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Abundance and Choices: Make the decision and move on

22 Apr

We know the feeling: Standing in the cereal aisle, or before the maddeningly long rack of cold medicines, frozen by the overwhelming number of choices. Can’t there be just three choices? Fiber-filled, healthy, or frosted. Good, better, best. Too much really is too much!

I was asked to talk recently about Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) practice, curation and the ability to sort through the overwhelming amount of content that streams at us constantly. One sincere listener mentioned that while he spends time and energy clipping useful articles and organizing content into folders, he knows he’ll never have time to go back and examine all the saved content and sort through it all to find the nuggets of potentially useful ideas.

My response to him was that it doesn’t matter. The room fell silent (as I hoped) and opened the door to explain in further detail. (Side note: If you ever want to get a room of serious-mined people to pay attention to a particular point, set it up with “What you do doesn’t matter,” or “What you know is not important.” Provocative, and engaging!)

In the digital age, the social age, or what I call The Learning Age, what you save in a file somewhere really doesn’t matter. Saving clippings in a file folder or, more recently, on a digital drive somewhere, is a bygone mindset for a world in which content was scarce and locating something on a particular subject was difficult and time-consuming.

We now live in an age of abundance and constant choice. It’s all available at our fingertips, and anyone with even the most basic digital literacy skills can find just about anything. As an example, I had foot surgery last year: Not only could I look up my diagnosis, I watched videos, in fascination and horror, of the actual surgical procedures. Bone saws and drills. NOT recommended!

The critical practice of our age is not finding and saving content, it’s curating, sense-making and sharing. That is, it’s a new practice.

Step 1. Make a decision. Act. Looking for something on topic “X” gets 500 results. There is no way you’ll ever know which few will make the most sense or prove to be the most immediately useful to you. Skim and choose one (or two or three). The decision is the first step of the practice. There is no right or wrong decision, only the act (with apologies to Yoda). Also, note how you made the decision – the reasons, the decision-making criteria – so that it also becomes part of the practice.

Step 2. As you read (or watch, or listen), note how it relates to what you already know, or do, or think. Even if you don’t find the immediate use that you may had originally hoped, relate it to other thoughts and ideas. (If you can’t, toss it.) Content is relational and contextual, and how your mind makes those connections is critical to PKM practice. “This relates to that, reminds me of this, and here’s why.” Putting new information into context: That’s learning. Be creative, metaphorical, and experimental. Tag it with whatever taxonomy terms makes sense at the time (it may change later – don’t be rigid).

Step 3: Share it, and by “it” I mean the content, your notes on the context, and the tags: All of it! Make it visible to you (later) and to others in your organization and your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Rely on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and curation tools (, Feedly, Storify, Evernote, Delicious, etc.) to share it with whomever will find it. The technology you use is unimportant. The practice is the key. (I happen to like because it’s easy to write your notes with each share, and invite others to do the same. Use what you like and what works for you.)

Step 4: Let the network do the work. Once you begin to form your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) through social media and in-person connections, they will share with you, comment on your shares and patterns will emerge. You’ll find those people whose content you trust, and in turn connect with who they trust. You will increasingly find relevant content—because you are getting better at contextualizing and sense-making – making Step 1 less and less necessary. You’ll find that the content you find through your PLN comes preloaded with contextual relevance because it is from/through the network you are building: Your own network of people, ideas and applications.

Step 5: Practice. It’s a practice, so, you know, practice! This is not a just-in-time activity to do at the moment of need. In order to build your sense-making capabilities, this becomes a part of the way you work. It requires pruning, nurturing, adding and subtracting. Your PLN and the ways you make sense of ideas will shift over time. That’s learning! Don’t be rigid: Learn to trust the system you’ve created.

Ben's PKM ProcessIn the end, the important thing is making the initial decision, learning what you can from it and moving forward. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself relating back to a few core ideas time and again, anchoring learning in principles and allowing for deep exploration without completely losing your bearings.

Happy exploring! (Oh, and choose the healthy cereal, except on your birthday. Then, frosted all the way!)

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

Mind Maps, Mental Geography, and a New Compass

4 Mar

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all carry a sense of place for ourselves and how/where we fit in to our workplace, professional networks of colleagues, and social circles. Most of us move through our careers making decisions big and small based on how we perceive that mental geography.

For most of us, the traditional map is some variation of hierarchy, departmentalization, and areas of influence. I manage this project, those people; I am managed by her and I belong to that department; I provide service for them but have little influence over what they do and how they do it. As with all creations of our mind, the reality of that geography may have never reflected what could or should be, but hierarchy and silos made sense in a world of traditional leadership and departmentalization.

That world is shifting digital sand under our feet. With the advent of digital communication and open networks, our ability to lead, follow, influence, and be influenced has never been more fluid. The anxiety that individuals and organizations feel over the last several years reflects the loss of the map that has served us, and with it our understanding of our place.

Each node can find each other, be it person, data, server; internal or external to an organization.

Each node can find each other, be it person, data, server; internal or external to an organization.

We now live in a networked age. We are all increasingly interconnected with, by, and through each other and with information that ricochets around us at nearly imperceptible speeds. Hierarchy is giving way to wireachy. A new mental map forms, where people, data, and ideas are all vectors that connect or deflect in reaction to each other. The hierarchy that was so effective in amassing the troops and directing activities is giving way to something quite different.

Once we grok this new geography of the digital age, our anxiety (hopefully) gives way to a world of possibility. “Leaders” (C-levels, principals, independent consultants/contractors) begin to realize that they cannot and should not attempt to oversee actions, and “workers” understand that theirs is not to wait to act on orders but rather to discover, filter, learn, synthesize, and share by what becomes a Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) practice . We are level on the flat plane of the network age. (Read a terrific background and personal discovery story of PKM by Harold Jarche.)

Our primary activity is to learn. Whatever our job is today will be different tomorrow. Those who cling to “this is how we do it here” will be increasingly isolated and frustrated. Those who become continuous learners and flexible actors will be in position to thrive.

This new Learning Age perhaps requires not a map at all, but a compass. In a flat landscape without rivers to cross and mountains to climb, we need a direction in which to head and the agency and autonomy to find our own ways. Leaders will still set the necessary vectors and create a compass for all in an organization to follow, but individuals are free to explore, fail, succeed, and learn with shifting collaboration and cooperation as the moment warrants.

Learning professionals have an essential role to play. While a small percentage of people are already setting their compass and navigating the network, most don’t have the mental geography or digital skills to learn, influence, and make sense of the new reality. Learning is not only essential, but so too is learning to learn—and relearn—the recursions of modern digital work. We need to step up and show people how navigate.

Knowledge led people to change from reading the stars for fate to instead use them for navigation. Hmmm … nodes in the network resemble stars in the sky. Yes, recursion.

Reaching out a helping hand to a “lost” coworker

5 Feb

I had a productive and far-reaching conversation recently with a Signe Bishop, a whip-smart colleague in my professional network. She leads management training, both for new managers and (later) experienced ones to deepen their practice, for a large teaching hospital. She sparked me to return to an idea I’ve been marinating for a while.

We agreed that it’s fun, rewarding and often easy to manage engaged, curious, creative employees.

The challenge is to get managers to do the hard work of reaching out to employees who have lost (or never had) that zeal. When our colleagues and those we are meant to manage seem adrift in the flotsam of daily routine and a less-than-inspired workplace culture, we owe it to them—and to ourselves—to reach out with specific tactics to change things.

Our workplaces are only as good as our culture, and a lackluster culture should be addressed head on, with positivity and passion,* but also with techniques that engage. I have always felt that it is my responsibility to create the kind of place where I want to work wherever I happen to draw a paycheck. (Perhaps that comes from the experience that there never really is The Perfect Job.) It rubs some people wrong, but in the long run I’ve won over more than I’ve lost.

When addressing workplace culture, it is akin to… check that!… It IS a matter of change/learning management. In order to change attitudes and, ultimately, performance, a manager (or concerned coworker) needs to create:

  1. Vision: Habits are tough to break. Attitudes and culture that are vibrant continually renew and grow, while their opposite is built on thoughtless habit. The first effort is to build a vision for work that doesn’t feel habitual, but creative and verdant with opportunity. (This might be the hardest of the four, and may follow from the others organically.)
  2. Plan: What would the person like to do? Where do they see their career going in 1 year? 3 years? 5 years? Sometimes folks are not even aware that we have path to choose. I had the benefit of a great manager years ago who pushed me to think big and specific, and it made a world of difference to me years after we parted (she remains a friend). Help people see that getting their current position is just a step, maybe the first step. Crautonomyeate specific plans to track movement, with knowledge that it will be ever-shifting as you travel.
  3. Skills: This is where managers tend to concentrate first (and sometimes, the only area they focus on). Yes, it’s important to develop skills in the context of performance improvement and professional development. We often ask for skill development without reference to the purpose or larger context (plan and vision). WIIFM remains the heart of any learning activity. Skills, and how a person should learn and apply them, need to be explicit and relevant.
  4. Autonomy: This is the flip side of trust. Grant as much autonomy as you can, and trust that people will find their productive way. (If they don’t, they’re not the kind of people you want.) All the planning and skills in the world will not set folks free to find better practices, innovative ideas and happen on new insights.

* For those of you who know me, this will seem really weird. I’m so not the rah-rah, hug-it-out type.

Why tweet, and who gives a hoot? What Twitter does for me

30 Jan

I read, write and think about learning, knowledge management and collaborative work — it’s a lot to keep up with.

My Personal Learning Network (PLN) and Personal Knowledge Management/Mastery (PKM) practice has become vital to my professional growth . Of all the things I do in support of these efforts — blog, write articles, read, synthesize (what PKM calls “sense-making”), share, meet, respond and react — it is Twitter that I get the most questions, doubt, and even hostility about.

I want to share here why I use Twitter, and how it helps me.

I begin by saying I was late to it. I was skeptical, and more than a little derisive about those tweeters constantly tethered to their phones. I did not dive in: I was hesitant, lurking, dipping my toes in one digit at time. So, to you doubters, I was there with you not long ago.

Now, in two-years’ time, I can’t imagine my professional life without it!

With that said, it is NOT about Twitter itself. Twitter is a tool, like a hammer or a saw — they are useless until used purposefully. Twitter will be gone in 5 (or 10?) years, replaced by something(s) else. While I have found great value in applying Twitter to develop my PLN, it needn’t have been Twitter. It just worked well for me. You might find another tool that works for you. Great! It is the practice, not the tool.

Some ways I use Twitter to propel “real” work:

  • Capture thoughts and notes in real time, often with a hashtag (#, as in #learning) to help categorize it for myself and others.
  • Share and “favorite” useful tweets to let the most pertinent comments rise to the top and become easy to find.
  • Find like-minded people across the hall, or across the globe, with whom to share and learn. I have built my PLN from scratch, relying on Twitter for 90% of it. There is generally a true spirit of generosity and openness that’s remarkable.
  • Follow and learn from experts and leaders, to see what they are thinking, reading and see who they are following. Because Twitter is a-symmetrical (unlike Facebook, for example) you can follow anyone without the need for that person to reciprocate. (This difference was articulated nicely by Harold Jarche, which — and whom — I found via Twitter.) I follow @BarackObama, but he doesn’t follow me… yet!
  • Twitter storms. A synchronous (live) twitter event around a particular topic, these are generally moderated in a Q/A format with some opportunity for intros and self-promotions. Twitter storms are extremely useful to share and hear ideas, “meet” new like-minded people, and enjoy some PD time. Best of all, the transcripts are available after to remember and reflect on the storm’s activity.
  • Like Twitter storms, tweeting during — yes during! — live events, classes and sessions proves to be very useful. It creates a “back-channel” to help make sense of the information, and adds instant and long-lasting value by providing insights into what others make of it. In addition, it is a great way for me to experience an event even if I’m not there. It is so valuable!

The most common reservations I hear:

Who cares what I think? I care what I think (or thought last week or last year). You also might. And if not, that’s fine too. It is a micro-blog tool, a way to share thoughts and activities. The value is in the stream to reflect upon later, to discover others who cared, reactions to forming ideas and activities as they grow. When you share an idea or thought, you never know how others — or even you, after some time passes — will react. I saw Dr. deGrasse-Tyson stop, mid-talk, to tweet a thought. If it is worth noting, it’s worth saving. And, if worth saving, it’s worth sharing.

What can you learn from 140 characters? It’s not enough! Enough for what? To jot a note? Or ask a colleague a question? Or refer your friend to an article or video you found? 140 characters is plenty. In fact, I have found over time that the space limit actually helps sharpen my writing — and thoughts — down to essentials. Remember: It is not a replacement for other forms of communication!

It’s a fad that’s going away. As I say above, it’s true: If we’re still using Twitter 10 years from now, I’ll be quite surprised. The same is also true of Facebook, email (please, let it be so!!), and wired telephones (who has long phone conversations anymore!?). Tools come and go, but building PLN and PKM practice will remain.

It’s too informal. It’s frivolous. Depends on who’s wielding the tool. It can be feathery light or as serious as life-and-death (literally, as #BlackLivesMatter showed).

– I don’t have time. If you find it useful, you’ll have time. You don’t have time to change a tire on your car on your way to work, unless you need to change the tire.

Find me @BenCpdx… I’ll leave the bird on for you. If I’m the recipient of your first tweet, it would be an honor and I promise to reply.

bdc twitter

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