Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reflections of #lrnchat: 21st Century Skills, Literacies, & Fluencies

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was "21st Century Skills, Literacies, & Fluencies".

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the five discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) What are 21st century literacy/skills/fluencies?
Q2) What do our learners need to develop? How can we support them?
Q3) What do WE need to develop? How can we do it?
Q4) How can we support both newbies and experienced learners on this journey?

Key Learning Points

Today's #lrnchat discussion focused on what the new literacy, skills, and fluencies that are needed in 21st century learning, and what sort of support learners and learning professionals will need to develop those skill sets.

The discussion started by identifying what those literacy, skills, and fluencies are.    There were a great number of ideas shared.  When reviewing the discussion, two major themes seemed constant. The first theme was the concept of self-motivation and self-direction.  This makes sense, as it brings the world or organizational knowledge and skills in line with the overall collaborative environment being created by the ever-engaging world of Social Media.  People don't need to be told to log on to Facebook and update their profiles or review their wall - they choose to.  Organizational knowledge may be behind the curve in many cases, but it's still going in the same direction.  If you need information, don't expect someone to hand it to you.  Chances are, the information is already out there.  If you need it, go get it.

That leads to the next common theme. There is a great deal of information available, and it is growing exponentially.  When you have a search engine like Google that opens you knowledge base to almost anything, the need to filter the deluge of information becomes critical. There's an old expression: it's like finding a needle in a haystack.  That expression implies a fruitless effort, because the task may be impossible.  I think we have already reached a point where that expression is becoming obsolete.  In the 21st century, filtering through the hay to quickly find the needle isn't just possible, it's a critical skill to remain competitive.

From there the discussion moved to what learners need to develop, and how learning professionals can best support them.  The theme of self-direction was the common thread that was present in most responses.  Learners will need to take control of their own learning, which is a major shift considering most adults have had learning pushed to them since their childhood.  Flipping that coin is a concept that many have never considered.  In addition, self-direction is less about 'How?' and more about 'Why?'; it's about being motivated to be self-directed.  So how do we support such a shift?

The simple answer is this: If you want learners to start shifting to a 'Pull' learning culture, stop pushing.  It echoes comments I've made to my daughter in reference to her younger brother: "Sweetie, don't keep doing XYZ for your brother; if you do, he'll never be able to do it for himself".

Of course, in a corporate world, the answers are never that simple.  Shifting from 'Push' to 'Pull' isn't a light switch located in the Learning and Development office; it's a part of the organizational culture.  It's really the foundation to how an organization, consciously or unconsciously, structures their knowledge management strategy. 

Cultural change is hard, and it takes time.  In some organizations, Senior Management may see the value and support a strategic shift.  In other organizations, the benefits may need to be shown more tangibly first. On the plus side, if Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media environments have shown us anything, it's that if you build an environment that people feel self-motivated to engage in, they will.  That's the support mechanism learning professionals need to tap.

The discussion then moved towards what Learning Professionals need to develop to support this shift.  The answer to this question was actually much easier than may have been initially considered.  Ultimately, when it comes to the shift to 21st Century learning, we are all 'learners'.  As learning professionals, it is critical that we practice what we preach, and set the example for other learners to follow. From this perspective, it becomes less about 'Learners and Instructors' and more accurately 'Learners helping one another'.

How do we do that?  I think it starts with the stop: If you want learners to start pulling, stop pushing. The problem with that statement is that it doesn't truly show the difficulty that many learning professionals have with the concept.  I the absence of 'Pull', many learning professionals will fill the void with 'Push'.

This problem of engagement has always existed; it's just the technology that's changed.  It echoes quite possibly the most challenging ILT skill I have coached trainers on in the past: allowing for uncomfortable silence. 

Whether it be a in-person or virtual classroom, conference presentation, or some other live setting, We've all been in an environment where we ask the attendees a question... and no one answers.  You often have this happen early in the session, and it's a critical moment.  Do you allow for the uncomfortable silence and wait for someone to respond, or do you release them from the uncomfortable moment by filling the silence yourself?

Hopefully, you choose the former and allow for the silence.  Otherwise, you set the expectation of "I'll answer the questions for you", and no one will feel compelled to participate going forward.

That same challenge exists in a cultural shift to 'Pull', only on a larger scale.  Employee are used to being spoon-fed the information they are told they need.  If the spoon suddenly disappeared, eventually the hunger for knowledge would insure self-directed action regarding learning.  Within learning active programs, we can support this culture by shifting from a 'spoon-feed' approach to more of a 'scavenger hunt' environment.

For me the tweet that best summed up the discussions came from @LearnNuggets: Goes back to Pull rather than Push. We provide the relevant content and tools to access it, and let learners discover.

I think this is an excellent summary, as it provides a relevant answer to all of the questions.  The concept of 'Pull versus Push' encompasses many of the new skills and literacy described in the chat.  The tweet also describes the roles of both learners and learning professionals in this new paradigm.  Learning professionals need to provide the open framework in which the learners can safely explore and discover. 

Most importantly, learning professionals, and the organizations they serve, need to have the patience and focus to give learners time to adpat to this new learning environment, and not give in to the temptation to pull the rug out from under it by reverting to 'Push'.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Waste Time Learning, When Ignorance is Instantaneous?

As a learning professional, I very much enjoy encountering non-learning resources that spark a thought or idea related to the Learning Profession.  Earlier today I posted a quote on Twitter from a Calvin & Hobbes comic strip I had read, shown below:

The quote I included in my tweet was from Hobbes in the last panel: “Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?" 
This strip echoes the challenge that learning professionals have been dealing with for years: What is the value, or more specifically, business value, or learning?  That’s a very difficult question to answer, as what defines ‘value’ is often based on the perspective of the stakeholders.  It is further complicated by the fact that the stakeholders group includes not only those providing resources (commonly referred to as ‘paying’) for the learning, but also, as demonstrated in the strip, the learners themselves.  As learning professionals, we sometimes find ourselves trapped in a debate of the benefits of learning.  Sometimes the best answer to a question isn’t an answer at all; it’s asking a better question. 
For me, that’s the message of this comic strip.  Often the question isn’t as simple as “What’s the business value of a learning and performance program?”  Sometimes, a better way to get to the answer is by asking “What’s the business risk of NOT conducting a learning and performance program?”
On a related note, @simbeckhampson pointed out the duality of the relevance of the comic strip I referenced. Not only is it relevant to the learning profession, but today is actually also the 25th anniversary of first Calvin and Hobbes strip.
So let me close by saying “Happy Birthday Calvin & Hobbes! I look forward to your wit and wisdom (courtesy of Bill Watterson) inspiring my learning for many more years to come.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reflections on #lrnchat: Using a Conference Backchannel for Attendees and Non-Attendees

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was "Using a Conference Backchannel for Attendees and Non-Attendees."

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the five discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) As a conference ATTENDEE what is good/easy about using the conference backchannel?
Q2) As a conference NON-ATTENDEE what is good/easy about using the conference backchannel?
Q3) What can conference tweeters do to improve their tweets for the non-attendee backchannel followers?
Q4) What gets you to start following a conference backchannel?
Q5) How can we bridge the non/attendee gap even better?

Key Learning Points

The backchannel was a hot topic this week, mainly due to the recent DevLearn conference held in San Francisco the previous week.  There was a very strong backchannel generated from the conference, resulting in enhanced learning for conference attendees as well as those that were unable to attend DevLearn in person.  This week's #lrnchat explored backchannels, including how they create value, and how the community can increase the value a backchannel generates.

The discussion started by exploring what is good or easy about backchannels, both from the perspective of a conference attendee and a non-attendee.
Participating in the backchannel when you are in attendance can provide a number of great benefits.Many people have started using the backchannel as their tool for taking notes.  This works very well, as you get the benefit of not only your notes, but the notes of the entire backchannel community. That idea - community - was a common thread in the attendee backchannel discussion. 
When you participate in a backchannel as an attendee, you are adding to not only your own learning, but to the learning of the entire conference community. In addition, you enhance your networking, as you often encounter individuals on the backchannel that you may want to connect with face-to-face while at the conference.

For non-attendees, one of the major benefits is the ability to participate in some of the conference learning at no cost.  There are always caps to budgets, especially these days, so finding learning opportunities with minimal cost is essential.  The backchannel is an excellent resource in that regard.

The backchannel is also provides non-attendees with an excellent resource for deciding which conferences they may attend in the future.  If you see conference value in a backchannel, there's a very good chance it would be valuable to attend in-person in the future, should that be an option.

One of the greatest benefits of the backchannel applies to both attendees and non-attendees: Building your Personal Learning Network, or PLN.  Any time you are interested in a conference, there is a high likelihood that you share some sort of a connection with every other potential attendee.  I'd be hard pressed to find a better resource for building your PLN than the backchannel. Every backchannel tweet has the potential to be 'followed' and added to your learning resources.

From there the discussion moved on to what conference tweeters can do to improve their tweets for the non-attendee backchannel.  There were a number of great suggestions here, including:
  • Including links to deeper content, such as pictures, websites, and blogs
  • Regularly check your 'Mentions' to see if someone from the backchannel has sent you a question, and if so, reply accordingly
  • As a presenter, you can auto-schedule tweets of main points so that they come out at the appropriate time during your presentation
  • Using the generally accepted hashtag on your tweets, and the session hashtag for concurrent sessions
The discussion then moved towards what gets people to follow a conference hashtag in the first place.  As an attendee of the conference, it's usually a good idea to follow and interact with the conference hashtag as far in advance of the conference starting as possible.  Of course, this implies a generally accepted hashtag for the conference exists in advance,  I look at the DevLearn conference as an example of a strong backchannel that was in place weeks before the conference.  Not only did it build buzz and excitement for the conference, but it set the stage and built a foundation for many of the connections that were made among the participants.

For non-attendees, there were two major themes for following a conference hashtag.  The first is somewhat obvious; You follow a hashtag for a conference you would like to attend but are unable to in person.  The second reason is somewhat less obvious, and possible more valuable.  When you see a tweet from a respected follow that includes a hashtag you are not familiar with, search that hashtag.  Often, you will discover a valuable conference backchannel that you did not even know existed.  Even better, you will likely encounter new people to follow and add to your personal learning network.

The session concluded with a discussion on what we can due to further bridge the gap between live and backchannel conference attendees.  I always like questions like this in #lrnchat, as it almost serves as a brainstorming session for your Personal Learning Network.

There were a number of good ideas shared, including:
  • Have conference organizers foster the backchannel in advance, which could be as easy as publicizing a hashtag for the conference
  • Have someone assigned the task of being the 'voice' of the backchannel, monitoring the feed and bringing the backchannel feedback into live sessions
  • Setting up a schedule backchannel chat where people can interact live - similar to what #lrnchat does
This was an excellent session that I think shared a great number of ideas that can help improve the quality and value of backchannel communities at future conferences.  I look forward to putting many of the tips shared into practice myself.

There are always at least a couple of tweets that resonate well with the topic and seem to really strike a chord. As always, you can find the full transcripts at
http://lrnchat.com/.  Here are a few that stuck out to me from today's sessions:

On what is good or easy about the Conference Backchannel for ATTENDEES:
@hamtra: Finding like minded attendees, finding out what is happening in other sessions
@cellodav: Lets me know what others are thinking as we’re listening to the same thing
@kylemackie: Backchannel connects people, builds community, crowdsources knowledge

@trchandler:  RT @KoreenOlbrish: the backchannel lets me take real-time notes <-- and tap into everyone's notes as well
@jaycross:  It's great watching us create understanding and knowledge around our professional areas 140 characters at a time.

On what is good or easy about the Conference Backchannel for NON-ATTENDEES:
@learninganorak: That sense of inclusion when you couldn’t make it to the event
@CraigTaylor74: Great for picking up useful links & for making new contacts
@innerquest: It removes the financial and geographical barriers to participation and learning

@KoreenOlbrish:  Backchannels as a nonattendee give me insight as to where i need to be the NEXT year

On what conference tweeters can do to improve their tweets for the non-attendee backchannel:
@c4lpt: As a conf presenter I auto-tweet my presentation (key points, questions etc) to try and engage non-attendees
@joshcav: I think it’s great when there’s photos/video/audio attached to the tweets
@jzurovchak: Definitely include session hashtags and even room numbers and times (in case attendees want to switch sessions…)
@mrch0mp3rs: Engage constructively with other participants. Be the voice of the virtual attendees, asking questions out loud they can’t ask.

On what gets you to start following a conference backchannel:

@sguditus: When members of my PLN use a hashtag, along with a catchy reason, in 140 characters or less!
@learninganorak: When I’m following someone who RTs something that catches my imagination
@StephanieDaul: Conference Organizers being part of the channel

@minutebio: The pre-conference back channel can psych me up to follow during conference

On how we can better bridge the Non/Attendee gap:

@cellodav: Designate someone to ask Qs on behalf of non-attendees and someone to post the answers
@Dave_Ferguson: Conf folks could propose, even publish session-related hashtags — ideally short ones. DL10 good. ABCDconference2010, bad.
@KristinTho: Teach conf planners & attendees to include articles, photos, videos, blogs etc, not just quotes and reactions
@nickfloro: Setup scheduled conversations (ie #lrnchat) where they can chat, exchange, learn, ask questions and request info

@kelly_smith01:  Provide reviews/blogs on sessions include names, sources, links, publications through SoMe and #lrnchat

For me the most thought provoking tweet came not as an answer to one of the five guided questions, but from an exchange I had with @moehlert in which he said "Let's be clear about the value of a conference".  That concept of value was a key theme of the chat.

There are three key stakeholders in a conference backchannel.  In the #lrnchat discussion we really only touched on two of them: Attendees and Non-Attendees.  We looked at what defines 'value' for both, and how they can meet in the middle to make a better experience for all.  But what about that third stakeholder - The conference organizers?

The conference organizers are in a great position to foster a strong backchannel for their event.  It's important to remember though, that their key metric for a successful event is paid attendance.  The backchannel is an excellent resource that can add to an overall experience for attendees, but it can also be a leech to live attendance.  It may never replace face-to-face, but as technology continues to evolve, the learning gap between attendees and backchannel will continue to shrink.

Think about this.  I have no doubt that the next phone I purchase will give me the ability to post the following link to the backchannel:
Great session being led by John Smith on protecting intellectual property.  Click here to watch the live feed from my cell...

That sort of option would no doubt affect attendance.  I think in order for backchannels to continue to evolve as a learning resource, conference organizers must be actively engaged to ensure that their is balanced value for all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DevLearn10 Learning Resources: Collected

In a previous posting I discussed way to learn from the DevLearn10 conference via the backchannel. I shared a couple of approaches that work for me, but I forgot one very important technique that can be very effective:

Let someone else do the work for you!

In the spirit of that technique, here are some of the many resources I have collected and bookmarked as part of my DevLearn10 backchannel learning.  I hope this list is of value to both backchannel learners and live attendees looking to enhance their learning.

For starters, the official conference website has the program guide and handouts available.  You can access it HERE.

Conference Summaries and Recaps
DevLearn, Reflected #dl10 by Cammy Bean
DevLearn 2010 Recap by Philip Hutchison
Three Lessons Learned at DevLearn 2010 by Phil Cowcill
DevLearn 2010 Reflections by Koreen Olbrish
DevLearn 2010 - but no time for blogging! by Jane Hart
DevLearn 10: Day 1 by Jay Cross
DevLearn 10: Day 2 by Jay Cross
DevLearn 10: Finale by Jay Cross
What I Learned at DevLearn 10 by Steve Nguyen
2 Emerging Learning Trends Distilled from DevLearn 2010 by Nemo
DevLearn 10 Opens in San Francisco by Bill Brandon
Live from DevLearn 2010 by Jeanine O'Neill-Blackwell
DevLearn 2010 - Part 2 by Jeanine O'Neill-Blackwell     (Added November 12th)
DevLearn 10, The Aftermath... by Laura Dickson
In the Middle of the Curve by Wendy Wickham
My DevLearn 2010 Experience (#DL10) by Brian Dusablon     (Added November 12th)
My (first) DevLearn 2010 review: A different perspective by Kevin Thorne     (Added November 12th)
DevLearn 10 Notes by Michael McCabe     (Added November 12th)
DevLearn 2010 Conference Wrap by Jill Duffy     (Added November 12th)
The DevLearn 2010 Write Up (#DL10) by Aaron Silvers     (Added November 12th)
The Wrap-Up...Much Later Than I'd Intended... by Shawn Rosler    (Added November 18th)
The DevLearn 2010 Cheat Sheet: Refresh Yourself on 4 Key Takeaways (Interviews) by Nemo (Added December 3rd)

Slide Presentations
25+ mLearning Tools in 60 Minutes by B. J. Schone
The State of Learning in the Workplace Today by Jane Hart
Intro to Compressing Audio and Video AND Best Practices for Working with Video in Learning by Nick Florio
Mining the Value of Microsharing by Steve Nguyen
Games for Learning by Richard Culatta
Design Thinking + Democracy by Aaron Silvers

Session-Specific Discussions
John Seely Brown: The Power of Pull by Cammy Bean
John Seely Brown: The Power of Pull by Brian Dusablon
Translating tried and true engagement (Jane Bozarth session) by Jeff Narvid
The State of Learning in the Workplace Today (Jane Hart session) by Sumeet Moghe
The New Social Learning with Marcia Conner - Live Blog by Sumeet Moghe
How to Create a Podcast for e-Learning, DevLearn 2010 (Rick Nielsen session) by Jill Duffy
Multiple Session Notes by Shawn Rosler
Understanding the Tools of the Social Learning Landscape (Mark Oelhert workshop) by Sumeet Moghe
John Seely Brown: The Power of Pull (Mind Map) by Clark Quinn
The e-Learning Guild Announces DemoFest 2010 Winners by Bill Brandon    (Added November 12th)

#Lrnchat Live at DevLearn by Jane Hart
Visualization of the #Dl10 Tweet Stream via the Archivist
Making Connections by Harold Jarche
Flickr Stream by Charles Jennings
Enterprise Social Learning Needs Porous Walls by Sumeet Moghe
The Faces of e-Learning by Kevin Thorne
#dl10 Tweet Stream Archive for 11/1 through 11/7
A collection of DevLearn 10 photos started by @onEnterFrame
e-Learning Pros: What did we want to be? by Cammy Bean
e-Learning Product Launches announced at DevLearn by Learning Solutions Magazine
DevLearn 10 Conference and Expo Pics by The eLearning Guild    (Added November 12th)

I will be adding to this list as I discover new resources, and will tweet updates if warranted.  If you know of a valued resource I should add to the list, please add it to the comments or tweet me a link to @LnDDave.

If you find these collections of value, I have posts that consolidate the backchannel resources from other conferences.  An archive of all of these posts can be accessed by clicking the link below:

Click here to access the archive of backchannel resource posts.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reflections on #lrnchat: What is Holding Us Back as an Industry?

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was "What is Holding Us Back as an Industry?."

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the five discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) What is holding us back as an industry?
Q2) What is holding back your organization?
Q3) What is holding you back as an individual?
Q4) What is needed to set your organization free?
Q5) What is needed to set *you* free?

Key Learning Points

The #lrnchat discussions are an excellent source of development for L&D professionals. It is one of many resources we can use to develop our skills, add to our knowledge, and help continuing to move ourselves and our profession moving forward. This week's discussion looked at the other side of that coin; what is holding us back?

The discussion first focused on what is holding back the L&D profession. Our industry needs to become business focused in every aspect. Our work needs to provide value to all of our stakeholders, be there investment be financial support or their investment of time via participation. We need to get away from the widget-based metrics of the past and focus on the impact and value our effort have on critical business performance.

Next we focused on what is holding back our organizations. I found that many of the obstacles discussed regarding our organizations were directly tied to the obstacles focused by our profession. One of the more common themes discussed was the continuing battle with organizational silos. If departments continue to manage their own learning and performance issues in a vacuum, how can the organization possibly reach their overall performance goals and objectives?

From there the conversation migrated towards what holds us back as individuals. There were a number of challenges described, from resources to time, and from knowledge to empowerment. Ultimately though, almost all of the items shared were shackles we choose to wear. Even if they were placed on us by someone else, we have the power to choose to take them off.

The discussion continued with what would be required to set the organization free. There were a number of options shared, all of which shared one theme: the L&D group can not set the organization free by itself. We need the assistance and support of others in the organization, from senior management, to middle managers, to front line. Setting the organization free requires changing the organization's culture, and that takes time and buy-in across all levels.

The discussion concluded with what would be required to set *you* as an individual free. I was a little surprised to see a number of responses to this question that suggested things that we don't have control over, such as bandwidth, budget, and other resources. I go back to my shackles analogy from earlier; when it comes to breaking out of the shackles, I want to be the one with the key. If I have to wait for someone else to give me the key, I could be waiting a very long time.

Unfortunately, the answers to these question are not that different than the answers you would have received five or ten years ago. I think that many of those who participate in #lrnchat are, by nature, forward thinkers, and are likely ahead of the curve in these areas. In order to get our profession to move forward, we need to find a way to get those who are not early adopters to jump on the train. That would change the perception of the 'norm' for Learning and Performance programs. If we can do that, many of the obstacles individuals and organizations encounter would be eliminated.

Throughout the discussion ideas and strategies were shared that can help learning professionals adjust to the shifting landscape of workplace learning and performance. Whether you are a novice learning professional or a more seasoned professional that is looking to help build a bridge for novices, you will find many great ideas shared in the discussion. As always, you can find the full transcripts at http://lrnchat.com/.

There are always at least a couple of tweets that resonate well with the topic and seem to really strike a chord. Here are a few that stuck out to me from today's sessions:

On what is holding us back as an industry:
@Quinnovator: lack of evidence-based practice, lack of recognition of the need to look at ‘big L’ Learning: perf support, social, and more
@wilko64: Not understanding who our learning audience is and why they WANT to learn. Not understanding Knowledge work skill needs
@britz: We are often the barrier – we talk learning too much and not enough abt performance, execution, revenue..etc

On what is holding back our organizations:
Poor execution…lack of communication…oh, and silos…damn you silos!
Money was holding back my org until I realized how to use FREE as a business model.
@TriciaRansom: Guts, time, $$$, resources (or lack thereof), lack of energy

On what is holding us back as individuals:
Easy to rely on the familiar
Not connecting with you guys enough. Forgetting I'm not alone.
Organizational "rules"
Being honest here... Fear of not being taken seriously if I try the crazy things I dally want to.

On what is needed to break an organization free:
"If it is to be, it can not be just me" via @marciamarcia
Higher level champions who will encourage and reward wise risk taking.
@JaneBozarth: cooperation from the middle layer

On what is needed to break *you* free:
Participating in a chat like this opens new avenues for ideas.
I find I do best work when I have tight constraints. Forces me to be innovative and focused.
If what you need to set yourself free needs to be provided by someone else, well, you're pretty much screwed.

In my past Reflections on #lrnchat posts, I have ended the summary with what I consider the most thought provoking tweet of the chat. I'm going to cheat on that pattern a bit this time.

For me the most thought provoking tweet came not during the chat, but the morning after from @britz: last nites #lrnchat left me wanting. Good Q's such as "What's holding you, industry, & org back?" But wish we added "what R u doing abt it?"

That's a perfect way of summing up my thoughts on the chat as well. As with learning, knowing something isn't what matters; it's applying that knowledge in a constructive way that matters. Perhaps we'll cover what we're personally going to do to break free our shackles in a follow-up discussion.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tools for BackChannel Learning: DevLearn10

Last month I wrote a post about extracting learning from a conference you are not attending. In it I explored a number of ways that non-attendees can learn a great deal, even without attending a conference.

This week, I put much of those theories to practice, following the backchannel for the DevLearn10 conference. This blog posts expands on the recommendation from my previous post by exploring the unique backchannel learning opportunities that may exist at a conference, in this case, DevLearn10.

Explore the Program Guides

Learning from a conference is obviously easier when you actually attend it. Therefore, it's also understandable that a backchannel learner may need to do some extra pre-work to help bridge that learning gap.

One way to do that is by reviewing the conference's program guide before the conference begins. This is an excellent practice for any conference you attend, but I think the importance of this task differs for in-person and backchannel attendance. When you review the conference program for planned attendance, the general perspective is one of 'Which session do I want to attend?" For backchannel learning, the review of the program is a more critical part of the learning process, as it provides a fairly thorough overview of the themes, trends, and ideas being covered at the conference.

Another important part of the program guide review is planning what sessions you want to learn from. This, again, is in some ways even more important for the backchannel learner. When I attend a conference in person, my 'work calendar' for those days consists of something like this:
8:00am - 6:00pm: Attend Conference

It's highly unlikely that my work schedule when learning through the backchannel would read: 8:00am - 6:00pm: Follow Conference Backchannel <-- That's unrealistic in most organizations

It's therefore critical for a backchannel learner to review the program guide in advance, so that they may be able to block out time periods with speakers they may want to learn from. As a personal example, I have many projects I am currently working on, but I blocked out the time period for Marcia Conner's DevLearn10 Keynote.

DevLearn really raised the bar for program guides this year with their excellent program guide app pictured to the left. Powered by EventPilot, this app truly set a high bar for future conferences. Then again, would you expect less from the leading e-learning conference and expo?

The app contained much more than the schedule and details of all the sessions. It also included many other features of value to a backchannel learner, including:

* A live twitter feed of the conference hash tag

* A listing and summary of all of the expo exhibitors

* A great number of presentation slides from each of the sessions, which could be searched upon.

* A home page that features what's happening now

* The ability to take your own notes directly into the application, even linked to specific slides, and then email all of it to a colleague or yourself - nice!

That last bullet point alone made this application tremendously valuable to a backchannel learner. I only wish that I had discovered and explored the app more in advance of the conference so that I could leverage it more during the conference. As it was, it still created tremendous value as I explored it on the fly.

Use a Twitter 'Power Tool'

There are a great number of desktop and online tools that provide additional Twitter functionality not found via Twitter.com. Leveraging these tools can greatly enhance backchannel learning.

The tool that I use is one of the most popular: TweetDeck. TweetDeck enables a user to follow multiple Twitter feeds simultaneously. At first glance TweetDeck may seem overwhelming; in reality, it is actually filtering the Twitter stream into more targeted and actionable information. Using TweetDeck, I can simultaneously monitor my primary Twitter feed, as well as various search options.

During DevLearn, I had four primary columns open: My primary feed, my favorites, the DevLearn10 hashtag feed, and mentions. This combination of columns is, for me, the ideal backchannel learning environment. The DevLearn hashtag lists all the conference tweets. As I see something I may want to investigate further at a later time, I can set it as a favorite. If I am actively participating in the backchannel, I can immediately see if people are trying to interact with me via the mentions column.
I highly recommend TweetDeck and tools like it to enhance your general Social Media experience, and consider it to be a prerequisite for backchannel learning. The image below shows the TweetDeck layout I am using during DevLearn10.

Another reason I like TweetDeck is that it very well supports the in-and-out nature of backchannel learning. I can very easily review the tweet stream for a bit, return to my regular work for a period of time, and come back to TweetDeck without missing a beat.

I leverage TweetDeck's 'Clear All' button for this purpose. During DevLearn, I have TweetDeck running as shown in the above image. When I have the opportunity to review the backchannel, I do so. When I need to return to regular work, I click the Clear All button in each column to clear out the tweets. That way, when I return to TweetDeck later, I know anything on my screen is new and I should review.

Engage in Conference Learning Activities

DevLearn10 had a couple of excellent activities that expanded on the learning and engagement of the conference. One such activity that I participated in was called Backchatter.

Backchatter is an interesting game that further engages conference attendees. The idea behind Backchatter is simple: Participants think about the conference and choose the three words that they think will appear most often during the upcoming 60-90 minutes of backchannel. Those words are scored based on how many participants chose the word, and points are earned every time a tweet contains the word.

It was a simple game with real-time scoring that definitely added another leavel of engagement to the conference. It also enhanced backchannel learning.

For one thing, participating in this game put a backchannel participant on almost equal ground with an in-person attendee, at least in relation to the game. It also further enhanced backchannel learning. One basic rule of learning is just as true in the backchannel as it is in any other type of learning: If you are engaged, you have a better chance of learning. Backchatter definitely succeeds at increasing engagement.

Another way that Backchatter contributed to the learning was a subtle part of it's home page. It included a tag cloud that showed the most commonly chosen words of the participants. Like the program guide, this tag cloud provided a glimpse into the overall themes and ideas that were floating through the minds of conference participants.

Search the Hashtag for Tweets with Links

Monitoring a conference backchannel can be time consuming. Doing so live is preferred, as it gives you the option to interact with conference attendees. Unfortunately, that's not always an option.

When time is an issue, that doesn't eliminate backchannel learning. You can make best use of your limited time by performing an advanced search for tweets that provide more detail for your backchannel learning.

In my previous post on learning from a conference you did not attend, I suggested performing an advanced search looking for blog posts about the conference. For DevLearn10, I used a different approach that I think casts a wider, and more effective, net.

Using the advanced search functionality of Twitter (available at http://search.twitter.com/), search on the conference hashtag. In addition, if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the search options, you will see an check box option labelled 'Containing Links'; check that. Here's what the results of such a search look like:

Since most tweets referencing blog posts include a link, this search covers that. It also catches much more valuable information for backchannel learning, including:
  • Photos from the conference, often including pictures of slides being displayed.
  • Links to resources and tools that speakers recommend
  • Links to videos that compliment the conference content.

These are just a few of the techniques that can be used for backchannel learning. I have found them very helpful in enabling me to learn a great deal from the DevLearn10 conference. I hope these tips help you learn from an upcoming conference.

If you have any additional tips for learning via the backchannel, please add it via a comment.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections on #lrnchat - Aligning and Evaluating Effective, Efficient, and Engaging Learning

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was Aligning and Evaluating Effective, Efficient, and Engaging Learning.

I find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the five discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) How do you ensure your learning solutions are *aligned* with organizational objectives?
Q2) How do you ensure your learning solutions are *effective*?
Q3) How do you ensure your learning solutions are *efficient*?
Q4) How do you ensure your learning solutions are *engaging*?
Q5) How do you *evalute* your learning solutions?

Key Learning Points

The discussion started with a focus on alignment. It's critical that any learning and performance solution be aligned with the overall objectives of the organization. The question is, how can we ensure that this happens?

It starts with something that seems obvious, but is often missing; L&D professionals need to be aware of what the organizational objectives are. Often L&D projects start with a problem that needs to be solved. These needs often come from a specific business unit, who may be requesting something that, in itself, is not aligned with organizational objectives. It is up to the L&D professional to ensure that all solutions have a direct line of sight to organizational objectives.

How do we do that? By consistently keeping the lines of communication open with Senior Leaders. It's also important to realize that successful organizations transform organizational objectives from something employees 'know' to something that they 'live' and 'do'.

From there the discussion moved towards ensuring solutions are effective. There was a similar theme here, as in order for a solution to be effective, it is critical that a thorough analysis be done beforehand and that the design be linked to organizational goals. The only true measure of effectiveness for a solution is whether or not the organizational goal measurement improved.

Next up in the discussion was how we can ensure our solutions are efficient. A common theme here was the need to 'cut the fat' in design. Much of the content in a solution is 'nice to know' instead of 'need to know'. If efficiency is a concern - and it often is in today's economy - we need to cut some of the 'niceties' and place focus on the key performance factors participants need to improve upon.

The brought the conversation towards ensuring solutions are engaging. There were two major themes related to engaging learners. The first was about control, specifically the need to turn it over to the learners. We need to create solutions in which learners can explore, discover, and practice skills that are transferable to the real-work environment.

Another theme towards engagement centered on making the solution 'fun'. I've never really embraced the idea of making learning 'fun', because I more often see the implementation of 'fun' as being a distraction. Fun in a performance solution can be great. However, it must be relevant fun. Fun on it's own is just that: fun. Fun that is relevant to the performance goal is powerful and engaging.

The discussion ended on the topic of how solutions are evaluated. The topic stayed on a more holistic level of evaluation, without getting into the often-debated detail of ROI, ROE, or other process-oriented aspect of evaluation. Most posts agreed that considering evaluation is something that should be done at the beginning of the process of building a solution, and it should be directly linked to the organizational and solution related objectives. In addition, what should be measured should be what impacts the organization, and in most cases that is performance, not learning.

Throughout the discussion ideas and strategies were shared that can help learning professionals build and implement better solutions. This was a chat that was probably of value for all levels of practitioner and included a number of tangible ideas that could immediately be put into practice. As always, you can find the full transcripts at http://lrnchat.com/.

There are always at least a couple of tweets that resonate well with the topic and seem to really strike a chord. Here are a few that stuck out to me from today's sessions:

On how we ensure alignment with organizational objectives:
@Quinnovator: um, *start* with your organizational objectives?
@karen_kelley: make sure everyone agrees what org objectives ARE
@c4lpt: Consider the *performance* outcomes you want to have (rather than the learning outcomes

On how we ensure learning solutions are effective:
@billcush: Learning effective if an org goal improved. What else is there?
@traceyyyz: How to ensure effectiveness? Ongoing learner evaluation and check in. Curric design that is nimble enough to adapt
@ThomasStone: Identify the critical mistakes people make in their jobs, and then measure to see if they are making fewer.

On how we ensure learning solutions are efficient:
@nlkilkenny: Just like with project management, consider constraints (resources, time, funds, etc.)
@briandusablon: Efficiency: again, review, test. Peer feedback – ask the question, “what can I cut?”
@chambo_online: Be a reflective practictioner…Can this be done better? Easier? Quicker? More effectively? Etc., If yes, implement revisions.

On how we ensure learning solutions are engaging:
@LearnNuggets: Simple. Give up control and let learner explore & discover. Let them create their own story while navigating content.
@LandDDave: Reminding learners why they should care always helps.
@c4lpt: “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement” says Dan Pink in Drive

On how we evaluate learning solutions:
@JamesMcLuckie: Start by planning your evaluation at the *beginning* of the learning design process.
@ThomasStone: ?..are critical mistakes you are targeting reduced after the learning/training initiative?
@jaycross: Open-ended questions provide information. Closed-ended questions tell you what you want to hear.

I think the most thought provoking tweet of the day for me came from @Quinnovator, in reference to engaging learners: get out of the way, let them engage with problems, and provide appropriate resources.

Sometimes 140 characters can accommodate all that needs to be said.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad