It may help to briefly recap how others have successfully applied ideas from one domain to another before beginning our proposal to apply ideas from other domains to learning experience development.

Successful examples include the following:

  • The Gutenberg printing press applied ideas from the wine press (an entirely different domain) to have a printing press apply ink to paper [1]

  • Medical Doctors are starting to apply ideas pilots use by using checklists in aircraft operations, by adopting surgical checklists [2]

  • To describe a point of interaction between two technologies, systems or components, engineers use the term physical interfaces.

    • One example of a familiar physical interface is the telephone dial tone. This physical interface was originally intended for one phone to connect with another phone. This interface has remained unchanged much longer than the technologies it connects. On the consumer side of the interface, our parents and grandparents remember rotary dial phones and how long it took to simply dial a number. Later came fax machines, touch tone phones and mobile phones. On the supplier side of the dial tone interface are telecommunications exchanges which have progressed from human operators to analog, and now to digital electronic components that switch circuits to connect telephone calls between users.

      • Software engineers have used this interface concept from the physical domain and applied it in the domain of software applications. For example, object interfaces in object-oriented programming allow other objects to only access the so-called public interface; the implementation details are hidden as private or "encapsulated" so those details can change as needed without impacting all the objects they serve.

      • There are also interfaces not specific to software development. Because dependencies can lead to cascading failures between coupled things, interfaces help to decouple components of larger, more complex systems allowing us to improve how each component works (like rotary dial to digital touch dial) without having to remake the entire system for every small change. Applying this concept of decoupling components across domains has already proven successful. Specific to object-oriented software, decoupling components of the system can also be accomplished using abstract classes and minimal public interfaces that do not 'know' much about other objects.

  • Edward Deming helped apply statistical methods he learned in the domain of agriculture to the domain of automotive manufacturing.

  • Originally developed for telecommunications, Information Theory has been applied in many other areas, with particular success in code breaking, or cryptography.

  • Latin in the West and Chinese in the East have both been applied in the formation of other languages in other cultures. The Japanese adapted Chinese characters into their own language. Latin roots are still evident in many Western languages.

  • Accretion is another idea that was borrowed across domains. Semiconductor manufacturing applied the ideas from flakes of snow accumulating little by little for chemical vapor deposition techniques to accumulate other chemicals on a substrate wafer, used in making computer chips. The idea of accretion has also led to application in so-called additive manufacturing where 3D printers are used to make physical objects one layer at a time.

  • Redundancy, or having reserves, functions as a buffer against volatility in many domains. Living organisms exhibit redundancy. For example people have two kidneys. You can donate one kidney, but that makes you more fragile. Adopting reserves allows financial institutions, and families, to survive unexpected shocks from their environment. The military uses reserve forces to capitalize on success in offensive battle or to reinforce at key points during defensive operations. Human-designed systems intended to be robust and "antifragile", to use a term introduced in the book Antifragile - Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, adopt this idea. For example, the U.S. Army’s Blackhawk helicopter has redundancy in its systems which have allowed some of these aircraft to fly their crews and passengers back to safety after receiving much damage from hostile fire.

  • The book, Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steve Johnson, describes how a medical doctor in the 1870s took a walk through the local zoo and saw chicken incubators and applied the idea from the animal zoo to the human maternity ward to help improve the chances for human babies to survive. This doctor’s statistical analysis is what helped the transfer from one domain to the other succeed.

These examples are sufficient to make the point that recombination of ideas, concepts and components from various domains is how much of our human advancement in technology has occurred. We contend that we can continue to do so by applying ideas from other domains to the domain of workplace training and learning experience development.


1. Reproduced from Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing_press under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.
2. We recommend Atul Gawande’s excellent book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
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