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Learning Space Means Anyplace

24 Jul

Two related stories came to my attention today, and it put a frame around what’s been on the top of my mind lately: learning spaces.

The first story came from the heart (ehem… Hart) of the online learning world: The Centre for Learning & Performance Technology (@C4PLT). Jane Hart recently published her annual survey of Learning in the Workplace. For those of us in Training and especially in eLearning, the results should be a wakeup call. eLearning and formal training are not very highly valued.

From Centre for Learning & Perfromance Technologies, 2014.

From Centre for Learning & Perfromance Technologies, 2014.

The second story comes from the American heartland. Kansas City is constructing a new school, driven by an admirably forward-thinking school district. No lockers, no long corridors, scant few “industrial” classrooms with rows of desks, and fitted with “maker spaces.” What will students do in those spaces? The principal rather bravely answered, “Who knows?”

What both of these seemingly disparate stories illuminate is that our ideas about learning need to change. Learning is not an event. Learning is not bound by a specific space, or a specific time. Learning, be it for students or workers, formal or informal, is going to be learner-driven and anchored in creativity and connection.

Actually, let me restate the paragraph above: Not only do our ideas about learning need to change, our practice must also. In a world where information is plentiful and readily available, in which knowledge need not rely on few experts but the availability of the plentiful experienced, consideration for space should be one of our leading design factors.

Space is not bound by walls, media, platform or geographic place. Space is also not tethered to time. (OK, this is getting a little woo-woo for some, I know, but I’m almost done.) Learning space is about connection, conversation, trust and creativity. The reasons eLearning is failing in organizations is because learning is not an event, it’s a constant process that needs nurture and occasional direction. The reason it is failing in classrooms is because students have the answers at their fingertips, but lack the ability and creative license to ask the right questions.

Why aren’t most training and eLearning programs preceived as valuable? Because they don’t provide value, in part because they are not developed for the rigors of space and time.

It’s time to unleash the spaces – online spaces, mental spaces, emotional spaces – that will allow individuals to pursue their passions and organizations to follow where those passions lead within a broader, elastic strategic vision. (Wait, doesn’t that sounds kind of like Google? Yes, I guess it does.)

Learning Is Our Job… it’s not just me (or us).

11 Jun

I received a tweet from a friend who happened to be attending DrupalCon in Austin last week. He referred to a remark by a keynote speaker:

jones tweet

You can see my response to the original message above (with poor syntax– but is it grammatically incorrect?).

I was truly heartened to see that the constantly-learning ethos is becoming a mantra beyond the domain of PD/L&D/ID/ELP/SPOTDA* folks. As I’ve argued before in several places, our jobs are to keep learning. Very few of us have a job or career that spans more than a few years at a time. Even if we stay with the same organization, whatever our job is today will very likely not be what our job is two years from now, at least the tools, methods and systems we operate under. (And if it is, ask yourself, “Why!?”)

No, our careers are now tied to learning. And learning is not a solitary endeavor. We learn only in so far as we can seek, catalog, retrieve and share new facts, ideas and methods. That’s where I see us PD/L&D/ID/ELP/SPOTDA* folks gaining in relevance. Most of us are at a loss on how to take that learning management, or Personal Knowledge Management (PKM, in the parlance of our day) from a chaotic hit-or-miss activity to a systematic practice. Nobody taught us how to learn in the digital age, but it is an – the – essential challenge of our careers.


PD – Professional Development

L&D – Learning and Development

ID – Instructional Design

ELP – E-learning Practitioners

SPOTDA – Smart People of the Digital Age

Setting the Course: Do we still need e-learning courses?

8 Jun

I’ll start with this: I’m an instructional designer (ID) and e-learning guy. When I have less than 60 seconds to explain what I do to the semi-interested, I usually talk about courses. You know–complete the course, do the learning check, and get back to your life. I have been of a mindset lately that courses are a pretty poor way to learn. If you’ve been reading these posts with any frequency you’ll already know that I’m much more interested in the social, informal, and learner-directed activities. I absolutely believe that’s the direction we should be headed.


From: Tom Kuhlmann – The Rapid E-Learning Blog. Thanks, Tom!

I remarked rather flippantly to a colleague the other day, “I’ll be happy if I never have to build another course.” I meant it, in part selfishly (they can be tedious to produce) and in part philosophically. But since then I’ve been thinking: Is there still a place for courses? Those SCORM-compliant nuggets with a beginning and an end, with narratives built-in and easy navigation throughout? I mean, I’ve worked on hundreds of courses in my 20 years in ID, and I am truly proud of several of them.

I think I have to walk back from my flippancy just a bit. After a few days chewing on it, I think courses are part of (but not the whole) solution to a learning need:

  • Where compliance is absolutely (legally) necessary, such as HIPAA, fiduciary laws or the like: If you must have it on file for an auditor that you’ve reviewed something, and there is an expectation that it will change your behavior in some way, a course makes sense.
  • When learning how to use a tool or software application or system, and the course can be as much of an immersive simulation as possible.
  • Where there are no other means to model interpersonal communication, such as a remote sales team, working with volunteers, physician-patient conversations or social workers on home visits. It is best to do these in person, but sometimes that isn’t possible. These should also be as immersive and branching as possible.

That’s really about it. For almost every other need I can think of, I would lean toward creating some other kind of learning experience that includes some combination of research, curation, sharing and coaching. And, when you are creating courses, don’t rest on the ways you’ve been doing. Rethink anew how to best deliver the content to be as useful as possible to the learner. The Serious eLearning Manifesto is a good starting point for each project.


Learning Experience: There is no end.

29 May

I came across this funny bumper sticker the other day. And while I’m quite certain neither the creator nor the car owner had adult learning practice in mind, it is apt. Learning happens, every day, all day, with or without us.

learning exp

When our jobs were mostly process- and product-based—manufacturing, service, design—ongoing professional and personal learning may not have been as important. There was a time when you could practice your job, advance your career and even feel satisfied without contemplating the ways in which learning impacted your development. That time rests in the dustbin of history, at least for those of us who are “information,” “knowledge,” or “learning” workers.

We are constantly learning now, so the questions for us in the adult learning game are

  • How are people learning?
  • How do we guide people to learn what we want/avoid what we don’t want them to learn?
  • How do we facilitate ongoing learning?
  • How do we know if and how learning is applied to jobs and innovation?
  • Where does traditional, formal learning (live training, e-learning, blended, etc.) fit in?

The only thing we can say with any certainty is that for most of us, whatever our job is today won’t be our job five years from now. Our career is learning, learning is our career: The better we adapt to that reality the better we’ll be. I say, bring on the learning experiences!

Learning in a Connected Workplace: But connected to what, exactly?

5 May

Workplace learning. If your mind fills with images of shuffling off to a conference room to “do the training,” you share the attitude of a large share of learners, I’m afraid. Luckily for us, we’re e-learning folks, so we know better. Learners don’t have to shuffle anywhere anymore. They can “do the training” right at their desk.


If we are satisfied with delivering e-learning courses, 2004 called and wants it’s training program back. If we rely solely on delivered courses, we are losing ground and selling our learners, organizations, and ourselves short. E-learning is great (or should be), and it’s not going anywhere. However, we have to think beyond e-learning development to become true instructional design and adult learning facilitators. You know all too well the two major shifts of the last decade:

  • Information now streams at your learners’ fingertips, constantly on and maddeningly (and wonderfully) distracting.
  • Work is no longer only task-driven, but also learning- and innovation-driven.

That software training you’re working on? Or leadership training? Sales training? Compliance training? You-name-it training? Someone else has already created it, probably better, whether it’s off the shelf or up on Not only that, there are Twitter hashtags and Facebook threads and meme jokes and outright snarkiness out there about your very topic. And here’s the irony: You want the kind of learners who will find it! They are engaged and curious, and they have at least enough initiative to forward a funny poster. The capacity for nearly anyone to find information on nearly anything is inspiring and horrifying. Our job as learning professionals is to help people harness the flow, teaching them how to evaluate, store, share, and use what they find.

Which leads to the second point: Learning is not a separate part of the calendar, or even a set-aside part of the day.

LEAP Ahead Conference: Portland, Ore., June 25-26

LEAP Ahead Conference: Portland, Ore., June 25-26

Modern working is learning. The latest headlines, industry trends, job tools, and data points are essential to helping workers succeed in almost any industry. We’re all knowledge workers now, and to be a knowledge worker is to be a constantly learning worker. If we fail to learn and convert that learning into innovation, not just as an organization but as individuals, we’re being left behind by those who do.

The same is all too true for those of us in the e-learning game. What have we been learning? What innovations are we implementing? And how are we sharing it? Let’s find out! Join me as we dive into this topic at LEAP Ahead in Portland next month.

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