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My Top 10 (and a half) Learning Tools, 2015

7 Jul

Jane Hart, at the Center For Learning & Performance Technologies (@C4LPT), is a leading contributor to our industry (used in the broadest sense). One of the many contributions she makes is to compile a yearly list of “Top 100 Learning Tools.” She compiles this list by aggregating contributors’ Top 10 lists, which can be submitted in a number of ways including her online form.

She also invites folks to make it transparent by blogging or tweeting them. This is the first year I have chosen to do it this way, in the spirit of transparency and #WOL (Working Out Loud/Show Your Work).

I encourage you to contribute your list by whatever method suits you, and join me recognizing Jane for her ongoing contributions from which we all benefit.

My Top 10 Learning Tools of 2015:

  1. Twitter: I was far from an early adopter, but now it is hard to imagine maintaining my own learning and professional development without it. I learn via my Twitter feed every day.
  2. Google Search: I suspect there is not much need for commentary here, other than to say it remains for now the best search for what I look for, and how I wish to find it. That could change in the future.
  3. Google Docs/Drive/Sites: For everyday collaboration and transparent cooperation, these have become my go-to tools. There is a lot of room for improvement, but their wide acceptance makes them very useful.
  4. WordPress Blog: I write first and foremost to help clarify my own thinking and combine ideas together to see if they stick that way. But, the benefit of knowing that others read this blog and occasionally respond to it makes it a focused learning activity for me. Others feel the same about their “visible thinking” on their blog.
  5. Scoop.It: I maintain a scoop.it page on which I clip articles, posts and images, and have built a reasonable following of others I follow there and who follow me. Not as robust a feed as Twitter, but more focused and topical. I have found that for me it works better than other similar tools (paper.li, Pinterest, etc.), especially the feature that allows me to comment on each clip, quoting or summarizing why I thought it “scoop worthy.”
  6. MS PowerPoint: We love it. We hate it. We use it, time and time again. I use it to create learning graphics, too – such are my poor graphic design skills.
  7. Evernote: I have had a hot-and-cold relationship with Evernote over the years. I am quick to recommend it as a universal tool for clipping, tagging, note-taking and sharing, but I also go a full month at times without touching it. I will say this: In my periods of high productivity I use Evernote a lot. I’m uncertain of the causal relationship, though.
  8. YouTube: I find myself drifting to YouTube when I need to see how to do something specific, but also for the general hunt-and-peck drifting to see what I might find. There is so much of… everything! The good, the bad, and the ugly. But when I do find something great, I love that it’s there.
  9. Adobe Captivate: It is less and less frequent, but when we do need an animation or software capture with narration/annotation, we use Captivate. I’m not prepared to defend it against competitors; it’s simply the one we use now.
  10. LinkedIn: I spend a lot of time thinking negative thoughts about LinkedIn, but the fact remains that I come across useful and thoughtful posts and links there on a regular basis.
  11. (10a) eLearning Guild/Learning Solutions Magazine: In terms of my own professional development, the guild remains central to my activities. While I have argued publicly that they drop the “e” (The Learning Guild), the publications, events (DevLearn!), and community remain vibrant and extremely relevant.

WOL concerns, blow-by-(glass)blow counters

2 Jul

I had the pleasure of being able to share some ideas and practices about Working Out Loud/Showing Your Work (WOL) the other day with a group of Pacific Northwest educators. I wanted to share my main idea with which I framed my talk, and a few really good questions that the teachers had about what I was pitching.

We’re all professionals and craftspeople (of a sort)

We began our discussion by considering this photo of a glassblower.glassblower_studio

This is not a blower among peers in a workshop. Clearly, this is a demonstration of how he forms hot liquid glass into shape. I have watched blowers perform their craft on numerous occasions and it is always fascinating. I posed the question: What’s in it for him?

The conjecture was that he adds value to his finished products by allowing interested parties to watch him work. He is a craftsperson, and he knows that people who see his work will more highly value his craft.

Similarly, there are people we call “professionals,” who are in practice: doctors, lawyers, accountants, veterinarians, etc. They “practice” because we expect that part of being a professional means staying current on latest trends, new discoveries, technological advances and best practices. I don’t expect my accountant to use 2006 tax law, or my dentist to practice the same way she did 15 years ago. Professionals are in practice—they stay informed, learn new methods, and constantly share across their fields of expertise.

I pressed the roomful of educators to think of themselves as professionals (as we all should, no matter our position) in their own education practice. They too should stay current, constantly learn, and share new ideas and methods. Working Out Loud is a great way to do that.

What about others “stealing” ideas and/or not assigning credit?

On the flipside of feeling like you’re a bit of a braggart (see below), concern about someone stealing your idea comes up a lot. If you’ve spent most of your life in a hierarchy (real or imagined), where advancement comes from recognition from superiors, this feels genuinely worrisome. The short answer is that your personal satisfaction from helping peers by sharing your ideas (and problems, successes, questions, and processes) should provide more gratification than praise from on high.

The longer answer suggests that we are all working in a new paradigm, one in which the power of the connections and the professional learning networks (PLNs) we create are chipping away at the very foundations of traditional workplace hierarchy. Once you realize that you don’t need your supervisor, director, or principal’s direction or approval to solve your problems and advance your practice, your need for recognition and approval will dissipate. At the same time, if your job is to supervise or direct, you are coming to the realization (some more quickly than others) that by empowering your people to connect and share freely you’ll advance your goals and achieve better outcomes.

How do we reconcile sharing with copyright and IP?

For this, too, there is a short answer and a long answer.

Short answer: Give credit where credit is due, lead with generosity, and publicly thank those whose ideas you advance in practice or synthesize with others. I have personally seen how an ethos of open sharing leads to an economy of ideas that seeks to neither “steal” the work of others nor hide the easily traceable digital paths back to their source.

Longer answer: The very notion of intellectual property and copyright is being shaken at its foundations. From music to books to art, I’m not sure what IP means anymore. In our networked digitized age, it is a very tricky

that's me, pointing out that email and files folders are where god ideas go to die.

That’s me, pointing out that email and files folders are where good ideas go to die.

undertaking to establish and maintain ownership over ideas. This is an especially important issue in academia, where people earn their reputations and living from their original ideas. Where the world of IP and copyright is headed, I have no idea. Bottom line: While WOL, be generous, give credit, and when in doubt ask permission.

How to overcome feelings of bragging?

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis

It ain’t bragging if it’s true.” — Mohammed Ali (or perhaps Dizzy Dean, or Bear Bryant)

If you think you share great ideas all the time, check yourself! You are either a very accomplished, talented person or you have an overinflated sense of yourself. Our approach should be that WOL practice is a place to ask questions, gather a diversity of opinions and methods, and test our ideas by their usefulness to others. There is nothing selfish or attention-seeking about that. And, if you think you have stumbled upon something original or particularly useful, sharing it is not bragging, it’s generosity. Why keep it to yourself?

Of course, you won’t really know until your network has had time to weigh your idea for themselves. In that case, they’ll be the ones to credit your breakthrough or expertise. Again, it comes back to the spirit of sharing freely and communicating transparently. Your many mistakes and false starts ought to sweep away any sense of bragging. It’s not about any individual, it’s about (mostly half-baked) ideas and people networked together and sharing experiences as they happen.

My new puppy

My new puppy “Chester.” Added for no reason at all (other than to make me smile).

The Right Triangle: Connecting dots on three angles, layers

8 May

It’s triangulation time again! Three distinct sources I’ve filtered through in recent weeks have started to connect in an unexpected way, and I think it’s time to explicitly connect them here. It’s Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) in action: filtering, sense-making, connecting, sharing.

Item #1. An NPR story about the experience of heroin addicts during—and after—the Vietnam War. The incidence of drug abuse was high for GIs in Southeast Asia, and there was a real fear they would return to the U.S. to become hundreds of thousands of addicts on the streets of our cities.

But that’s not what happened, and it rocked some fundamental thinking about the nature of addiction and habitual behavior. In fact, only 5% of heroin users continued to abuse the drug after they returned home. What researchers found is that context plays an enormous factor in habitual behavior. Once the context of the battlefield conditions was removed and soldiers returned to civilian routines, heroin use plummeted even where access to heroin was still relatively easy. Lesson #1: Context is key for habitual behavior.

Item #2: A CMS Wire article on building high-performing learning organizations came to me via my scoop.it feed. Business Consultant Edward D. Hess identifies three conditions for building high-functioning learning organizations: 1) the right people; 2) the right environment; 3) the right processes. I encourage you to read the short article, but the takeaway is that a context of innovative culture paired with intentional practices creates the conditions for high-performing learning. Lesson #2: Context needs to be paired with the right tools and processes.

Item #3: I came across a short interview with George Siemens, the godfather of Connectivism, in which he was asked to reflect on MOOCs and their efficacy (or lack thereof). His main thesis is that MOOCs deconstruct the traditional hierarchy of classroom learning {Teacher –> Content –> Students} into a network of learning in which the teacher “is a node in a network, among other nodes. They might still be a very important node, but students can learn from [other sources and each other].” In this case, the teacher needs to pay more attention to the context of learning, ensuring that the students “have the skills and capacity to learn in a networked way … to build the right kind of critical thinking skills.” Lesson #3: Network learning is a new context in which people need to learn a new set of habits.

I was asked recently to speak about how I might build an effective learning program among a geographically and culturally diverse set of learners. Without consciously drawing on these three lessons explicitly, my approach built on them.

An individual is centered on her specific skills and knowledge. Those are what create her sense of self and value to her organization. Outside of that is a layer of her measure against others and against the needs of her position. That is, her competency and her assessment of that competence against requirements and expectations. In order for her to feel growth, opportunity and fulfillment, she needs a way to map her knowledge and skills to design a path of professional growth that aligns with the needs of the organization. Lastly, the outermost layer is the context, mindset and habits (together, that is culture) that allow her to make sense of new information, add her own value to it, and share it back out to her network of other learners. This is PKM in action.

PKM, Cohort, PLN

Through the PKM lens we are able to both glean more productively with our learning cohort or formal community of practice, and form the skills and habits to learn from our constantly shifting professional learning network (PLN) – that network of nodes (people and information) that form the context of personal and organizational learning.

These three layers — workplace learning’s own rule of three — all need to be in place so that both individual and organizational learning happen.

Abundance and Choices: Make the decision and move on

22 Apr

We know the feeling: Standing in the cereal aisle, or before the maddeningly long rack of cold medicines, frozen by the overwhelming number of choices. Can’t there be just three choices? Fiber-filled, healthy, or frosted. Good, better, best. Too much really is too much!

I was asked to talk recently about Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) practice, curation and the ability to sort through the overwhelming amount of content that streams at us constantly. One sincere listener mentioned that while he spends time and energy clipping useful articles and organizing content into folders, he knows he’ll never have time to go back and examine all the saved content and sort through it all to find the nuggets of potentially useful ideas.

My response to him was that it doesn’t matter. The room fell silent (as I hoped) and opened the door to explain in further detail. (Side note: If you ever want to get a room of serious-mined people to pay attention to a particular point, set it up with “What you do doesn’t matter,” or “What you know is not important.” Provocative, and engaging!)

In the digital age, the social age, or what I call The Learning Age, what you save in a file somewhere really doesn’t matter. Saving clippings in a file folder or, more recently, on a digital drive somewhere, is a bygone mindset for a world in which content was scarce and locating something on a particular subject was difficult and time-consuming.

We now live in an age of abundance and constant choice. It’s all available at our fingertips, and anyone with even the most basic digital literacy skills can find just about anything. As an example, I had foot surgery last year: Not only could I look up my diagnosis, I watched videos, in fascination and horror, of the actual surgical procedures. Bone saws and drills. NOT recommended!

The critical practice of our age is not finding and saving content, it’s curating, sense-making and sharing. That is, it’s a new practice.

Step 1. Make a decision. Act. Looking for something on topic “X” gets 500 results. There is no way you’ll ever know which few will make the most sense or prove to be the most immediately useful to you. Skim and choose one (or two or three). The decision is the first step of the practice. There is no right or wrong decision, only the act (with apologies to Yoda). Also, note how you made the decision – the reasons, the decision-making criteria – so that it also becomes part of the practice.

Step 2. As you read (or watch, or listen), note how it relates to what you already know, or do, or think. Even if you don’t find the immediate use that you may had originally hoped, relate it to other thoughts and ideas. (If you can’t, toss it.) Content is relational and contextual, and how your mind makes those connections is critical to PKM practice. “This relates to that, reminds me of this, and here’s why.” Putting new information into context: That’s learning. Be creative, metaphorical, and experimental. Tag it with whatever taxonomy terms makes sense at the time (it may change later – don’t be rigid).

Step 3: Share it, and by “it” I mean the content, your notes on the context, and the tags: All of it! Make it visible to you (later) and to others in your organization and your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Rely on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and curation tools (Scoop.it, Feedly, Storify, Evernote, Delicious, etc.) to share it with whomever will find it. The technology you use is unimportant. The practice is the key. (I happen to like scoop.it because it’s easy to write your notes with each share, and invite others to do the same. Use what you like and what works for you.)

Step 4: Let the network do the work. Once you begin to form your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) through social media and in-person connections, they will share with you, comment on your shares and patterns will emerge. You’ll find those people whose content you trust, and in turn connect with who they trust. You will increasingly find relevant content—because you are getting better at contextualizing and sense-making – making Step 1 less and less necessary. You’ll find that the content you find through your PLN comes preloaded with contextual relevance because it is from/through the network you are building: Your own network of people, ideas and applications.

Step 5: Practice. It’s a practice, so, you know, practice! This is not a just-in-time activity to do at the moment of need. In order to build your sense-making capabilities, this becomes a part of the way you work. It requires pruning, nurturing, adding and subtracting. Your PLN and the ways you make sense of ideas will shift over time. That’s learning! Don’t be rigid: Learn to trust the system you’ve created.

Ben's PKM ProcessIn the end, the important thing is making the initial decision, learning what you can from it and moving forward. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself relating back to a few core ideas time and again, anchoring learning in principles and allowing for deep exploration without completely losing your bearings.

Happy exploring! (Oh, and choose the healthy cereal, except on your birthday. Then, frosted all the way!)

Why tweet, and who gives a hoot? What Twitter does for me

30 Jan

I read, write and think about learning, knowledge management and collaborative work — it’s a lot to keep up with.

My Personal Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Knowledge Management/Mastery (PKM) practice has become vital to my professional growth . Of all the things I do in support of these efforts — blog, write articles, read, synthesize (what PKM calls “sense-making”), share, meet, respond and react — it is Twitter that I get the most questions, doubt, and even hostility about.

I want to share here why I use Twitter, and how it helps me.

I begin by saying I was late to it. I was skeptical, and more than a little derisive about those tweeters constantly tethered to their phones. I did not dive in: I was hesitant, lurking, dipping my toes in one digit at time. So, to you doubters, I was there with you not long ago.

Now, in two-years’ time, I can’t imagine my professional life without it!

With that said, it is NOT about Twitter itself. Twitter is a tool, like a hammer or a saw — they are useless until used purposefully. Twitter will be gone in 5 (or 10?) years, replaced by something(s) else. While I have found great value in applying Twitter to develop my PLN, it needn’t have been Twitter. It just worked well for me. You might find another tool that works for you. Great! It is the practice, not the tool.

Some ways I use Twitter to propel “real” work:

  • Capture thoughts and notes in real time, often with a hashtag (#, as in #learning) to help categorize it for myself and others.
  • Share and “favorite” useful tweets to let the most pertinent comments rise to the top and become easy to find.
  • Find like-minded people across the hall, or across the globe, with whom to share and learn. I have built my PLN from scratch, relying on Twitter for 90% of it. There is generally a true spirit of generosity and openness that’s remarkable.
  • Follow and learn from experts and leaders, to see what they are thinking, reading and see who they are following. Because Twitter is a-symmetrical (unlike Facebook, for example) you can follow anyone without the need for that person to reciprocate. (This difference was articulated nicely by Harold Jarche, which — and whom — I found via Twitter.) I follow @BarackObama, but he doesn’t follow me… yet!
  • Twitter storms. A synchronous (live) twitter event around a particular topic, these are generally moderated in a Q/A format with some opportunity for intros and self-promotions. Twitter storms are extremely useful to share and hear ideas, “meet” new like-minded people, and enjoy some PD time. Best of all, the transcripts are available after to remember and reflect on the storm’s activity.
  • Like Twitter storms, tweeting during — yes during! — live events, classes and sessions proves to be very useful. It creates a “back-channel” to help make sense of the information, and adds instant and long-lasting value by providing insights into what others make of it. In addition, it is a great way for me to experience an event even if I’m not there. It is so valuable!

The most common reservations I hear:

Who cares what I think? I care what I think (or thought last week or last year). You also might. And if not, that’s fine too. It is a micro-blog tool, a way to share thoughts and activities. The value is in the stream to reflect upon later, to discover others who cared, reactions to forming ideas and activities as they grow. When you share an idea or thought, you never know how others — or even you, after some time passes — will react. I saw Dr. deGrasse-Tyson stop, mid-talk, to tweet a thought. If it is worth noting, it’s worth saving. And, if worth saving, it’s worth sharing.

What can you learn from 140 characters? It’s not enough! Enough for what? To jot a note? Or ask a colleague a question? Or refer your friend to an article or video you found? 140 characters is plenty. In fact, I have found over time that the space limit actually helps sharpen my writing — and thoughts — down to essentials. Remember: It is not a replacement for other forms of communication!

It’s a fad that’s going away. As I say above, it’s true: If we’re still using Twitter 10 years from now, I’ll be quite surprised. The same is also true of Facebook, email (please, let it be so!!), and wired telephones (who has long phone conversations anymore!?). Tools come and go, but building PLN and PKM practice will remain.

It’s too informal. It’s frivolous. Depends on who’s wielding the tool. It can be feathery light or as serious as life-and-death (literally, as #BlackLivesMatter showed).

– I don’t have time. If you find it useful, you’ll have time. You don’t have time to change a tire on your car on your way to work, unless you need to change the tire.

Find me @BenCpdx… I’ll leave the bird on for you. If I’m the recipient of your first tweet, it would be an honor and I promise to reply.

bdc twitter

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