Barry Downes talked about the future of the VR market with an interesting exploration of the Immersive platform. Taking us through the Apollo 11 product, he showed what went into it and the emotional impact. He showed a video that talked (somewhat simplistically) about how VR environments could be used for learning. (There is great potential, but it’s not about content.). He finished with an interesting quote about how VR would be able to incorporate any further media. A second part of the quote said: “Kids will think it’s funny [we] used to stare at glowing rectangles hoping to suspend disbelief.”
Just what is the Future of Work about? Is it about new technology, or is it about how we work with people? We’re seeing amazing new technologies: collaboration platforms, analytics, and deep learning. We’re also hearing about new work practices such as teams, working (or reflecting) out loud, and more. Which is it? And/or how do they relate?
It’s very clear technology is changing the way we work. We now work digitally, communicating and collaborating. But there’re more fundamental transitions happening. We’re integrating data across silos, and mining that data for new insights. We can consolidate platforms into single digital environments, facilitating the work. And we’re getting smart systems that do things our brains quite literally can’t, whether it’s complex calculations or reliable rote execution at scale. Plus we have technology-augmented design and prototyping tools that are shortening the time to develop and test ideas. It’s a whole new world.
Similarly, we’re seeing a growing understanding of work practices that lead to new outcomes. We’re finding out that people work better when we create environments that are psychologically safe, when we tap into diversity, when we are open to new ideas, and when we have time for reflection. We find that working in teams, sharing and annotating our work, and developing learning and personal knowledge mastery skills all contribute. And we even have new practices such as agile and design thinking that bring us closer to the actual problem. In short, we’re aligning practices more closely with how we think, work, and learn.
Thus, either could be seen as ‘the Future of Work’. Which is it? Is there a reconciliation? There’s a useful way to think about it that answers the question. What if we do either without the other?
If we use the new technologies in old ways, we’ll get incremental improvements. Command and control, silos, and transaction-based management can be supported, and even improved, but will still limit the possibilities. We can track closer. But we’re not going to be fundamentally transformative.
On the other hand, if we change the work practices, creating an environment where trust allows both safety and accountability, we can get improvements whether we use technology or not. People have the capability to work together using old technology. You won’t get the benefits of some of the improvements, but you’ll get a fundamentally different level of engagement and outcomes than with an old approach.
Together, of course, is where we really want to be. Technology can have a transformative amplification to those practices. Together, as they say, the whole is greater than the some of the parts.
I’ve argued that using new technologies like virtual reality and adaptive learning only make sense after you first implement good design (otherwise you’re putting lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes). The same is true here. Implementing radical new technologies on top of old practices that don’t reflect what we know about people, is a recipe for stagnation. Thus, to me, the Future of Work starts with practices that align with how we think, work, and learn, and are augmented with technology, not the other way around. Does that make sense to you?
In much of the discussion about tapping into the power of people via networks and communities, we hear about the learning culture we need. Items like psychological safety, valuing diversity, openness, and time for reflection are up front. And I’m as guilty of this as anyone! However, one other element that appears in the more rigorous discussions (including Edmondson’s Teaming and Sutton & Rao’s Scaling Up Excellence) is accountability. (Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t appear in other pictures, but it’s certainly not foreground.) And it’s time to address this.
So, the model for becoming agile is creating an environment where people learn, alone and together. But it’s informal learning. When you research, problem-solve, design, etc, you don’t know the answer when you start! Yet it’s not like anyone else has the answer, either. And we know that the output is better when we search more broadly through the possible solution space. (Which is what we’re doing, really.) This means we need diverse inputs to keep us from prematurely converging. Or searching too narrow a space. We also need also those different voices to contribute, or we won’t get there. And we have to be open to new ideas, or we could inadvertently cut off part of the solution space. We also need time and tools for reflection (hence reflecting out loud).
Typically, the process is iterative (real innovations percolate/ferment/incubate; they aren’t ‘driven’): going away, doing tasks, and returning. Here, we need to ensure people are contributing, doing the work. We don’t want to micromanage it, but we do want to assist people because we shouldn’t assume that they’re effective self and social learners. In short, we can’t squelch the feeling of autonomy to accompany purpose (ala Dan Pink’s Drive), yet the job must get done!
When there’s purpose, and community, accountability is natural. When we comprehend how what we’re doing contributes, when we have reciprocal trust with our colleagues that we’ll each do our part, and when there’s transparency about what’s happening, it’s a natural. A transactional model, when it’s a network and not a community, doesn’t feel safe, and doesn’t work as well. As Edmondson documents it, you want to be in the learning zone where you have both accountability and safety. And that’s not an easy balance.
So one of the steps to get there is to ensure accountability is part of the picture. And it’s not just calling someone on the carpet. Done right, it’s a tracking and regular support to succeed, so accountability is an ongoing relationship that suggests we want you to succeed, and we’ll help you do that. Accountability shouldn’t be a surprise! (Transparency helps.)
When we talk about the high-minded principles of making it safe and helping people feel welcome, some can view this as all touchy-feely and worry that it won’t get things done. Which isn’t true, but I think it helps if we keep accountability in the picture to assuage those concerns. Ultimately, we want outcomes, but new and improved ones, not just the same old things. The status quo isn’t really acceptable today. In this increasingly dynamic environment, the ability to adapt is key. And that’s the Learning Zone. Are you ready to go there?
I am a fan of Show Your Work and Work Out Loud, but I’m wondering about whether they could mislead. Not that that’s the intent, of course, but they don’t necessarily include reflection, a critical component. I believe they care about it, but the phrase don’t implicitly require annotating your thoughts. And I think it’s important.
The original phrase that resonated for me was ‘narrate your work’, which to me was more than just showing it. When teachers told you to show your work, they just wanted intermediate steps. But Alan Schoenfeld’s research has documented that’s valuable to show the thinking behind the steps. What’s your rationale for taking this step?
Teachers would be able to identify where you went wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily say why you went wrong. On things as simple as multi-column subtraction, the answer would tell you whether they borrowed wrong or reversed the number or other specific misconceptions that would reveal themselves in the result. But on more complex problems, the intermediate steps may not preserve the rationale.
The design rationale approach emerged on complex projects for just this reason. New people could question earlier decisions and if they weren’t documented, you’d revisit them unnecessarily. It’s important to capture not only the decision, but the criteria used, the others considered, etc. It is this thinking about what drove decisions that helps people understand your thinking and thereby improve it.
I don’t really think “reflection out loud” is the right term. I like ‘narrate your work’ or ‘share your thinking’ perhaps better. And I do believe that those talking about working out loud and sharing your work do intend this, it’s just that too often I’ve seen people take the surface implications of a phrase and skip the real importance (*cough* Kirkpatrick’s levels *cough*). So, worst case, I’ve confused the terminology space, but hopefully I’ve also helped illuminate the valuable underpinning. And practiced what I’m preaching ;). Your thoughts?
The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award is presented to a workplace learning professional who has contributed in positive ways to the field of Real Learning and is reflective of Jay’s lifetime of work. Recipients champion workplace and social learning practices inside their organization and/or on the wider stage. They share their work in public and often challenge conventional wisdom. The Jay Cross Memorial Award is given to professionals who continuously welcome challenges at the cutting edge of their expertise and are convincing and effective advocates of a humanistic approach to workplace learning and performance.
We announce the award on 5 July, Jay’s birthday. Following his death in November 2015, the partners of the Internet Time Alliance (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, and myself) resolved to continue Jay’s work. Jay Cross was a deep thinker and a man of many talents, never resting on his past accomplishments, and this award is one way to keep pushing our professional fields and industries to find new and better ways to learn and work.
The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award for 2017 is presented to Marcia Conner. Marcia was an early leader in the movement for individual and social learning, and an innovator. As a Senior Manager at Microsoft, she developed new training practices and wrote an accessible white paper on the deeper aspects of learning design. She subsequently was the Information Futurist at PeopleSoft. She also served as a co-founder and editor at Learnativity, an early online magazine.
Marcia co-organized and co-hosted the Creating a Learning Culture conference at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, leading to a book of the same title. As an advocate for the power of learning, alone and together, she wrote Learn More Now and co-wrote The New Social Learning (now in it’s second edition) with Tony Bingham of the Association for Talent Development. She also was the instigator who organized the team for the twitter chat #lrnchat, which continues to this day.
Marcia’s a recognized leader, writing for Fast Company, and keynoting conferences around the world. She currently helps organizations go beyond their current approaches, changing their culture. She’s also in the process of moving her focus beyond organizations, to society. In her words, “I’m in pursuit of meaningful progress, with good faith and honesty, girded by what I know we are capable of doing right now. When we assemble all that is going on at the edges of culture, technology, and (dare I say) business, we find a wildly hopeful view of the future. People doing extraordinary things, on a human scale, that has the potential to change everything for the better.”
Marcia was a friend of Jay’s for many years (including organizing the creation of his Wikipedia page), and we’re proud to recognize her contributions.
Helen Blunden was the inaugural award winner in 2016.
It’s Working Out Loud (WOL) Week, and that’s always a valuable time for reflection. It so happens that the past few weeks I’ve been working with an organization, and they were ripe for WOL. The problem was what, specifically, should they do to make this work? They had barriers. My (off the cuff) recommendations were around creating some habits of work.
For context, they’re a very distributed organization, and have been for decades. They’ve a number of locations spread around over a space of hundreds of miles. As a consequence, they’re well-practiced at a variety of distance communication modalities. They have well-equipped video conferencing rooms, social media tool, and of course email. And yet, their communication is very formal. They’re busy of course, so while they recognize the benefits of sharing better, it’s hard for them to implement.
There would be rewards, of course. They have distributed teams supporting the same sorts of actions. Various job roles do similar work with a variety of stakeholders, and would benefit by sharing best practices, creating communities of practice around those job roles. However, for a variety of reasons, including ineffective use of the available tools, time pressures, and general lack of awareness and practice, the practices not in play.
As part of my ‘critical friend‘ role, I made some suggestions, including working out loud. They asked for specific steps they might take. So what’d I recommend? Several things:
- Narrating their work: they need to find a way to represent their progress on each project, and include a ‘rationale’ that captures the thinking behind their decisions.
- Creating communities: they should establish a group (with whatever tool) for each role, and do some community management around it to generate dialog and learnings.
- Walking the walk: if the leadership (not of the overall organization, just the leaders of this learning unit, at least to start ;) practices the working (and failing) out loud, it would be motivation to others. It runs better when everyone sees it’s safe to make mistakes as long as you share lessons learned).
This was off the cuff, and I might have suggested more, but this is a reconstituted list that I think captures some major necessary areas. It’s about practices that build the culture. These will need support, but they are the core ideas that can drive a move to a more open, sharing workplace. One that leads to continual improvement and innovation.
I’m a fan of the power of social learning. When people get together (and the process is managed right), the outcomes of a negotiated understanding can be powerful. However, in designing learning, working in groups has some real negative perceptions and realities. The open question is: what to do?
The problems are well-known. As my kids complained, on group projects some team members will reliably slack, letting the most driven student do the work. Even with a commitment, there can be differences in working style: getting started early versus preferring to do it under pressure.
Some things have been tried. When I assigned group projects, I told my students I expected them to do equal work, and would grade accordingly. If it didn’t end up being the case, they were to each write up a report on what each team member did, including themselves. Others require this, regardless, and that sounds like a smart way to make concrete a requirement for contribution.
One thing to be addressed is invigilation. Is the work being tracked in any way? If they’re working in a collaborative environment that tracks contributions via versioning or some other way, then there’s a trail of work that can be scrutinized. Extra work, to be sure, but it’d serve as a tie-breaker if there was some question about contribution.
Another issue is support for working in groups. When I first assigned group work, it became clear that they didn’t know how (?!?!). So I wrote up a little guide to doing group work, and those problems subsided. Working together is a skill that shouldn’t be taken for granted. There should be some explicit statement of expectations if you can’t determine whether there’s reliable prior experience. (Certainly, it seems that the teachers weren’t providing guidance or oversight, in the case of my kids.)
As an aside: make sure the students know why you’re asking them to work in groups. I’ve learned that learners will be much more willing to undertake what you assign if you explain the rationale that justifies your choice!
Then there’s them question of just when group work makes sense. Given that the value-added benefit is the negotiated understanding, it would make sense to do that when the material is complex, and there’s a risk of an individual taking a unique, incomplete, and or imperfect understanding. At times when you want to assess an individual’s ability to deliver, you wouldn’t want a group project!
There’s also the issue of the nature of the task. Are you just having them come to a shared understanding in representing their thinking (e.g. a response to a question) or actually produce a work product of some sort (a video, presentation, report, etc). If you can get what you need with less effort, you shouldn’t assign a more complex project.
Which brings up the issue of the scope of the work. I would expect that the more imposing the total amount of work is, the more it would invoke those with time or effort concerns to be lulled to the lazy side. Keeping the scope small might contribute to a greater willingness to participate.
Breaking up the deliverables is one way to manage student effort. If you have interim deliverables, it helps manage the process and the time. Certainly, early in a curriculum, you could provide this scaffolding (and make it explicit), and then gradually hand off responsibility for the learners to internalize the self-management. (Meta-learning!)
Breaking it up can also manage to address the contribution. If individual submissions are required before group ones, you can at least have the learners having had to contribute thought before sharing and creating a greater understanding.
Finally, there’s the issue of group work in an independent schedule. In a cohort model (scheduled timetable) it’s easy, but otherwise, how do you do it? If there’s ‘critical mass’, you can have learners arrange to meet with anyone available. If there’re more, you could even have them indicate working style preferences: quick, early, what media channels. Otherwise, it’s more challenging (or a non-issue, just don’t do it).
There are lots of issues and potential solutions for addressing group work. I can’t say I’ve found an easy solution, despite having wrestled with it. I think it’s important, so I’m curious what you’ve tried and found out!
As I continue to track what’s happening, I get the opportunity to review a wide number of products and services. While tracking them all would be a full-time job, occasionally some offer new ideas. Here’s a collection of those that have piqued my interest of late:
Sisters eLearning: these folks are taking a kinder, gentler approach to their products and marketing their services. Their signature offering is a suite of templates for your elearning featuring cooperative play. Their approach in their custom development is quiet and classy. This is reflected in the way they promote themselves at conferences: they all wear mauve polos and sing beautiful a capella. Instead of giveaways, they quietly provide free home-baked mini-muffins for all.
Yalms: these folks are offering the ‘post-LMS’. It’s not an LMS, and instead offers course management, hosting, and tracking. It addresses compliance, and checks a whole suite of boxes such as media portals, social, and many non-LMS things including xAPI. Don’t confuse them with an LMS; they’re beyond that!
MicroBrain: this company has developed a system that makes it easy to take your existing courses and chunk them up into little bits. Then it pushes them out on a schedule. It’s a serendipity model, where there’s a chance it just might be the right bit at the right time, which is certainly better than your existing elearning. Most importantly, it’s mobile!
OffDevPeeps: these folks a full suite of technology development services including mobile, AR, VR, micro, macro, long, short, and anything else you want, all done at a competitive cost. If you are focused on the ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’ side of the trilogy, these are the folks to talk to. Coming soon to an inbox near you!
DanceDanceLearn: provides a completely unique offering. They have developed an authoring tool that makes it easy for you to animate dancers moving in precise formations that spell out content. They also have a synchronized swimming version. Your content can be even more engaging!
There, I hope you’ll find these of interest, and consider checking them out.
Any relation between the companies portrayed and real entities is purely coincidental. #couldntstopmyself #allinfun
I’m participating in an engagement, and they were struggling to define my role. Someone mentioned that I’m serving as a ‘critical friend’, and the others cottoned on to it. I hadn’t heard that term so I explored, and liked what I found. Thought I’d share it.
So, ‘critical friend‘ is a term that originated in the education sector. The prevailing definition is:
a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.
What’s key to me is that the role involves being committed to the success of the endeavor, but also being provocative. The latter is about asking the hard questions and bringing in outside input that wouldn’t likely be considered otherwise. And I believe, based upon what I’ve dug into for innovation, that this is a valuable role.
So what I’m doing is getting to know the situation, rapidly consuming lots of documents, interviewing people, and sitting in on other information gathering sessions, to get to know what’s up. Then I’m floating some ideas that I think they really need to consider. The ideas are contrary to the path they’re planning on but I’ve buttressed them with some strong arguments. They make not take on all of them, but at least they’ll have explicitly considered them.
I’ve played this role specifically in a number of different situations (in fact, in some sense you could consider most of my engagements to have at least a facet of this). I like to think that my 30+ years of work across cognition, technology, learning, design, and organizational implementation, with corporations, education institutions, government agencies, and not-for-profits, as well as my stockpiling of models, means I’ll generate some lateral and valuable thoughts in almost any situation. That’s certainly been the case to date. And I really do want to help people achieve their goals.
It’s a fun, though challenging role. You have to get up to speed quickly, and be willing to offer ideas. I pride myself on also being able to suggest ways to accomplish ideas that aren’t obviously implementable at the first go (all part of Quinnovation ;).
When you’re looking at some change, getting some critical friend support on principle is a good idea. People challenging you for your own best interest isn’t always easy, but the outcomes are pretty much always worth it. So, who’s your critical friend?
In yesterday’s post, I talked about how new tools need to be coupled with practices to facilitate exploration. And I wanted to explore more (heh) about what’s required. The metaphor is old style exploration, and the requirements to succeed. Without any value judgment on the motivations that drove this exploitation, er, exploration ;). I’m breaking it up into tools, communication, and support.
So, one of the first requirements was to have the necessary tools to explore. In the old days that could include means to navigate (chronograph, compass), ways to represent learnings/discoveries (map, journal), and resources (food, shelter, transport). It was necessary to get to the edge of the map, move forward, document the outcomes, and successfully return. This hasn’t changed in concept.
So today, the tools are different, but the requirements are similar. You need to figure out what you don’t know (the edge of the map), figure out how to conduct an experiment (move forward), measure the results (document outcomes), and then use that to move on. (Fortunately, the ‘return’ part isn’t a problem so much!) The digital business platform is one, but also social media are necessary.
What happened after these expeditions was equally important. The learnings were brought back, published, and presented and shared. Presented at meetings, debates proceeded about what was learned: was this a new animal or merely a variation? Does this mean we need to change our explanations of animals, plants, geography, or culture? The writings exchanged in letters, magazines, and books explored these in more depth.
These days, we similarly need to communicate our understandings. We debate via posts and comments, and microblogs. More thought out ideas become presentations at conferences, or perhaps white papers and articles. Ultimately, we may write books to share our thinking. Of course, some of it is within the organization, whether it’s the continual dialog around a collaborative venture, or ‘show your work’ (aka work out loud).
Such expeditions in the old days were logistically complex, and required considerable resources. Whether funded by governments, vested interests, or philanthropy, there was an awareness of risk and rewards. The rewards of knowledge as well as potential financial gain were sufficient to drive expeditions that ultimately spanned and opened the globe.
Similarly, there are risks and rewards in continual exploration on the part of organizations, but fortunately the risks are far less. There is still a requirement for resourcing, and this includes official support and a budget for experiments that might fail. It has to be safe to take these risks, however.
These elements need to be aligned, which is non-trivial. It requires crossing silos, in most cases, to get the elements in place including IT, HR, and operations. That’s where strategy, culture, and infrastructure can come together to create an agile, adaptive organization that can thrive in uncertainty. And isn’t that where you need to be?