Saturday, March 27, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 - Community Spaces can lead to Walled Gardens

I have a confession to make -- I am more stupid than I usually seem and I usually learn the hard way. I've always had the wrong ideas about enterprise knowledge management until I started to work with Dinesh Tantri and more recently heard Andrew McAfee speak and read his book. I always thought that unbridled freedom was the way to go with knowledge management in this decade. What I realise today, is that to achieve a freeform, frictionless and emergent platform for knowledge in the enterprise, you need to start with some rules and a bare minimum structure. In today's article, I want to share some thoughts about the importance of this very structure - read on to know what I think.

Walled Gardens are the bugbear for Knowledge Sharing



Very recently I had a conversation with Dinesh and Nikhil about the value of community spaces. One of the things that became clear to me was that community spaces are not only overhyped, but also if done incorrectly, a deterrent to knowledge sharing. This is a spin-off from Andrew Mcafee's concept of walled gardens. Let me explain this through a scenario:
  • Company Foo establishes a knowledge sharing platform that allows every group of people to create their own space, with a separate set of access privileges.
  • The platform doesn't have a way to search across different spaces, because every space is almost like a site in itself.
  • Soon, different groups of people (communities) set up 'community spaces' and restrict access only to members of the community. Sales has their own space. Technology has a separate space. Marketing has their own space. Support and Evolution has their own space. The story goes on.
  • One fine day a new salesman trying to put together a proposal needs information about:
    • Company Foo's previous work in the space;
    • case studies of successful deployments in the domain;
    • Company Foo's track record and capability supporting this kind of work;
    • and the various technology platforms they have expertise in
  • Given that each community has it's own space (walled garden), the new salesman doesn't have a way to search across all communities for the information he needs.
  • Over a painstaking few days, the new salesman eventually finds all the information he needs by signing in to every individual community space and searching separately on each space. He has to wait a couple of days before he gets approval to join a couple of community spaces, and that delays his proposal.
We could go on with this story but I guess you can see how tough things can be when every community builds their own isolated knowledge sharing space. Community knowledge can never become organisational knowledge this way, and over a period of time, the system becomes extremely difficult to manage. This is the classic nature of walled gardens in the enterprise.

Tear down the walls first

Organisational knowledge sharing can do without walled gardens. What we need instead is one place for all communities to share knowledge and the structure to emerge from user generated tags and metadata. This is where a certain bit of knowledge housekeeping comes in. I believe that leadership and knowledge management teams need to strongly discourage internal groups and communities from creating inaccessible islands of knowledge. There needs to be a strong incentive to contribute knowledge to one platform, that is powered by search.

Yes, there'll always be the need to have team wikis and collaboration spaces. This is where it becomes important to clearly define the scope of team collaboration and organisational knowledge and create some clear (but porous) boundaries between the two. Which is to say for example, that it's absolutely OK for a team to set up their own wiki or workspace and do so with minimal friction, but when some team knowledge becomes organisational wisdom the team has the incentive to contribute to the organisational knowledge base. The challenge for knowledge managers is to make this contribution as easy as possible so that people don't have to make the same effort twice and the structure doesn't come in the way of knowledge sharing.

My beliefs about post-modern Knowledge Management

In my current world view, I have a few beliefs:
  1. Enterprise knowledge needs to be public (to all employees) by default and private only if there's a very, very good reason for it.
  2. Knowledge sharing needs to move from being part of closed channels to open platforms.
  3. People should have a choice to collaborate privately, but have the support to easily make their private knowledge public.
  4. Discussions and conversations should get organised using tags and metadata as against separate mailing lists and groups. People should have the option to subscribe using email, but this shouldn't be the default.
  5. Knowledge managers need to define, maintain and protect the structure of 'no initial structure'. The structure should emerge over time using tags, ratings and user input. This however needs continuous involvement with all communities and is by no means easy.
  6. Content stewardship is key -- things don't happen on their own. Knowledge managers need to keep their eye out for quality content on private channels/ spaces. They need to have the agility and presence of mind to move this to being organisational knowledge with a strong incentive for the authors. This is essential to the process of long lasting change.

What do you think of today's blogpost? I'd love to hear your views on the topic, so please post liberally in the comments section. The inspiration for this blogpost was a conversation with my friend Sahana, so I'd like to give her some credit for this. If you liked my post today, you may be interested in some of my other posts on collaboration and enterprise 2.0.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The 4 Passions of an Instructional Designer

A couple of days back I posted a presentation on Visual Design Basics. What was really the result of work between breaks from being the host for RubyConf India, turned out to be a fairly popular presentation on Slideshare with over 2000 views and counting! I'm sorry again that the presentation doesn't have too many notes for you to glean the narrative in the background. I've gone ahead and put up a narrated version of the talk here. I'm actually quite pleasantly surprised that there's such a huge interest in design skills.

In fact, this is something I think about all the time and if you've been on this blog for long enough, you'll remember me saying that instructional designers need more skills than just writing. I also remember having some strong views on my friend Rupa's blogpost about a hello world approach to instructional design. Somehow the word 'designer' evokes all sorts of thoughts in my head and I can't stay shut when the disciplinary skills of instructional design become separate from the meta of instructional design. As I gain experience in this trade, I feel that while the skills for instructional design are important, there are a few personality characteristics that instructional designers just can't do without. I call these the four passions of an instructional designer. Let me explain what these are.

The Passion for Embracing Constraints

All of us work under some constraints or the other. I would love to have a budget of a million dollars for every course, the best tools at my disposal; a really skilled set of developers and just have an unlimited set of resources. Unfortunately, none of this is true for my situation. The fact is that I love it! I believe that the best designers are the ones that embrace their constraints and still come up with stuff that's of the highest quality. I am a sucker for doing more with less and I've tried my own hand to illustrate this in my blog posts. If you have to create quality elearning, I strongly believe that the tools don't matter and you should use your creativity. I also believe you can do elearning on a shoestring -- your budget constraints should only motivate, not deter you. I'll go ahead and also say that constraints inspire creativity -- don't believe me, just look at the number of cool ideas that the 'humble' rapid-elearning community has come up with! Look at the ways that people are pushing the boundaries -- Bryan Jones' eLearningart.com (the source for characters on this post) is a prime example of how cool rapid elearning can be once you have the right hustle behind the muscle!

The Passion for Simplicity


"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated awesomely simple - that's creativity." - Charles Mingus

I've spent ages in conversations that circle around, "But they need to know ______ as well!" and "Oh, but we should include ______ because that's how it is in reality." Unfortunately, people can't know everything in one go. Also, if people were ready for reality they wouldn't be in your classroom or going through your elearning. As an instructional designer you need to have an undying passion for simplicity and the natural ability to break down a complicated concept and explain it in simple chunks. As I always say, simplicity is not about being 'simplistic'. It's about making things easy to understand; this takes a huge amount of creativity and if you can't do this, I'm sorry - you're not an instructional designer. Here's an example where I've tried to explain a fairly complicated process in a fairly simple manner.

The Passion for Learning

We're all busy people and it's very easy to get stuck in the rigmarole of daily work and stop learning from the world around us. As a start, it's important to start getting connected in the community. Over the last couple of years I've had the opportunity to interact and learn from a number of my colleagues around the world. There's so much cool stuff happening in the realms of traditional elearning, virtual worlds, enterprise 2.0 and social media, that being stuck to your office seat and your specialist mode of learning is nothing but a recipe for being stuck in the dark ages. But then again, instructional designers need to have the passion to learn from different sources to just make their lives easier. If you believe you have the passion then a good place to start are some of the industry blogs. I've gone ahead and packaged my favourite blogs into two Google Reader bundles. Please feel free to subscribe to them if you like:
While I don't get the time to participate on #lrnchat, I always follow the transcripts and that's a great place to learn about the who's who of learning innovation in the world. Take some time to participate in #lrnchat and I'm sure you'll find a lot of inspiration.

I'm also going to say that you need to look at other people's work and be able to gather inspiration. I keep aggregating elearning examples here, so that should be a good place to 'watch and learn'.

The last point I'll make about this is that you've got to be able to learn from unconventional sources. Look at billboards for inspiration on visual design; watch news shows to learn how you can make information interesting; read different kinds of books to develop your lateral thinking and ideation abilities; learn the art of story-telling from movies -- I could just keep going on and on.

The Passion for Excellence

Last but absolutely not the least -- you need to have a passion for excellence! If an instructional designer doesn't constantly iterate through his work and isn't passionate about putting out excellent stuff, then I get really concerned. Instructional design requires a lot of attention to detail. You need to be fussy about every little element that eventually adds polish to your course. You need to set the bar really high; your bar can't be Sumeet (because I'm quite average) -- instead look at someone like Tom Kuhlmann as your role model. There are a lot of people I've learned from including but not limited to: David Anderson, Stephanie Harnett, Tracy Hamilton and Jeanette Brooks and if you follow these guys, you'll notice that there's heaps you can do in order to drive excellence in your course design. So learn, iterate, fuss and optimise your work until you stop dreaming about it at night!

We have an instructional designer position open at ThoughtWorks and I in particular actively evaluate candidates not just on their abilities and past experience but also their passion for the four things I've mentioned above. What do you think? Am I being very hard by placing these requirements? Or do you think I'm setting the bar too low? I'd love to hear what you look for when hiring an instructional designer. Let me know what you think, by posting your thoughts in the comments section. And BTW, if you liked this article, please also read Garr Reynolds' 10 tips on how to think like a designer -- it's great inspiration!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Visual Design for your Presentations


I'm sorry I'm not doing a weekend blogpost, because I'm busy hosting RubyConf India. That said, during my spare time I put together some slides for a lunch-and-learn session that I'm planning next week. The topic of the talk is 'Visual Design Basics', and while I understand you won't glean much information from the slides, you can try and get a flavour for what I'll bark about! I'll try to do a slightly more detailed blogpost about this in the future.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nick Shackleton Jones on Rapid Development at the BBC - LSG Webinar Notes

These are live blogged notes from the Learning and Skills Group Webinar today.

Nick Shackleton Jones is the Informal Learning Manager at the BBC and the author of one of my favourite LnD blogs.

Why Rapid Development

  • Increase Output
  • Reduce Development Costs
  • Develop your trainers
  • Reduce Development Timelines
  • Involve Client and SMEs in Development
  • Maintain control and updatability
We do this now because we can!

The Big Picture: Now you can co-create content with your SMEs with a low budget and you don't need to wait ages to gather the money to do something. Bottoms up is the future of LnD.

Challenges - What's the worst that could happen?

The worst that could happen could be:
  • Clients as authors
  • and Trainers become developers
Not sure this is a bad thing though, because purposing content is a skill too. As Nick mentioned, training becomes the quality control in this situation.

The worst that could happen is that nothing really happens.

So where are BBC today and how did they get there?

BBC does some really cool courses using really rich media, videos, etc -- I saw one of them last year. Some of their clients are actually producing some high quality content as Nick demonstrated.

Application training has become really easy to create, using tools such as Camtasia. Within the space of days or hours, there's an LMS compatible course available for your new system.

They've now started to do some really immersive game-like environments and some very interesting courses, e.g. the ones they've done on Storytelling.

What they learnt along the way.

'Mistakes are often the stepping stones to failure.'

Process

  • Pair client with the learning consultant
    • Project management skills
    • Instructional design skills
    • Technical/graphical skills
  • Retain control of publishing to LMS
  • Online workflow helps
  • Have a strong implementation
  • Lead by example - show great stuff as examples!
  • Have a rapid development 'bucket' budget

Content

  • Create a template - so courses look like they've come from the same source
  • Separate 'awareness' from 'resources'
  • Use scenarios - put people in a situation and provide them feedback on what they do
  • Contextualise/ tell stories
  • Polish the graphics
  • Consider Accessibility - rapid tools can do this in a repeatable, standard fashion
  • Use video/ voice-over if possible
  • Keep the length less than 20 mins
  • Feature peers where you can - people like to see people they know

Innovation, learning and survival - Notes from Nigel Paine's Webinar

These are live blogged notes from Nigel Paine's webinar about Innovation on the Learning and Skills Group.

From the LSG:
Nigel Paine is a change-orientated leader with a worldwide reputation and a unique grasp of media, learning and development in the public, private and academic sectors. The former head of training and development at the BBC, he left the BBC in 2006 to start his own company focussed on leadership, creativity, innovation and learning, working with companies in Europe, Brazil, Australia and the USA. He teaches for several weeks each year at Wharton Business School in Philadelphia on a doctoral programme aimed at Learning Leaders.

Difference between Innovation and Creativity

Creativity - "The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, to create new  meaningful new ideas"
Innovation - "Something new or different introduced."

If you're not introducing anything new and tangible, you're not innovating.

Nigel conducted a poll asking people how innovative they think their organisation is:
  • 14% Very innovative
  • 28% Quite
  • 28% A bit
  • 10% Not really
  • 20% No Answer

Why is Learning and Development Important

Innovation is mainly about people -- if you don't have people who are capable of looking beyond the horizon, innovation will most likely not happen.

Dan Pink's new book 'Drive' is about motivation - it's a human need not driven by carrots and sticks. e.g. (real story) University VC sends an email to all his professors saying they need to be innovative from Monday onwards.

Questions for individuals and organisations to ask themselves:
  • Did you do today better than yesterday?
  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What's your legacy as an organisation?
Innovation requires people and that requires L&D to contribute to people's development. A culture of learning is a culture of thinking and that leads to innovation.

"If something works it's already obsolete."

Definition of Innovation by Drucker

Drucker says innovation is, "Change which creates a new dimension of performance". You can also call this the definition of L&D, says Nigel

5 Kinds of Wealth by Sharma

  • Economic
  • Relationship
  • Health
  • Adventure/ Challenge/ Fun
  • Contribution and Impact
If you take the last two Adventure/ Challenge/ Fun and Contribution and Impact you can create meaning for your organisation. Learning environments lead to an environment of innovation.

5 ways you can make innovation thrive

What stops innovation?
  • Innovation that doesn't get supported from top is doomed - L&D can't drive it alone. We need executive endorsement.
  • Management needs to set an example by being innovative.
  • Too much process stifles innovation.
  • Everything doesn't need a business plan - you should only need a business plan after you've gone through a few trials. Can't make people jump through hoops right at the beginning.
There are more things that organisations do to stop innovation than they do to facilitate it!

What helps innovation?

1. The Taylor Philosophy
Open: What might work
Cull: What will work
Focus: energies on success

2. It takes time
Instant returns rarely happen - you need to be in for the long haul.

3. Lots of dangers en-route
You have to be aware of what they are and deal with them as you go on. If you don't have the new dimension of performance -- you can't justify this effort though.

4. Not Just a People Issue

It's also an environment issue. It's about how you work with people. A great environment is just as important as great people

5. You need the right processes

e.g. Innovation forum at Intel, 20% time,

Innovation and Learning

Nigel asked the group: Is L&D Involved in Innovation?
  • Yes a lot - 10%
  • Yes - 29%
  • Hardly - 26%
  • No - 6%
  • No Answer - 28%
L&D's agenda should be to drive innovation. There's a link between personal growth and organisational success. If people feel they are growing they'll contribute to the organisations success. Link learning to innovation - this is critical.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Let's tackle Gender Diversity as a Systemic Issue

Yet again, I'm writing a blog-post at the airport! Over the last couple of days I've been part of a very keen set of discussions in the HR space. One of the topics we touched upon was Diversity, particularly in the IT industry. We discussed means to increase the number of women in the company and to keep them supported, but while in those discussions, I felt that the lack of women in the industry is perhaps a systemic problem. The real reasons for a lack of enough women in IT feel like:
  1. not many women study or have an interest in computer science;
  2. women are subject to a number of socio-cultural pressures that men aren't a part of;
  3. in a male dominated industry, there are very few women role-models to look upto - resulting again in #1 above.
Fixing these root causes seems like a huge program of change beyond just providing a few measures at work. Here are a few thoughts I have about actually increasing gender diversity in IT.

Tackle the problem at the Grassroots -- target students


All across the world, computer science doesn't seem to be a hugely popular discipline with young girls. The key could be to introduce young girls to the magic of programming at an early age. One of the projects that really excites me is Alice. Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience. Alice allows children to learn through a head-fake -- they believe they're playing a game, but on the sidelines they're actually writing a program in a modern object oriented language such as Java. Prentice Hall has gone to the extent of creating instructional materials to actually teach students how to program, using Alice as the teaching tool! Could companies support the educational system by sending their experts to schools and universities using Alice as a a teaching platform. That way we can introduce computer science as a discipline that's just as interesting and creative as management or humanities.

Join Forces in the Industry

While a single company may not have many women superstars, there's absolutely no dearth of thought leadership from women in IT. Often we make the mistake of trying to solve our gender diversity problems in isolation. It may not be a bad idea for like minded companies to join forces and seek out great female potential by using their role model women as hiring ambassadors. A women only career fair with superstar women representatives from various companies could actually help other ladies be attracted to computer science as a career. In general, these alliances need to be strategic -- short term alliances are likely to be frustrating, but longer term alliances may actually allow organisations to build on each other's successes.

Recognise Socio-cultural Influences -- Experiment with Next-gen Tools

The webvolution, and immersive internet presents us with some very interesting possibilities. There's no doubt that the technology is still immature, but companies need to still start experimenting with virtual worlds as a way to create real-time, synchronous workspaces. Women, particularly in India are under the influence of great socio-cultural pressures. The ability to work from home and still enjoy a high degree of collaboration could be invaluable in increasing diversity. Karl Kapp is a great proponent of such technology and I think that when we can actually make 3D technology an inseparable part of work a few years from now, companies will enjoy significant advantages in addition to being able to increase their diversity. Here are some obvious advantages that come to mind:
  • lower investment on facilities -- possibly lower opex;
  • lower cost of commute;
  • lower pollution levels as a result of lower cost of transport;
  • lower carbon footprint as a result of reduced travel;
  • better salaries as a consequence of money saved on lease, office space, etc;
  • faster growth of business as a consequence of virtual workspaces and the ability to invest elsewhere.

What other ideas do you have to increase gender diversity in the IT sector? ThoughtWorks is keen to right the wrongs of this industry in it's own small way and I can try to channel some of your suggestions in the right direction. Let me know what you think by adding your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo credit: chrisjfry under the Creative Commons and Dr. Karl Kapp for the Protoshpere screenshot.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Call for Participation - XP 2010


I'm speaking at the 11th International Conference on Agile Software Development, XP2010
Dates: 1-4 June 2010, Trondheim, Norway
Early registration deadline: 24 March 2010

XP is a leading international conference on agile methods in software and information systems development. XP 2010 will bring together software and information systems professionals, both researchers and practitioners, to discuss the latest trends, applications, and theory, share experiences, and reveal new research results in agile software development.

XP2010 features a full four-day program of up to nine parallel tracks with Tutorials, Workshops, Experience Reports, Research Presentations, Invited Industry Talks, Lightning Talks, Open Space, Posters, and a Doctoral Symposium

This year's keynote speakers are:

Scott Page (University of Michigan Ann Arbor): Leveraging Diversity in Parallel: Perspective, Heuristics, and Oracles

David Anderson (David J Anderson & Associates, Seattle, Washington): Catalyzing Lean: Building a Limited WIP Society in Your Organization

Bjørn Alterhaug (NTNU) & John Pål Inderberg (NTNU): Improvisation: Between Panic and Boredom Perspectives on teamwork, dialogue and presence in music and other contexts

XP2010 will be held in Trondheim, which is Norway's third largest municipality.  Trondheim is a Norwegian center of education, technical and medical research with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and SINTEF located in the city. NTNU has about 25,000 students. The conference will be at the Rica Nidelven hotel. On the riverbed floor of the hotel you will find the conference section with airy meeting rooms, all with wireless internet access, natural daylight and a view of the Nidelven river.  A thousand years ago the Viking King Olav Tryggvason sailed up this river before founding his seat of government in Trondheim.  For the fourth year in a row the Rica Nidelven Hotel has been presented with the award for Norway's best breakfast. Over 400 hotels in Norway compete annually for this award, which is judged by a panel of top chefs from Norway and Twinings.

For an overview of topics and presentations, please see the conference program at http://xp2010.org/.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Innovation in the Enterprise -- is too much experience a good thing?

From Wikipedia
Nan-in, a Japanese master , received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

I've been thinking about this for a few days -- does increasing experience in a company eventually stifle innovation? Why do younger, smaller companies seem to innovate more than large organisations with years of experience?

I've often felt that when a company is young, there are a lot of people with less experience who usually jump at most new ideas. There are those with a vision for the company that support these new ideas. Yes, there are pragmatists, conservatives and skeptics who may not be as gung-ho about new ideas, but in the initial days of the company, they're outnumbered by the enthusiastic lot and eventually they convert. It seems as if ideas flow in a viral fashion in these organisations.

Fast forward a decade and a half and a lot of the innovators are now grizzled professionals. The visionaries have learned from their mistakes and are more risk-aware. Yes, there are new innovators, but because of the shift of the original enthusiasts, the company now has a larger number of people with their own set ideas of success and with a strong criticism for every new idea. They've got experience to know why specific ideas will fail, they know that they'd rather not experiment and invite risk! As it turns out, new ideas get beaten down even as they're mentioned. People spend so much time trying to justify their ideas, that when it's time for implementation, they've lost all their steam. As a consequence, innovation suffers.

I have seen this phenomenon myself, but I don't know what organisations do to get out of such situations. Any thoughts?

(Photo credit: london_ally under the Creative Commons)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

No Collaboration without Colocation? Maybe you're not 'Agile enough'!


As I await my flight to London, a strange thought possesses me. How much of Agile is valid today? A lot of Agile practices are almost a decade old. Since then, the enterprise collaboration landscape has changed significantly, team dynamics have changed quite a bit and dare I say the market is a lot more mature, having been through two relatively bad periods. This has always made me feel that to be Agile, you almost need to be 'not really Agile'. After all, the dictionary meaning of 'agile' seems to be:
agile |ˈajəl|
adjective
able to move quickly and easily : Ruth was as agile as a monkey |
figurative his vague manner concealed an agile mind.
Well if that's the case, I feel like it's almost outdated to believe that a lack of colocation has to eventually mean a lack of collaboration and communication. Well there's no doubt that a colocated team in a team room will most likely generate great discussion, that said we've got technology today that can simulate team room like environments even without having people colocated. I say that a truly Agile team is so passionate about communication that they'll end up being resourceful enough to generate more communication in a distributed mode!

It's not that you can't communicate

The fact is that today, more so than ever, the world is really, really flat. The notions of distance are almost becoming irrelevant with the advent of what some people are calling webvolution. Yes, there's not much one can do about 12 hour time differences. That being said, there's been significant advances in technology to ensure that if there's a fair overlap in timezones, teams can collaborate almost seamlessly without having to bother about colocation. Dinesh and I recently submitted a proposal to Agile 2010 to demonstrate how we're seeing teams adapt their way of working to ensure that distribution doesn't mean disaster! Here's a table from the proposal that indicates the various tool types that you have at your disposal to create rich communication within teams, distributed or not! Using a combination of enterprise social software and tools on the public internet, teams can actually make distribution seem much easier than we've traditionally made it out to be. Of course, there are some common sense considerations to distribution -- take a look at Mark Rickmeier's recorded talk for more information.

Tools - How?Potential Implication - What?Agile Practice - Where can this be used?
BlogsPersonal knowledge management, Learning and reflection, provides opportunity to convert potential ties into actual tiesTeam knowledge bases. Organisation wide knowledge sharing. Iteration reports. Daily Handoffs. Project timelines
WikisProject/Product Documentation, Co-Authoring learningRetrospectives, Negotiating Requirements/Stories, “Handovers” across time zones
Workstreams - MicrobloggingAmbient Awareness - Who knows what?Standups, Distributed Dev Huddles, “Handovers” across time zones
Social BookmarkingKnowledge SharingParticularly in the area of cross-project knowledge sharing and organisational knowledge bases
Social NetworkingSerendipityFinding experts in the organisation, leveraging weak ties, building relationships with potential problem solvers
Prediction MarketsCrowdsource complex decisions/outcomes - Estimation, likely release dates,Estimation, Release Planning (this is one which we’re yet to see in practice)
Idea Management PlatformsOngoing improvement to practicesBrainstorming, Design decisions
Web Conferencing ToolsDistributed pairing/reviews/Distributed Pairing, showcases, training, workshops, really all sorts of meetings
Virtual WorldsVirtual Offices, Realistic distributed simulations, synchronous learning, shared workspacesAll sorts of meetings, team room, Retrospectives, (There’s a state farm case study for this)
Video ConferencingMeetingsIPM’s, Retrospectives
Collaborative Software Development EnvironmentsContextual Collaboration (one-stop collaboration platform)All kinds of practices, but particularly improving on communication and visibility.

You just need to communicate differently

Now you may argue that while the tools have been there for a while your mileage has been different. I don't deny that possibility. I don't even deny the fact that your communication may not have been as rich as what you've seen when you communicated face to face. This though, is not a problem with the tool -- it's a paradigm shift that we need to adjust to. Just like we say today, "What did we do before Google?" we will say in 2020 "What did we do before the social web?". The change is destined to happen -- but before that we need to adjust ourselves to the context of the platform. I relate this to how we change our communication in various cultural contexts -- a conversation on the streets in England is significantly different to a conversation on the streets of India. Similarly, we adjust our style of travel based on the context; we change our style of eating based on the context too. So why not think of communication in a similar manner?

Conversations are great, but think of the value a facilitative tool like Google Wave brings you. The collaborative nature of tools such as Wave ensures that people like me who have a loud voice and can be extremely overbearing don't get an opportunity to derail the conversation. As a corollary, people who generally take time to get their thoughts organised or those that are generally shy, have the opportunity to now make their point in peace. Now to make best use of the medium, you need to appreciate these advantages and commit yourself to the context. In a similar manner, I believe webinars are far more facilitative than a face to face classroom session. In classrooms, people have to hold on to their thoughts for the fear of disturbing the sage on stage. In webinars OTOH, people can air their thoughts freely and without reserve at any given time. Now you may not be able to talk face to face, but can you communicate better - hell yeah! Take a look at some of the webinars from the virtual, free LearnTrends conference last year, if you don't believe me. As I always say, "The social web is more facilitative than facilitation!". You can keep making the comparisions and I suspect that if you're fair, you'll reach the same conclusions.

The future is so bright, I should wear shades!

The coming years promise a lot in terms of enterprise collaboration. I was recently reading Karl Kapp and Tony Driscoll's Learning in 3D, and the way the world is progressing towards the immersive internet, it could mean great things for society in general. Better collaboration platforms will mean lesser travel and hence a smaller carbon footprint. The diminishing need for colocation will mean that working moms, people in underprivileged countries can work in the best firms without having to leave their homes -- a great diversity boon for the industry! The fact that people will be able to work from their homes means that companies can spend less money on facilities and channel saved funds towards better pay and new business -- good news for all of us! The future is very, very bright indeed!
As a knowledge worker, the possibilities of the webvolution really excite me. I believe big things can happen if we can change our perspectives slightly. What do you think? Let me know by adding your comments to this post. Hope you enjoyed today's article!

Friday, March 05, 2010

3 Ways to Spice up Linear Navigation in Elearning

Who doesn't want to create engaging elearning? But when managing projects, you're often balancing time, cost, money, scope and team. Sometimes, the mix of these factors means that you end up having to design simple and quick, linear courses - where every learner moves along only one predictable path in the course. That said, I'm a big believer in doing more with less and today I want to share with you three ways to make the most of when you have to create courses using linear navigation. So without further ado, let's get going.

Tip #1 - Try a Webcomic Approach.



If you've seen the Google Chrome comics by Scott McCloud, you'll realise how powerful a medium the webcomic is. The reason why webcomics are so effective is because they not only simplify complex topics, but they also make these topics seem less intimidating. More importantly people are used to flipping pages in a comic and so linear navigation doesn't seem odd to your audience. So if you have an engaging story, a comic approach automatically draws your learners to click the Next button. I can understand that Scott McCloud's work can make you feel it's really difficult to do, but if you look at the video above, you'll realise that its quite easy to create comic scenes quickly, provided you have the right image repositories. I recommend the design comics toolkit and elearningart's character packs, to get you kick started with this approach. If you want a sketch like feel to the elearning art character packs, then take a look at this tutorial.

Once you've created your scenes, there's the question of integrating the visuals into a story line. If you want to use Powerpoint, then the above video can be a good starting point and you can then use Articulate Presenter to stitch together the elearning. If you want an online magazine style effect like in the video, then you could use a tool such as Issuu or Yudu. Now, I recognise that you'd love some inspiration to get started, so here are two webcomics that I really like:

Tip #2 - Use Effective Interactivity


A couple of months back I'd written a post titled "The tools don't matter, use your creativity". If you look at the example from that post, you'll notice that it's a fairly linear course, as is the original course by Kineo. That said, the use of effective interactivity makes both courses easy to get through. One of the reasons I'm a big fan of Articulate Studio 09, is that it puts the power to create effective interactivity in the hands of less skilled people such as me. Here are three of interactions from the rapid elearning blog, that Tom (by his own admission) built with very little effort:
Now before you started thinking of me as an Articulate salesman, let me tell you very frankly that I'm nothing but a very passionate user of the tools. And by the way, don't believe me - rapid elearning is no myth; take a look at the examples!

Tip #3 - Use the right Language

If you're on a really tight budget for the year (and yes, I understand because I've been there), then Articulate isn't your only option. Remember that you have some free options for linear elearning, in the form of the following tools:
That said, one of the most underestimated tools for corporate elearning is Slideshare. If all you have is a well made presentation, then Slideshare is your way to convert it into flash based elearning. If you look at examples like this and this, you'll notice that indeed it's not impossible to create engaging, interactivity free elearning (yes, I classify that as elearning) without fancy tools. I've taken too much time to come to the point here though, but both these presentations are excellent examples of how to use language appropriately to create interest in linear courses. One of my favourite resources with tips to use language to create interesting elearning courses is the one above. Cathy Moore does a great job to illustrate how clever use of language can make your linear elearning course extremely interesting to navigate. So really my third tip includes all five of Cathy Moore's tips. Take a look through the presentation to know more!
For today's post, I'd like to give away the course files for the example in Tip#2. You can download them here. I'm sorry I can't give you the comic from Tip #1yet, but I promise to make it available once I have the opportunity. It's my passion to try doing more with less, so this blogpost is quite close to my heart. How did you like the examples in today's post? What methods are you trying at work to ensure that you can make the most of your budgets?  I'd love to hear from you, so please feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section. Hope you enjoyed today's article.
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