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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?!

The Blimage Challenge: Just use your blimagination

27 Jul

I’ve been watching the #blimage activities from the edge, but decided it was time to jump in and test the waters. I read Clark Quinn’s response to Jane Hart’s challenge last week (nicely done!), and decided to take him up on his open challenge to join the pool party.

The #blimage (blog image, I suppose) idea is a kind of Rorschach test. An image is presented as the challenge, and the responder conjures a way to make sense of it as metaphor or interpret it as a way to look at our work. This process works well for me, as it aligns with my own approach to working, thinking and learning (all the same things, really): 1) the key is acting, not the prompt for the action, 2) artifacts don’t carry their own meaning, only the meaning the observer assigns (why curation is so critical) and 3) we should share ideas transparently before they have a chance to set into solid ideology or methodology (#WOL/#LOL).

So, here is the image:

maze

Watch your step!

We all work through the maze of our professional and personal lives. Obstacles present themselves in the forms of walls to overcome and holes to avoid falling into. The danger is in planning moves too far in advance.

Here, our figure seems prepared, alert, and ready to take on his challenges. His gaze is up and to the right, on where he’s headed. He’s prepared to execute his plan to navigate to his goal, quite unaware that he is one stride away from falling into the hole directly in front of him.

He’d… we’d… OK, I’d… be much better off focusing on the task at hand and negotiating the small work-arounds as they present themselves rather making long-term plans to achieve a goal that may very well be an ever-moving target.

The skill, then, is to have a navigable path, or at least a direction in which to set sail by setting a few easily sighted principal points of orientation by which to measure progress. (I wrote about navigation by stars here a while ago as a similar metaphor, but perhaps it’s time to revisit that theme.) Then, be prepared for what lies directly at the fore, and have a plan should you find yourself falling into a hole.

So, chart a course by which to navigate. Avoid the pitfalls that you may not see directly in front of you. Be prepared should you need to pick yourself up after you fall.

Learning is the lifeblood, not the appendix

13 Jul

No one puts learning in the corner. Those days are gone.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or familiar with the work of forward-thinking learning organization practitioners, social network evangelists and advocates of Connectivism, this news will not come as a surprise.

But sometimes I find myself making a cardinal learning professional mistake: Assuming my audience’s knowledge where no evidence exists.

So, why isn’t learning just “learning” anymore? Because in today’s modern, hyper-connected world, traditional workplace learning programs have almost entirely lost whatever relevance they may have had as the centerpiece of how people actually learn. Training courses—be they live or asynchronous eLearning courses—should now be the last resort for all but the most stubborn learning needs.

Why?

  1. Few of us have a specific “job” for very long. I don’t think I need spend many words to convince you that hopping from company to company and even career to career is the new norm. Depending on which statistics you believe, we can expect the typical 30-year-old today to spend the next 35 years of her working life in at least 7 different jobs, and in 1.2 complete career shifts.

What does that mean for learning professionals? Learning is individual, portable, and an ongoing process.

  1. Learning is the job—or should be. People don’t rely on authority for answers anymore. There is no “received” wisdom of how things are done. A recent study (Bersin by Deloitte, June 2014) finds that 60% of L & D professionals report that employees have trouble engaging in corporate learning. That’s because this is based in the assumption that learning is something outside of “regular” work. Learning is the work! Every meeting, project, task and conversation should be thought of as part of an ongoing learning process, and catalogued, shared and honored accordingly. People shouldn’t get paid to “do a job” anymore: Rather, they should be paid to stay current, improve, serve and add value. That, my friends, is learning.

What are we (learning pros) doing to put process, skills and culture in place to properly nurture this new reality?

  1. Organizational structures are going to go through radical change. Individuals do not serve at the behest of their companies—at least, not for very long. Because of employee portability, workers are in it mostly for themselves. That is actually a good thing! To put it another way, we need to shift our thinking to make that new reality a good thing.

People are able to connect with experts in their field from within your organization as easily as with your partners and competitors. Equally, information is plentiful and access to new ideas (good and bad) is nearly limitless. We don’t need gatekeepers or managers to tell us to seek, synthesize and share. Those are simply the skills of the new reality.

PLN

A Professional Learning Network(s) (PLN) extends well beyond an organization’s real or virtual structures. Encourage all to develop these networks for both personal and organizational currency.

By empowering folks to digitally practice far and wide, we allow them to bring what they find back into your organization, while freeing them to chart their own professional development and career course. In this new paradigm, L & D professionals are guides, coaches and obstacle breakers. If either manager or employee is having trouble adjusting to this new arrangement, therein lies our opportunity as learning professionals to help our people thrive. Traditional training courses and programs (other than compliance) should be the last resort for the most complex situations. Telling folks to find the answer in a Google search or on YouTube is not an abdication of our professional learning responsibilities, it opens the door to more meaningful passageways of how to learn in the post-industrial era (what I call The Learning Age).

In short, we should all take it upon ourselves to ask:

  • What can I learn from my current task, project or activity?
  • How do I document that learning so others can benefit?
  • How do I share what I’ve learned, along with relevant artifacts, outcomes and tools (that is, how do I curate knowledge)?
  • How am I engaging with, and gaining from, what others are learning?

Promoting the culture that makes this a practice, a habit, is the L & D task of the moment. Bring learning out of the corner. It is now the lifeblood of your organization.

My Top 10 (and a half) Learning Tools, 2015

7 Jul

Jane Hart, at the Center For Learning & Performance Technologies (@C4LPT), is a leading contributor to our industry (used in the broadest sense). One of the many contributions she makes is to compile a yearly list of “Top 100 Learning Tools.” She compiles this list by aggregating contributors’ Top 10 lists, which can be submitted in a number of ways including her online form.

She also invites folks to make it transparent by blogging or tweeting them. This is the first year I have chosen to do it this way, in the spirit of transparency and #WOL (Working Out Loud/Show Your Work).

I encourage you to contribute your list by whatever method suits you, and join me recognizing Jane for her ongoing contributions from which we all benefit.

My Top 10 Learning Tools of 2015:

  1. Twitter: I was far from an early adopter, but now it is hard to imagine maintaining my own learning and professional development without it. I learn via my Twitter feed every day.
  2. Google Search: I suspect there is not much need for commentary here, other than to say it remains for now the best search for what I look for, and how I wish to find it. That could change in the future.
  3. Google Docs/Drive/Sites: For everyday collaboration and transparent cooperation, these have become my go-to tools. There is a lot of room for improvement, but their wide acceptance makes them very useful.
  4. WordPress Blog: I write first and foremost to help clarify my own thinking and combine ideas together to see if they stick that way. But, the benefit of knowing that others read this blog and occasionally respond to it makes it a focused learning activity for me. Others feel the same about their “visible thinking” on their blog.
  5. Scoop.It: I maintain a scoop.it page on which I clip articles, posts and images, and have built a reasonable following of others I follow there and who follow me. Not as robust a feed as Twitter, but more focused and topical. I have found that for me it works better than other similar tools (paper.li, Pinterest, etc.), especially the feature that allows me to comment on each clip, quoting or summarizing why I thought it “scoop worthy.”
  6. MS PowerPoint: We love it. We hate it. We use it, time and time again. I use it to create learning graphics, too – such are my poor graphic design skills.
  7. Evernote: I have had a hot-and-cold relationship with Evernote over the years. I am quick to recommend it as a universal tool for clipping, tagging, note-taking and sharing, but I also go a full month at times without touching it. I will say this: In my periods of high productivity I use Evernote a lot. I’m uncertain of the causal relationship, though.
  8. YouTube: I find myself drifting to YouTube when I need to see how to do something specific, but also for the general hunt-and-peck drifting to see what I might find. There is so much of… everything! The good, the bad, and the ugly. But when I do find something great, I love that it’s there.
  9. Adobe Captivate: It is less and less frequent, but when we do need an animation or software capture with narration/annotation, we use Captivate. I’m not prepared to defend it against competitors; it’s simply the one we use now.
  10. LinkedIn: I spend a lot of time thinking negative thoughts about LinkedIn, but the fact remains that I come across useful and thoughtful posts and links there on a regular basis.
  11. (10a) eLearning Guild/Learning Solutions Magazine: In terms of my own professional development, the guild remains central to my activities. While I have argued publicly that they drop the “e” (The Learning Guild), the publications, events (DevLearn!), and community remain vibrant and extremely relevant.

The Right Triangle: Connecting dots on three angles, layers

8 May

It’s triangulation time again! Three distinct sources I’ve filtered through in recent weeks have started to connect in an unexpected way, and I think it’s time to explicitly connect them here. It’s Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) in action: filtering, sense-making, connecting, sharing.

Item #1. An NPR story about the experience of heroin addicts during—and after—the Vietnam War. The incidence of drug abuse was high for GIs in Southeast Asia, and there was a real fear they would return to the U.S. to become hundreds of thousands of addicts on the streets of our cities.

But that’s not what happened, and it rocked some fundamental thinking about the nature of addiction and habitual behavior. In fact, only 5% of heroin users continued to abuse the drug after they returned home. What researchers found is that context plays an enormous factor in habitual behavior. Once the context of the battlefield conditions was removed and soldiers returned to civilian routines, heroin use plummeted even where access to heroin was still relatively easy. Lesson #1: Context is key for habitual behavior.

Item #2: A CMS Wire article on building high-performing learning organizations came to me via my scoop.it feed. Business Consultant Edward D. Hess identifies three conditions for building high-functioning learning organizations: 1) the right people; 2) the right environment; 3) the right processes. I encourage you to read the short article, but the takeaway is that a context of innovative culture paired with intentional practices creates the conditions for high-performing learning. Lesson #2: Context needs to be paired with the right tools and processes.

Item #3: I came across a short interview with George Siemens, the godfather of Connectivism, in which he was asked to reflect on MOOCs and their efficacy (or lack thereof). His main thesis is that MOOCs deconstruct the traditional hierarchy of classroom learning {Teacher –> Content –> Students} into a network of learning in which the teacher “is a node in a network, among other nodes. They might still be a very important node, but students can learn from [other sources and each other].” In this case, the teacher needs to pay more attention to the context of learning, ensuring that the students “have the skills and capacity to learn in a networked way … to build the right kind of critical thinking skills.” Lesson #3: Network learning is a new context in which people need to learn a new set of habits.

I was asked recently to speak about how I might build an effective learning program among a geographically and culturally diverse set of learners. Without consciously drawing on these three lessons explicitly, my approach built on them.

An individual is centered on her specific skills and knowledge. Those are what create her sense of self and value to her organization. Outside of that is a layer of her measure against others and against the needs of her position. That is, her competency and her assessment of that competence against requirements and expectations. In order for her to feel growth, opportunity and fulfillment, she needs a way to map her knowledge and skills to design a path of professional growth that aligns with the needs of the organization. Lastly, the outermost layer is the context, mindset and habits (together, that is culture) that allow her to make sense of new information, add her own value to it, and share it back out to her network of other learners. This is PKM in action.

PKM, Cohort, PLN

Through the PKM lens we are able to both glean more productively with our learning cohort or formal community of practice, and form the skills and habits to learn from our constantly shifting professional learning network (PLN) – that network of nodes (people and information) that form the context of personal and organizational learning.

These three layers — workplace learning’s own rule of three — all need to be in place so that both individual and organizational learning happen.

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