Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat: Must-have Tools and Techs

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 "Must-have Tools and Techs". 

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) What has innovated your practice as a learning professional? This might be a tool, technology or trend.
Q2) What tools/technologies do you use routinely that you never expected to see yourself using?
Q3) If you were stranded on a desert island with a laptop, endless power, and WiFi, which tools could you not live without?
Q4) What tool(s) do you no longer use and why?
Q5) What tool/tech (or feature of existing tool) are you waiting for to be developed?
Key Learning Points

This week's #lrnchat discussion focused on Must-have tools and techs. There are a number of tools that are used by learning professionals, and new and/or upgraded tools are added to the list every day.  This week’s chat gave us the opportunity to examine what we use to create our learning programs.

The first thing I noticed was that this chat did not have the structure I had anticipated.  I expected the chat to follow a bulleted workflow wherein a question was asked and people posted their answers.

As if often the case with #lrnchat, the discussion went deeper than just providing answers, with the discussion exploring why those tools may be used and what sort of trends the shared responses cast a light upon.  That deeper discussion will be the focus of my reflections, and I will also share some of the specific examples.

The discussion started with a fairly open question: What has innovated our practices as learning professionals?  If there was one word that best summed up the themes of the responses to this question, it might be sharing.

Without question the shift towards collaboration in both tools and workflow is probably the biggest game-changer of the last decade.  This is a not a shift of learning. It’s a much larger overall shift in general technology and user expectations; Learning is just adapting to the changing current.  On the plus side, these changes better support an effective learning and performance improvement environment.  Plus, it’s always easier to travel with the current, as compared to paddling against it.

Personally my greatest source of ideas and energy for innovation would be my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  It helps me keep my finger on the pulse of changing trends, and is a constant source of knowledge and skill building opportunities.

My PLN is also my primary driver for two other important factors for innovation.  It helps me not only look at new tools; it also inspires me to look at all tools differently.  How can they be used?  How do these tools fit into the learner’s environment, and the overall environment in which they exist?  We tend to look at tools through a ‘round-peg, square-hole’ lens.

The best example of this lens comes from an unlikely source – my two-year old son.  He has a set of blocks in which the cover to the container is also a shape-sorter.  As I was playing with him last week, I gave him round peg and he was going to put it through the square hole.  I went to stop him, and he screamed back as only a two-year old can, “NOOOO!”. I explained that the peg was round, and asked if it went into the circle hole or the square hole.

His response?  A defiant “No... Both!”, as he proceeded to put the round peg right through the square hole.  Apparently he had already learned that the diameter of the round peg was the same size and the length of the square hole.  Score one for the little guy for opening up his old man’s eyes a bit.

That interaction with my son also echoed the other driver my PLN provides me toward innovation: the importance of risk taking.  We tend to live in our comfort zones.  Unfortunately, innovation, by definition, resides outside of our comfort zone.  If we want to be innovative, we need to take risks and step outside our areas of comfort; like seeing what would happen if you tried to fit a peg through holes that are less-than-obvious fits.

Some of the specific tools that enabled innovation that were shared included: Google Docs, Social Media, People, Other Learners, Blogging, Twitter, and Community.

From there the discussion moved on to the tools we currently use that we never expected to.  Again there was a common theme to the responses and it was quite simply, the internet.

The internet itself changed the game, and most of the tools that have come in the last 20 years stand on that foundation.  Certain internet tools may have been more impactful – Twitter was without question the most commonly mentioned – but it was the internet that enabled all of the subsequent tools we use every day.

I too would have to agree that the internet is the greatest source of innovation in my life.  Somewhat ironically though, the technology’s greatest impact has been on my relationships. 

In truth, I didn’t understand the value of social media in general until I discovered Twitter, #lrnchat, and my PLN. I’ve developed a number of relationships through this network that are more important to me than I can ever put into words.  I think the best way to describe how it has affected me is this simple statement: I never expected to be able to truthfully use the word ‘Friend’ to describe someone I’ve never met in person. 

From there our discussion explored an interesting question: If you were stranded on a desert island with a laptop, endless power, and WiFi, which tools could you not live without?

A question like that tends to kick my left-brain into overdrive, so let me get my initial reaction out of the way so it allows my right-brain – which the question was really aimed at – the opportunity to respond…

If I were stranded on a desert island with a laptop, endless power, and a wifi connection… I wouldn’t be stranded on a desert island.  Being stranded on an island with wifi is like getting locked out of your house with the keys in your pocket.

OK, now that my left-brain will allow us to continue…

While a few of the tools shared were tactical and seemed to reflect critical tools for work, the vast majority of the tools shared were about maintaining a connection.  Tools like Twitter, TweetDeck, Facebook, and even an effective browser all seemed to share the common thread of connecting.  It just reinforces the idea that these connections we are making virtually are very real, and very important to use.

The discussion then shifted towards the tools that we no longer use, and why.  The ‘why’ part of the answer was almost universal in its responses.  In almost all of the cases the tools that were no longer being used were replaced by a tool that accomplishes the task with greater quality and/or efficiency.  In most of the cases, the examples were shifts that have already tipped with the masses, such as the shift away from fax machines and analog modems. 

A few of the suggestions did catch my eyes, as they seemed to reflect current shifts that many people have yet to adopt.  Examples of this include:
  • No longer using the My Documents folder and replacing it with Dropbox, Google Docs, and other cloud options.
  • Looking at paper-based books only when an electronic version is unavailable. 
  • A growing lack of dependence on printers.
The discussion concluded with an eye on the future, and explored what types of tools and tech we would like to see in the future.  The responses here reflected the next generation of our current tools, and followed many of the themes already present in the discussion.

Collaboration was number one, and the advancements mentioned would enhance to collaborative elements of learning programs.  There was discussion of standards that would enable cross-platform communications.  There was also talk of openness so that resources outside of learning programs could be leveraged within a learning program.  Another very common advancement would be an answer to the never-ending problem of electric power in terms of both availability and compatibility.

Overall this was another engaging chat during which I added more than a few ideas and tools to my ‘keep it on my radar’ list.  The chat also reinforced my belief that our greatest tool as learning professionals is still a mirror.

That’s meant more metaphorical than literal, and echoes my comment earlier about looking at the tools and learning environment differently.  We also must take the time to look at ourselves.  Too often, the challenges we encounter are not about the tools, so upgrading the tool will not solve anything.  Often, the obstacle we face is one that we’ve created.

So the purpose of the metaphorical mirror is to bring ourselves into the ‘new lens’ equation.  Look at the tools, look at the environment… and look at yourself differently.   Being able to see the opportunities of the interconnectedness of it all can help you make better use of your current and future tools, and allows you to remain open to the possibility that the round peg may also fit with the square hole.

 Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

Friday, February 18, 2011

What's your Personal Social Media Strategy?

Last week I participated in a webcast featuring Jay Cross (@jaycross).  During the chat, Jay told the story of two Army Generals who got together for drinks daily and discussed the stories of their day.  At one point, they realized that others would benefit from hearing their stories as well, and a blog was born.  Many of the simple stories shared, like the fact that it's quicker to open a wax-paper-wrapped Tootsie Roll than a plastic-wrapped Jolly Rancher in 120 degree heat (an thus reduce the amount of time you could be standing still in a potential sniper's sights), saved lives.

What I personally do as a Learning Professional is by no means a life and death scenario, no matter what my stakeholders may sometimes think.  However, I was reminded of Jay's story during a conversation I had with my friend Mark Britz (@britz) later in the week.  He was asking me what my personal strategy was related to social media, as the story might be useful for a project he is working on (details below)*.  As I typed up the story for Mark, I was reminded of Jay's story of the Army Generals.  It's for that reason that I ended my email to Mark by asking if he would mind me using the story as a blog post, which if you're reading this, he obviously agreed to.

So, if you find this post of value, I'm glad.  If you don't, well... blame Mark. ;-)

My Social Media Strategy

To be completely honest, I didn't start with a strategy.  I played with Facebook a bit personally, but didn't really fully embrace social media until about two years ago.

I avoided Twitter under the common banner of ignorance labelled "I have no interest in what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast".  Still, something compelled me to try Twitter to see what all the fuss was about.  It was there that I discovered #LRNCHAT and learned about PLNs (Personal Learning Networks).

The concept of networking has always been there, but looking at it as a community that I could both add value to and pull value from was a structure I had not considered before.  As I became more comfortable contributing, interacting with peers, and developing relationships through Twitter, I started to subconsciously plan my social media and PLN strategy.

There wasn't a specific "What's my strategy?" decision moment at first.  It started with more of an awareness, and a concern around image or brand. I remember seeing a tweet that was incredibly hilarious, yet in truth, completely filthy.  I was about to hit the retweet button thinking that this was too funny not to share, and paused with a thought..."Does this joke match the image I've been forging?"

I think that's the moment when my social media strategy was born.  That moment of pause made me reflect on my interactions on Twitter.  I realized that the vast majority of my tweeting was based on my profession.  Likewise, most of the people who had chosen to follow me seemed to share the interest in the Learning and Performance field.  Through my activity, I had unintentionally created an image, or possibly, a brand.  With that realization came focus, and an important connection.

I hope to one day work exclusively as an independent consultant.  Right now though, being a family man with two young kids and a mortgage mandates the steady income and health benefits of an organizational role.  I've been dipping my feet in consulting and speaking professionally, but my opportunities have been limited, usually to one or two events per year. I was well known in the local ASTD community, but not too much outside of that.  I knew that if I wanted to increase my opportunities, I needed to extend my reach.  I saw Twitter, and my PLN, as a major resource to further develop my skills and extend my outreach.

I started participating more, and decided to finally make the leap to blogging.  That move to blogging too, wasn't strategic at first.  I'd been interested in blogging, but hesitated under the insecurity of "Who would want to read it?"  I remember Dave Ferguson (@Dave_Ferguson) telling me "Blog for yourself, not others" and that inspired me to finally make the leap.  Starting this blog was a major milestone in my social media strategy. 

The blog very quickly became a labor of love, and something that is deeply meaningful and beneficial to me personally.  Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that people were interested in what I had to say.  It was genuinely surprising to see people talking about my blog, posting comments, and asking me if they could repurpose posts.  That's when my strategic plan really kicked into high gear.  I wanted to leverage this momentum to create a brand for me, with the ultimate goal of creating an awareness of what I bring to the table, and in turn, hopefully having doors and opportunities open up to me.  So far, it's been working.

The 'brand' and reputation I've built were directly involved in me booking my first paid speaking engagement, which was much less about the money and much more about the "Holy $#!+, someone paid me to speak" experience.  I've currently got three additional speaking engagements booked through April, all of which came from doors that were opened by the brand I've forged via this idea of social media strategy.

I'm growing personally and professionally, plus - and this is the most important part of the equation - I'm loving every minute of it.

Keep in mind, my strategy is still in it's infancy.  I only started blogging in October.  Social media moves fast; the best description I've heard has it described as "moving at the speed of Jane"**.  The tools change quickly, and it's likely that today's Twitter will probably be tomorrow's MySpace.  Any social media strategy would need to keep pace with that.  My strategy will evolve and expand over time with the tools and through my successes and failures.  It's likely though that my primary three-prong approach will remain the same: Participate, add value, and create an awareness of what I bring to the table. 

For me, the most important moment of my social media strategy was it's birth.  Looking back, it's kind of humorous to realize that my strategy was born of a 'dirty tweet' that I decided not to re-tweet because it didn't match the image I hadn't even been aware I was creating. 

Want to create your own personal social media strategy?  I bet you, like me, already have and may not even realize it.  Take a look at your tweets.  Take a look at who follows you.  Recognize the pattern that likely exists and ask yourself if that's the image you want to be creating.

Regardless of what the answer is, you probably have the birth of your personal social media strategy.  From there it's just a matter of nurturing it to maturity.

Good Luck, and I'll see you in the network.

*If you're in the Central NY area, on March 30th Mark Britz will be speaking at the Career Connections Conference in Syracuse.  This is more than a job fair; it's a comprehensive day of workshops, job-seeking services, employee recruitment, and more. For details, visit http://www.cnyworks.com/ or reach out to Mark via Twitter (@britz).

**If you don't know what this phrase means, follow @JaneBozarth and you quickly will. ;-)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do We Need to Change the Language of Employee Learning?

Language is a fascinating thing.  It is the means through which we use words to communicate our thoughts and ideas and subsequently, develop relationships.  Of course, used ineffectively, language can also damage the very relationships we are trying to build.
It’s with that background in mind that I’ve been pondering the language we use within the field of Organizational Learning and Performance, and whether or not the language needs to change.
When I speak with peers in the field, be it in person or virtually, I am always amazed at the amount of time we spend discussing, debating, and examining the language of our profession.  Here’ are just a few examples of what I mean:
“We’re in the business of Learning, not Training”
“Executives don’t care about ROI; they care about ROE”
“I hate it when people call me a ‘Trainer’”
The problem I see with many of these discussions is that they’re placing too much emphasis on the label, and not enough emphasis on the definitions.
Let me explain what I mean.  Let’s start with the definition of language according to dictionary.com:
Language: –noun  1.  a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition.
I think the most important part of that definition is ‘people who are of the same community’.  That’s where the labels we sometimes focus too much on create a problem.
It depends on context and frame of reference.  When I am speaking with a colleague of the learning field, I can use the terms training, learning, performance, design, e-learning, and many others and my counterpart will understand the subtle differences in my message.  We are all part of the same community of professionals, so the words and usage have agreed upon meaning, adding value to the overall discussion.
In many organizations, business leaders are not members of the community of learning professionals.  The same terms that added value within the community could reduce the value outside of it.  The terminology runs the risk of becoming jargon, which is a huge barrier to communication.
Last week’s #lrnchat discussion on the topic “If we could wipe the slate clean…” got me thinking about some of the mistakes we have made in our profession that have contributed to the baggage the profession carries with it today.  I think language is a big part of that.
For years, when I have heard debates about the language of learning, it’s been about the labels – more specifically, a focus on incorrect labels that are placed by non-learning professionals.  Someone describes an individual as a Trainer, and the individual spends 10-15 minutes explaining why that’s the wrong label to use.
And therein lies the problem – we’re focusing on the label instead of the definition.
Here’s a non-learning example. When people describe my eating habits, they use the phrase “David is a vegetarian”.  Technically speaking, that label is incorrect.  I am a Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian, which means I eat no meat or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy.  Ultimately I could care less what label people place on my eating habits; I’m more concerned with not creating social awkwardness by having someone serve me a plate of food I don’t eat.  If they want to label me as a vegetarian, I’m fine with that – as long as we’re defining it the same way.
The same applies to organizational learning and performance; don’t focus too much on the labels. If the CEO defines it as training, don't try to have him or her re-label it as corporate learning, performance, or anything else.  It's more important that you change the way the organization looks at and defines the contribution. 
I could really care less if the CEO labeled what I do as 'Dave's mystical, magical voodoo', as long as the CEO understands what I am trying to do, that we agree on what  is truly important about the outcomes, and that I have support on the path we choose to get there.
In truth, that’s the way labels emerge from a community anyway.  A label is not created in advance; it’s created when something already exists.  Think about Social Learning.  No one really invented that concept; it grew organically through the technologies that enabled it.  People were learning more and more through these new social connections, the community of learning professionals noticed it, and the label ‘Social Learning’ was born.
Do we need to change the language of Employee Learning? I think in most organizations the answer would be yes - but it has to start with the definitions behind the language.  If you want to change the language and labels that are applied to learning in your organization, then change the way people define ‘Training’.  When you change that, actually changing the labels becomes easy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat: If We Could Wipe the Slate Clean...

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 “If we could wipe the slate clean…"

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) If we could wipe the slate clean, what would corporate learning look like overall?
Q2) If we could wipe the slate clean, what would online learning look like?
Q3) If we could wipe the slate clean, what sorts of tools would be necessary in corporate learning?
Q4) How would people need to be different in your dream corporate learning world?
Q5) What are some things you can do to work toward that dream state?

Key Learning Points

There are a number of barriers that restrict the overall effectiveness of organizational learning and performance efforts.  The barriers and obstacles we encounter are often determined by the road we choose to travel.  The journey to today’s organizational learning and performance culture is no different.

The challenges we face today are directly connected to the path we took to get here.  This is true of individuals and it is also true of professions.  Today’s discussion gave us an opportunity to evaluate the path we have taken, both as individuals and as a profession, by considering how things might be different if we ‘wiped the slate clean’.

The discussion started by considering how corporate learning might be different with a clean slate.  Overall the responses shared a common theme that showed many of the walls we encounter today crumbling down. 

Corporate Learning would be much more open and collaborative.  It would be user-defined and contextual.  Learning would no longer be pushed to individuals; it would be pulled on-demand and provide individuals with the opportunity to interact with the data sources, be they virtual or people.

If we truly were starting over, I believe the concept of Corporate Learning might not even exist.  Learning and performance would be so integrated into the work itself that it would be a natural part of it.  Any strategic learning efforts that are built into the work would be invisible to the individual performing the work.

From there the discussion narrowed its scope to online learning, and what that might look like with a clean slate.  If the responses to this question could be summed up in three words, it may be these: “Kill the Course”.

I’ve never really jumped on the ‘Kill the course’ bandwagon.  To me, it’s very much like the ‘PowerPoint is the devil’ bandwagon.  PowerPoint is an excellent tool that is very effective at what it does.  We should not blame the tool for its ineffective usage in either practice or context.

The ‘course’ concept is really no different.  There are times when participating in learning organized into a course may be completely appropriate.  There was a time years ago when online learning was only available as courses, and as such, learning was often crammed into a course by default.  Today there are many more options than the packaged-course format.  That doesn’t make the course ‘bad’; it makes using the course format as the default incorrect, as there are now many other options.

Many of those new options were shared in this clean-slate discussion.  The traditional solo online experience would be replaced with one that enabled connection with a community.  It would involve and encourage collaboration, and would be incorporated right into the workflow.  It would also leverage mobile technology to be available wherever the learner may be.

Personally, when I consider online learning with a clean slate, this is what I see:

I don’t mean to imply that Google is the future of online learning, though it could happen. I’m referring to Google more conceptually.  Online learning should be about two things: Accessibility and filtering.  That’s what Google is.  

Above the search field could very easily be a question: “What do you want to learn about?”.  In an instant, you would get a response with resources that address your inquiry.  Google Goggles takes it even further by allowing you to take a picture – of anything – to search for related resources.

Isn't that the ultimate vision for online learning?

From there the discussion moved towards the types of tools that might be needed to support this clean-slate vision.  The themes here echoed the responses to the first two questions.  The tools described were ones that enabled collaboration amongst learners so that everyone could create, edit, contribute, and share.  In addition, the tools would allow individuals to connect with one another to leverage the collected knowledge of the network.  The tools would also emphasize meta-data to maximize contextual filtering.

In short, the tools we would need to create the clean-slate vision of corporate learning… are the tools we already have today

Next up in the discussion was an exploration of how people would need to be different in this dream corporate learning world.  To be honest, I’m not a fan of this question.

Learning and performance programs are designed to ultimately affect how individuals behave and perform.  This question seems to ask how learners would need to be different to better fit with Learning and Development, and it doesn’t work that way.  Jay Cross said it best in the chat: “We aren’t here to change people.  People are People. That’s bedrock. That’s our starting point…”

A better way to frame this question might have been around the organizations instead of the individuals.  The organizational culture around learning and performance needs to accommodate the differences of the individuals.

When it comes to how people might be different in this clean-slate vision of corporate learning, there’s only one answer I could come up with that I think is valid: People, including us, would get the hell out of our own way.

The discussion concluded with an actionable question: What are some of the things we can do to work towards this dream state? 

There were a number of suggestions shared, most of which shared the theme of breaking through inertia and continuing to move ourselves and our profession forward.  To make that happen, we first need to stop focusing on why we can’t live the dream and start focusing on how we can.

Getting started with achieving the dream state isn’t really complicated if you understand that the dream state is a destination, and getting there is a journey.  To get started, it’s only about taking the first step.  As NIKE says, “Just Do It”.

This was definitely an engaging chat that got a number of people thinking.  I have seen a few others post their thoughts and reflections about the chat on their blogs.  Check out the resources below for additional perspectives on the “If we could wipe the slate clean…” discussion.

Until next week!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat: Information vs. Instruction

(Sorry for the delay on this post - the flu bug got the best of me this week)

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 “Information vs. Instruction”

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) What is the difference between information and instruction?
Q2) Which are more important “learning outcomes” or “performance outcomes”?
Q3) What do you do/say when stakeholders want a “course” from L&D that is really just information?
Q4) What differentiates information design from instructional design?

Key Learning Points

Information and Instruction are terms that are often used interchangeably, especially by stakeholders in reference to learning and performance programs.  These terms, while related, are not interchangeable.  For Learning Professionals, understanding the differences between information and instruction is critical.  These differences not only affect the design and implementation of a Learning and Performance program, they could determine whether the Learning Professional’s support is even required.

The discussion started by directly asking the question: What is the difference between information and instruction?  If there was one constant in the responses to this question it was this: Information is there to be pulled, whereas Instruction is usually pushed to a learner.

Ultimately the difference between information and instruction is not defined by delivery.  It’s true that the delivery method will be very different for information as compared to instruction.  The difference is not defined by the delivery though; it is defined by the context.  Once the context is understood, the information/instruction decision becomes clear, and the delivery vehicle becomes more of an implementation decision.

What I found most interesting about the responses to this question is how well it demonstrated one of the biggest obstacles in our field, that of the language we use.

Words are what they are.  As George Carlin wisely said “There are no ‘Bad Words’.  The words are innocent.  It’s the context that makes them ‘good’ or bad’”. George’s context at the time was profanity, but I think the thought process applies very much to the language of the Learning Professional as well.

In this discussion, there were a number of people that expressed a dislike of the word ‘instruction’, mainly due to the fact that it conjures an image of the traditional push style of learning that we are trying to get away from.  Instruction itself isn’t bad – it’s the fact that a large percentage of instruction is implemented via lecture and other non-engaging methods that create the problem. 

While I think a general shift to Pull is needed, it does not void out the need for instruction.  Push isn’t being completely eliminated; it’s being replaced by ‘Smart Push’ (a term I believe I first heard from Clark Quinn).

From there the discussion moved on to another debate question: Which are more important- ‘Performance Outcomes’ or ‘Learning Outcomes’?

At first this question seemed cut and dry, with most of the groups quickly anointing ‘Performance Outcomes’ as the winner of the bout.  Underneath that initial outcry, a question seemed to be asked – “Do learning objectives ever come first?”

The theme of that question seemed to center on ‘learning for learning’s sake’ by people who have a love of learning and just want to learn about something to broaden their horizons.  As someone who falls in that category, I would have to disagree.  I cannot think of anything that I’ve learned about that isn’t somehow related to a performance issue. 

I think part of that debate centers on the definition of performance.  If we expand our definition beyond simply ‘putting the learning into action’ then everything ultimately is a performance issue.  For example, one area I like to keep myself abreast of is mobile learning. 

I work for a small organization where mobile learning isn’t anywhere on the radar, and I don’t expect it to appear there any time soon. Yet I still read on the topic.  It’s true that I find it interesting, which falls under the ‘learning for learning’s sake’ header.  It’s also true that if I stay in this field, I’ll be dealing with mobile learning at some point, but that probably won’t be in the immediate future (at least not at my current organization).

Yet still, the learning is a performance goal.  How?  Quite simply, I want to be able to have meaningful and constructive conversations with my peers in the field, including on the topic of mobile learning.  I want to ‘perform’ effectively in those conversations.  It’s for that reason that I think any learning is ultimately has a performance outcome.

The discussion then moved towards how Learning Professionals handle a request for a ‘course’ that is really just information.

There were plenty of potential responses shared.  My favorite response came from Craig Taylor, and falls under the heading of “Things I’d love to say but never would” - Go Away.

Most of the responses centered on digging deeper into the request, which is always an effective route to take.  Specific examples included:

  • What do you need learners to DO with that info?
  • If it’s simply a matter of providing information, there are better/easier ways to do it than a “course”.
  • Tell me what is going on and what you are trying to accomplish.
To me the bigger issue is that a question like that represents a fundamental misunderstanding our function.  The stakeholder should not be coming to us with a solution to be delivered; they should be coming to us with a problem they need help solving.  Often that’s the first barrier that needs to be broken in an organization with a weak learning culture. 

I find a good response to this type of a request is to simply say something like “Let’s talk about what the problem is first.”  It helps you find the root cause of the performance issue, and sets the expectation for future interactions with the stakeholder.

The discussion concluded with an exploration of the differences between information design and instructional design.  For me, this mirrors the differences between Pull and Push.

Informational design is about Pull. It involves integrating the information into the workflow so that it can be pulled at the time of need.  It also involves designing an interface so that the information is easily and readily accessible; the information should not need to be ‘found’. 

Instructional Design is about ‘Smart Push’ and Pull.  Whereas Informational Design allows the user to determine the context, the context of Instructional Design is usually targeted at a specific performance problem.  Instructional Design also can incorporate Informational Design as part of its performance support strategy.

For me, the tweet that best summed up the differences between instructional and informational design came from Cathy Moore: Instructional design aims at solving a performance problem using several solutions. Info design makes info easier to use.

This again echoes the concept I mentioned early regarding context.  Once you understand the context of the scenario, the differences between Instructional and Informational Design become much clearer.

Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Training 2011 Conference Backchannel (#Training2011) - Collected Resources

I am a huge proponent of backchannel learning.  There are many 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.

I find collecting collecting and reviewing backchannel resources to be a valuable learning experience for me, even when I am attending a conference in person.  Sharing these collections on this blog has shown that others find value in the collections as well.

This post collects the resources shared via the backchannel of Training 2011 Conference, being held February 7-9 in San Diego, California.

Official Training 2011 Conference Resources
Conference Website Home Page
Conference Schedule. Session Details, and Handouts
Keynote Session Descriptions
Conference iPhone App
Conference Android App
Training 2011 ARG

Conference Summaries and Recaps
Full Backchannel Transcipt via What the Hashtag
Training 2011 Conference - Day 1 by Dick Handshaw (Added 2/9)
Training 2011 Conference - Day 2 by Dick Handshaw (Added 2/9)
Training 2011 Conference - Day 2 1/2 by Dick Handshaw (Added 2/9)
Video Overview of February 6th by eLearning TV (Added 2/9)
Video Overview of February 7th by eLearningTV (Added 2/9)
Training 2011 Report Part 1 by Lenn Millbower (Added 2/15)
Training 2011 Report Part 2 - Creativity Keynote by Lenn Millbower (Added 2/15)

Information Overload Cartoon by Bearman Cartoon (Added 2/9)

Dedicated Backchannel Queries [Twitter search terms shown in brackets]
Access the up-to-date #training2011 backchannel [#training2011]

As of this writing, the conference is still live and I will be adding to this list as I discover new resources.  I will tweet updates occasionally as 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.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ASTD Techknowledge (#tk11) Backchannel - Collected Resources

I am a huge proponent of backchannel learning.  There are many 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.

I find collecting collecting and reviewing backchannel resources to be a valuable learning experience for me, even when I am attending a conference in person.  Sharing these collections on this blog has shown that others find value in the collections as well.

This post collects the resources shared via the backchannel of ASTD Techknowledge 2011, being held February 2-4 in San Jose, California.

Official ASTD Conference Resources
Conference Website Home Page
Conference Program Guide
Conference Session Materials
Information/Links to Conference Smartphone Apps
Move People Forward - The ASTD TechKnowledge Virtual Event

Conference Summaries and Recaps
Full Backchannel Transcipt via What the Hashtag
What's Happening at #TK11? by Tora Estep (Added 2/3)
..in the Other Guy's Shoes by Ken Hubbell (Added 2/4)
More Stuff Happening at #TK11 by Tora Estep (Added 2/4)
Observations from ASTD #TK11: Learning in 2015 by Damon Regan (Added 2/8)
Report from San Jose: TechKnowledge 2011 by Kelly Meeker (Added 2/8)
Reflections on the Final Day of TechKnowledge 2011 by Clark Quinn (Added 2/8)
TK11 Random Comments Overheard and Observations by Craig Weiss (Added 2/8)
Lots of Fun at ASTD TechKnowledge 2011 by Karl Kapp (Added 2/9)
My Evolving Learning Journey by Jay Cross (Added 2/9)
TechKnowledge 2011: Why Learning Professionals Still Have a Lot To Learn by Bill Cushard (Added 2/10)

Session Specific
ASTD #TK11 – Opening Keynote Kara Swisher by Cammy Bean
ASTD #TK11 - Opening Keynote Tony Bingham by Cammy Bean
#TK11 Keynote: Google’s Karen Wickre and Ann Farmer by Cammy Bean (Added 2/3)
Chief Learning Officers Give their View of the Future of Learning by Rick Von Feldt (Added 2/3)
Go Mobile or Go Home Prezi from session by Darin Hartley and Brain Taliesin (Added 2/3)
Instructional Design Today: What We Really Need to Know as Practitioners, Researchers, and Designers by Karl Kapp (Added 2/4)
Using Scenarios in eLearning by Cammy Bean (Added 2/4)
Twitter for the Learning Professional by Terrence Wing (Added 2/4)
Karl Kapp on Instructional Design Today #TK11 by Cammy Bean (Added 2/4)
HTML5: Are We There Yet? by Judy Unrein (Added 2/5)

Where to learn about typography? link shared by Aaron Silvers
Everything is Miscellaneous (book by David Weinberger recommended during Ann Farmer Keynote) link shared by Terrence Wing (Added 2/3)
Using Twitter in e-Learning by Terrence Wing (Added 2/4)
Free PowerPoint Twitter Tools link shared by Terrence Wing (Added 2/8)
ASTD TechKnowledge 2011 photo album shared by Terrence Wing (Added 2/10)

Dedicated Backchannel Queries [Twitter search terms shown in brackets]
Access the up-to-date #tk11 backchannel [#tk11]
Kara Swisher Keynote [#tk11, Swisher]
10 Tips for Virtual Trainers [#tk11, Tip, FROM:cindyhugg] (Added 2/3)

The conference is now over.  I will be adding to this list as I discover new resources, such as reflective blog posts.  I will tweet updates occasionally as 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, February 1, 2011

What can the 1982 Video Game E.T. teach us about Employee Learning?

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.  

Recently I explored the connections of employee learning with the critical and commercial success of the video game Angry Birds.  In that post, found here, I discussed many of the aspects of Angry Birds that made it a successful video game, and how those same principles can be applied to employee learning.

It's said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If so, for every blockbuster hit like Angry Birds, or there must be an equally colossal video game failure.
And there is.  Any discussion about video game failures must include the 1982 game for the Atari 2600 video game, E.T., The Extra Terrestrial.

This reference may seem a little obscure to some, as the Atari 2600 game E.T. is nowhere near as ubiquitous in 2011 as Angry Birds.  So let me give a little background on this game for the uninitiated.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is a game for the Atari 2600 video game system based on the classic Steven Spielberg film of the same name.  The film was one of the most successful movies of all time, and the Atari 2600 is one of the most successful video games systems of all time.  The game was released during the holiday season at a time when the system and video games in general were very popular. 

It seemed like the perfect combination for a very successful game, and yet it turned into what one of the biggest commercial failures in video game history.  The story of this game is fascinating, ending with the video game crash of 1983, and millions of copies of the game famously dumped in a New Mexico landfill.  If you're interested, you can check out the full story of the game on Wikipedia... after finishing reading this post of course.

Despite the fact that this is the second post I have written in a week's time with a video game as part of it's topic, this blog is not about gaming; it’s about learning.  My posting last week regarding Angry Birds explored what a successful video game might teach us about employee learning.  This week's posting is similar, with a more cautionary tone.  Let's explore why this game failed, and how we can avoid having our learning programs suffer a similar fate.

Point #1: Remember (and Respect) the Time-Cost-Quality Triangle

When something is being produced, there are three measurements related to the production: Time, Cost, and Quality, as demonstrated by the triangle on the left.  The basic idea of this triangle is to show the connectedness of these three measurements, and the fact that you can not improve one measurement without adversely affecting at least one other.

Atari signed a license to create a game based on E.T. in the summer of 1982, right around the time the film was a blockbuster in theatres.  Because they wanted to release the game for the 1982 holiday sales season, the developer assigned to the game had only six weeks - a ridiculously short development time - to create the game so the cartridges could go into production for the holidays. 

The need to have the game delivered quickly increased both the Time and Cost factors.  When two sides of the time-cost-quality triangle are increased, the third side must shrink unless the overall scope is changed.  In the case of E.T., the costs and time sides of the equation were getting all of the attention, and with Atari not willing to change the scope of the game project, the game's quality suffered immensely.

In the world of employee learning, many times the timeline for delivering a solution consists of a single word: Yesterday.  Do we and our stakeholders understand this paradigm when we set project timelines? 

There's a bit of a paradox here.  One one side, you have the stakeholders who want a quality program that effectively addresses the desired performance needs.  One the other side, we have the L&D group, who often deliver the programs we can, rather than the programs we should, because the constraints of the project (low budget + quick turnaround) limit the degree of quality that can be delivered.

Why does this happen?  Quite simply, because L&D professionals are not having the conversation in which they say "The constraints of the scope are going to affect the overall quality".  That may sound like a difficult thing to say, but it's really not if you position it correctly. 

When I'm faced with these situations, I almost always preset my solutions with this flow: "Here's what we ca do based on the existing scope; and here's what I think we should be doing that will better address your needs."  That flow almost always results in the stakeholder saying "Well I want the second option", which is exactly what I planned for them to say.  That opens the door for me to say "Then we need to reexamine the overall scope."

Point #2: Never Skip the Testing Phase

Atari needed to deliver the E.T. game very quickly to get it on store shelves in time for the holidays.  When a project has more work then can be completed in the allotted timeline, you have two options: Extend the timeline (which is preferred) or eliminate non-essential tasks.  'Eliminate non-essential tasks is a euphemism for 'cut corners', ad that's what Atari needed to do in order to deliver the product by their own assigned deadlines.

I'm not completely opposed to cutting corners.  Cutting corners all the time is an issue, as is cutting corners as a response to poor planing.  Occasionally you may need to cut corners to adapt to unexpected shifts in the business needs, and while that may not be ideal, it's realistic.  When that happens, you need to be very careful to cut the right corners.

One of the stages of development that Atari cut was the actual testing of the game.  That turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes Atari made.  The game shipped with a number of bugs and more importantly, gamers found it frustrating and boring.

Do you test your learning and performance programs?  You should, regardless of the medium.  A live workshop should have a pilot; e-learning should be tested for both technical functionality and effectiveness before being launched; even a simple job-aid should be submitted to a member of the target audience before being publish or distributed.

Testing is critical to any production cycle, and is a stage that should never be skipped.  Doing so, in learning and development or any other field, creates a serious risk of an inferior product and diminished reputation.

Point #3: Even the Best Content can be Meaningless within Poor Design

To many, E.T. is one of the greatest films of all time.  It had a great story, endearing characters, and was kid-friendly. In short, it was great fodder for a video game.

None of what made the film so endearing transferred into the game.  Why?  The design of the game missed everything that made the movie a hit.  The story was absent, even when judged by the low bar set by Atari 2600 games.  The low-quality graphics (again, even judged against Atari 2600 standards) did not allow any of the characters' personality to show.  Worst of all, the gameplay was monotonous and boring. It did not share the arcade action that was common in that time, instead focusing on a recovery mission approach that was completely lost on it's target audience.

This same problem exists in learning and performance programs.  You can have content that maxes out the scales in terms of importance and relevance to an audience.  If that content is buried in a program that is poorly designed and does not engage the audience, the knowledge and skills associated with the content will not likely transfer.

NOTE: It is often said that the developers of the E.T. game actually did a very admirable job of design considering their six-week project timeline. Whether you agree or disagree with that is immaterial  That's a discussion of the skills of the designer.  If you take the finger of blame and reasoning out of the equation and look solely at the design of the game, it can not be denied that the design failed to deliver on the potential.

Point 4: Repetitive and Monotonous Activity is not Engaging

As was stated earlier, the gameplay in E.T. (when it worked) was extremely monotonous. It consisted of walking around and intentionally falling into holes to see if one o the missing pieces of his machine is there.  If it was, you walked into it to pick it up and climbed out of the hole.  If it wasn't, you still climbed out of the whole.  The you repeated this process until you found all the missing pieces.

Once you were able to find all the missing pieces, there was another step to get to the end of the game.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) most gamers never saw this ending.

It's not as if the game was so challenging that players could not finish it. Gamers couldn't bear to finish it.  It was excruciatingly boring and worse, had bug-ridden controls.  Most players turned off the game long before finishing it.  In truth, many customers returned the game because of how disappointing it was.

How many of our learning programs do people 'check-out' of while still engaged in it? Are we designing learning and performance programs base on content delivery or engagement?

Think about your programs for a minute.  In your live workshops, do you shift gears every ten minutes or so?  Do you have engaging activities planned for after lunch to combat the post-meal desire to take a nap?  Do your e-learning follow the same template that gives learners an almost identical experience each time with different content?  Do you incorporate different types of activities to engage.  And really... is some of your e-learning still a book displayed on screen with a NEXT button to turn the pages?

Learners have a choice, just as the players of E.T. did.  The main difference is that learners can't return our programs back to the store, though maybe they should have that right.

Point #5: Even Horrible Mistakes have Value if they Result in Actionable Learning

A great deal went wrong with the E.T. video game.  By almost all measurements, the game was a colossal failure, and is widely accepted as one of the worst video games in history.  Had Atari and the video game industry looked at the game and said "What a mistake!  Let's move on and hope that never happens again!", the game would have almost no value to it.  That's not what happened.

There is value in making mistakes, if you allow yourself to learn from them.  That's just what happened in the case of E.T. the video game.  Many of the accepted practices in the video game industry of today originated from this colossal failure.  One example is how a company's now handle licensed games based on movies.  These deals are now signed well in advance so that proper time is allocated to design and development.  In addition, game companies and movie studios often collaborate to create a better product.  E.T. the video game crashed and burned brilliantly, and from it's ashes stronger and better practices were enacted that in many cases stand to this day.

Learning and performance programs sometimes fail.  Even if the overall program succeeds, there are usually mistakes made along the way.  We should always be taking the time to reflect on our programs, and especially our mistakes.  These mistakes have tremendous value if we allow ourselves an opportunity to reflect in them.

As you can see, there are a great number of parallels between the 1982 video game catastrophe, E.T. and the employee learning and performance culture of today.  Do you see other connections between E.T. (or any failed game) and employee learning and performance not mentioned in the points above?  If so, please add them to the comments section below.