Belinda Parmar addressed the critical question of women in tech in a poignant way, pointing out that the small stuff is important: language, imagery, context. She concluded with small actions including new job description language and better female involvement in product development.
31 October 2014
30 October 2014
Beau Lotto gave a very interesting keynote that built from perceptual phenomena to a lovely message on learning.
24 October 2014
As usual, I will be at DevLearn (in Las Vegas) this next week, and welcome meeting up with you there. There is a lot going on. Here’re the things I’m involved in:
- On Tuesday, I’m running an all day workshop on eLearning Strategy. (Hint: it’s really a Revolutionize L&D workshop ;). I’m pleasantly surprised at how many folks will be there!
- On Wednesday at 1:15 (right after lunch), I’ll be speaking on the design approach I’m leading at the Wadhwani Foundation, where we’re trying to integrate learning science with pragmatic execution. It’s at least partly a Serious eLearning Manifesto session.
- On Wednesday at 2:45, I’ll be part of a panel on mlearning with my fellow mLearnCon advisory board members Robert Gadd, Sarah Gilbert, and Chad Udell, chaired by conference program director David Kelly.
Of course, there’s much more. A few things I’m looking forward to:
- The keynotes:
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a fave for his witty support of science
- Beau Lotto talking about perception
- Belinda Parmar talking about women in tech (a burning issue right now)
- DemoFest, all the great examples people are bringing
- and, of course, the networking opportunities
DevLearn is probably my favorite conference of the year: learning focused, technologically advanced, well organized, and with the right people. If you can’t make it this year, you might want to put it on your calendar for another!
16 October 2014
In a (rare) fit of tidying, I was moving from one note-taking app to another, and found a diagram I’d jotted, and it rekindled my thinking. The point was characterizing social media in terms of their particular mechanisms of distribution. I can’t fully recall what prompted the attempt at characterization, but one result of revisiting was thinking about the media in terms of whether they’re part of a natural mechanism of ‘show your work’ (ala Bozarth)/’work out loud’ (ala Jarche).
The question revolves around whether the media are point or broadcast, that is whether you specify particular recipients (even in a mailing or group list), or whether it’s ‘out there’ for anyone to access. Now, there are distinctions, so you can have restricted access on the ‘broadcast’ mode, but in principle there’re two different mechanisms at work.
It should be noted that in the ‘broadcast’ model, not everyone may be aware that there’s a new message, if they’re not ‘following’ the poster of the message, but it should be findable by search if not directly. Also, the broadcast may only be an organizational network, or it can be the entire internet. Regardless, there are differences between the two mechanisms.
So, for example, a chat tool typically lets you ping a particular person, or a set list. On the other hand, a microblog lets anyone decide to ‘follow’ your quick posts. Not everyone will necessarily be paying attention to the ‘broadcast’, but they could. Typically, microblogs (and chat) are for short messages, such as requests for help or pointers to something interesting. The limitations mean that more lengthy discussions typically are conveyed via…
Formats supporting unlimited text, including thoughtful reflections, updates on thinking, and more tend to be conveyed via email or blog posts. Again, email is addressed to a specific list of people, directly or via a mail list, openly or perhaps some folks receiving copies ‘blind’ (that is, not all know who all is receiving the message. A blog post (like this), on the other hand, is open for anyone on the ‘system’.
The same holds true for other media files besides text. Video and audio can be hidden in a particular place (e.g. a course) or sent directly to one person. On the other hand, such a message can be hosted on a portal (YouTube, iTunes) where anyone can see. The dialog around a file provides a rich augmentation, just as such can be happening on a blog, or edited RTs of a microblog comment.
Finally, a slightly different twist is shown with documents. Edited documents (e.g. papers, presentations, spreadsheets) can be created and sent, but there’s little opportunity for cooperative development. Creating these in a richer way that allows for others to contribute requires a collaborative document (once known as a wiki). One of my dreams is that we may have collaboratively developed interactives as well, though that still seems some way off.
The point for showing out loud is that point is only a way to get specific feedback, whereas a broadcast mechanism is really about the opportunity to get a more broad awareness and, potentially, feedback. This leads to a broader shared understanding and continual improvement, two goals critical to organizational improvement.
Let me be the first to say that this isn’t necessarily an important, or even new, distinction, it’s just me practicing what I preach. Also, I recognize that the collaborative documents are fundamentally different, and I need to have a more differentiated way to look at these (pointers or ideas, anyone), but here’s my interim thinking. What say you?
9 September 2014
I was just at my high school reunion, and despite initial doubts, I had a great time. And it made me wonder why. These are people I haven’t seen in a long time (in some cases, for decades!). How is it we could reconnect so easily and generate powerful emotions?
I don’t have any obvious answers. Now, you have to understand that this was a subset of the whole class. My graduating class was around 900 folks, give or take, and only around 200 or so were at this event, so it’s a non-representative sample. So we had friends who brought in friends, and it consequently followed a small bit of ‘degrees of separation‘, so there was likely to be greater affinity.
Second, despite being a ‘suburb’ of a major metropolitan center, my hometown has a real ‘small-town’ feel, as we’re geographically isolated and had a more focused employment situation (we were a harbor town). And we were relatively ethnically diverse, lower on the socio-economic status (this was not Beverly Hills), and consequently shared some ‘scrappy underdog’ spirit.
So what was it like? Not just in my opinion, but in most accounts it was a great event! People were hugging, laughing, dancing, and more. There was sharing, and celebration or commiseration, of life’s travails. People reconnected with friends that they’d lost contact with, and strengthened ties with those who had been less tight. We also shared thoughts for those who couldn’t join for pragmatic reasons, and memorialized those who were no longer with us.
Interestingly, this was largely organized through Facebook, which despite it’s not intended use as an organizing tool, sufficed to allow us to reconnect before the event through posts to the group. People who couldn’t come shared thoughts, others talked about their experiences. There was a lot of preparation. And perhaps because it was this select group, the sharing was very positive. And the effort to organize was volunteer; and the individuals doing it in that spirit set a tone for the rest of the event.
I wonder, though, if one of the main reasons this worked so well as the strength of the emotional connections. The teen age years are some of the first emotional connections you make with friends, and some of these friendships had been established earlier (e.g. the two friends I’d reconnected with had become 3 musketeers in Jr High, and I’d known once since kindergarten). The additional emotional aspects of puberty on emotions likely only heightened it.
We’d also shared the ups and downs of high school together, and as in other cases the relationships take advantage of the strengths of shared experiences. We’d survived the high school experience together, and had ties through sports, clubs, or events that tightened the connections.
It’s not clear to me that this is really replicable, though I have long advocated that there are reasons to address the emotional components of events such as learning. Helping find shared ground, and working together to achieve goals, are both elements of team building, and we should look to them when we can. And positive spirits shown and reflected help.
High school is a tough time: bodily changes, finding one’s self, tough decisions, and more. I suspect most of us, at least those of us with sufficient empathy to care, struggle to navigate the desire to be oneself and to be accepted. It’s not an easy journey. The ability to successfully navigate it, and to have found others who help and share the journey, creates lifelong bonds.
A true friend, to me, is one who you can not see for years or even decades, and when you’re together again it’s like no time has passed in your ability communicate with authenticity and, yes, passion. I hope that you have or can find, if not at a reunion then somewhere, that true connection.
9 July 2014
In #lrnchat a couple of weeks ago on anxiety in learning, Shannon Tipton suggested that role plays are the worst. Now, I know Shannon and respect her (we’re in synch, her Learning Rebels movement very much resonates with my Revolutionary tendencies), so this somewhat surprised me. We debated it a bit on twitter, and we thought maybe we should make the argument more extended, so here’s my take.
Her concern, as I understood it, was role plays where a subset get up and play roles in front of the room are uncomfortable. That is, there’re roles and goals, and they’re set up to illustrate a point. And I can see that type of role play might create a problem for a non-assertive person, particularly in an uncomfortable environment. (She mentions it here, and see the extended explanation in the comment.)
Now, a favorite model of mine is Ann Brown and Anne-Marie Palincsar’s reciprocal teaching. In this model (generalized from the original focus on reading), everyone takes a turn performing (including instructor) and others critique the performance. Of course, there have to be ground rules, such as talking about the performance not the person, making it safe to share, small enough steps between tasks, etc. However, the benefits are that you internalize the monitoring, becoming self-monitoring and self-improving.
As another data point, I think of the Online Role Playing as characterized by Sandra Wills, Elyssabeth Leigh, and Albert Ip. Here, learners take roles and goals and explore virtually over time. The original one they reference was done by John Shepherd and Andrew Vincent and explored the mideast crisis. Learners got engaged in the roles, and the whole process really illuminated the tensions underlying the topic.
When I put these together, I see a powerful tool for learning. You should design the roles and goals to explore a topic, and unpack an issue. You should prep learners to help them do a fair job of the role. And, most of all, you have to make it safe. The instructor should be willing to take on the challenging role, and similarly be seen to fail, or maybe everyone does it in groups so no one group is in front, then you facilitate a discussion. I’ve done this in my game design workshop, where everyone pairs up and alternates being a SME and being an ID.
I understand that performing is an area of fear for many, but I think that role playing can be a powerful learning experience without anxiety when you manage the process right. Bad design is bad design, after all (PowerPoint doesn’t kill people…). What say you?
3 July 2014
In the course of answering a question in an interview, I realized a third quip to complement two recent ones. The earliest one (not including my earlier ‘Quips‘) was “curation trumps creation”, about how you shouldn’t spend the effort to create new resources if you’ve already got them. The second one was “from the network, not your work”, about how if your network can have the answer, you should let it. So what’s this new one?
While I’ve previously argued that good learning design shouldn’t take longer, that was assuming good design in the first place: that you did an analysis, and concept and example design and presentation, and practice, not just dumping a quiz on top of content. However, doing real design, good or bad, should take time. And if it’s about knowledge, not skills, a course doesn’t make sense. In short, doing courses should be reserved for when they are really needed.
Too often, we’re making courses trying to get knowledge into people’s heads, which usually isn’t a good idea, since our brains aren’t good at remembering rote information. There are times when it’s necessary, rarely (e.g. medical vocabulary), but we resort to that solution too often as course tools are our only hammer. And it’s wrong.
We should be trying to put information in the world, and reserve the hard work of course building when it’s proprietary skills sets we’re developing. If someone else has done it, don’t feel like you have to use your resources to do it again, use your resources to go meet other needs: more performance support, or facilitating cooperation and communication.
So, for both principled and pragmatic reasons, you should be looking to resources as a solution before you turn to courses. On principle, they meet different needs, and you shouldn’t use the course when (most) needs can be met with resources. Pragmatically, it’s a more effective use of your resources: staff, time, and money.
23 June 2014
I’ve been a fan of Jane Hart since I met her through Jay Cross and we joined together in the ITA (along with colleagues Harold Jarche and Charles Jennings). And I’d looked at the previous edition of her Social Learning Handbook, so it was on faith that I endorsed the new edition. So I took a deeper look recently, and my faith is justified; this is a great resource!
Jane has an admirable ability to cut through complex concepts and make them clear. She cites the best work out there when it is available, and comes with her own characterizations when necessary. The concepts are clear, illustrated, and comprehensible.
This isn’t a theoretical treatment, however. Jane has pragmatic checklists littered throughout as well as great suggestions. Jane is focused on having you succeed. Practical guidance underpins all the frameworks.
I’m all the more glad I recommended this valuable compendium. If you want to tap into the power of social learning, there is no better guide.
19 June 2014
Too often, Learning & Development (L&D) is looking to provide all the answers. They work to get the information from SMEs, and create courses around it. They may also create performance support resources as well. And yet there are principled and pragmatic reasons why this doesn’t make sense. Here’s what I’m thinking.
On principle, the people working closest to the task are likely to be the most knowledgeable about it. The traditional role of information from the SME has been to support producing quality outputs, but increasingly there are tools that let the users create their own resources easily. The answer can come in the moment from people connected by networks, not having to go through an explicit process. And, as things are becoming more ambiguous and unique, this makes the accuracy to the context more likely as workers share their contexts and get targeted responses.
This doesn’t happen without facilitation. It takes a culture where sharing is valued, where people are connected, and have the skills to work well together. Those are roles L&D can, and should, play. Don’t assume that the network will be viable to begin with, or that people know how to work and play well together. Also don’t assume that they know how to find information on their own. The evidence is that these are skills that need to be developed.
The pragmatic reasons are those about how L&D has to meet more needs without resources. If people can self-help, L&D can invest resources elsewhere. I suggest that curation trumps creation, in that finding the answer is better than creating it, if possible.
When I talk about these possibilities, one of the reliable responses is “but what if they say the wrong thing?” And my response is that the network becomes self-correcting. Sure, networks require nurturing until they reach that stage, but again it’s a role for L&D. Initially, someone may need to be scrutinizing what comes through, and extolling experts to keep it correct, but eventually the network, with the right culture, support, and infrastructure, becomes a self-correcting and sustaining resource.
Work so that performers get their answers from the network, not from your work. When possible, of course.
17 June 2014
I was reflecting on the two books I recently wrote about, Scaling Up and Changing the Game, versus the cultural approach of the Learning Organization I wrote about years ago (and refer to regularly). The thing is that both of the new books are about choosing either a very specific needed change, whether determined by fiat or based upon something already working well, whereas the earlier work identified general characteristics that make sense. And my thought was when does each make sense? More importantly, what is the role of Learning & Development (L&D; which really should be P&D or Performance & Development) in each?
If an organization is in need of a shakeup, so that a particular unit is underperforming, or a significant shift in the game has been signaled by new competition or a technology/policy/social change, the targeted change makes sense. As I suggested, some of the required elements from the more general approach are implicit or explicit, such as facilitating communication. The role here for L&D, then, is to support the training required for executives leading the shift in terms of communicating and behaving, as well as ongoing coaching. Similarly for the behaviors of employees, and watching for signs of resistance, in general facilitating the shift. However, the locus of responsibility is the executive team in charge of the needed change.
On the other hand, if the organization is being moderately successful, but isn’t optimized in terms of learning, there’s a case for a more general shift. If the culture doesn’t have the elements of a real learning organization – safe to share, valuing diversity, openness to new ideas, time for reflection – then there’s a case to be made for L&D to lead the charge on the change. Let’s be clear, it cannot be done without executive buy-in and leadership, but L&D can be the instigator in this case. L&D here sells the benefits of the change, supports leadership in execution both by training if necessary and coaching, and again coaches the change.
Regardless, L&D should be instigating this change within their own unit. It’s going to lead to a more effective L&D unit, and there’re the benefits of walking the walk as a predecessor to talking the talk.
Ultimately, L&D needs to understand effective culture and the mechanisms to culture change, as well as facilitating social learning, performance consulting, information architecture, resource design, and of course formal learning design. There’re new roles and new skillsets to be mastered on the path to being an effective and strategic contributor to the organization, but the alternative is extinction, eh?