Friday, January 28, 2011

Learning Technologies Backchannel (#lt11UK) - Collected Resources

I am a huge proponent of backchannel learning (see related posts).  There are lots of conferences I would love to be able to attend, but my budget can only accomodate one or two each year.  The backchannel is an excellent resource for learning from a conference or event that you are unable to attend in-person.

Last year, I posted a collection of the learning resources I was able to compile from the DevLearn10 conference backchannel (post).  It was a valuable learning experience for me, and the collection seemed to be of value to others as well.  With that in mind, I recently reviewed the archive of backchannel tweets from the Learning Technologies conference held on January 26th and 27th.  There were over 1,900 tweets posted with the conference hashtag (#LT11UK), so there was plenty of value being shared.

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

Conference Summaries and Recaps
Full Backchannel Transcipt via What the Hashtag
Upstairs / Downstairs by Steve Wheeler
A Review of Learing Technologies 2011 by e-learning centre
Learning Technoligies 2011: Initial Reactions by Karen Romeis
Hot Girls in Pink T-shirts by proxburgh
Reflections after Learning Technologies 2011 Part 1 by Mattias Kareld (Added 1/29)
Reflections after Learning Technoligies 2011 Part 2 by Mattias Kareld (Added 1/30)
Reflections after Learning Technologies 2011 Part 3 by Mattias Kareld (Added 2/2)
Following #LY11UK, it's back down to earth... by Craig Taylor (Added 1/30)
Learning Technologies 2011 by David Bennett (Added 1/30)
Learning Technoligies UK wrap-up by Clark Quinn (Added 1/31)
Learning Technolgies - a refresher in integrated marketing by Ed Martin (Added 1/31)
Learning Technologies 2011 by Sean Burrough (Added 1/31)
Highlights from the Learning Technologies Conference by Cathy Moore (Added 2/1)
Learning Technologies... and Beyond by James McLuckie (Added 2/2)
3 Simple Steps to Delivering Results with Learning Technologies by Laura Overton (Added 2/2)
Failing to learn by David Bennett (Added 2/2)

Slide Presentations
The Essentials to Supporting an Online Learning Community by James McLuckie
Taking the Next Step by Craig Taylor
Making the most of online communities: Tweet your way to L&D Ssccess by Dan Martin (Added 1/31)

Video Archives of Conference Sessions (Added 3/1)
Keynote Speakers (Roger Schank, Jonathan Margolis, & Mike Campbell)
Track 1 Speakers (Chris Bones, Steve Wheeler, Ewan McIntosh, Steve Smith, David Mallon, and Lee Sheldon)
Track 2 Speakers (David Wilson, David Perring, Andrew Smart, Tom Martell, Clark Quinn, & James Clay)
Track 3 Speakers (Charles Jennings, Sarah Frame, Tim Drewitt, Keith Stopforth, Andy Andrews, & Steve Poole)
Track 4 Speakers (Jane Bozarth, Cathy Moore, Nigel Paine, Dr. Itiel Dror, Dr. Chris Atherton, & Craig Taylor)

Learning Technologies 2011 Exit Poll by Now Communications
Flickr Photo Album by Craig Taylor
Effective Use of QR Codes by Andy Wooler
QR Codes: The Nuts and Bolts by Stephen Downes
Hello Olympia podcast by Craig Taylor
Text Wall from Taking the Next Step by Craig Taylor
MindMap of Roger Schank Keynote by Clark Quinn (Added 1/29)
Elements of Effective Practice Experiences slide from Clark Quinn presentation (Added 1/29)
The eXtended Web slide from Steve Wheeler presentation (Added 1/29)
Ask Subject Matter Experts slide by Cathy Moore (Added 1/29)
Managers and 70:20:10 slide by Charles Jennings (Added 1/29)
CWCCM Wiki movie from #LT11UK by Craig Taylor (Added 1/30)
Blog Post: e-Learning Stuff Podcast #069: Where have you been? by James Clay (Added 1/31)
The Story of How I Got to Speak at #lt11uk by Craig Taylor  (Added 2/4)
Tips from Learning Technologies 2011 via Saffron Interactive's YouTube Channel (Added 3/1)

I am still reviewing the full transcript and will be adding to this list as I discover new resources.  I will tweet updates if additional links are added.  If you know of a valued resource I should add to the list - or if something is inaccurate - 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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What can Angry Birds teach us about Employee Learning and Performance?

One of the ways I enjoy learning is by trying to find connections between two seemingly unconnected and unrelated things.  I find that the process of building these connections very often opens my mind to possibilities I had not considered before.  

I often do this with learning, asking myself the same question: What can 'XYZ' teach me about learning?  The fun of it is that 'XYZ' can be anything, and the more difficult it is to build the connections, the more enjoyable and valuable the experience can be.  This first edition of Learning Mash-Up?

Ah yes... Angry Birds.  Most people are familiar with this phenomenon of a game, but here's a very quick synopsis for the uninitiated. The storyline of Angry Birds is fairly simple, telling the story of a seemingly endless battle between birds and pigs.  The pigs have stolen the birds eggs (hence the 'angry' part), and the game follows the birds quest to recover the eggs from the pigs.  To do so, the birds must defeat the pigs who are hiding in many different well-protected structures, which the birds must penetrate and destroy to be victorious.

Those who have not yet fell under the spell of this game may read that and think "what's the big deal?".  In truth, many people who know and love the game probably read that thinking "that makes it sound lame; it's not about the storyline" - which is very true.

Angry Birds is often described as a 'Launch Puzzle' game, in that you control the birds by launching them at the pigs, and need to figure out the right strategy in which to do so to clear each level.

To understand the magnitude of the success of this game, let's examine some quick statistics:
  • Angry Birds has been downloaded over 50 million times.
  • 80% of people who download Angry Birds keep the app installed.
  • Over the holidays, Angry Birds was being downloaded more than a million times a day.
  • There are 200 million minutes played each day on a global scale.
But this blog is not about gaming, it’s about learning.  The connective mash-up challenge I described earlier wasn't completely random in this case.  When I read the statistics mentioned above, one of the first thoughts I had was "Wow, imagine if we could get that sort of engagement in put learning programs". 

Well, why can't we?  Let's compare Angry Birds with employee learning and performance to see what similarities we can find.  Listed below are some of the aspects of Angry Birds that translate very well into leaening Programs.

Point #1: Angry Birds is easy to pick up and explore.

From the point you load up Angry Birds and hit the play button, it is about 10 seconds before you are playing.  There's no tutorial of instructional manual; just a quick graphic that sets up the 'story' and you start playing.  There's a very simple help menu if you need it, but most players don't.  You just start playing, and learn how to play in the process.  It’s simple and intuitive. It’s so simple, that my two year old will often sit with me, launching birds at will, loving every minute of it. 

Contrast that with many learning programs.  Log in, go to your learning page, find the assigned course, activate it, then launch it.  Sound somewhat familiar? I remember when we launched an LMS years ago.  The first course we made available was "How to use and navigate the learning portal".  Yep, the first course was how to use the course software.  Learning programs should not need to include instructions on how to use the learning programs.

Point #2: There's not set path or single right answer

There's no right and wrong way to play Angry Birds.  Players get to explore the game on their own, and try different techniques in order to pave their own way to the goal.  Most learning professionals agree that trial and error is a great way to learn.  That's the whole structure of the Angry Birds gameplay: experimentation.  You try a strategy to clear the level, learn what worked well and what failed, and try again with the expanded knowledge.

Point #3: There is opportunity and incentive to practice and build proficiency

Practice is critical for proficiency.  however engaging learners in voluntary practice can be a challenge.  In a video game, you might think there is even less incentive to replay a level once it has been cleared - not so.

Angry Birds gives plenty of opportunity to practice, and moreover, there is plenty of incentive to do so.  Cleared levels are always available for replay, and a level is assigned a ranking, in the form of a three star system, when a level is cleared.  Passing the level is one thing, but the ultimate goal is to pass it with a three star rating, which requires clearing the level as efficiently possible. 
In short, the scoring system of the levels is the incentive to go back and practice and strengthen skills on the levels that have already been completed.  Do our Learning programs provide similar incentive to practice?

Point #4: It's accessibility is in its mobility

One of the reasons Angry Birds is as successful as it is is its accessibility.  Unlike console video games, Angry Birds was designed for mobile devices. It has no tether restricting where it can be played and was in fact designed for mobile phones, a device many people have with them throughout the day. 

In addition, the level structure of Angry Birds is packaged in small chunks.  An attempt at a level can be completed in less than 30 seconds.  It's the perfect design for mobility.  If I'm standing on line at the grocery store or taking a short ride on the subway, I don't have many options to pass the time away.  However, seven minutes is plenty of time to take out my phone and play a few levels of Angry Birds.  Learning is already going mobile, but we would do well to chunk our mobile content to match the quick-hit flow of mobile media consumption.

Point 5: The learning is paced, and builds upon itself

With any advanced skill, it's always best to start with foundational skills and develop proficiency in those skills before introducing new skills.  That's the exact structure of Angry Birds. 

You start with a single type of bird and a fairly basic structure to clear.  As you clear levels, the structures become more complicated, requiring you to use the single bird in a more effective manner.  After a number of levels have been cleared the player has likely developed a certain amount of skill using the first type of bird. 

At that point the game introduces a new type of bird with diffent abilities.  It's a new tool the player needs to learn to use and become skilled with, and the game gives the player a chance to do so.  This process continues with multiple scenarios and new variables applied to each subsequent level, so that the player is consistently being challenged and engaged.  How many of our learning Programs provide such and engaging and developmental pathway towards mastery?

Point #6: It includes incentives towards better performance

Employee learning and performance progams are only one component of performance improvement.  Knowing how to do something is one thing, but often that's not enough.  There still needs to be some sort of incentive and motivation to perform better.

Angry Birds provides great examples of this.  In addition to the well structured star scoring system mentioned earlier that provides a compelling reason to replay cleared levels to get a better score, there are also achievement badges that can be unlocked for performing specific tasks such as clearing a certain number levels.  These achievements provide many players another compelling reason to replay and try to improve performance. 

In addition, the game also features a leader board that compares a player's performance with other players worldwide.  These leader boards foster competition and provide another incentive to try to improve your performance.

As you can see, there are a great number of parallels between Angry Birds and employee learning and performance.  I'm not writing this to promote gaming for learning - though it definitely has its merits - and I'm certainly not suggesting Angry Birds: Compliance Training Edition.  What these points show is that there are parallels and connections to learning just about everywhere if you look hard enough. 

Do you see other connections between Angry Birds and employee learning and perfromamcd not mentioned in the points above?  If so, please add them to the comments section below.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat: Self-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 "Self-Learning". 

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) How to do you prefer to learn at work, and why?
Q2) What gaps do you have in how you learn?
Q3) What “learning to learn” tricks can you share?
Q4) How does your organization encourage self-learning (or not)?
Q5) How could your organization encourage self-learning?

Key Learning Points

This week's #lrnchat discussion focused on self-learning. This discussion enabled us to explore two major components of self learning: What work and what challenges we may have personally with our learning, and what success and failures organizations have in the way the encourage self-learning.

The discussion started with an examination of how we prefer to learn, and more importantly, why we prefer it.  There were a number of common themes shared by the group, including:
·         Using all resources to pull learning as needed
·         Sharing ideas and concepts
·         Learning by actually doing
·         Learning by making mistakes

It seems that there was a common theme to many responses, in that the best learning at work is integrated with the work.  It echoes a simple but true quote from Harold Jarche – “Work is Learning, Learning work”.  As the examples from the group show, learning is often best when it is part of the framework of the work.

Also interesting, as Jay Cross pointed out during the chat, was what was missing from the responses.  Despite how common their usage is in workplace learning, no one was mentioning workshops, courses, or other traditional ‘push’ methods of learning.  We don’t prefer to learn that way, yet very often, it’s the default for how many organizations offer learning opportunities.

For me, how I prefer to learn varies greatly based on what I need to learn.  For example, if I need to learn about the needs of an audience, I prefer to learn by living their experience as much as I can, preferably by shadowing or working their role for a shift.  However, if I’m doing research on something, the last place I want to be is the workplace.  I’d prefer to be someplace completely isolated from the distractions of my office, usually the local Starbucks.

The discussion then moved towards what gaps we have in the way we learn.  The number one answer?

(Sorry, but as I write these reflection pieces each week, I use phrases like “The most popular answer was” often.  Each time I do, I have this vision of Richard Dawson shouting it out, and well, it’s starting to creep me out.  I’m hoping getting the image out of my head and onto the blog will help.)

There were a number of different perspectives to the ‘time’ response. In some cases it was not having the time to learn what we need to learn. In other cases time was represented in the quantity of books we accumulate as compared to the number of books we can read in the same timeframe.  When it comes to learning, there seemed to be consensus that there isn’t enough time to learn all we want to learn.

That leads me to the second common theme in the responses: Focus.  Focus also represented itself in different ways.  In some cases it was remaining focused on the learning at hand.  In other cases it was simply not allowing yourself to be distracted while you are trying to focus on learning.

For me, focus is a big gap, and I associate priorities as part of it.  Very often, I find myself conflicted between what I NEED to be learning about and what I might WANT to be learning about.  In addition, the SOS issue I described last week (Shiny Object Syndrome) is also a gap.  I don’t know where it originated, but the joke that often creeps into the tweet stream exists in my learning…

“I’m really enjoying reading about this topic. It’s so interesting and engaging and… Oh, look! SQUIRREL!”

From there the discussion moved on to sharing ‘learning to learn’ tips.  These types of direct sharing opportunities are some of my most valued #lrnchat moments. Here are some of the ideas that were shared:

  • Filter, Focus, filter some more (via @britz)
  • Learn how to find stuff out, nolt learn stuff. (via @C4LPT)
  • Start a Blog and write specifically about what you are learning… (via @dtssmithers)
  • Look outside your comfort zone, tolerate “some” contrarianism, look for lateral inputs
  • Have a destination.  Have a goal you’re aspiring to.  Everything falls in place if you can orient yourself (via mrch0mp3rs)
  • Learn the vocabulary of your discipline. Then use it to search… everything for answers (via gminks)
  • Draw a picture of what you are trying to learn (via weisblatt)
  • Identify the “exemplary performaers” watch them, listen to them, take them to lunch, tweet them, etc. (via @kelly_smith01)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask (via tmiket)
  • Expect Failure. Expect to fail.  Keep a box of bandaids handy. If not, don’t expect to learn very much. (via LearnNuggets)
  • Use a blog to help articulate your thinking.  If you can write simply, you’ll be able to say it too. (via summet_moghe)

One of my favorite learning techniques has to do with language.  I try not to allow myself to use any form of the phrase “I’m sorry, I don’t know”.  If someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, I say something like “Let me check on that for you”.  In a work environment, I’ll usually find the answer, contact the asker, and then share the answer with them, as well as how I found it.

This refusal to use the “I don’t know” phrase extends into every part of life.  As a simple example, I walk from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to my office just about every day.  At least two or three times a week, someone will stop me and ask if they know where XYZ street is.  Usually, I have no idea; I take the same walking route almost every day.  But you know what?  My iPhone always knows the answer, and now I know a lot more about the streets of Brooklyn.

I also like to look for learning from the least likely sources.  I often challenge myself connect two completely unrelated things.  As an example, I may be watching a 49’ers game, and since the ultimate outcome of those games is unfortunately decided before the end of the first half, I might spend some of the second half exploring a thought like “How might I approach the leadership workshop I’m developing differently if I had to deliver it to the 49’ers football players”.  The scenario isn’t likely to come up anytime soon, but the ideas from the thought process often open doors that I might never have realized existed.

The discussion concluded by shifting our sights away from the individual and on to the organizations individuals work for, and how they can effectively support self-learning.  Part of the questions asked how organizations fail in doing this, and unfortunately there were a great number of examples shared that show that many organizations struggle in this area.  That obviously represents an opportunity, so for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on sharing the examples and ideas of how organizations can effectively promote and support self-learning.

One of the common ideas and examples was also very simple: open the floodgates.  The ‘gate’ in question here would be the IT Firewall.  It has its purpose from a security standpoint, but if you want to promote self-learning, you need to allow access to the infinite knowledge base found on the other side of the wall.  This includes almost all social media sites – which are often blocked under the heading of ‘lost productivity’. 

Another common theme of the responses was that if an organization is going to support self-learning, it must do so from the top.  Management must be on board with such a change, as supporting self-learning isn’t about a policy or a procedure.  It’s something that needs to be an active part of an organization’s culture.

Overall, the consistent factor in both the examples and ideas of effective self-learning support seemed to be trust.  The organization needs to see the value in promoting self-learning.  If they don’t support it, or worse, block it, there is some level of trust missing.  There was a Dilbert comic strip shared during the chat that represents this lack of trust very well.

For me, the most thought provoking tweet of the chat came from Jane Hart (@C4LPT): Learn how to find stuff out, not learn stuff.

This ties very much into my previous point of not allowing myself to use the phrase “I Don’t Know”.  Learning for me continues to shift.  It’s no longer about what I know; it’s about what I am able to find out when I need to. 

Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat: Learning Technology Standards

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 "Learning Technology Standards". 

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) How do interoperability standards help your elearning efforts to succeed?
Q2) Finish this sentence: “With my elearning, I want to be able to ____.”
Q3) Finish this sentence, too: “With my elearning, I still can’t ____.”
Q4) What information about a learners experiences would be important to capture? How might you use that information?
Q5) What new, or newly viable technologies might have the most impact on elearning?
Q6) What about e-learning will change in 5 years? 10? What should change?

Key Learning Points

This week's #lrnchat discussion focused on e-learning: what our challenges are today, and what our opportunities are for tomorrow.  The positioning and sequence of the discussion questions gave learning professionals a chance to examine the work they do from a perspective different than we often view our work from on a daily basis.  We get so wrapped up in learning objectives, design, and development workflows, that we don’t take the time to step back from a specific project and look at our e-learning as a whole. 

This discussion about learning technology standards enabled us to explore the current state of our own e-learning, and that of the industry, including what’s working and what may not be.  It also enabled us to look towards future projects and consider what we may want to capture, and what new technologies will help us on that journey.

The discussion started with a question related to interoperability standards, and how they help our learning efforts succeed. This was the type #lrnchat question that I have a love/hate relationship with.  Having limited knowledge on the phrase myself, it was a great learning opportunity, which I love. On the flip side, I didn't really have much to contribute to the discussion, which I hate.

What surprised me was how many people in the discussion were in the same boat as me.  There were a larger than usual amount of "don't understand the question" or "will lurk and learn" comments in response to this question.

When this happens to me in a #lrnchat discussion, I usually open up another page and Google the term or topic I want to brush up on so the context of the discussion is more meaningful to me.  My search on Interoperability Standards confirmed much of what I assumed the phrase would mean based on the separate meaning of each word and the associated context.  Here’s my Reader’s Digest description:

Standards are what enable us to know that if you have a bolt of a certain size, a nut of the same size will work with it, regardless of who manufactured it. Because there is this accepted standard, any manufacturers can build a nut and bolt, and consumers can focus on getting the right size without worrying that the nut and bolt are compatible with each other.

When it comes to e-Learning, the standards are not nearly as cut and dry as the nut and bolt example.  E-Learning emerged from CBTs (Computer Based Training), which often ran locally off CD-ROMs.  The only ‘standards’ that needed to be in place were to ensure that PCs had the hardware to run the CBT, as the CD-ROM held both the content and the program to run it..  As the Internet exploded it rapidly replaced CD-ROMs as the primary ‘delivery vehicle’, the Learning Management System (LMS) emerged as a primary distribution point for e-learning courses. Over the last decade the technology involved in e-Learning has enabled us to do many great things, yet we still struggle with a tremendous barrier of compatibility.  In today’s environment, it’s very likely that if you develop an e-learning ‘bolt’, that many of the LMS ‘nuts’ (no pun intended) would not be compatible with it.

So with that brief understanding, how do such standards help our eLearning efforts succeed?  The one thought that consistently comes to mind for me echoes the previous week's #lrnchat topic: Focus.  If I am following accepted standards, I don't have to worry about 'getting it to work' as much. If I know that my eLearning will be published using a standard accepted by all terminals in use at my organization, compatibility is no longer something I need to place a huge amount of focus on.  That enables me to focus more on the important task of creating a quality learning experience.

And to bring it back to the question originally posed, anything that enables me to focus less on the technical coding and setup of e-Learning and more on the learning design is helping my e-learning succeed.

The discussion then moved towards the challenges and opportunities we currently have with e-learning.  The first question asked participants to finish this sentence: “With my E-Learning, I want to be able to...”

There were a number of common themes in the responses, including creating meaningful engagement, having it impact the organization, and to improve the performance of the learner. 

Also included in the responses were ideas that showed people trying to move their e-learning forward (for lack of a better description).  Examples of this included breaking away from the ‘Next’ button, allowing the learner to pull on-demand, and creating opportunities for learners to connect with the content… and each other.

The next question addressed obstacles, asking participants to finish another sentence: “With my elearning, I still can’t...”

Again, there were a number of common themes in the responses, including streamlining the review and revision process, and getting stakeholders to understand what it takes to build e-learning – the last of which there was a pretty passionate response to.

Another common theme with a number of different branches was the idea of breaking down the walls associated with e-learning.  One wall discussed was literal: The IT firewall.  But the theme covered any obstacle that constricted the e-learning.  This included the difficulty to access external resources, the inability to cross-pollinate courses (leverage Course A content while in Course B), and developing a user-defined flow to the content.

From there the discussion moved away from the past and present, as the remaining questions looked towards the future of e-learning. The first question in this theme asked what types of information we might want to capture regarding learners' experiences, and how we might use the information. 

A good amount of the responses to this question involved finding a way to have the elearning somehow capture the type of feedback normally captured in a post-program evaluation.  There were comments regarding the effectiveness of job aids, how much is learned and being put into practice, and a number of other comments that seemed to fall under the heading "have the learner tell us how to make this experience better".

As valuable as that type of feedback would be, I found another theme of the responses even more interesting.  A smaller percentage of the responses seemed to answer the question "what can the e-learning itself tell us about the user's experience?"

Taking in-program analysis to the next level could really assist e-learning designers raise the bar.  For example, how many times did learners revisit content? How often did they go outside the structured content to leverage other resources, and if they did, what were those resources? As we move away from a linear, push-based environment towards one where the learners pull what they need and desire, what learning path are they taking?

This is the type of information that can help designers understand what learners need and are actively looking for, and will help us better deliver on those needs in the future.

The discussion then moved on to what types of emerging technologies will have the greatest effect on learning in the future.  This was one of those rare #lrnchat questions where there was almost complete consensus on three specific technologies that will impact future learning: Augmented Reality, Mobile Devices, and QR codes.  If #lrnchat has taught me anything, it's to stay on top of things with such widespread consensus; they're usually pretty critical. 

The discussion concluded by looking farther into the future to predict what will change in e-learning over the next 5-10 years.  What surprised me in this discussion was how many comments focused on what holds us back today.  In addition, I think this discussion represented the challenges that sometimes exist with labels.  Here are two examples:

The course should die.  This was a suggestion that actually came from me that was retreated a number of times, so it actually struck a chord with a number of people.  Then I saw a response from Thomas Stone that said: Its not clear to me why courses, as such, will go away. Some topics build on each other, and it is efficient to learn X after Y.  That's very true, so maybe it's not the 'course' that's the issue; maybe it's the event-based approach we use to deliver the courses that's the true problem.

Another example: The classroom will go away in 10 years.  I think as technology continues to advance, there are more and more things that can be accomplished virtually that could previously only be experienced in-person.  That said, I don't think the classroom will be gone in a decade.  Used less? Yes, but still very much there.

I think this is another label issue, that of the classroom.  The very name conjures up an image of grammar school, with everyone seated at their one desk in set rows with a definitive teacher at the front sharing assigned knowledge with students.  And yes, that environment in today's adult learning world would be highly ineffective.  But that's not the fault of the classroom.  One thing that in-person, e-learning, m-learning, and all other types of learning have in common is that they can be implemented well, or they can be implemented poorly.  How an approach is implemented should not be blamed on the approach itself.

This was another engaging chat that enabled us to look inward at ourselves and the further of our work.  I love using #lrnchat for just that purpose, and enjoy finding was to reflect on the discussion and look at it from different angles; this blog being a perfect example.

Another good example of finding another way to look at the themes of the chat came from Aaron Silvers a day or two after the chat.  He shared a Wordle he created that captured many of the common themes of the chat.  It in included below, in case you missed it.

Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Evaluating Learning and Performance - One Man's Journey

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of speaking with a local company’s education team on the topic is measurement in learning and performance.  It was an engaging discussion, and left me thinking about my own journey towards my current definition of ‘measurement’.
When I first took the lead for my former employer’s learning and development team (in what seems like a lifetime ago), I remember being given the tour of the department by one of the senior team members.  In one office, I noticed four three-inch binders on a shelf, each of which had about four inches of paper in it. 
These binders contained the evaluations participants completed at the end of each workshop the trainers delivered.  I thought this might be a good place to start in terms of seeing how the group was performing.  This is a summary of our conversation.
Trainer: These binders contain the evaluations trainees complete at the end of each workshop.
Me: And what do we do with the evaluations?
Trainer: We put them in the binder…
Me: And what do we do with them at that point?
Trainer: Well… nothing. We do kinda flip through them during our annual performance review though.
Even though I had no formal education on the measurement of education at that point, this conversation bothered me.  It bothered because it conflicted with some of the basic foundations of effective feedback; why bother spending energy on completing, collecting, and filing feedback forms if you don’t plan on doing anything with the information?
In addition, there was no answer to the question “What do we do when the trainees leave?”   As a manager, I saw our training department as a provider of quality workshops, never felt that a large percentage of the classroom training - which was all we offered at the time - was being used on the job.  From the perspective of both the organization and the learner, why waste the effort if people aren't going to use the skills?
The one thing I was sure of was that I needed to treat this new department the same way I did my old one.  We needed to contribute to the business, and we needed to show it; I just didn't know what the tangible contribution of learning was yet.
In accepting the role, I also accepted the responsibility to do it right. It was then that I began to formally educate myself on adult learning.  In doing so, I found my passion and have been a student of the profession ever since, constantly absorbing whatever I can.  In my early studies, I was searching for something that could help us answer a simple question: Are we effective in what we do?
In that search I came across a certification program that trained individuals on how to calculate the value of training.  Better still, it did so in dollars and cents, presenting it as an ROI.  While a common concept in the learning profession at the time, this was my first real exposure to it.  I immediately was attracted to this for two primary reasons.  First, I'm kind of a numbers and stats geek. Second, and more importantly, the executive that sought me out and was monitoring my progress was the company's Chief Financial Officer.  When I proposed that I go through the certification process and the value I thought it would bring, he seemed to be literally salivating.
That certification helped me get a much better understanding of how what learning and development professionals do can impact a business.  Over the last decade, I have read and followed much of the work on the subject of evaluation.  I have taken courses, attended conferences, and yes, listened to all sides of the endless ROI debate. I have learned a great deal and consider the concepts and processes of educational evaluation to be one of my strong points.
If you're at all familiar with the works of Kirkpatrick, Phillips, Brinkerhoff, and others, you know there are substantially different perspectives on evaluation, and they often conflict with one another.  So what's the answer to the endless evaluation question then? Is it ROI or ROE?  Are there four, five, or forty-five levels of evaluation?  Is it even possible to measure learning?
In truth, I'm not sure there is a single answer to these questions.  I don't believe there is a one-size fits all solution.  The fact is that the definition of the 'Return' part of the equation varies.  It varies based on the program, and it also varies on the stakeholders. 
There are a number of different stakeholders for any learning and performance program, each of whom would likely define ROI for the program differently.  As learning professionals, we don't get to dictate what ROI means; we can educate on how we can measure our effectiveness, and work internally towards consistency, but if the stakeholders define ROI differently, well... They win.  
Over the years I have used a number of evaluation techniques from all sources in order to evaluate the effectiveness of my programs.  Sometimes it’s heavy on metrics, other times it’s more intangibles; sometimes I try to isolate the effects of the program, other times just showing a correlation is good enough. There are number of different metrics that can be applied to learning and performance programs, and plenty of different paths to get to those metrics.
That’s why for me, there is no single answer to the ROI question.  It’s like the famous quote from Abraham Maslow: If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.  Similarly, if you only subscribe to a single theory on evaluation, you tend to see every program through that lens as well. 
Having been a studier of subject of evaluation over the better part of a decade, I do believe there is one theme that is consistent across the evaluation spectrum.
It’s not what happens during a learning and performance program that matters; it what happens after the program that’s important.
Regardless of the labels used, the concepts of applying the skills gained from a program, and having those skills impact important areas of growth for the individual and organization are the critical areas we should focus on. We should always keep that in mind in every stage of our learning and performance programs.
Side Note: During the Q&A there was a discussion about the differences between the concepts of ROI and ROE.  I remembered an article from a magazine that provided a good foundation to answer that question, but could not at the time recall where I saw it.  It turns out it was an article from the August 2010 issue of T&D Magazine, written by James and Wendy Kirkpatrick.  The article is still available online HERE.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reflections on #Lrnchat: FOCUS

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 "FOCUS". 

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) How do we deal with pressures that distract us from the thing were supposed to do?
Q2) When is the right time for a guilty pleasure? When does the guilty pleasure become too much of a good thing?
Q3) How do we deal with (or get around) overworking?
Q4) How might you work with your circle of friends (online and offline) to stay on track?
Q5) What are the things you tend not to focus on in your work? What happens as a result?

Key Learning Points

In today's fast-moving world, multi-tasking is constant.  Most people do not have the luxury of working or thinking about a single task or topic exclusively for any length of time.  Usually, we are revewing e-mail, conducting phone calls, sending text messages, and having lunch, all of which are peripheral things we do while working on the primary task at hand. 

To keep up with the demand, many people come in early, stay late, or bring work home.  If so, do we do it because we are passionate and enjoy the work, or do we do it just to keep up?  Everything has a tradeoff; more hours we put into work means fewer hours invested in something else, like family and friendships.  It becomes a question of priorities.

How can we narrow our focus to provide important tasks the attention they need?  How can we keep ourselves balanced in a world of ever-growing professional responsibility?  That was the subject of today's #lrnchat discussion: Focus.

The discussion started with one of the biggest obstacles to focus: Distraction.  Distraction is the enemy of focus, so it makes sense that reducing distractions will increase focus.  There were a few comments in the chat discussion that mentioned ‘eliminating’ distractions; I don’t believe that’s possible.  The challenge is in the fact that distraction is not something we have complete control over.

What we can do is minimize distractions and the effect they have on our focus.  I believe this comes down to two major categories, both of which were mentioned during the chat: creating an environment that reduces the chance of being distracted and minimizing the impact a distraction has so you can quickly regain focus.

There were a number of great examples shared regarding creating an environment to reduce the chance of being distracted, including:
  • Dedicate (and publicize) time on your calendar where you should not be distracted.  The publicize part is critical – it only works if people are aware of it.
  • Complete the task in an environment away from the source of distractions.  For some, that me be working from home or at a different office.  For me – it’s Starbucks, the ultimate white-noise.
  • If you’re like me, and suffer from SOS (Shiny-Object-Syndrome), eliminate the sources of shiny-object distraction, whatever they may be. As an example, if I need to focus more, I turn off the notification pop-up on TweetDeck, which appear every time a tweet appears in one of my search columns. 
  • SIDE NOTE: (Your visual for this point should have me standing on a soapbox…) I could have mentioned the Outlook e-mail pop-up, as it was once my biggest SOS source.  That is it was, until I came to the realization that I could turn it off… and leave it off.  If you haven’t done this already, I highly recommend it as a productivity booster.  If the issue is important and requires your immediate attention, your phone should ring.

As much as you may try to set yourself up properly, distractions happen.  Minimizing the impact of distractions is critical to focus and productivity.  It’s also difficult, and requires discipline.

Whenever you are distracted, you have a choice to make.  That choice is, at its most basic level, to decide what to do with the distraction.  Let’s use the most common distraction as an example: The co-worker who comes to your desk and asks “Do you have a minute?” usually after they’ve already sat down.

This is really a moment of truth for your priorities and focus.  Do you choose to simply allow the interruption or refuse it outright?  The better option is probably somewhere in the middle.  There could be a genuine issue that warrants your immediate attention, so you may want to listen to see if that is the case.

Once you understand the cause of the distraction – and I think this is the hardest part of the discipline – you must decide if you will own it.  That’s hard.  I actually had someone come to me shortly after the #lrnchat discussion requesting my help with her project, which was overdue.  Facing a deadline myself, I explained that I could not help her now, and would be able to next week.  She protested (a kind understatement), and continued to protest until I made the following statement: “I’m sorry.  Poor planning from you does not warrant an emergency for me.”

You’ll notice I did not mention ignoring the distraction.  I’ve heard that suggested in the past, and it’s really not a valid strategy.  If ignoring the source of a distraction were an option, we wouldn’t be distracted in the first place.

One additional point: There were also a number of comments around prioritization being a strategy for mitigating distraction.  Prioritization is very important, but it does not have a direct link to distraction.  Priorities determine where our focus should be at any moment; distraction is when the focus is off. 

From there the discussion moved towards Guilty Pleasures, specifically when a good time to indulge in one may be, and when a guilty pleasure may be too much of a good thing.

I may be a little too black and white on this issue, but I really think all guilty pleasures, to some extent, are too much of a good thing.  The very definition states that you're gaining pleasure yet feeling guilty about the pleasure you are receiving.  It implies that there's some sort of tradeoff to your pleasure.  To answer the "when is it too much of a good thing", you need to look at what the tradeoff is.

The discussion then moved on to how we deal with, and preferably avoid, overworking.  This question brings up another - what is 'overworking'?

People often say that they are overworked because they are working too much. I think the productivity of work is too directly linked to the measurement of time.  Time is only one factor, and one that has one of the weakest links to overall output.  If your work is being measured by yourself or others with 'time spent' as the yardstick, you have in many ways already lost.  Your value and contribution should not be a measure of how busy you are. 

On the other hand, working longer periods of time does not mean you are overworked either.  If I'm working on a project, everything is flowing well and I am enjoying myself, am I overworked?  A number of people in this week's discussion mentioned being so engaged in their work that they didn't even realize how hungry they were until they finished.  Again, I do not feel this is overworked.  If you love what you are doing, and have the power to choose to stop but decide to continue, you are not overworked.

The only risk in that equation is balance.  That segues into the next question: How we can use our circle of friends to keep ourselves on track?

The idea of work/life balance was very prevalent in discussing this question.  The thing that is sometimes missed though is what 'balance' actually means.  Balance isn't easily defined as it really is a moving target.  Not only is it different for each individual, it is different for the individual based on the circumstances of the moment.

I think the biggest hurdle for people related to balance is that they react to being out-of-balance instead of proactively setting a desired balance and maintaining it.

I know this has been a challenge for me.  I have a tendency to lose myself in my work.  At the same time, being a good father and husband is very important to me.  This usually caused problems for me because I would not really realize how out-of-balance I would get on the work side.  I usually became aware of it when my wife would bring it up, and then I would react to fix the balance.

Shifting to a proactive approach to balance requires two key components.  The first, is that the individual must make a conscious choice rearding where his or her priorities are.  Without this vision, you may not realize you are out-of-balance until the balance is very much off-kilter.

The second component is exactly what the question from #lrnchat is discussing: using your support network to keep you in balance.  However, your friends and family can only keep you in balance if they are aware of what your vision of balance is.  Without sharing that, your friends and family would be left to measure you by their own definition of balance, which may not be in sync with your own.

I knew this was a big shift for me.  Once I shared with my wife what my vision of balance was, she understood me better and is now my main back-up system for personal balance. 

The discussion concluded by asking what we tend not to focus on in our work.  It seems that most of the groupo would agree that grammar and proofreading tend to be the first things to be forgotten whe the work is getting done, and it is usually caught shortly after the content is published.

For me, I have such a tendency to lose myself in my work, that I often lose focus on the important social connections.  One of the things I keep conscious of in my relationships with is the phrase "Sorry, I've been busy".  I don't use it nearly as much as I used to, as I now know that what I'm really saying is "Sorry, I haven't been staying true to my balance".  I still fail at times, but I'm getting better.

I think the most thought-provoking tweet for me from the discussion came from @sifowler in response to this last question: "I don’t focus enough on my focus".  Ultimately that's the overriding challenge for many of us.

When it comes to FOCUS, I think the greatest factor - and most common theme during this discussion - is Self-Awareness.  If you have not taken the time to ensure you know what your priorities truly are, then you are left to react when circumstances throw your balance completely off.  That's where focused discipline comes in.

It's always easier to make minor adjustments to stay on track then to correct things after going completely off course.