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A Manifesto (with Poor Graphic Design)

26 Aug

If you have been following my blog over the last couple of years (thank you!), you may have noticed some changes to the banner and template recently. Other than the aesthetics, which I like better, I wanted to have a banner image in my own hand that represents what I’m working on in this space, and in my professional life.

That said, I know that the graphics are a bit opaque. Allow me to explain.

For fully realized learners* to function across an organization and find personal satisfaction through professional development, three foundational elements must stand firm:

3 pillarsAcculturation & Alignment: Individuals must feel that their efforts are adding value to the organization, and that those efforts are nurtured in turn by coworkers, organizational leaders and professional peers. Tasks have meaning, and individuals should feel a part of something larger within a set of cultural cues that enable growth and autonomy.

Competency & Assessment: Workers need a measure of their own competence and a way of assessing and measuring the growth of new competencies over time. As we move to an increasingly automated workplace and rote tasks are replaced by automation, workers’ sense of worth (competency) must grow, adapt and change over time, in internally and externally measurable ways. Stagnation is the enemy not only of the human spirit but of organizational livelihood.

Skills and Knowledge: This is the core. Learners’ sense of self and their value to others starts here. “I know what I know!” and “I know what I can do!” are the essence of professional identity. The practice that needs to develop is how learners can share what they know, and do so in a manner that cuts across the other realms of competency and acculturation. Continue reading

What We’re Missing When Discussing MOOCs: Unintended intentions

20 Aug

There is much talk about MOOCs already, so I needn’t rehash the pros, cons, exemplars and far-more-common horrors as MOOCs reach their fifth birthday. MOOCs for fun, for hobby, for education, for egalitarianism—even MOOCs for corporate purposes and MOOCs for profit. And yes, (Silly Rabbit!) MOOCs for kids!

MOOC completion rates, in the mid-single digits last I saw, get a lot of press. What an uninspired question! But what I have read very little of, and to me is the most interesting question, is why do people sign up for MOOCs in the first place?

Put another way: What are people’s intent when they sign up for a MOOC? If we can begin to capture that, those of us in the learning game might be on to something.

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Millions have taken the time to peruse course offerings, register for a class and attend the first session or two—at least until they are asked to complete tasks and participate in online groups. That is no small act. Those millions are hungry for learning of one kind or another, demonstrated by the act of choosing and signing up.

Is it for hobby? Professional development? Work-related skills? Life skills? Intellectual curiosity? Social pressure (“You’ve never read Moby Dick!?”)? If MOOCs fail to fill most of those hungry minds, that’s a golden opportunity lost.

People want to learn. We yearn for new knowledge, desire (sometimes require) new skills. What if we could offer our people—that is, the folks for whom learning is our responsibility—a vast array of choice, but direct them to learn it in ways that they can actually be successful? When I (and many others) talk about self-directed learning, this is where my imagination runs.

Get our folks to understand that the content they need to learn just about anything and acquire many skills they may lack is there at their fingertips. What an age we live in! They just need the skill to see it, use it, learn it, share it, connect to others through it, incorporate it, grok it. The world is our MOOC, and we can all be our own instructor.

Our jobs need to shift to where we are the facilitators and coaches of self-directed learning, breaking down learning into systems and practices they’ll want to complete … eventually realizing that learning is an ongoing process of their own design that never is complete.

Completion rates? That’s the wrong question! Intention rates? That’s where we need to direct our efforts. Where there is intent to learn, there is shell waiting to be cracked. Where there may even be no intent, there is opportunity to introduce curiosity and growth.

Can you MOOC it, man?!

Riding the Digital Stream

23 Mar

Proud to be part of the Learning Solutions Magazine community! See my article, just published there today: Riding the Digital Stream: Integrating Modern Learning Practice into Formal Programs

LS Mag Front

e-Liberate! Shall we agree to lose the e?

25 Nov


What does it mean to you? Check out the Wikipedia definition: Clear as eMud.

At some point in my career I was certainly an eLearning (e-learning? elearning?) professional, even an evangelist. Not anymore. Not that I think there is anything wrong with what eLearning has traditionally been, per se, but just that we have moved beyond the e’s usefulness as a signifier.

As I’ve argued on several occasions, learning is our job, and we all are swimmers in the vast digital sea. Whatever eLearning means to us insiders, a large chunk of our learners and sponsors(!) imagine
e-courses to be clicked through as quickly as possible (if at all) so work can resume. The saddest bit of all is that a good portion of well-intentioned practitioners also think that way about the products we develop.

The Zombie E has had its day, but it is time we kill it.  Jawboneradio via flickr (

The Zombie E has had its day, but it is time we kill it.
Jawboneradio via flickr (

However, the shift is underway. I see it in the conferences I attend, via the PLNs I find so valuable, and in noble efforts like the Serious eLearning Manifesto. We now speak of learning experiences, and programmatic efforts to capture and share informal, ongoing, and “back-channel” learning. Through xAPI’s positive influence (more influence than practice at this point), Twitterstorms and organized peer hangouts, the means for professional growth are expanding. We are grappling—and sometimes succeeding—with how to integrate all of our training and learning events under the umbrella of learning practice.

So, what does the e mean? I really don’t know at this point. I no longer think of myself as an “eLearning” professional, but as a learning professional. Courses (tethered to an LMS or not), blended learning, live events, social media feeds, WOL/Show Your Work opportunities, PKM practice—these are all levers to be applied as the learning, professional development, and organizational goals dictate.

Digital delivery, via screens large and small (perhaps “mobile” needs to go, too?), takes the lion’s share of our work. And when live events occur, we work to integrate and amplify the strengths of the two together. So, it’s just learning, right?

Well, then: It’s time to embrace the future by losing the e.

Learning Guild? Learning Manifesto? Learning Industry? Yes, that’s what I’m suggesting. We are learning professionals, implementing learning programs.

Who’d have thunk that AOL’s “You’ve got mail!” (never email) slogan was ahead of its time?

I very much welcome your thoughts, rebuffs, and ideas on this topic. Leave a comment here, or find me at @BenCpdx.

Pachinko, Buckyballs and Atomic Collision

23 Oct

Last week I posted an uncharacteristically physics-themed post. I really should not use analogies that I don’t fully understand. But, in the spirit of learning as I work, I’m going to double down on physics analogies, and continue the chain of thought I started. (To get a reaction, get it?)

Content nuggets – facts, resources, procedures, insights – are little silver balls. The balls are all over: They are in your servers, in cloud-based databases, in documents and in people’s heads. Also, in the back of file drawers and on thumb drives.


Pachinko machine.

Letting balls drop down, careening from who knows where to a stable resting spot isn’t a very effective way to manage knowledge. Sometimes we get lucky, and balls will fall into place and deliver a little prize. I think of this as pachinko, the random-chance gambling game where glassy-eyed players watch the balls drop fortune into a cavity of narrow chance.

Along come the trainers and instructional designers: We are not satisfied to let the pachinko balls fall where they may. We understand that adult learners want to see shapes, identifiable patterns and have a vocabulary to talk about them. Like content, we shape them to be engaging and memorable, and to hold in contrast with other shapes. “Our patterns, the ones we use here, are the ones you need to remember, apply and return to for professional success.” Some of us have become very skilled at our profession, fashioning elaborate patterns that will DSCN4916stick in learners’ minds and no doubt prove useful for many months or even years. I think of these as Buckyballs, those now infamous little magnetic balls (not for children between 2 and 2,000 months!) that are irresistible to the hand (and, for some it seems, the mouth!). It sure beats random pachinko balls.

However, times changed. Countless little pieces of content are loosed in the world, under the control of no authority. People pick them, place and save or discard them according to their own measure of worth. We might give them a lovely snowflake to work with, but come back in a few days and the shape may be hardly recognizable. The digital-social age – what I call the Learning Age – allows individuals to collect their own content and apply it in new ways. Individuals see knowledge as personal, not organizational. Workers (good ones, the ones we want to keep!) don’t rely on L & D and trainers to provide content anymore. They have all the balls they could ever use and trip over more all day long.DSCN4892

We can sit back and hope that people will have the skills, motivation and foresight to choose wisely and create new and more useful shapes. Change them and change them again. Take note of those who do and help them to become champions of their teams, departments and organizations. The best possible scenario is that a new system of managing the shape-shifting dynamic world, based on collaborative social networks and tools, emerges organically.

Sadly, that kind of organic synergy, especially in a workplace culture that pre-dates 2009(?), is about as likely as hitting the pachinko jackpot. If fortune shines on your organization, bask in the success and take credit for not getting in the way. For the rest of us still relying on snowflakes and trees, it is time to move on. In my experience, most people crave ways to make sense (“sense-making” per PKM) of the random content, din of new tools and flood of ideas bouncing all around them.

Here lies our opportunity. When we can channel the right content, ideas and tools into our semi-controlled chamber, and allow things to collide – “mash up,” as the kids say – new insights and systems arise. The little balls bouncing off each other, like atomic particles, can truly create new, unpredictable molecules that would have been unlikely to exist otherwise. As before, some will be more lasting and useful than others, but the process is ongoing. It requires work, trust and a bit of luck.

  • Work: First, instead of creating shapes, we need to curate balls and determine what catalysts will help create new particles. We need to teach, coach and mentor our learning cohort in what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and the new expectations for managing knowledge (personal and organizational). We need to get managerial buy-in and develop a set of recommended tools and methods (avoid compelling a certain tool or method – you’ll choke off organic innovation). This is where Work/Learn Out Loud (WOL/LOL) frameworks can prove to be very useful.
  • Trust: Once you encourage and coach people how to WOL and share what they know and how they know it, you have to trust the system. That can be hard. Will there be misfires? Wasted opportunities? Even misappropriations and the rare acts of malice? Yes, there may be all of those. But if you have the right people with autonomy to act and a culture that you are proud of, the system will take hold. (If you have the wrong people and a sour culture, you have bigger problems than L & D agendas.)
  • Luck: Sometimes you will need to jump in to redirect, mitigate and add coaching and mentoring time. With luck, these will be minimal after the initial roll-out period. But with all the time not spent on snowflakes, you should have ample resources to be in continuous iteration and improvement mode. Yes, I know, that would be lucky – write back and tell me what it’s like over on that side.

If this all sounds a lot like an earlier post, well… it is the same author. Thanks for reading. As I said, content used to king, now it’s the joker. If you are still trying to wrest the right expertise from your SMEs and shape it into useful learning content, I suggest you’d be better off working the people to shape the content all around them instead. They are slipping down the halls on a carpet of shiny balls already. Give them the tools to make sense of what they already have so they keep rolling along.

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