Thursday, November 26, 2009

Learning to Learn in the modern Enterprise

The last few days in Hong Kong have been incredible -- I saw some great sights, participated in some interesting activities and backed all of it up with some great food. Talking of food, I very quickly realised that its kinda tough to get by without using chopsticks in Hong Kong. Now I'm sure that some upmarket restaurants offer forks and knives for food. Food for me however, spells 'cheap and streetside'. The only cutlery I got at these places were chopsticks and soup spoons. Thankfully I know how to use chopsticks, so I had no trouble. Its interesting how I learnt to use chopsticks though. At one point I decided that eating with chopsticks was cool, since I'd seen some of my friends do it and it was kind of a distinctive thing to do. So I read up a "how-to" for using chopsticks, which since I had no opportunity to use, I forgot in a few days. So when I actually did get the opportunity to use chopsticks, I fumbled for the first ten minutes and actually messed up my shirt! It took me about an hour to finish my meal, but by the end I had found an inelegant way that worked for me. As time passed and I visited more oriental restaurants, I gradually perfected the art -- often I'd get little tips and hints from my friends and that helped me get better. Now, I can eat a complete meal with chopsticks and pretty quickly too!

People learn iteratively, over time

Now why am I telling you this story? I think my story about learning how to use chopsticks is quite representative of how we learn. Information that we can't apply immediately at our job fades away into irrelevance and soon enough recall of this information is close to zilch! We remember learning that we can apply immediately and the things that we remember the most are the ones that we learn when performing a job i.e. in a performance context. Most importantly, we learn iteratively and over time. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers - The Story of Success, explains how strong amateurs accumulate about 2,000 hours of practice by adulthood. Future music teachers build up about 4,000 hours. Really good students amass about 8,000 hours and “elite performers” invest about 10,000 hours of practice. If we take even the point of reaching competence from the absolute novice state, that's about 2000-4000 hours of work! That's got to take several iterations of learning. One of the reasons I support social media and bite-sized learning, is because it gives learning professionals the ability to help learners across this iterative learning journey.

You learn iteratively too, irrespective of your 'learning style'

One of the objections that I've heard from trainers about social media very often is, "But that's not my learning style..." or "I don't learn that way..." or "Have you considered that it may not be someone learning style to learn this way?" I have a tendency to snap back at these objections, but as I think this through more pragmatically, there are a few things I'm realising:

We're all social learners

Some of us may take time to realise this. If we look back at our experience, there will have been several occasions when we would have asked a question on a discussion forum or looked up Wikipedia or searched on Google. If we haven't done either of these, we've at least learnt something over a coffee table conversation or over drinks or while working alongside someone. In fact I can bet that most of us learnt how to do our jobs more as a consequence of such informal activities than as a consequence of some heavyweight training. You ARE a social learner, regardless of what you think!

We need to 'learn to learn'

One of the key developments of this age is the amount of information that's out there in the wired world. Its fascinating how much relevant information even a poorly constructed Google search can throw up. The ability to stay connected with friends and colleagues through social and professional networking tools such as Facebook and Linkedin gives us the ability to leverage weak ties in a manner we never even imagined before. Add to that the plethora of other social media; Wikipedia, Twitter, Yahoo! Answers, Digg, blogs, etc and there's a wealth of intelligence to exploit. People who don't leverage this phenomenon are missing out on something really big. If you truly don't learn this way, then you must learn to learn this way. Otherwise my guess is the world will soon pass you by and you'll be of decreasing value to your organisation.

Social media is 'more facilitative than facilitation'

If as learning professionals we choose to stay fixed to just one mode of learning then we're holding our organisations back. I say this for both instructor led training and elearning. In fact I feel its important that every formal learning experience includes a larger mix of informal learning opportunities as compared to formal ones. That's where the real value is and that's how we support the iterative nature of learning. In fact after working for a firm that practices Agile, I'll go to the extent of saying that "A single mode of education sans informal learning, is the waterfall of the learning world." Purely formal learning opportunities attempt to help learners solve tomorrow's problems with yesterday's wisdom. Most importantly they adhere to a design that's decided in advance as against being just-in-time, and designed to purpose. Informal learning on the other hand, is contextual and flexible.

Here's where you can start your informal learning journey

Learning professionals need informal learning too and believe it or not, there's help to be had in all sorts of places. I'll list some of my favorite places to learn. Please feel free to add more in the comments section - I'm sure there are heaps.


elearning Learning is a collaborative effort started by Tony Karrer and is a collection of blog posts and articles all around eLearning. You can subscribe using your email ID to get free article recaps.

Tom Kulhmann's blog for some reason isn't aggregated on eLearning Learning. That said, its a great resource for people to learn simple, yet effective ways to rapidly produce high quality learning. I've learnt heaps from Tom's blog. He's a true guru.

Online Communities

There are various communities online that you can use to connect with other practitioners and to get help, share ideas, have discussions and what not. Here are some that I find really useful.
The Learning and Skills Group is a UK based community on Ning, that's really active and has about 1800 members on it. Its invitation only, but I guess you can talk to Don Taylor to get on the group.
There are a few Indian groups that are really active too, and very useful:
  • KCommunity is a community of Knowledge Management professionals in India and is a very active group that does a lot of social stuff.
  • Instructional Designers Community of India (IDCI) has a lot of members from the learning community, though I must say I have serious criticism for some of its leaership. (YMMV)
  • The Learning Solutions group also has some interesting discussions, though the traffic isn't comparable to other groups. Some really interesting members on the group though.

Twitter Hashtags

Its amazing how much information you can find through Twitter. Its difficult to keep up, but not if you combine search and hashtags. Here are some of the hashtags I tend to follow on Twitter. You name a luminary in the field of social media/ elearning and that person's tweeting, so I'm not going to list individuals here.

In addition (how can I miss this?) #lrnchat is an online chat that happens every Thursday night 8:30-10pm EST over the social messaging service Twitter. I've put these up on iCal as recurring events, every Friday morning (India), so I never miss them!

Other Resources

Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (a.k.a C4LPT) of Jane Hart fame, offers a range of free resources about learning and about social media.

ScreenR is screencasting for Twitter! You can use the free screencasting application, under the constraint that you say what you want to say, in 5 minutes. You can find heaps of tutorials created by the huge community and you can create your own with almost zero effort!

Lastly, the recently launched Learning Solutions Magazine, and the very recent LearnTrends virtual conference are a great source of absolutely amazing knowledge about organisational learning.
I hope you enjoyed today's blogpost. Please comment liberally to let me know what you think. If you'd rather use email, please write to me and share your thoughts. Do you have a favourite resource that I've conveniently missed? Please add that to the comments section. Social learning is well and truly set to be the next big thing and I'll be really keen to learn from your experiences.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Making Enterprise 2.0 succeed - little things that can help

Its amazing how things happen to me at airports. I was flying out of San Francisco this morning and as is usual for me, I was very hungry for a big breakfast. So as soon as I got to the airport, I was hunting for a big meaty adventure. So I located Lori's diner on the north side of the airport and ordered a large breakfast with hashbrowns, eggs, sausages and bacon. You can see that I enjoy my food! When the food arrived though, it was in a paper plate and I had to cut, pierce and tear the crisp bacon with little plastic cutlery. If you haven't done this yet, I suggest you do it simply to know how tough this can be. The fork couldn't hold the bacon down, the knife just scratched the surface of the meat and the plate kept moving around. It felt like being asked to dance in an iron cast. And then suddenly, just as I always do, I thought about the learning tools we tend to provide to people in our organisation. Don't they often feel just like plastic cutlery and paper plates? But then aren't these tools very similar to those on the big, broad internet? Why do the tools on the Internet work so well? Why do enterprise intranets suck so much? I guessed I could put some thoughts down.

The Internet and the Web2.0 revolution

There's no denying that we're in the information age. In fact as Tony Buzan says, we're perhaps past the information age and we've reached the intelligence age. Andrew McAfee in his speeches often quotes someone saying, "The internet is the world's best library, only the books are all on the floor." Andrew continues to clarify that we've reached a point where the books are not really on the floor. They're organised using means that are more sophisticated cataloging system that we can think of. A thought and a few words can get you to the resources you need. The strange, self organising, voluntary yet incredibly effective nature of the internet amazes all of us. How did we reach this state where a spaghetti of links has metamorphosed into this incredible resource that most of us can't live without? On the other hand why do the same Web2.0 tools fail when we deploy them in the enterprise? There are a few phenomenon that separate Web 2.0 sucsesses from Enterprise 2.0 failures.


While we'd like to think that people like to help each other and that is obviously true, one of the biggest reasons for people to contribute content on the internet, is the recognition they get. Your work is out there for the whole wide world to admire or criticise, and with more eyeballs looking, you have the opportunity to grow from the fact that there are a bigger number of people following. For example, I prefer blogging on the internet as against my corporate intranet, simply because I can reach out to more people this way. People sometimes comment on my work, they email me and I feel good about what I do. A blogpost on the corporate intranet doesn't always get people the same kind of responses and it almost feels like they're doing all that work for 'nothing'. I remember someone saying, "People usually have no more than 10 minutes each day to contribute content 'for the benefit of others'. When they have a choice between the broad, appreciative, internet and the puny, thankless intranet, the decision is quite simple."

Critical Mass

A small fraction of a huge number is still a big number. Only about 1% of the internet's users contribute to Wikipedia and that's part of the participation inequality phenomenon. Similarly, very few people contribute to YouTube or write a blogs. Organisations often go by the assumption that if Wikipedia is successful, so will a corporate wiki. Guess what, 1% of a 500 person company is just 5 people. Intranets built on the same principles as the internet just don't have the benefit of the critical mass. The tougher it is to compose a resource, the lower the participation is and conversely the higher the need for a critical mass is. When deploying Web 2.0 technologies, organisations often forget how important it is to generate the critical mass of participation to create the eventual snowball effect that we see on the internet.


On the internet, people can get away with quite a lot of things. It doesn't matter if its Martin Fowler, Jay Cross, Tony Karrer or Joe Nobody's blog. You can post an anonymous comment and stay away from retribution. Hell, even a credentialised comment doesn't invite retribution. It doesn't matter how caustic your commentary is -- you can choose to speak your mind. Contrast this with a CEO's blog or wiki article on the intranet. In some places one could get fired for offering criticism to such resources. This limits participation everywhere - blogs, wikis, forums, etc. Then again, there's the fear of looking stupid in front of your co-workers. People feel safer on the internet than they do on the intranet.

Friendship & Networking

The internet is a great way for people to stay in touch with friends and to find like minded people. OTOH, corporate intranets conveniently ignore the word 'social' when deploying tools. The common feeling is is "If we make software social, then people won't focus on content -- they'll spend time socialising. We want people to learn, not socialise." In the absence of the opportunity to connect with the people you're producing content for, the motivation of producing content is lost. Its very difficult to keep producing reams of good content without knowing if anyone really uses any of it. After a while, the most active of contributors give up.

Usable Tools & a Low Entry Barrier

Most importantly, the internet is rich in tools that are:
a) Immensely usable;
b) Have a very low entry barrier -- take very little effort to get started with;
Take a look at the examples from our day to day life. Things are becoming simpler every day. Google, is the simplest search engine you can imagine. How much effort does it take to Twitter? Look at every tool that's gained mass acceptance, YouTube, Facebook, Orkut, Wikipedia, you name it and you'll realise its awfully easy to use. The biggest thing however, beyond all of the usability charm is the fact that you don't need to go through multiple levels of authentication to get to these tools. Tools like the ones on the Google stack, allow you to have a single sign on as well. A lot of tools keep you logged in forever or allow you to use desktop clients to make their usage simple. Contrast this to most enterprise intranets, characterised by multiple logins, security guidelines and usage restrictions. It really does feel like the plastic cutlery and paper plate.

What should our Enterprise 2.0 deployments look like?

When managers pitch for Enterprise 2.0, the focus is always on the business benefits, productivity and risks. Unfortunately we don't often think about the very social nature of the web -- the culture of altruism that makes the mish-mash of links stay alive. The key is in trying to bring in a similar cultural change in our organisations. I'm not talking about revolutionary, 'overthrow the tyrant' kind of changes. I'm talking about the little incremental changes that can make the use of social media in the workplace just as effective.

Frictionless and Ego Free

We need to think of how we make it easy to use social media in the workplace. How can we reduce the number of levels of authentication to access these tools. How about implementing single sign on? How can we foster a culture of open communication so that no one gets fired for openly expressing their views or sharing their criticism (unless they're really being jerks.) When a CxO airs an idea, how open is she to let the idea be shot down? How can we ensure that we encourage flatness of thought, where ideas from management are no more or less valuable than those from the usual workforce? How about using tools that require minimal expertise (think microblogging, wikis, video blogs, social qna)?

Reward Contributions

In most cases people want to help each other. The internet hinges on this altruism and people benefit from the recognition they get for their contributions. When you're competing against the internet for reach and recognition, the success of social media in the workplace depends on the reward people perceive for making a contribution. The rewards could be intrinsic, like a reputation the system automatically builds for you as you contribute and the way people perceive your contributions. The rewards could be extrinsic and small -- people seem to love stuff like coffee mugs and t-shirts. The recognition can be case-by-case; for example the COO writing in to someone to complement them on an article they put up. Or a community of practice putting up someone's video on YouTube as reference material. The key is recognise and reward contributions to the company's knowledge space.

Connect People

People like to create content that other people will use. People want to help each other; but people are more likely to help each other if they know each other. More importantly, the power of connections is illustrated by Andrew McAfee's theory about strong ties, weak ties and potential ties. Having a number connections, strong and weak mean that people can now reach out to other people whom they never knew, who have potential solutions to their problems. The ability of being able to reach out to an expert in Australia, when working in Brazil, is not just really useful its effective and exciting. The power of social and professional networking of the kind of Linkedin or Facebook is immense!

Don't police, let users moderate

Control is an illusion; 80% of learning already happens outside your 'control' spaces. Exposing this learning via social media provides options for influence: correcting, improving, extending. People already share bad information in very scary ways. The power of social media is in the fact that you can allow users to moderate each other. Think of users flagging content as inappropriate, or collaboratively editing content to remove inappropriate information. The wisdom of crowds is much greater than we can imagine. When we set more eyeballs looking at the content, we increase the ability to have useful content. Compare this to having just one moderator who has to verify that all content is appropriate. This is where the Wikipedia story makes so much sense.

Be a spider, harness the web

Lets face it, despite how useful your intranet is, people will still go to the Internet for many things. People will still write their blogs, tweet, publish to YouTube and use Slideshare. The good old saying is, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.". So if you can't beat the internet, its perhaps a good idea to aggregate user generated content off it. How about aggregating a user's Twitter feed, their blog, their Facebook status and their Linkedin profile onto their corporate profile. Combine this information with projects they've worked on, discussions they're part of and wiki pages they've authored, you've got very useful information contextualised in the right place! Information is power, intelligence is when you contextualise information. Combining information from the public internet with information from the intranet and then giving it the power of search can truly unleash the power of Enterprise 2.0.

There is of course the whole layer of viral marketing and evangelism that I've conveniently missed, but my guess is that a lot of organisations already do that and useful systems will market themselves. I'm quite excited by the prospects of Enterprise 2.0 and I love what I'm seeing as the visible impacts of such technology in the workplace. ThoughtWorks is soon launching its own Enterprise 2.0 consulting offering. If you'd like us to assist you with your Enterprise 2.0 plans, please get in touch with us to know more. And don't forget to post liberally on the comments section of this blogpost.

Friday, November 13, 2009

DevLearn 2009 - The Changing Learning Function: Rethinking how your organization works

The last session from DevLearn 2009 that I sat through was the one by David Mallon from Bersin & Associates, called "The Changing Learning Function: Rethinking how your organization works". David was presenting empirical evidence from 798 Organisations and 40,000 training and HR business leaders and using Bersin's analysis about what the new face of the learning organisation should be like.

What I learnt

  • Why are we talking about all of these new technologies? Its because business is changing and that's forcing businesses to rethink what we do in each of our departments and that includes learning and development, knowledge management, and the like. Are all the thinks we knew about our job really as good and are we using ourselves in the best way for our organisation?
  • The problem is context, not content. Its everyone's responsibility to deal with information and act on it. Everyone is a knowledge worker and the overwhelming amount of information floating around. Its tough to find the most useful information.
  • We need to reuse and have some set of standards to be successful. Frequent change of information makes it difficult to find the most current information. Inconsistency of information formats or sources makes it difficult to use and comprehend new info.
  • Learning professionals have the ability to create the context and the standards that organisations really need.
  • The ongoing role of a modern enterprise L&D function is two fold:
    • Deep Specialisation:Focus on your company's niche. What's your competitive advantage?
    • Learning Agility: At an organisational level, how quickly can you add new skillsets, learn from your mistakes and create new capabilities.
  • A change is needed: Large and midsized organisations are still spending most of their learning time in their classrooms. Technology enabled learning is gaining strength each year, but very slowly. Having said this, most leaders believe that on the job experience, mentoring, projects, job rotation, and coaching are the most valuable learning approaches. 72% companies believe that the most valuable learning approaches are informal, yet only 30% of resources are focussed in that area! So, we need to optimise the informal learning in organisation and not just the classroom.
  • The modern learning organisation should be structured in the following framwework:
    • Your Learning Programs addressing your Audiences and Problems
    • Your Approaches and Architecture:
      • Formal Learning: 20%
      • Informal Learning: 80%. This includes
        • On-demand Learning: Elearning, help, search, books, etc
        • Social Learning: Blogs, wikis, forums, communities, social networks, etc.
        • Embedded Learning: All the ways that we learn inside work. eg: Performance Support, Feedback, Rotational Assignments, Course Corrections, Retrospectives, etc.
    • The Disciplines that people need to master to adopt these approaches
    • The tools and technology that support these disciplines
    • But most importantly, beyond all of this, under the hood -- there's the culture of the organisation.
  • The Modern Enterprise Learning Index (MELI) is a set of 10 indicators to determine readiness/ capacity to support learning agility and thrive in the face of informative change. (Internal Indicators: Capacity Building, Business Analysis, Content Efficiency, Adaptation, Versatile) (External Indicators: Business Driven, Talent Linked, Timely, Targetted, Proximal)
  • Retention after training events is high, but it drops over time and so does expertise. Learning is a process and not an event, so informal learning create a series of events that helps people learn over time. How about blending informality into formal learning by leveraging online communities, and by using tools such as Job Aids (Standard Work), Forums, EPSS, etc. David showed a case study from Nationwide insurance in how they blended informal learning around a large formal program to help a major capabilities shift for the company. IBM Blue Pages was another example that David showed as an enterprise wide collaboration system.
  • Coaching is a highly underestimated way of creating learning over time.
  • I loved the case study of BT that he showed where they were looking at Formal Learning supported by Social Learning, developed by anyone, using segments lasting minutes, delivered by anyone, given just in time, pulled and in real time and was dynamic and adhoc (long sentence, I know!) This apparently built reputation and people wanted to contribute to be known as "the guy". The community flags inappropriate content and there's hardly ever been anything that they had to pull out.
  • David lastly looked at the Disciplines we need to engage in as Learning professionals to make our organisations successful. He had culled this using data from the 10% of the most successful companies he had surveyed
    • Knowledge Management: Develop overall strategies for capturing and harnessing the collective knowledge of an organisation.
    • Business Intelligence/ Analytics
    • Information Architecture: Structuring information to make it easy to find. Stop paying attention to a single course, but pay more attention to the learning experience. This involves thinking spatially across contexts.
    • Performance Consulting
    • Development of Rich Media (information, visualisation, etc)
  • The role of a Training team: "Center of Excellence for Learning in the organisation". Focus on capabilities (preparing for tomorrow) as against skills (preparing for today).
  • New Roles in the learning organisation:
    • Performance Consultants
    • Instructional Designers
      • Work out in the biz, teaching others to structure knowledge;
      • Supervise SMEs.
      • Add additional disciplines to create environments
      • Be masters of the business
      • Measure approaches in business terms
      • View fast/ efficient business performance/ improvement as ultimate expression of their ablities.
    • Content Developers
    • Multimedia Specialists
    • Information Architects
    • Editors/ Production Support
    • Community Management
    • Content Stewards
    • Moderators
    • Program Managers
    • SME's

DevLearn 2009: Yawn-Proof Your e-Learning without Busting the Bank

Stephen Walsh and Cammy Bean from Kineo put together an interesting session on how you can create engaging elearning without really burning a hole in your pocket. Cammy and Stephen are friends and I really enjoyed their session. They put together some great examples of elearning that were, let's just say quite stunning! There were some great takeaways for attendees and I've summarised that in this blog.

Key Takeaways

  • Things that bore people:
    • Navigation;
    • Text Heavy;
    • Endless videos;
    • Talking heads
    • Cookie cutter approach to design;
    • Locked navigation; violating basic rights of freedom;
    • Systems simulation;
    • Patronising or elementary content;
    • Monotony and Redundancy;
  • How to design rapidly:
    • Show, don't tell: Get a prototype out as soon as possible; "Get it wrong first time, and iterate from there."
    • Get in front of users as soon as you can;
    • Keep a playlist of ten tracks of design.
  • Stephen introduced to the audience his Ten tracks of design:
    1. Hit me with your best shot: Use stories that show what can go wrong. Find the killer fact, stat or quote. Learn from your marketing team.
    2. Give me a Reason: Object to learning objectives. Instead of a dozen boring learning objectives, try a lead-in video and show what normally happens and then point out how this will solve a problem that your learners will face.
    3. Getting the best stories: Get war stories from your best people and get true stories from your newer people. Don't just go to your senior people -- ask people in the trenches, so that way people who go into this training will actually relate to the real situations. Audio interviews over Skype were a great idea Stephen put forward.
    4. Tear down the wallpaper: Use purposeful graphics. Make them earn their place. "Decoration isn't design."
    5. This is assessment in the real world: Make it tough as hell. Make it open any time. Do it, prove it, move on.
    6. Make more mistakes: Find the mistakes that hurt the most. Simulate them in elearning. Keep them real, play them out. When you're providing feedback provide more than just incorrect/ correct observations, add context about why a choice is appropriate or not.
    7. A little less conversation, a little more action: Simplicity is tough, cut your training to the bone. Watch out for dialogue amongst characters. Keep text to a minimum and tone it down to the absolute key message!
    8. What more can I do?: Think outside the course -- create a learning campaign. Reach out with online support - don't do everything through elearning! Don't get caught up in the technology, think about the problem and the solution. What's are the different ways to spread the word, the simplest way to get learning out, and the most effective way to get them engaged.
    9. Keeping it real: Make the most of media and use audio and video where it counts! Use real people and film them (think of doing it secretly, so people aren't conscious!). When people's identities are at risk use a witness protection style by blurring people's faces out. Video is proven to be the most effective medium for behavioural skills.
    10. Now what?: The end is the beginning. Call to action and then don't let go! Build in ways to sustain performance and link into your LMS and Knowledge Management System to access follow up activities and resources. Leverage communities of interest and people's desire to be altruistic.

DevLearn 2009 - Leo Laporte's keynote on New Media

Again a great storytelling keynote by Leo Laporte, arguably the czar of New Media. Leo touched upon the stories of his life and the shift from advertising driven mass media to content driven new media where he's trying to be the "CNN for Geeks". Great wisdom and since some people liked my mindmap from yesterday, here's another one. Please click on the image for a larger size. As Leo said, "Its a river of information, dip your foot in whenever its convenient."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DevLearn 2009 - Web 2.0 and Performance: What's working for Google employees

The last session I attended today was by Julia Bulkowski and Erika Grouell from Google about how they're leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to help drive performance in their company. Again, nothing new given that Google's products are all free for public use. This said, it was a great reinforcement of how much you can do with just one integrated (single sign-on suite).

Key Takeaways

  • Culture is key to adoption of Web 2.0 technologies.Google and ThoughtWorks have very unique cultures that are geared towards rapid technology adoption, minimal access barriers and hierarchy and a lot of companies still need to figure out the best structure to make Enterprise 2.0 adoption succeed.
  • A clever use of blogs and discussion forums: Practicing and reviewing transactional skills like writing and email communication.
  • A clever use of Google Code Labs: Leverage fellow software developers to learn a programming language. Use Google Code labs to provide code snippets to learn practical styles and patterns of programming. Very wiki like, especially with revision history and crowdsourced descriptions. This makes experts visible and lets new developers ramp-up quicker.
  • A clever way of sharing instructional resources: Create a Google Wave and embed it into your class homepage. People can discuss the problem amongst themselves, but at the same time make a private submission to the instructor if this was an assignment, test, etc.
  • A clever use of online photo and video sharing: Sharing howto's, tips, screencasts, tutorials. Take a look at YouTube's Google Apps Channel. As a social tool as well, users can create their own tutorials, etc and they could do videos of themselves doing presentations and get feedback from each other.
  • Clever way of preparing for a session, panel discussion, conference talk: Use Google Moderator so participants can brainstorm questions for the session. Helps you prepare as a speaker as well.
  • Providing Web 2.0 services in the enterprise is a way of reducing your risk. If you don't, people will in any case use these tools outside and then you don't have any control and have in a way increased your own risk!

DevLearn 2009: Catch the WAVE: Google WAVE and e-Learning Applications

This afternoon I sat through Adam Mash's (? I think that's his name) session on Google Wave. Being a Google Wave tester, nothing that he said was new for me except he highlighted a few things worth reiterating.

So what should you know about Google Wave

There are some really interesting uses for Google Wave:
  • Collaborative creation of documents, reports, observations, requests
  • Group/ Afilliation rosters;
  • Agenda, meeting minutes, to-do list combos;
  • Collaborative proposal Writing and approval;
  • Collective visioning and brainstorming;
  • Getting to know you style stuff
  • Fun, special interest conversations

A few things that people may not know about Wave

  • The complete wave guide -- all there is to know about Wave
  • You can create and access public waves. You can explictly choose to follow public waves.
  • Wave is an open protocol, so it is possible to create custom clients to interact with Wave.
  • Just like every other Google Application, Wave is extensible and there are already quite a few extensions in play for Google Wave, that will make it a fully featured collaboration platform whenever it is out.
  • It is not possible to remove people from a wave, yet.
  • Support for mailing lists and groups isn't great yet. Actually its almost non-existent.
  • There's a twitter feed for google wave at #googlewave

DevLearn 2009 - Eric Zimmerman's Keynote on "Meaningful Play"

I can't attempt to summarise Eric's keynote, also because I feel woefully inadequate to be able to tie together the thousand pieces of wisdom and interconnections that he through out in the speech. My slow brain's going to take some time to process this information. But anyways, I did a mindmap while Eric was presenting, and I'd like to share it with you. Here you go! Click on the mindmap for a full-size version, because I imagine it'll be impossible to read at this size. Again, its a very personal note-taking approach, so I don't imagine it'll be most intuitive.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DevLearn 2009: Kim Zibrick's session on Business Alignment: Focus on the Workplace ...Not the Classroom!

The last session I attended today was Kim Ziprik's short talk on "Business Alignment: Focus on the Workplace ...Not the Classroom!". Kim took aim at the tendency of training departments to "train their way out" of a performance problem and how that has very little impact on actual workplace performance. She went onto talk about approaches that may be useful to bring the focus back to the workplace, where most learning happens.

What did I learn?

  • There are tremendous challenges that training teams are facing as a consequence of the changing pace of businsess:
    • performance variables;
    • learner motivation;
    • change of business situation;
    • retention drops drastically a short time after a training event.
    • training doesn't address the entire value stream and looks at localised optimisations
    • training is a cost based exercise that traditionally doesn't focus on workpplace performance whereas we should be investing in learning which is geared at solving challenges in the workplace
  • Kim talked about creating "Learning Wells and not Training Dams":
    • drive what people need via their experience levels. She gave tips very similar to the ones I used in my older post about the Dreyfus Model
    • Leverage performance based tools like:
      • Job Aids (Standard Work?);
      • Employee Performance and Support Systems;
      • Self Assessments;
      • Coaching;
      • Communities;
      • Career based curriculum
    • Integrate learning into the workplace - create continuous learning opportunities.
    • Redesign your Learning Architecture. Rethink the roles your training team plays, the places where training happens, the measures for effectiveness, technologies assisting learning and the culture that surrounds these experiences.
    • Reduce the dependency on a single source of information. Harness the power of the collective - people together are far smarter than you can ever be.

DevLearn 2009 - Ruth Clark's session on Evidence Based Training

The first concurrent session that I attended this morning was Ruth Clark's talk about Evidence based Training. Ruth talked about moving from fads and fiction to facts about the use of multimedia in training and education. Ruth as usual was her confident, articulate self and displayed some wonderful research and evidence that contradicts a lot of traditional wisdom

What did I learn?

  • Learning styles are overrated and a waste of time. There's no relationship between someone's learning style and their eventual performance on the job. eg: being a visual learner doesn't mean that you will have a high recall of an image.
  • Liking a session has no correlation to an individual's learning in the session. A highly rated session may not be the most effective.
  • People need the bare minimum detail to apply the learning. Extraneous detail is confusing (war stories, anecdotes, etc) and while immensely likeable, can hurt learning.
  • Tips for use of multimedia in elearning and training:
    • Graphics with text create the highest impact learning because of the dual encoding phenomenon. This is a great mode for novices and apprentices.
    • Audio narration is proven as the most effective method of providing descriptions to graphics. This should be the default on elearning courses, with the ability to pause, and turn off.
    • Simple line drawings are much easier to recall than complex 3D pictures.
    • Stills are often more effective than animation, to explain how things work. In such situations, animations put the brain in a passive state and create extraneous mental load
    • Videos are proven to be effective in teaching social skills and motor skills and to show examples.

DevLearn 2009 - Andrew McAfee's Keynote. Enterprise 2.0 - the state of the art

This morning I sat through the most awesome keynote by Andrew McAfee - author of Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization's Toughest Challenges. Andrew is one of the 100 most influential people in IT. His talk was not just informative and eye-opening, it was immensely entertaining. In short it was a privilege.

What did I learn?

Andrew's talk deserves a fairly long post (though with very random thoughts). His address was in 3 parts; the definition of Enterprise 2.0, the "state of the art" as he saw it and the things to avoid ("how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory")

The Definition of Enterprise 2.0

  • Involves use of emergent technology or new uses of technology or social software;
  • Solves business problems and answers business goals

The State of the Art

Andrew defined the state of the art of Enterprise 2.0 under 6 major headings:
  • People want to help each other
  • Enterprise software needs to be people centric not document centric
  • The paranoia about risks is not senseless, but overrated. Most risks never materialise because in the enterprise, you don't have the luxury of being anonymous like on the web. People are unlikely to do the "wrong" things. In fact they never do it.
  • The entry barrier for people to want to help each other, needs to be low -- eg: Twitter. People can help each other and do that within just 140 characters!
  • There's rarely one best way to do things in today's business world -- the era of best practices is dying.
  • People need to have the ability to self select and self organise when contributing content and deciding how and when to collaborate.
  • We need to limit workflow - it can't take several levels of approval to do something simple.
  • Structure shouldn't be imposed. Tools need to facilitate structure and structure should develop over time.
  • Example: Innocentive, the idea of crowdsourced innovation, where its only a matter of getting a different person to take a look at your problem and solve it for much less than the solution is really worth!
  • Getting more eyeballs to look at a problem often generates more solutions.
  • Expertise is emergent, not identified. Anyone can be an expert and people are recognised for their contribution and not their position/ credentials.
  • Communities should be the one that people want. Nothing should be imposed. (Something someone said "Communities of interest" vs "Communities of Practice")
  • Harness the collective. The wisdom of crowds makes decision making really powerful.
  • Peer decision making, peer reviews, peer innovation and peer feedback make ultimate sense (given the number of eyeballs looking at the issue!)
  • Andrew gave the example of the prediction market's analysis of the Obama campaign where crowdsourced probabilities resulted in a more accurate prediction of the election results than the most sophisticated analysis by expert statisticians.
  • Enterprise 2.0 gives you the opportunity to "narrate your work" to the extent that you can all of a sudden demonstrate your expertise.
  • It creates for better social connections. You are connected to the right people sooner.
  • It offers the opportunity to benefit from varied perspectives on a certain topic.
  • Results of a McKinsey study about web 2.0 tools shows:
    • Access to knowledge 68%
    • Access to internal experts 43%
    • Employee satisfaction 35%
    • Increased innovation 25%
    • Increased customer satisfaction 43%
  • Its a bad idea to sit out the Web 2.0 phenomenon.
  • We need to look at technology with a fresh set of eyes.
  • We can't go back to "business as usual" after this recession.
  • Businesses need to leverage technology as one of its key components.

Things to Avoid

  • Don't try to replace email: Instead think of things that email cant do.
  • Don't accentuate the negatives: Instead point out risks while accentuating the huge business benefits.
  • Don't fall in love with features: Start simple, iterate through the solution
  • Don't declare war on the enterprise: Its a bad sales strategy to alienate the very people that'll sponsor such a thing. Organisations need structure to function
  • Don't build walled gardens: Instead allow multiple groups to flourish in the same place. Moving between groups needs to be seamless.
  • Don't overuse the word "social": It creates the wrong connotations for the business; especially in a time when we're seeking tangible results.

DevLearn 2009 - Actions Speak Louder than Words, by Ethan Edwards

I just sat through a session called "Actions Speak Louder than words - Creating Meaningful e-Learning Interactions", by Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions. The session was about interactions that create mental stimulation to eventually improve workplace performance. Ethan explained that an interaction has four aspects to it; namely Context, Challenge, Activity and Feedback. The focus of the session was on crafting and implementing meaningful challenges and activities for elearning.

What did I learn?

Ethan's session provided a balance of detail between instruction and demonstration. Here are a few things I'll remember.
  • A different style of presentations: Show and tell -- Ethan didn't just talk about his work, he actually showed real life examples of the interactions he's worked on. He embedded these as clickable links into the presentation and that made the entire experience almost seamless.
  • It helps to have some time aside to answer questions as a conference speaker. Ethan did pretty well to set aside almost 20 minutes for QnA.
  • On the content front, my big takeaway was Ethan's rules for elearning interaction design:
    • Measure an observable action.
    • The interaction should need attention and thought. This I feel is particularly important since a lot of elearning seems to be just a lot of click and turn!
    • The interaction should have relevance and meaning in the real world.
    • The interaction should allow the learner to model real world performance.
    • The interaction should require effort to complete.
    • And lastly, in keeping with my philosophy of "a safe environment to fail fast and learn from mistakes", the activity should be reversible. If a learner makes a mistake in elearning, it isn't the end of the world and we shouldn't be making the learner feel that way either!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

DevLearn 2009 - Ruth Clark's workshop on Scenario Based Learning

Today was my second day at DevLearn 2009 and I must say its been a great investment this far. If not for anything else, its been a great opportunity to meet a lot of great learning professionals not just from the United States, but from all across the world. The ideas and thoughts that we've shared will be of great value to my work back in Bangalore, India. Today I sat through the workshop by Ruth Clark on the topic of "Scenario Based Learning" and I thought I could do a quick report on some things I learnt from the experience.

What did I learn?

  • Scenario based learning can be described as follows:
    • What: Scenario based learning uses simulated, real life scenarios to trigger the acquisition and simultaneous application of a skill. It gives the learner the opportunity for Whole-task practice. Whole task practice involves being able to combine various non-integrated parts of skills and information to put together a real-world, real-life performance. An example of whole task practice is the ability to put together a budget in Excel as against the part-tasks of editing cells, creating formulae, etc. Scenario based learning also allows for better Far transfer of learning as against the procedural near transfer.
    • When:Scenario based learning is effective in to simulate situations that are rare, strange, high-risk or impractical to simulate in a classroom or in the workplace.
    • Who: Scenario based learning is best suited for Novices and Apprentices. The experts are perhaps the people that can help design this learning!
    There's empirical evidence to suggest that Scenario based elearning benefits the most from rich multimedia additions, such as real life videos.
  • As with every other teaching strategy, its best not to use this as a silver bullet - consider your subject and your audience carefully before you deploy this approach.
  • Lastly, I learnt that to build a learning scenario, you need to consider and plan six factors in your design:
    • Task Deliverable: What will the learner do to demonstrate competence?
    • Trigger Event: How the task or problem normally initiates in the job setting.
    • Case Data: What background information is needed to solve the case?
    • Guidance: How will learners get assistance when solving the case?
    • Feedback: How will the learners receive intrinsic feedback as the scenario plays out? How will they receive traditional, instructional feedback a.k.a Teaching Moments?
    • Reflection: What opportunities will the learner have to review their actions/ decisions and consider alternatives?

Overall, I think the workshop brought out some really interesting discussion and I think the various perspectives and styles that people applied to their own design situations was particularly amazing. I'll recommend Ruth's session to anyone that has the opportunity to attend in the future.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Looking forward to DevLearn 2009

If we've ever corresponded online, I'd love to have the opportunity to put a face to your name. Please do get in touch and say hi -- I'm looking forward to networking with a lot of learning professionals at the conference. See you there!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Put your learners on a diet - consider a pull-based learning approach

Have you ever had a time when you got slammed in the face with a huge plate of food which you just couldn't say no to? I have. Picture the above meal -- for some it might just be the tastiest thing they could imagine. For me, while I find it difficult to say no sometimes and even if I only want a little, I have to labour through the entire meal. I just got off a five hour flight to Hong Kong, and I've had a bit of an epiphany. Let me tell you the story first. This flight left Bangalore at about 2:35 AM -- a time at which I'm usually fast asleep. So what I really wanted on this flight was some sleep. That said, airlines have a strange sense of hospitality so at about 3:30 AM they made me put my seat back upright, turned on the lights and gave me some food to eat. Well I can't say no to food, so I ate. They then kept the lights on at full-blast; don't know why, but they did. If that snack wasn't enough, at about 6:30 AM they shook me up and asked, "Vegetarian or Non-vegetarian". My instinctive response is "Non-vegetarian" and well I got what I asked for while being half asleep, but really I didn't need a big breakfast with beans, tomatoes, sausages, an omelette, potatoes, yoghurt, fruits, cheesy bread and juice. I really just wanted some sleep. A part of me wondered if it was ever going to be possible for me to tailor my flight experience for the next several years that I travel economy! And then, all of a sudden I thought about training (like I always do!).

Most training experiences push learning to the learner

Regardless of our good intentions, many of the courses we design tend to take a whole bunch of learning objectives which we then push onto the learner. We keep asking ourselves the question of whether something needs to go into a course and then we say, "But they really need to know this..." and we slam that topic right into the training. While some learners enjoy it and others endure it, we need to ask ourselves if this is really effective. Research proves that human brains work very sensibly in these situations -- we stay conscious only about the pieces of knowledge or the skills that we will need/use on our immediate work. The rest slips into the subconscious and we incubate those bits of information until we need it at a later time. John Medina's Brain Rules, explain these phenomena in great detail. So if people are only going to retain what they will use, why contaminate that message with the surrounding nice-to-have stuff?

Learners need to be self aware

People learn from experience and most learning sinks in, on the job. People learn from feedback and feedback comes not only from peers and coaches, it also comes from your environment. When you keep attempting something and get a result that you didn't expect, you're getting some feedback. The key is that as people progress on the job, they get feedback from various sources and become more and more self-aware about where they are and where they'd like to be. A safe environment to fail fast and learn from mistakes is critical to this self-awareness. So I often think that while training is important, its more important for organisations to provide a safe environment that's conducive to learning. Only then can you develop people that are truly in control of their development and have the awareness they need to succeed.

Self aware learners can pull the learning they need

Once you're self aware, you automatically know what resources you need to learn. The key is that different people learn differently. Some people learn by reading a book, others by attending a course, a lot of people can learn effectively online and there are others who learn by networking and socialising with people. The key to being a learning organisation is in providing these learning opportunities throughout someone's career. There are many ways to create these opportunities. Here are some I can think of:
  • Design your instructor led courses to be no more than 90 minutes each with a targeted set of objectives for each 90 minute chunk. This way, you increase your flexibility to run them on-demand
  • Design your elearning to be in the form of small coursels (like morsels in case of food). Think of bite-sized chunks no longer than 10 minutes. Adopt a how-to approach.
  • Invest in Enterprise Social Software for your firm, so that people can crowdsource learning. After all, most learning happens by talking to the guy that sits beside you, or over that cup of coffee. Most importantly this opens up opportunities for your learners to network with people they never knew
  • Facilitate informal events, like Hack Nights, Lunch and Learns (people bring in food and sit in a session over lunch), Pecha-Kucha nights and Ignite evenings.
  • Institute other forms of support such as a book budget where people have the opportunity to spend money on something they feel can help their learning.

I'm sure there are dozens of other, non-intrusive ways to create opportunities for continuous learning. What has your experience been with things such as this? Feel free to share your thoughts liberally in the comments section of the post and if you'd like to, please write to me.

(Photograph in this post taken from cocomo7's Flickr stream)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Empowering learners in an Induction Program

One of my latest challenges is to redesign our induction program for experienced hires across the globe. While I'm working on this problem, I've had a few thoughts that I'd like to share on this blog. To give you some context, we're a consulting firm -- consulting being a bit of a generative domain, people join us at various levels of experience and as a consequence, with a huge variety of training expectations. I can imagine that for other organisations operating in such a domain as versatile and diverse as this, challenges could be similar. So here are some of my thoughts about designing induction programs.

The components of an induction program

To me induction programs are about "making new hires comfortable" in an organisation. To feel comfortable, a new hire needs the following things. I'm sure you will recognise these steps in an induction program though I'm guess different organisations label these steps differently.


Every organisation has a set of policies and procedures that people need to know about. Everyone needs to know about the systems that keep the lights on, and the people that keep the engine running. These are pieces of information that define how the organisation works. Fortunately enough these are so black and white at most times, that it perhaps makes sense to take the facilitator out of the picture and consider the approach of conveying this information through some online learning. That said, this part of the induction experience is common to everyone, you have the economies of scale working in your favour and you can actually choose to do this with a bunch of people in a room, with a facilitator leading the session. That it is extremely boring to sit through a series of "Powerpoints" conveying nothing but facts, is a separate issue to consider.

Context Setting

There are other aspects of an organisation that lend themselves to more generative discussion. A company's purpose, mission, values and the rationale behind them; their business model and the surrounding challenges; the career development framework and the surrounding support systems, all merit significant discussion. It makes a lot of sense to get people together, either in a synchronous, online environment or preferably, in a colocated environment with a specialist business representative in attendance. Again, this is the part of the induction experience common to everyone, so doing this together with everyone makes perfect sense.

Competency Building

Orientation and context setting aside, the bulk of most induction programs is the part around project readiness. Unless you're hiring people in purely transactional roles, there's very little chance that you can achieve the economy of scale to get a fair number of people in the same room to train them on a specific set of skills. An analyst with 2 years of experience will have significantly different training needs from a developer with a decade's experience. In the same way the training needs for a senior project manager could be significantly different from that of a fairly senior quality assurance analyst. This is where the challenge comes in designing the 'right' induction experience. How do you design an induction program that absorbs the variation in training needs for such a diverse audience. Obviously, a one-size-fits-all program will fit nobody.

Competency Building - how about a pull-based approach?

Learning is a process, not an event. Malcolm Gladwell's book - The Outliers, explains how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at something. Many months back, Tom Kulhmann wrote about how learning happens over time. Often out of the dozen skills an individual needs to perform her job, there's only one or two skills that one needs to 'get started' at their job. This is key. There's a common tendency to throw the kitchen sink at the induction program. Trainers, designers, SME's and the business will say - "but they need to know X as well!" My belief OTOH is that your induction should serve the purpose of kick-starting an individual's learning process. From that point on, its upto the individual to seek out continuous learning opportunities as the need comes by. Learning is a process, not an event (and yes, I know I'm repeating myself).

What other opportunities do people need to learn?

So, its easy to say that its upto the individual to seek out continuous learning opportunites. 'What may these continuous learning opportunities be?' and 'How should the individual seek out the bare minimum training they need?' Let me answer the second question first. Here's where I see a great role for elearning. If a training department can create a bouquet of online training programs that are bite-sized to the extent that they help people perform specific actions, then new hires can pick exactly what they think they need. There's an obvious question that comes up when I talk about this.

What if a new hire needs more than what they think they need?

I feel this is valid question -- you can't expect everyone to be a 100% self aware. This said, if you can create a culture of feedback then no error in judgement is an error for very long. Its only until someone gets feedback that the 'mistake' remains a 'mistake'. In a culture of failing fast and learning from one's mistakes, the ability to choose the learning resources you need puts the power right back in the hands of the learner. Yet again the power of online, self-paced learning is the fact that individuals can exploit them the way they deem fit. They can access the resources as many times as they want and they can access only as many resources as they want.

So with the second question answered, lets get back to the first question - "What constitutes continuous learning opportunities?" Let's look at the picture above. There are a number of ways to create continuous learning. Of course there's elearning -- but you'll see some other modes up in the picture. Many of us know about learning lunches and some of you may have read my previous article on the role of social media and why synchronous learning makes so much sense today. The fact is that if people can choose to attend some of the more formal training events, based on a need they perceive, it lends a great deal of effectiveness to the training program itself. Every facilitator knows how much fun it is to train a group of people that are motivated to learn.

Above all, the best way to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, is to foster a culture of continuous feedback. Pat Kua knows something about that, and I recently aggregated some of his posts here. The last part of continuous learning in an induction experience is the hugely underestimated part around project onboarding. If projects can learn how to practise lightweight, onboarding practices then very early in their career in your company, it helps new hires develop an awareness about what it will take for them to be successful on their first project.
So what I was trying to say in this blogpost was this -- how about an induction program that is colocated only to the extent of providing an orientation and setting context about the organisation? You can't need any more than a few days for this. How about, from that point people pull every piece of training that they need, by themselves? How about you put the power back into the hand of your learners?

Let me know what you think. I'm sure your thoughts will help me focus my thinking for my own project. Post your comments liberally and write to me if you need to.
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