Thursday, November 18, 2010

Several Nuggets of Wisdom - Recapping my Breakfast Bytes at DevLearn

At DevLearn 2010, I ran a couple of Breakfast Bytes on Social Learning and Elearning. A breakfast byte is a freeform discussion on a specific topic amongst a bunch of interested people. In my view, a lot of Open Space rules apply. For example, "Law of Two Feet" - if you don't feel you're getting enough value out of a conversation, then use your two feet and move to another place. "Whoever comes are the right people" -  the people that attend are the ones who genuinely care about the discussion and that's more than enough. "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have" - while breakfast bytes may have an agenda, people drive the conversation. If something happens, it's the group driving it - we take it in our stride and keep moving on. And "When it's over, it's over" - we do the topic and don't do the time. As a corollary, if it's not over, it's not over and often participants will carry on the discussion in hallways, over dinner and over drinks. Of course, sometimes breakfast bytes will start 0710 instead of 0715 and end later than planned -- "Whenever it starts is the right time." Spirit and creativity don't run on the clock!

With that context, let me quickly recap some nuggets of wisdom that I really liked, coming out of each of my Breakfast Bytes.

Social Learning Patterns

I proposed this session with the aim of eliciting patterns and antipatterns around social media in the enterprise and to also see how people were using social media at work. Here are some little bits of the discussion that are really interesting.
Vampires, Werewolves, Holy Water and Silver Bullets - What Myth are you Busting?

My second session had  a crazy working title though Brent changed it to "Understanding and Dealing with Elearning Myths". My hope was to have a discussion that focussed on some myths that people either believed in or had busted or were struggling to combat. I think our discussion veered in a slightly different direction, but that was fine because I think it was excellent conversation all the same. The fact that this group had Cammy Bean, Neil Lasher and Tom Kuhlmann in the room, meant that we had enough juice for a refreshing chat.

Our discussion started off with some myths that people brought out. We couldn't get to all of these:
  • Elearning? People don't learn that way.
  • Mobile Learning is all about the iPhone
  • People come to work and not to socialise.
  • Powerpoint Sucks.
  • People go to work not to play games.
  • Compliance training should be in PDFs.
A few cool thoughts that came out of the discussion were:
  • We first need to define the scope of what elearning means. Neil argued that elearning has a much larger scope from the time we defined it. Any learning enabled by technology is elearning. Everyone uses Google for example, so the assertion that people don't learn using technology is definitely a huge myth.
  • Neil further asserted that we need to eschew the 'Next' button - frankly the tool tip says "Click Next to Continue". In that case, why don't we just call the button 'Continue'? This drove a few peals of laughter!
  • Our discussion then moved towards the notion that "Powerpoint sucks". I have some strong views in this space
  • Moving back to the topic of resistance we talked a bit about the ills of the course factory approach. John Seely Brown's keynote had focussed on flows of information over stocks of knowledge. The approach of creating course after course is flawed. We need to go to our audience, ask what they need and deliver that fast - that's where rapid elearning has it's value. Ask the BBC! More importantly, we need to question the value of every course we need to create. What's the shelf life? Can a conversation suffice? Can coaching on the job help? Is it really a skills and knowledge problem?
  • I shared my experience with ThoughtWorks University. A bunch of links on an LMS don't encourage anyone. It's not just enough to create good content. People like social context around content. At ThoughtWorks University, we do our best to facilitate elearning through forum discussions, one-on-one coaching and guidance and by using that to drive better discussion face to face. It's almost like you need a vibrant community around your content.
  • We then came to the point about compliance training. Neil mentioned that most compliance training could be a quick PDF tip sheet with a signature sheet. We don't need to create expensive elearning. We can do the simplest thing that works.
  • We also talked about the flip-side. Compliance training in organisations is a time when you have a huge number of eyeballs looking. This is a time for L&D departments to put their best foot forward and use this as a branding moment. Can we get people excited about learning by making this mandatory training an exciting experience?
  • The topic of games in elearning raised a few eyebrows. Almost everyone agreed with Byron Reeves' points from the keynote, though Cammy raised an interesting point. If someone's job sucks, can you really make it any better by dressing it up to be a game? Isn't that like putting lipstick on a pig?
  • We also talked about slot games, jeopardy and tic-tac-toe in elearning. A gaming mindset definitely challenges the brain, but a whiz-bang game to just dress up a course and make it engaging isn't really a great idea as most people agreed. While Tom was kind enough to say these games may have some place in elearning, he definitely advocates designing for applying than for recall. His tip was to try and design courses that model real life actions as far as possible. 
  • At some point we also discussed that we don't need to do everything inside a flash based course. There are several other ways of creating engagement. We need to think beyond the course and think about social media, rich media on the internet, coaching, etc as opportunities to change performance.
  • We wrapped up the discussion talking about Cathy Moore's action mapping approach as a way to create inexpensive, yet lively elearning that actually mimics real world actions. I've used action mapping as a way to drive out design outcomes for instructor led training as well, so I really like this approach. There are times when to get a stakeholder to understand the value of designing this way, you may need to reconstruct a course from scratch. You can then show both courses to your stakeholder and have them choose what's the more engaging way to learn! It'll take some of our time, but will perhaps help us be more succesful as designers. The Harvard teaching for understanding framework is also quite a nice way to think through your design approach.

So that's it! This ends my reporting responsibilities from DevLearn. I apologise for slacking off with these recaps - work's been quite hectic and the fact that I'm heading off on leave in a few days just makes things even tougher. For those I met at the conference - I'm really grateful for your company. In fact, I'm humbled by the great work I saw and the passion that most of you exude. It's been a pleasure!


Sumeet Moghe said...

I definitely need to clarify that some of the statements that seem like quotes are my paraphrasing of the conversation that happened in these sessions. For example, Cammy didn't say "lipstick on a pig." That's my rhetorical paraphrasing of the conversation.


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