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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.

Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn

21 Mar

Imagine this: Learners need to learn to run data, analyze the numbers, and report the findings in a coherent, consistent way. (It could just as easily be “operate a software system” or “build community outreach programs”… it doesn’t really matter.) There are 20 of them. Plus, they have very limited time to meet and are geographically disperse. Go!

What to do, Ms. Instructional Designer? Mr. E-Learning Practitioner?

One approach is to allow the learners to become the expert trainers, and have them teach each other. Who doesn’t recall the details of a topic they’ve had to teach? Want to learn to play chess better? Teach a lesser player to play better, and your game will improve, too.

So, in our hypothetical example, you could divide the learners roughly into thirds (7-7-6), and charge them with becoming an expert on one of the three essential training content areas (collect, analyze, and report). If each team can collaborate, all the better. If not, individual effort is fine, too.

Then, when you do have your precious opportunity to gather in person (live or online), each person/group takes their turn as expert trainer to teach the others on their particular topic. (Yes, this is a flipped-classroom model.)

Angelos Morenao, Yoga-Inspired Art

Angelos Morenao, Yoga-Inspired Art,

Approaching a complex organizational performance need in this way has several benefits:

  • Empowers active learning
  • Teaching, by its very nature, reinforces and deepens learning
  • Builds collaboration and organizational learning culture – learners are in it together
  • Creates internal experts for future help
  • Allows the trainer/ID to relax and let others do their work for them

Sadly, that last point is not even remotely true. But, it does make us approach our role quite differently. Rather than tight authority over a specific e-learning track or training room, we open our controlling fist to the chaos of the crowd. What that means is we become curators, coaches, mentors and evaluators.

  • Curate: We provide the materials, links, and other resources that are going to allow learners to build and contextualize their growing expertise in their area.
  • Coach: We want to monitor, redirect and reward learning along the way; in particular, we will need to guide how they intend to teach what they are learning. Training is hard, and we know it is a skill that many don’t have naturally. So…
  • Mentor: We need to work with individuals to find their strengths in how to present the content (talking, demonstrating, visual depiction, metaphoric illustration, interpretive dance, etc.).
  • Evaluate: Was our flipped method successful? What follow-ups, resources and continuous learning scaffolds need to be in place to build on both the content and the learning culture that has taken root? (Seems like a great place to start an online Community of Practice, but that is a topic for/from another day.)

Seen this way, our job is less to prepare and deliver training “products” or “events,” and more about adjusting to a digital age learning culture. The constant stream of information is relentless, and we need to help our learners make sense of it and flourish beneath the deluge.

Webbie Winners: Are IDs and e-learning folks keeping up?

4 Mar
lifesaver uk

From — an amazing interactive learning video. It takes a while to load, though.

I had the good fortune to squeeze out 45 minutes to breeze over the latest Webbie Award 2013 winners. It was not nearly enough. However, as is my habit, I diligently clipped the winners or nominees that drew my eye to something that might be applicable to e-learning and learner engagement. This is a great example of how and why I am so enthusiastic about PKM (Personal Knowledge Management). But that is a topic for another day.

So, what can e-learning practitioners glean from Webbie winners?


Think Beyond the Course

8 Nov

Training is not a singular event. The notion of “doing to the training” was never a useful paradigm, but even less so now with our always-on digital world. What information will the learner have already found on his own before taking the course? What social media posts has he already read about the training event he is set to undertake? After the fact, where will he turn and what will he discover to reinforce, amplify, or potentially torpedo the e-learning activity?

Learning is an ongoing activity that now takes place significantly online. ImageRather than think of e-learning as an event, smart organizations deliver timely useful information throughout the year on a continuous basis. People are always going to search for interesting, useful and engaging information. Human nature demands we find patterns, connect the dots, synthesize information.

How does your organization deliver information so that people are learning lessons that map to their success? And, how do e-learning products, be they courses, webinars, job aids, social media posts, etc., fit in to that larger strategy? We need to step back to consider if the digital milieu supports or undermines effective training, and take action accordingly (see more on this from Jane Hart). E-learning becomes an act of information curating rather than – or in addition to – creating content.

The digital native advantage: Integrate the world into e-learning

26 Sep

In most organizations, learners spend much of their day in front of the screen. Don’t fear that email, the Internet, Twitter, et. al., will distract learners from your module: Of course it will!

However, what was a worry, with some holistic thinking, can become an asset (see Lessons 1 – 4). Flip the scene to imagine how social learning, the organizational intranet or forum feed, and the larger on-screen window-to-the-world become an asset to your e-learning goals.


E-learning is only one small stream reaching your learner. Learn to employ the full spectrum.

A learner, even if taken away from his computer for coursework  at a dedicated “e-learning terminal” carries the world with him in his mind (not to mention phones and tablets!). It is beneficial, if done thoughtfully, to invite the world at his fingertips into the course. Make a browser search part of a directed activity. Require that he IM his manager at key points throughout the e-learning course. Perhaps he’ll be directed to add to the intranet forum on the given topic. Why not? Learning is not separate from, but an important part of his working life. The outside world is not a threat if we bend it to our needs.

What’s more, for many topics the tool he uses to train on – his computer – is the same tool he uses to complete tasks. All the better! He is much more apt to remember and transfer his e-learning lesson when he is supported by the same visual and environmental cues that were there when he first learned it.

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