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Moving from SMEs to LMPs: Learning Matter Practitioners.

13 Jan

There are countless resources on how to work with subject matter experts (SMEs). How to get the information you need from them. How to get their buy-in. How to negotiate what’s learning content from organized resources. How to help your SMEs understand how instructional designers do our jobs, and why. This battle for cooperation, if not partnership, with SMEs has been well-worn topic for a long time.

But in this new world of building learning landscapes and personal knowledge management (PKM) (what I call The Learning Age), we’d be better off if we approach the problem in a new way.

SMEs are just another node in a networked world/workplace. Let's work to integrate their expertise to be available to all.

SMEs are just another node in a networked world/workplace that includes data, workers and support systems. Let’s work to integrate their expertise to be available to all. 

Perhaps instead of wrangling content, divining applicable knowledge from content, and support information from noise, we should spend more time inviting SMEs into the world of networked learning. The days of heading to the mountain top to receive golden nuggets are over. Content is everywhere, information can be found—or at least should be able to be found—easily. Our SME is not the font of content, or knowledge, but of experience. That is, how the knowledge is applied effectively, efficiently, and with 360° understanding of the context.

In other words, we need to train our SMEs to become LMPs—learning matter practitioners. Not that they need to be great teachers or steeped in instructional design, but they do need to be taught how to share their work (WOL, work out loud!), deliver insights in useful, accessible ways, and be available to people across their organization and (perhaps) industry. If SMEs don’t document, share, comment, tweet, blog, and visit with others, then that is an area for learning practitioners to invest time and programming dollars.

This may require that most daring of high-wire acts, the change in workplace culture. Spoiler: The change is happening under our feet anyway. Let’s invite even the most siloed SME to join the emerging networked workplace.

Some now claim that 81% of workplace learners are responsible for managing their own professional development (PD), and 91% expect technology to enable quicker responses to learning/change conditions. Whatever the actual numbers may be, the trend toward individually initiated PD is clear. Whether SMEs know it or not, or are resistant or not, “traditional” SME status will only be as elevated as their ability to integrate hard-won experience into the dynamic, shape-shifting network of the modern workplace. Now that is a learning challenge for us to dig our hands into.

WonderWOL: Why Work Out Loud?

13 Nov

Next week, November 17 to 21 is International Working Out Loud Week (WOL Week). Education Northwest, my organization, is one that has struggled at times to identify and implement the best ways to share knowledge and increase transparency across areas of work. We are not unique in that. I am hoping that the activities we’re rolling out for WOL Week will advance the cause.

What is WOL, aka Show Your Work? It’s a practice of simply documenting work and/or thoughts about that work, as it is happening or immediately after as an extension of the task. I hear you cringing: Great, more work?! Two short answers before I get into the more meaty whys below. 1. Once in the habit, this will save you work. 2. It’s kind of fun.

There are four main factors that, taken together, I think make a compelling case for doing some form of WOL.

  1. The speed of knowledge: Content is everywhere, data is all around, information streams at us constantly. Knowledge and its application – synthesized information that we can apply in meaningful ways – can run incredibly fast. Not just knowledge of a topic, field, or practice, but also knowledge of how to do things, in this workplace, and with the right tools and processes. WOL can help us keep up, by prompting us to document what we do and how we do it, and to have insight into other’s practices, too.
  2. The movement of people: Very few of us stay at an organization across years and decades anymore (and in this regard, Education Northwest’s staff longevity is an exception to other places I’ve been). Even if we do, the job that we do today isn’t the same as the job we did five years ago or will do five years from now (and if it is, ask WHY!?!). WOL practice is a way to document what we do and how we do it, and helps retain institutional memory and accelerate best practices.
  3. Learning is our primary task: As I’ve argued on numerous occasions, learning is our job: Working is learning, learning is working. See points 1 and 2 above. If we don’t have a method to keep up and keep learning, we are left behind, as individuals in the workforce and in our organizations.
  4. Loss of people whose job it is to know how to get things done: Watch any TV show set
    They knew how to actually get work done, but that' s a by-gone era (for better, mostly).

    They knew how to actually get work done, but that’ s a by-gone era (for better, mostly).

    in the workplace before 1995, and you’ll see the cadre of people who actually know how to get things done. They were called admins, support staff, interns or junior staff. (In a way Education Northwest is an exception here, too – I’m grateful for the terrific support staff we have.) Need to pull reports? Send a letter to the board? Work the system to get a contractor paid? Now we are meant to be self-reliant. That is, responsible for our professional development and subject AND how to get things done. That’s our world. WOL practices are a great way to address that, too. People are notoriously bad at describing what they actually do to get things done – it’s tucked away between the ears. I don’t know how to get a contractor’s payment though HR and payroll, but surely someone in my organization does and may have shared that info. See? It saves you time!

There are all kinds of reasons to give WOL a try. Don’t worry if you don’t know your hashtags from your hash browns. Use whatever works for you – write a sticky note, take a picture of it, and send it to your colleagues. Join me and the (tens of?) thousands of folks who understand that we need new and better ways to share with each other in our workplaces and across our professions.



Learning Economy: Two disciplines beginning to align

2 Sep

If learning is ultimately about seeing patterns, connecting dots and creating a new synthesized idea, then I suppose this post is evidence of my learning in progress. I’m not sure this is completely baked, but as the saying goes: “If you are waiting for certainty before sharing an idea, you’re waiting too long.”

In addition to my interest in learning, professional development, instructional design, and football(!), I also read a lot of economics and political/social sciences. What I’ve been intrigued to note lately is the confluence of some good economic thinking with the latest trends in learning. Yes, really!

Three ideas that have crossed the divide between economics and learning:

1. Actions lead thoughts, behaviors lead learning. Traditional thinking states that you need to teach adults what they need to know for their jobs, which leads to better performance. That notion is being challenged on many fronts. In fact, both research and practice is showing that guiding actions, providing tools and freeing people to experiment leads to learning in more impactful ways than traditional training and instruction. Learning by doing, or Action Learning, is not a new idea, but it is one that is gaining renewed relevance.

  • Learning: See Jane Hart and Avi Singer, where they (as many others have) point out that learning is the work, and that the ability to extract meaning from tasks, learn from coworkers through collaboration and cooperation, and document what is learned is usually a more powerful learning experience than formal training and professional development courses.
  • Economics: See Ricardo Hausmann:

“Once upon a time, IBM asked a Chinese manufacturer to assemble its Thinkpad – using the components that it would supply and following a set of instructions – and send the final product back to IBM. A couple of years later, the Chinese company suggested that it take responsibility for procuring the parts. Later, it offered to handle international distribution of the final product. Then it offered to take on redesigning the computer itself. Soon enough, it was no longer clear what IBM was contributing to the arrangement. Learning to master new technologies and tasks lies at the heart of the growth process.”

2. Openness and collaboration trump safeguards and secrets. Allowing actions to lead learning requires an openness to allow the learning process to occur, even as the work unfolds. If management can overcome that mental hurdle, a treasure of potential may be realized.

“In the world of talent, learning and performance (“The Collaboration Age”) …[it’s] those who share and work together who are the winners. Those who hide behind organisational [sic] garden walls end up deep in weeds. If we’re to succeed …We need to do so with others, in some cases even with our competitors. The rather ungainly term ‘co-opetition’ is being increasingly used to define co-operative competition, where competitors work together to achieve increased value at the same time as they are competing with each other.”

“If, while learning, you face competition from those with experience, you will never live long enough to acquire the experience yourself. This has been the basic argument behind import-substitution strategies, which use trade barriers as their main policy instrument…. The problem with trade protection is that restricting foreign competition also means preventing access to inputs and knowhow.”

3. Deliberate, programmatic supports for learning are key. Far from being a call for laissez-faire policies, organizations and societies that can create the structures to nurture systemic learning will thrive in the 21st century. It may on the surface appear as if I’m recommending soft management to allow people to run down any hunch or notion as they wish. While the freedom to explore – and social-learning-for-work-1-638fail—is important, this calls for deliberate structures and new managerial approaches to work well. Building silos and setting rules is easier than guiding and mentoring adaptation, and begs for more innovative managerial skills.

  • Learning: As Harold Jarche rightly points out, the managerial skill needed for modern work is the ability manage complexities, not hierarchies.

“Sharing complex knowledge requires strong interpersonal relationships, with shared values, concepts, and mutual trust. But discovering innovative ideas usually comes via loose personal ties and diverse networks. Knowledge intensive organizations need to be structured for both. Effective knowledge-sharing drives business value in a complex economy.”

stiglitz“Successful industrial policies identify sources of positive externalities – sectors where learning might generate benefits elsewhere in the economy… Virtually every government policy, intentionally or not, for better or for worse, has direct and indirect effects on learning. Developing countries where policymakers are cognizant of these effects are more likely to close the knowledge gap that separates them from the more developed countries. Developed countries, meanwhile, have an opportunity to narrow the gap between average and best practices.”

So what’s the insight here? The ways in which our world is increasingly based around dispersed networks rather than hierarchies is changing the way we work–which is to say, learn. On the macro-economic level, for the organizations in which we work, and in our increasing responsibility for our own learning and professional development, we’re relying on network-based relationships where nexuses of knowledge and various levels of association are as shifting as our conditions and motivations of the moment.

If you’re reading this, you are part of exactly what I’m describing. I’m glad to have your open association and welcome your thoughts.

Book Club Readings: Learning and Development in our Connected, Online and Social Workplace

18 Jun

I was asked to provide readings for Education Northwest’s book club this month, and to moderate a discussion. The whole process was fun, interesting and revealing. I thought I’d share our reading list here, along with my notes of talking points on each.

Joseph Stiglitz: Creating a Learning Society

Clark Quinn: Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age, chapters 5 (“Our Organizations”) and 6 (“Our Technology”).

Harold Jarche: Organizational Learning in the Network Era (blog post, 29 May 2014)

Jane Hart: 4 Models of Social Workplace Learning (blog post, 12 June 2014)

Jane Bozarth: Show Your Work: The Payoffs of Working Out Loud, chapter 4 (What is Knowledge? And Why Do People Share it?)

Talking Points for Book Club:

  • Heady times to be in organizational learning and online knowledge
  • Confluence of organizational theory and tech tools
  • A line from global-economic to very personal: Learning is the issue of our time (society, organization, personal)
  • Learning is NOT separate from working: learning is process, practice
  • It’s hard to share (articulate) what you know
  • Structural barriers we may not even be aware of block learning
  • All knowledge is personal; all learning is social


If incremental changes impact societal development, learning drives the increments. How do we promote learning in our society? NOT scholastic learning, or formal learning, but culturally adaptive and learning.

Intellectual property can block societal learning because it prevents the free flow of information. Innovation is reduced. Owning vs. Sharing economy.

Impeding learning can lead to lower standards of living.


Premise: Organizations need to be constantly adaptive – never in state but constantly changing, growing.

Clark Quinn's great new book.

Clark Quinn’s great new book.

People need the power to pursue their hunches, expand their roles, self-improve: Remove structural barriers.

Social networks to collaborate, cooperate and both –> coherent organization.

PKM and KM : It’s a practice! (Personal Knowledge Mastery and Knowledge Management)

Traditional organizations have hierarchical information & HR structures which are barriers to being a learning organization.

Three keys to a learning Organization (fig. 5.2)

  1. Supportive Learning Environment
  2. Concrete Learning Processes and Practices
  3. Leadership that Reinforces Learning

Technology is evolving through use, not through technological innovation itself.

Having separate platforms for formal learning and social learning is a false divide. (top of page 60)


Structural impediments to learning must be removed.

Interesting tension: Global, connected, mobile vs. local, personal, contractual.

The only knowledge we can truly manage is my own. How do I feed my knowledge to the organization? And how does the organization nourish me?


We are terrible at telling people what we know: Hard to articulate, quantify.

Some hoard knowledge because it is the only thing they own: Afraid for their jobs, other’s judgments, lack of professional freedom.

Share is the new save! Work out loud.


Social learning needs facilitation, and framework. There are different types of social learning and each needs a slightly different type of hands-on experience.

Learning is there to be found: How about an atlas?

9 Aug

Yesterday I had the pleasure to facilitate our home-grown, Portland-based learning professional’s group, the Collaborative Learning Network. (A big hats off to the IdeaLearning Group for bringing the CLN to life.) The topic I chose was the (purposely) vaguely titled, “The Evolving Role of the Modern Training Professional.”

I was equal parts heartened and disappointed to hear that pretty much everyone else was having the same struggle I was in figuring out how to leverage our world awash with digital artifacts into something to empower learners’ ability to take charge of their own learning. We touched on the idea that curated content could be an answer: Either curated and served in a defined “pool” of content, or learner-discovered and curated collections to demonstrate one type of learning outcome.

While we barely scratched the surface, the idea of curation has been rolling around my head a lot lately. A future topic for CLN, perhaps?

Serendipitously, while I was flipping though my recommendations this morning, I came across The EduPunks’ Atlas of Lifelong Learning. A periodic table of sorts (and sort-able!), it organizes a galaxy of learning portals for the motivated seeker. While it has an academic bent, it’s got me wondering if something similar might work for specific adult learning/training topics.

It’s an idea to marinate a bit. In the meantime, check it out:


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