as their teams saw my shows. Wandering early into Twitter brought me my international teaching. And my current online experiments and speaking about collaborative, multimedia teaching and learning brought me . . . this conversation!

Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: I disrupt and act locally. My students, on the other hand, expand that reach when they create all sorts of new big and small disruptive businesses in media, education, and music. My clients also have let me help them build new capacities for change in organizations. I am working on two bigger books that might spread the wealth further. But I tend to work one person or organization at a time to push them into new directions. My favorite new projects recently have come from sitting next to someone at a conference dinner and something new springing from it.

Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: Both teachers and learners have the potential of being vastly misused as a digital "product."

Teachers: We are heading into a blurred arena where teaching is being repackaged into a freemium media product. The technologies now are seducing many people into producing online classes for free and taking advantage of that time and dream/ambition.

Learners: Mobile and location-based data are turning us into data products.

  • We're disrupting work, family, and learning with tools that the average member of the public doesn't understand. We are relearning through "marketing" our societal expectations for work and working, life and living.
  • We are changing the nature of our memory and need for unaided recall – e.g., I can't remember my husband's cellphone number because it is stored in my smartphone. What happens when my Google Glass actually gets functional for daily reminders (not the lame Google Now which does help me find my car)?
  • Cloud-driven innovation is renegotiating how we "own" vs. "subscribe" to cultural output (e.g., books, video, our own files and information)

We often let the system defaults take our time and train our behaviors. I talk extensively about creating an Intentional digital life, not just reacting to the digital bleep from a message on our smartphone to the exclusion of real life engagement.

Can we avoid the Wall-E life of being perpetually plugged in? How do we design powerful real-time uses of connected technologies in lieu of skimming and binge viewing as consumers of other people's creations? This question was at the core my SXSW Interactive discussion this year.

Question: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: At Maremel, I continue to enjoy a portfolio of projects:

Ongoing work:

  • Projects with companies and organizations for new creativity tools and ways to use them for collaborative content creation and digital work flows
  • 2 books in percolation, plus speaking and teaching on data, innovation, and disruption in media and education
  • Projects with several non-profit community and cultural arts organizations on rethinking community engagement
  • Creative tinkering on video, music, events, and design (our Creativity Tech Lab)
  • New courses with educational partners

I also am working on two learning system pilots:

  • A local community-based K12 support system to create hands-on learning environments for creativity and tech skills
  • A collaborative community system to help with new career trajectories for adults over 40 -- how to keep reinventing skills, communities, and opportunities in a connected world.

Image: Courtesy Gigi Johnson