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Transmission Job: Receiving the right opinions

14 Jul

A colleague challenged me the other day on my premise that the rise of digital social networks had fundamentally changed a person’s approach to gathering data and weighing options to make informed decisions. (Full disclosure: The colleague, Steve Fleischman, is the CEO of Education Northwest, where I work, and someone whom I have a great deal of intellectual respect for. Which is to say, I’ve been mulling on his question for a few days now.)

He offered the example of his decision to have an auto repair done, as his mechanic suggested, or to forgo the work. Does the social-centric, connectivistly-constructed world inform our decision-making process? He argued that it essentially does not. He called a knowledgeable friend, weighed the (hopefully) trusted mechanic’s opinion, and decided to have the work done.

I argued that, certainly within organizations, things have shifted (or are shifting) to alternative ways of decision-making. When we need to make an informed work-place or project-based decision, simply relying on the handful of experts available to us hamstrings both our efforts, and our organization’s agility and long-term viability.

Let’s be clear: I’m NOT suggesting eliciting advice from all quarters, consensus-building or democratic workplace processes. All these more often than not lead to organizational paralysis and an unacceptable lack or agility.

What I am suggesting is that individual knowledge (experience + expertise) be systematically captured, cataloged and shared; at the same time, organizational decision-making be documented and then inform the next divergent event.

My rather poorly-rendered depiction of knowledge-learning-decision loop. The blue could is the systematic practice.

My rather poorly-rendered depiction of  the knowledge-learning-decision loop. The blue cloud is the systematic practice.

This is not an essentially digital learning process: this is what Peter Senge, et. al., have been saying for 20+ years. However, digital-social technology has made this easier, more transparent and in fact far more necessary than ever. Success will shine on those organizations that have the culture and practices to nurture individual knowledge management and growth. Reciprocally, professional development is there for individuals to manage for themselves by the virtuous feedback loop of person-to-organization. Knowledge is personal, learning is social, and they both require deliberate, coordinated management.

So, I can call my Uncle Harold (well, were he still alive) to ask him about my transmission work. But, far better would be to have been following him for the last several years, to follow those folks whom he finds valuable, and for me to share that socially curated content with others, including my mechanic. Then, I’d weigh my mechanic’s recommendation against–or in coordination with–those data points. The final act in this small loop would be for me to share my decision, and the data that informed it, with all who care to find it. It’s the Show Your Work movement, writ small.

Thanks for the challenge, Steve, and happy driving.

Moving social learning from tadpoles to guppies: First the bucket, then the pool

6 Apr
Thanks, Jane.

Thanks, Jane.

I saw a great quote from a presentation by Jane Hart the other day, via a tweet by Tracy Parish (@Tracy_Parish): “You can’t train people to be social, only show them what it is like to be social.” As usual, Jane is quite right.

But, showing is only part of it. Showing the introvert or resolute wallflower what it is to mingle at the office party will not convert anyone to a new behavior. At minimum, a bit of gentle coaxing and some handholding are in order. A more structured ice-breaker or purposeful conversation period would likely go a long way to integrate the cautious.

Thinking about how to coax the shy or fearful reminded me of the swimming lessons I used to teach as a teenager. I was given the group of 5-to-7-year-olds who were afraid to get in the water. For them, dangling their feet in the water was an entire first lesson. It was several lessons to build up enough confidence for The Bucket. Each tadpole was given a bucket big enough to fit their heads. Each student filled their buckets with water, and step-by-slow-step we would work together until they could submerge their heads: First one ear, then the other. Then the top of the head. Eventually the face, and once they could do that, the entire head in for 10 seconds. It was amazing the sense of accomplishment these kids felt with their new-found ability to stick their heads in the water and hold their breath. From there, getting into the pool didn’t seem so scary.


Social Learning?: Get the bucket!

All the while, they could see the guppies kicking around on their kickboards and even doing some real swimming – the role model of those little fish was the crucial unspoken motivation.

OK, perhaps the analogy is a bit strained, but here’s the point: The tadpoles had the tool (the pool), and the model (the guppies), but there was no way that would be enough for them to get into the pool without the planning and instruction that class provides. I don’t think that social workplace learning is so different. You can tell people about the benefits, provide great tools, and even show them how your vanguard group of social learners use it. But there’s no substitute for putting the structures in place to allow people to experiment in a safe environment. So, even though social learning by nature is without hierarchy or preconceived goals, it will not be as inclusive or ultimately as useful without learning structures – and learning professionals to guide tadpoles in their development into guppies.

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?


Collaboration as Learning? Collaboration IS Learning (or certainly should be!)

9 Jul

I’ve discussed in earlier posts my strong belief that learning is based in discourse. Through conversation, examination, doubt and reaffirmation we arrive to that place where we are confident in our understanding, our knowledge that we’ve learned something significant. Even if it is internal dialog, there is no substitute for point – counter-point.

It seems like a logical extension then, that the waves of tools, systems and organizational necessities to make collaboration more effective would take us a good distance towards learning workers and learning organizations.  But, for many of us, that has been far from the case.

The more often I speak into a triangular phone, the more I stare at the moving mouse of a screencast or web meeting, the less I feel like I am collaborating (or learning!). Why? Peter Senge, the godfather of learning organizations, had an interesting post the other day about this very topic. Real Collaboration Takes More than Meetings and PowerPoints dives into the heart of this conundrum.

The main takeaway of his post is that collaboration takes deliberate effort, and a workplace culture that demands it. Collaboration should not be, in fact cannot be, passive.

Rob Cottingham, via

Rob Cottingham, via

Collaboration is an act, a participation in a conversation that, if well-managed, drives to reveal facts and decision points. As Senge points out in one good example,

Practices for fostering thinking together need to be embedded in meetings as well. Whenever any of these networks meet, there are few “PowerPoint shows.” The vast majority of the time is spent in small working sessions and larger plenary dialogues….

Yes, our old friend dialog. It what makes the first Star Wars movie so much better than all the rest.

Hmmmm…. Active, engaged, participatory, the very opposite of passivity: Gosh, that sounds a lot like what trainers and Instructional Designers say all the time! Right, collaboration is learning when done well. If you have nothing to learn, and nothing to share, then why collaborate at all? The key is to manage the time, tools and cultural expectations to allow learning to happen.

Digital Curation as Learning Outcome

16 May

I was reading eLearning Magazine’s dispatches from the Learning Solutions 2013 conference, and appreciated a list they put together that encapsulated “Key Strategic Shifts to Watch.” After reading it through and giving it some thought, they really add up to one major shift in the way we should approach online learning: Learners taking control of their own learning.

I’ve touched on this topic before, but it warrants a deeper dive.

Information is not hard to find. Facts, ideas, hypotheses, art, opinions, stories, mendacities are impossible visitusto avoid. We are awash in digital content! There has been a lot of talk in the last decade of moving from “media literacy” to “digital literacy,” or what the terrific iDesign team at University of Alaska –Fairbanks have dubbed “Information Fluency.”

I could not agree more. Learners, from grade school through business leaders require the ability to sort through the sea of content to make sense of it all: Truth from fiction, actionable ideas from general knowledge, judgments from smears, opinions from facts. All of those are valuable content types—even smears—but through sorting comes understanding and eventually, knowledge.

But as I made the case before, knowledge is not my department.

What I am concerned about is how knowledge results in action (learning transfer). In other words, how does a learner demonstrate knowledge?

Participation. The smartest person in the room, her brain a repository of knowledge vast and deep, adds nothing if she chooses not to participate. In our business world, we know when someone is participating that results in adding value.

But in a learning environment, how do we measure that learning occurs? Formal assessments can, to certain degree, accomplish this. But adult learners have little appetite or patience for that—neither do kids, but too bad.

One useful, practical and engaging way for learners to take control of their own learning and to demonstrate learning transfer is by effectively curating their learning topic. Can the learner pull together digital artifacts that synthesize their learning into a meaningful content collection? Can the learner express how and why the collection hangs together, demonstrating the ability to both select useful content and to connect the dots into a coherent whole? If so, it’s a terrific way to demonstrate that learning has occurred outside an actual on-the-job problem-solving situation.

In fact, I have named my blog In The Learning Age in large part because ultimately information fluency is the central task we face no matter what our job descriptions might say. We need to be individual learners, and part of learning organizations, in order not to be left behind in this Learning Age. We are learning workers, and curation is a great tool for us – IDs, trainers, educators, PD professionals – to employ.

Check out both of these links below to read more about creating learning curators. I also invite you to check out my own attempt to curate content on my page.

While both of these short, interesting pieces discuss scholastic applications, it is not much of a jump to see how they can be applied to training and professional development efforts, too.

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