Sunday, September 25, 2011

Your Most Powerful Search Engine is Your Personal Learning Network (PLN)

The use of search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing for research is commonplace in today's online world. In fact, many of us go to these sites instantly when the need to find something first arises, be it something as trivial as finding out when a movie is playing, or as part of a multi-million dollar workplace project.  These search engines have redefined how we find information, and quickly become the primary way in which many people perform research.
But not for me.
I still use these search engines for low-impact searches.  However, when there is more consequence to my research, I am increasingly calling upon a different type of search engine for my research: my Personal Learning Network, or PLN.  This is a network of individuals consisting of family, friends, coworkers, and professionals that I have built relationships with over a number of years.  We interact and share through many mediums, with social media usually being the primary vehicle through which we connect.
In a world of ever-increasing search engine optimization, my personal learning network still delivers in ways that Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine never can. 
Google and search engines like it are very powerful.  They can search millions of resources in the blink of an eye and deliver a list of resources that match the terms you search on.  What they usually can’t do is frame that search around the deeper data of my personality, my career, my family, and my passions.  There’s no search option available labeled “Tailor this search to” in which I can enter my name.  If John Smith and I both search using the terms “Bank elearning”, we’re going to get the exact same response. 
My Personal Learning Network enables me to get to information that is more tailored to my preferences, because they have a better understanding of the lens through which I am viewing the world.  In addition, the interaction with my network enables me to provide one additional ingredient that is often lost in an online search: context.  Search terms are just that, terms; context tells the story behind those terms, which makes the search much more powerful.
I have lost count of the amount of times I have reached out to my network with a question that I could have also researched via a Google search.  In almost all of those cases, I have attained more useful information and references from my network than from the associated internet search.  In many of those cases, the most valuable resources I was pointed to from my network never appeared in the results of my search engine query.
There is a direct correlation between the importance or weight assigned to the research I am doing, and the likelihood that I would reach out to my personal learning network first.  The more weight I assign to the research, the more I will count on my PLN.  They are the most reliable search engine I have.
In short, my network often provides the ‘big rocks’ of my research.  They help my build the map and framework for the journey, and usually enable me to jump-start my research.  From there I will likely use additional research through Google to fill in the additional gaps.
Of course, the quality of response you get from reaching out to your personal learning network depends on the quality of the network itself.  In my case, my network has grown more powerful than I could ever have conceived years ago, and grown into something incredibly valuable to me.  I nurture my network by participating in it.  I suggest you do the same - you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Resources Shared at Recent ASTD / SHRM Presentations

Resources Shared at Recent Presentations

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a joint ASTD / SHRM Chapter Meeting. The topic of the evening's discussion was The Importance of Measurement in Learning and Performance.

The discussion covered a brief history of measurement of learning and performance, as well as where measurement may be going in the future.  This blog post collects the resources that I shared as well as other resources that can continue the discussions and learning from the presentation.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat - What Did You Learn Outside of a Classroom This Summer?

Image use courtesy of lrnchat and Kevin Thorn (@LearnNuggets)

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 did you lean outside of a classroom this summer?".
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 discussion questions that were presented to the group:
Q1) This summer, what did you learn that wasn't in a classroom?
Q2) What did you teach someone over the summer that wasn't a classroom? 
Q3) What did you do this summer that was new (well, at least new to you)? 
Q4) What do you wish you'd done (or learned) this summer?
Q5) What did you do this summer that you'd strongly suggest the rest of us do next summer?

Usually my 'Reflections on #lrnchat' posts look at the questions that were posed, consider the answers and shared discussion of the chat, and reflect on what it all means to me and to the Learning and Performance field.

I won't be doing that in this post.

While their was shared value in hearing what peers have been learning and sharing during the summer months, that really wasn't the value of the chat, at least not for me.

What people learned during the summer is extremely personal. What was important to one person may not be relevant to anyone else. It's always nice to share experiences with friends, and we can learn a great deal that way. I just don't think that was the true value of this chat.

The value of the questions isn't really in the answers we shared at all; it's in the quality of the questions we challenge ourselves with in order to arrive at our answers.

So in this 'Reflections on #lrnchat' post, I will not be reflecting on the answers to the questions; I will be exploring the questions themselves.  As I do, keep in mind that these are MY interpretations of the questions – yours may have been different.

This summer, what did you learn that wasn't in a classroom?

This question could have simply asked "what did you learn this summer?", but it added a qualifier: "outside of the classroom". Why add the restriction?

The qualifier of 'outside the classroom' provides an important focus on one of the main challenges in education today. Let's look at some basic questions and answers, and then apply some basic logic. Note: the answers here are typical surface level answers, not the root answers you would get if you dug deeper.

Why do people go to school?  >>  Answer: To Learn

What do you call the weeks off from school during the spring, summer, or holidays?  >>  Answer: a 'Break'

So if we go to school to learn, and the time off from school is a break, logic would then dictate that Summer is therefore a break from learning, right?

Hell no.

Summer is a time of additional freedoms. Students are free of their class schedules. Workers traditionally take vacation time, freeing them from the routines of their workplace. That's not when learning stops; I'd argue that it's more when learning accelerates.

The freedom provided by vacations and breaks gives us the opportunity to visit new places, explore new interests, or connect with friends and family. All of these experiences provide us with learning and growth opportunities we would likely not have available to us within the structure of a 'classroom'.

Summer is hardly a break from learning, but thankfully, it is often a break from being taught.

What did you teach someone over the summer that wasn't a classroom?

Again the question here isn't really about the teaching you did online, or in a field, or any other non-classroom location. In truth, the real question to consider here has nothing to do with teaching at all.

How did you help people learn outside of your regularly scheduled learning programs?  Or...  How did you help people learn this summer without formally instructing them?

There's tremendous value in exploring those questions. Too often we are so dependent on the structure we have built into our learning culture that we turn a blind eye to new ways of doing things. And yet, given the freedom of that environment, we subconsciously find ourselves learning through our social connections and through experience and experimentation.

How many times this summer did you just insert a new variable into your everyday workflow and just allow the learning to happen?   A visit to the zoo, an unexpected itinerary on a rainy day, getting a new toy – be it a Playdoh set or an Pad – and just diving in and exploring it… these are all great opportunities to learn, and it happens without us consciously stopping and choosing to learn; the learning just happens as part of the experience.

Recognizing this is important, because it provides a frame of reference for the future of organizational learning and performance.  The future isn’t in stopping work so you have a chance to learn; the future is in finding ways to fit the learning into the work itself.

What did you do this summer that was new (well, at least new to you)? and… 
What do you wish you'd done (or learned) this summer?

I combine these two questions because I think they both speak to a greater question: Did you accomplish your goals for the summer, or – in the absence of goals – did the summer just happen to you?

For me there was a bit of a hesitation when these questions were posed during the chat.  I had to think about my answer, and that’s somewhat surprising and concerning.  As someone that is passionate about my continuous development, my learning goals should right at the forefront of my thoughts simply because of the priority and focus I place on them.

That wasn’t the case.  Yes, I had goals, and after a few moments was able to add them to the discussion.  However, it was the hesitation in my answering that was my biggest takeaway; it shows that I need to check my compass more often to ensure I’m still on course.

What did you do this summer that you'd strongly suggest the rest of us do next summer?

This question is pretty straightforward in wording, and many people shared great experiences that they had over the past few months – many of which I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some degree of jealousy about.

This summer I did a number of great day trips, spent wonderful impromptu days exploring with my kids, and learned a tremendous amount trough our move to a new house.

None of which I mentioned during the chat.

It’s not that I was being anti-social.  I have no problem sharing stories of those experiences with people. It’s just that because of the lens through which I view the context of #lrnchat, I read the question a little differently…

What did you do this summer – in your role as a learning professional – that you’d strongly suggest the rest of us – who in most cases share that role – do next summer?

That’s why my responses were different.  I spent a large amount of time this summer thinking about my journey as a professional, and what I need to be doing to keep it moving forward.  The structure of this question made me consider: Am I further along my path than I was on May 1st?  If so, what’s been working?  If not, what can I be doing differently?

If you didn’t look at the question in that manner, I highly recommend that you do now.

Overall, I think this chat did a great job of reinvigorating the chat after scaling it back so that people could explore the additional freedoms of the summer.  Hopefully it also reminded us all that the ‘break’ summer provided was not a break from learning; it was a break from directed-learning. 

And that’s, as Martha Stewart might say… “a good thing”.

One last note: This flipping of format for this post – focusing on the questions themselves instead of the answers – reminded me of one of the major ways I learn from #lrnchat discussions.  Often the greatest value for me in #lrnchat isn’t in answering and discussing the questions (though doing so does have tremendous value); Sometimes the most powerful takeaway is in considering why the questions were chosen to be asked in the first place.

Until next time #lrnchat-ers!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

July / August Recap: Links, Posts, and More

There's so much sharing going on today that I sometime find myself missing out on a bookmark or forgetting where I read something or why I found it valuable.  I've decided to add another regular post to my blog that captures some of the readings I have found most valuable during the month, as well as why I found it interesting.  In addition, I'm also archiving a few tweets that resonated with me, and a listing of my writing for the month.

Tweets of Note:

"School" is most of what's wrong with training today. - @janebozarth

There's nothing wrong with instruction when instruction is needed. Except it too often isn't. - @pattishank


I am a Learner
In this blog post, John Connell eloquently explores how individuals learn, and why that conflicts directly with the concept of 'teaching'. 

The Debate Over Informal Learning
I always find I learn more about something when I look at it from all angles.  In this post, Jay Cross shares his experience and some video highlights from an elearning debate at Oxford over whether Informal Learning is more style or substance.  Substance won the debate 5:1, with the understanding that current corporate behaviors make the issue extremely debatable.

Think You're An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely
In this NPR article by Patti Neighmond, scientific evidence is used to challenge the concept of learning styles, and whether teachers should be using them to target their efforts.

On Education, Badges, and Scouting
The possible application of 'badges' for educational usage is a growing discussion.  In this blog post, Aaron Silvers further explores badges for education, using the existing badge model from the Boy Scouts of America as an example.

Time for You to Go
In this article for Fast Company, Marcia Conner explores the need for people to recognize when it's time to let something go.  Change is never easy, but sometimes we need to let something go in order to allow something else to grow.

My Blog Posts and Articles:

Reflections on #Lrnchat: What if HR was solely focused on human resources?
In this reflection #lrnchat twitter chat, I explore how Human Resources might be different if it were able to lose some of the legal and administrative baggage it has accumulated over the past few decades.

#140EDU Conference 2011 Backchannel - Collected Resources
This blog post collects the resources shared at the first #140EDU Conference held in NYC in August 2011.

What Can BlockBuster Video Teach Us About Learning & Performance?
Blockbuster Video is a company that collapsed because it failed to respond to the changes that were going on around it.  This post compares the Blockbuster story with current trends in the Learning and Performance field.

Backchannel Learning in an Organizational Setting
Backchannels are often discussed in the context of academic classrooms.  In this article for eLearn Magazine, I explore the usage of backchannels in an organizational setting, and share how it can be used as part of a Learning and Performance program.