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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.

It’s Our Move: All learning is akin to chess learning

16 Apr

Chess is a game of constant striving, where even the greatest mastery is put to the test in search of constant improvement. Shouldn’t workplace learning be the same?

If you are even a rudimentary chess player, I expect that this analogy will ring true. But even if you have never played chess, the idea of laying out vision, goal, purpose and context in which learners can apply their nascent skills is a critical component to any complex/compound learning design.

Vision

The learning game, be it chess, sales or facilitation skills, begins with a vision. If the learner can understand where their newly acquired skills will take them, they (hopefully) will develop the tenacity and trust to stick with the rudimentary practice that forms the framework for skill development.

In chess, that begins with the end. That seems an obvious statement, but I have often observed that people want to begin by explaining the pieces: The King, the Rook, the Bishop and Pawn. But those are abstractions to the novice, only meaningful as tactics and strategy is formed as part of understanding the game. Instead, start with the end vision: Check mate!

Starting Point: This picture has no relation to actual chess play, but it drives across the vision -- trap the other king.

Starting Point: This picture has no relation to actual chess play, but it drives across the vision — trap the other king.

Goal
Once learners have a vision of the game, next move on to the goal of chess (no, not how the horsey moves – not yet!), which is to move your pieces around in order to achieve the vision. An explanation of capture-and-removal can be introduced here, but only as an idea, not as a tactic (yet). Have the learners move the players—with no regard to actual game play or rules—so that they achieve check mate. That’s the goal: Trap your opponent’s king into an immobile position.

Purpose

Enter your opponent! Now the purpose of game play, of each move begins to take shape. Purpose translates into action in a way that goals and vision do not. Not only are you out to contain your opponent’s king, she means to contain yours, too: Offense and defense. Now the ways in which the pieces move, and how to strategically deploy them, how to occupy space on the board, and how to string strategy into tactics, begins to make sense. The purpose is to win the game by out-planning and out-executing the forces that align against your success (your opponent).

Context

With a grasp of purpose, each move is seen in the context of the whole, a stage in the game, the situation of each player now as a result of actions taken (or not). This is where skills are built, and learning becomes knowledge. Theoretical principles (goals and vision) are put to the test, and failure leads to success, leading to deepening understanding.

This (idealized) real version of checkmate only makes sense once you can identify the pieces and understand their properties.

This (idealized) real version of checkmate only makes sense once you can identify the pieces and understand their properties.

Practice

Play becomes practice, practice play. The only “real” way to learn something on a deep level is to make your own mistakes, learn from them, all the while building up your ability to apply purpose and context to the ever-changing conditions. Practice allows learners to demonstrate progressive skill acquisition and to show evidence of deepening understanding. Visibility, transparency, narration and inquiry are key to good practice. And all play is practice – the learning never stops!

Vision

Goal

Purpose

Context

Practice

Imprison opponent’s king Place your pieces into position on the board to capture the king Capture the opponent’s king while defending your king from capture. Make good incremental decisions to achieve goal. Your pieces have different properties, and you use those properties to defend and create an offensive strategy to advance your purpose. Think strategically at every decision point, align actions to goals, purpose and current context, iterate, experiment, fail, and succeed: In other words, learn!

So, starting with the end in mind: Do you allow your learners to demonstrate, narrate and explicate their actions in a supportive, non-judgmental learning environment? If not, how can you measure what they’ve learned? That’s the foundation on which everything else is built. Practice never makes perfect, but ongoing improvement is only achieved through ongoing visible practice.

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

Eat the cookie dough! Half-baked ideas are welcome.

17 Mar

My friend David and I took an epic road trip many years ago, the kind that can only be made by the young and foolish: Chicago to New York to surprise a friend. With no more than $20 in our pockets and his grandfather’s gas card to cover expenses, we set out to the east with the sun at our backs. Oh, to be 19 again.

Food? We had the gas card. Hotels? I don’t think it ever occurred to us. It was only a 12-hour drive, after all. At a truck stop convenience store around South Bend, Indiana, we gassed up the tank and stocked up on provisions. Jerky. Chips. Water. Nuts. And, as a last impulse that can only be ascribed to … could there be an adequate explanation? … a roll of bake-at-home cookie dough.

The Ohio & Penn Turnpikes, a roll of cookie dough, and the night. What could go wrong.

The Ohio & Penn Turnpikes, a roll of cookie dough, and the night. What could go wrong?

Raw cookie dough. Delicious, filling and funny—it seemed like a great idea. Bake, schmake! So as we drove we passed the plastic tube to take bites of dough. By the time we hit Youngstown, Ohio, neither of us felt so well. By the State College, Pennsylvania, cutoff, our bellies were aching like we had eaten billiard balls. Now I realize there was a lesson for today.

With the memory of that gut pain as my guide, I say we need to find a new place to share half-baked ideas and raw notions. In the spirit of show your work and working out loud (#WOL), we need a renewed sense that there is value in sharing the half-baked, ill-formed and in-progress stages of our work.

Just as luck finds those who prepare, serendipity of ideas and connectcookie doughing disparate dots into new insights come to those who are willing to share not only products but process; not only results but notions, hunches and hypotheses.

The reason why many “digital age” companies try so hard to create open spaces for folks to bump into each other—think Google’s cafeteria, Nike’s athletic facilities, cubeless open workstations and Yahoo!’s effort to curb its remote workforce—is to create the conditions for serendipity to occur.

Even when we are not actively collaborating with each other, we should certainly be cooperating with each other, dovetailing our efforts and forming brief spats of collaboration toward the same goals.

Short of the Google cafeteria (or, in addition to it), what this calls for is a more transparent, open spirit of sharing and learning. When you wait until your work is fully baked, with all the icing applied, you’ve waited too long. The learning, the idea development, the benefit to others from your work are revealed in your process, not your product. Mistakes and wrong paths are the quintessential learning moments.

Don’t wait to share your plate of beautiful cookies. Show us your ingredients—how you crack the eggs, the messes on the counter, why you chose your bowl and tools—and let us decide what to do with the dough. Some of us will bake it; others prefer it raw. That’s where the learning happens.
#WOL #LOL #ShowYourWork

State Your Purpose: A few words about webinars

2 Jan

A speaker. A podium. A slide set. Information to disseminate. This is a fine scenario, and it is the paradigm on which webinars are built.

A: I have information.

B: You want that information.

C: I will share that information.

However, I think we all agree that the majority of webinars go off the rails pretty quickly. The reason for webinar-fail can be mostly categorized in five buckets:

  1. Poor presentation skills. There are many great resources to improve public speaking, slide design, and delivery. I rather like Slide:ology and The Webinar Manifesto, among many other great resources. Some folks are just not cut out for public speaking. There’s no shame in that. However, this is not my concern here.
  2. Technical problems. Yes, it happens, but not as often as you might think. Learn your platform and plan for worst-case events. That’s not my area of expertise.
  3. Poor understanding of the medium. A webinar compels participants to sit at their computer, watch and listen. That’s a personal-space environment. Don’t expect learners to pay attention for more than 15 minutes if they are not at their own screen, headphones on or in a very quiet room, alone. Groups gathered together to “watch” the webinar—unless it is a highly produced presentation experience, a là Apple introducing the iPad—will fail. (And, don’t get me started on anything that is planned for more than 60 minutes!) This is an oft-misunderstood element, and there is a lot of literature on how we act in groups versus as individuals, but that’s not what has my attention today.
  4. Wasted time. I attended a webinar recently of genuine interest, planned for an hour. There were 15 minutes of housekeeping, introductions, bios, and “setup.” Really? I can read bios and setup before, or after. Get to the topic! They lost me at “I’ll allow each of the four speakers to introduce themselves.” Again, I refer you to The Webinar Manifesto and numerous other books, blogs, articles, videos, and (yes!) webinars.
  5. Designers conflate dissemination, instruction, and learning. This is what I want to talk about.

Dissemination ≠ Instruction

As trainers are fond of saying: Telling Ain’t Training! If you’d like to share some news, build excitement for an initiative, or get all your scattered team members on the same project timeline, webinars are extremely useful. But if you’d like to train folks on the new CRM, or regulatory process, or how to avoid slips, trips, and falls in the warehouse, there are much better ways. At best, a webinar is part of a larger program. There is a reason that the phrase I’ve told you a hundred times! is so common. Telling is for the teller’s benefit, not the ones being told.

Instruction ≠ Learning

Learning happens by, and through, the learner. No matter how sound your instruction, how skilled a teacher, whether in a live classroom, via webinar, or in one-on-one coaching, learning happens when learners take new information or skills, filter and synthesize with their own experience and reference points, and apply it productively. No webinar is going to do that. There are ways to design learning experiences in which learners can demonstrate and apply lessons in real time. It takes good instructional design and a lot of skill to pull off. Alternatively, or in addition, you can observe or measure how the content you deliver is applied. In some cases there are hard metrics, but in most cases assessment will be anecdotal and iterative. You see, learning is a process that is ongoing, not an event. A stand-alone webinar is an event, useful for many things, but not to demonstrate that learning has occurred. If that is your goal … well, some design thinking is in order.

So, the when you plan your next webinar, think through:

  • The objective. If it involves words like teach, train, instruct, or educate, a webinar is at best a piece of a larger instructional program. If it is to inform, prepare, share, discuss, or gather feedback, you’re setting yourself up for success.
  • The attendees’ experience. What will the participants do during your time together? If it is sit and watch, don’t plan for longer than 20 minutes. We live in an interconnected, ultra-distracted world: Holding anyone’s attention longer that it takes to read this post is asking a lot. (If you’ve read this far, thanks!) There are ways to flip the webinar, that is, to do pre-work so that time online together is spent clarifying, discussing, and answering questions (for 20 minutes). Fewer slides, more talk/chat.
  • The purpose. If your purpose really is to train or teach, then design the learning experience. Again, this is not unique to the webinar medium, but participants are especially disinclined to sit through a webinar that is not useful.

A big thank you to Roger Courville, The Virtual Presenter, for his review and suggestions on this post. Check out his excellent blog and get a free copy of his handy book 102 Tips for Online Meetings.

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