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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?!

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.

WonderWOL: Why Work Out Loud?

13 Nov

Next week, November 17 to 21 is International Working Out Loud Week (WOL Week). Education Northwest, my organization, is one that has struggled at times to identify and implement the best ways to share knowledge and increase transparency across areas of work. We are not unique in that. I am hoping that the activities we’re rolling out for WOL Week will advance the cause.

What is WOL, aka Show Your Work? It’s a practice of simply documenting work and/or thoughts about that work, as it is happening or immediately after as an extension of the task. I hear you cringing: Great, more work?! Two short answers before I get into the more meaty whys below. 1. Once in the habit, this will save you work. 2. It’s kind of fun.

There are four main factors that, taken together, I think make a compelling case for doing some form of WOL.

  1. The speed of knowledge: Content is everywhere, data is all around, information streams at us constantly. Knowledge and its application – synthesized information that we can apply in meaningful ways – can run incredibly fast. Not just knowledge of a topic, field, or practice, but also knowledge of how to do things, in this workplace, and with the right tools and processes. WOL can help us keep up, by prompting us to document what we do and how we do it, and to have insight into other’s practices, too.
  2. The movement of people: Very few of us stay at an organization across years and decades anymore (and in this regard, Education Northwest’s staff longevity is an exception to other places I’ve been). Even if we do, the job that we do today isn’t the same as the job we did five years ago or will do five years from now (and if it is, ask WHY!?!). WOL practice is a way to document what we do and how we do it, and helps retain institutional memory and accelerate best practices.
  3. Learning is our primary task: As I’ve argued on numerous occasions, learning is our job: Working is learning, learning is working. See points 1 and 2 above. If we don’t have a method to keep up and keep learning, we are left behind, as individuals in the workforce and in our organizations.
  4. Loss of people whose job it is to know how to get things done: Watch any TV show set
    They knew how to actually get work done, but that' s a by-gone era (for better, mostly).

    They knew how to actually get work done, but that’ s a by-gone era (for better, mostly).

    in the workplace before 1995, and you’ll see the cadre of people who actually know how to get things done. They were called admins, support staff, interns or junior staff. (In a way Education Northwest is an exception here, too – I’m grateful for the terrific support staff we have.) Need to pull reports? Send a letter to the board? Work the system to get a contractor paid? Now we are meant to be self-reliant. That is, responsible for our professional development and subject AND how to get things done. That’s our world. WOL practices are a great way to address that, too. People are notoriously bad at describing what they actually do to get things done – it’s tucked away between the ears. I don’t know how to get a contractor’s payment though HR and payroll, but surely someone in my organization does and may have shared that info. See? It saves you time!

There are all kinds of reasons to give WOL a try. Don’t worry if you don’t know your hashtags from your hash browns. Use whatever works for you – write a sticky note, take a picture of it, and send it to your colleagues. Join me and the (tens of?) thousands of folks who understand that we need new and better ways to share with each other in our workplaces and across our professions.



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?


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