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Learning is there to be found: How about an atlas?

9 Aug

Yesterday I had the pleasure to facilitate our home-grown, Portland-based learning professional’s group, the Collaborative Learning Network. (A big hats off to the IdeaLearning Group for bringing the CLN to life.) The topic I chose was the (purposely) vaguely titled, “The Evolving Role of the Modern Training Professional.”

I was equal parts heartened and disappointed to hear that pretty much everyone else was having the same struggle I was in figuring out how to leverage our world awash with digital artifacts into something to empower learners’ ability to take charge of their own learning. We touched on the idea that curated content could be an answer: Either curated and served in a defined “pool” of content, or learner-discovered and curated collections to demonstrate one type of learning outcome.

While we barely scratched the surface, the idea of curation has been rolling around my head a lot lately. A future topic for CLN, perhaps?

Serendipitously, while I was flipping though my scoop.it recommendations this morning, I came across The EduPunks’ Atlas of Lifelong Learning. A periodic table of sorts (and sort-able!), it organizes a galaxy of learning portals for the motivated seeker. While it has an academic bent, it’s got me wondering if something similar might work for specific adult learning/training topics.

It’s an idea to marinate a bit. In the meantime, check it out:

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Collaboration as Learning? Collaboration IS Learning (or certainly should be!)

9 Jul

I’ve discussed in earlier posts my strong belief that learning is based in discourse. Through conversation, examination, doubt and reaffirmation we arrive to that place where we are confident in our understanding, our knowledge that we’ve learned something significant. Even if it is internal dialog, there is no substitute for point – counter-point.

It seems like a logical extension then, that the waves of tools, systems and organizational necessities to make collaboration more effective would take us a good distance towards learning workers and learning organizations.  But, for many of us, that has been far from the case.

The more often I speak into a triangular phone, the more I stare at the moving mouse of a screencast or web meeting, the less I feel like I am collaborating (or learning!). Why? Peter Senge, the godfather of learning organizations, had an interesting post the other day about this very topic. Real Collaboration Takes More than Meetings and PowerPoints dives into the heart of this conundrum.

The main takeaway of his post is that collaboration takes deliberate effort, and a workplace culture that demands it. Collaboration should not be, in fact cannot be, passive.

Rob Cottingham, via timesunion.com

Rob Cottingham, via timesunion.com

Collaboration is an act, a participation in a conversation that, if well-managed, drives to reveal facts and decision points. As Senge points out in one good example,

Practices for fostering thinking together need to be embedded in meetings as well. Whenever any of these networks meet, there are few “PowerPoint shows.” The vast majority of the time is spent in small working sessions and larger plenary dialogues….

Yes, our old friend dialog. It what makes the first Star Wars movie so much better than all the rest.

Hmmmm…. Active, engaged, participatory, the very opposite of passivity: Gosh, that sounds a lot like what trainers and Instructional Designers say all the time! Right, collaboration is learning when done well. If you have nothing to learn, and nothing to share, then why collaborate at all? The key is to manage the time, tools and cultural expectations to allow learning to happen.

Digital Curation as Learning Outcome

16 May

I was reading eLearning Magazine’s dispatches from the Learning Solutions 2013 conference, and appreciated a list they put together that encapsulated “Key Strategic Shifts to Watch.” After reading it through and giving it some thought, they really add up to one major shift in the way we should approach online learning: Learners taking control of their own learning.

I’ve touched on this topic before, but it warrants a deeper dive.

Information is not hard to find. Facts, ideas, hypotheses, art, opinions, stories, mendacities are impossible visitusto avoid. We are awash in digital content! There has been a lot of talk in the last decade of moving from “media literacy” to “digital literacy,” or what the terrific iDesign team at University of Alaska –Fairbanks have dubbed “Information Fluency.”

I could not agree more. Learners, from grade school through business leaders require the ability to sort through the sea of content to make sense of it all: Truth from fiction, actionable ideas from general knowledge, judgments from smears, opinions from facts. All of those are valuable content types—even smears—but through sorting comes understanding and eventually, knowledge.

But as I made the case before, knowledge is not my department.

What I am concerned about is how knowledge results in action (learning transfer). In other words, how does a learner demonstrate knowledge?

Participation. The smartest person in the room, her brain a repository of knowledge vast and deep, adds nothing if she chooses not to participate. In our business world, we know when someone is participating that results in adding value.

But in a learning environment, how do we measure that learning occurs? Formal assessments can, to certain degree, accomplish this. But adult learners have little appetite or patience for that—neither do kids, but too bad.

One useful, practical and engaging way for learners to take control of their own learning and to demonstrate learning transfer is by effectively curating their learning topic. Can the learner pull together digital artifacts that synthesize their learning into a meaningful content collection? Can the learner express how and why the collection hangs together, demonstrating the ability to both select useful content and to connect the dots into a coherent whole? If so, it’s a terrific way to demonstrate that learning has occurred outside an actual on-the-job problem-solving situation.

In fact, I have named my blog In The Learning Age in large part because ultimately information fluency is the central task we face no matter what our job descriptions might say. We need to be individual learners, and part of learning organizations, in order not to be left behind in this Learning Age. We are learning workers, and curation is a great tool for us – IDs, trainers, educators, PD professionals – to employ.

Check out both of these links below to read more about creating learning curators. I also invite you to check out my own attempt to curate content on my scoop.it page.

While both of these short, interesting pieces discuss scholastic applications, it is not much of a jump to see how they can be applied to training and professional development efforts, too.

When is training the answer? (hint: never)

8 May

Training, be it instructor-led (ILT), an e-learning course, blended learning or what-have-you, is not the answer. Never. It is at best part of an answer.

The reason of course is that training in isolation may lead to knowledge. Knowledge is good, no question about it. But as I discussed in my last post and elsewhere, knowledge doesn’t do anything. Good is good for nothing in the workplace. Skills, attitudes, motivation, and reward are what gets the job done.

So, as this terrific video from Cathy Moore points out, when your ears buzz because someone in your organization says “I need training,” your job should not be to say “OK.” The request should begin a process of inquiry—and a process of internal education—that will lead to the best business solutions to the problem.

See the full post here to download the flowchart.

Cathy Moore is spot on (as usual… I encourage you to check out her great site!), but only half the way home. Training may be part of a set of answers that will address the root of the business need. But what Cathy sort of implies but does not state directly here is that without the cultural, motivational and supportive tools, the trainee will not be able to effectively transfer the training.

In the example here, if the staff go through the training and are able to correctly identify a Spanish last name, does that mean they will do it consistently? Not necessarily. In order to achieve the business need (correct data entry), the staff has to

  • Be given the time and managerial support to take the training
  • Understand why it is important to the business and to themselves (carrot and/or stick)
  • Have the motivation to apply it every time
  • The reminders and reinforcements over time to make it second nature.

In other words, training may be an answer, but it is never THE answer. As trainers we have to admit to this reality and work to get others to understand that everyone has a stake in improving performance.

Communities of Practice: No more CoP out!

27 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot about Communities of Practice (CoP) lately. In large part that’s because folks I work with keep asking me what I know about creating and supporting online CoP. My initial answer has been, “Um… not much.” Followed by the voice in my head with, “Why are you asking me about that?” and “That’s not an e-learning or instructional design issue.

But both on practical and philosophical foundations I now think I’ve been wrong.

While I may not have used the term community of practice in the specific way it is used by my current colleagues, it has been part of my work all along. Learning is social: Learning itself is an act of membership in a community in almost all cases. Adult learning is also practical: Learning becomes knowing, knowing becomes doing.

It turns out I do in fact know about these ideas.

When folks ask me about supporting an online CoP, they are really asking me about are better ways to share best practices, disseminate new ideas and tools, support learner-generated peer learning, etc. I get it now! What you are asking for is some kind of framework to engage practitioners (learners) to facilitate their own learning. Now, that IS an instructional design and e-learning issue after all. Indeed, a CoP can be seen as part of continuum:

indiv - cop continuum

In the end, we need to be more attentive to learning solutions and less to training and e-learning in isolation (despite what job titles may say). CoP are definitely part of a learning solution.

I’ve still much to learn about CoP practice (Cop CoP?!), and even more about the new learning cohort I’ve been asked to support. But, after a few weeks of confusion and angst, I am much more at ease with my ability to contribute the positive outcomes that I’m being called on to deliver.

So, questions about CoP? Bring them on and let’s figure them out together.

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