Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Perils of an Email Centered Strategy to Social Learning

A few days back Nikhil Nulkar and I were discussing the need for social media in the enterprise. After all, we still have the original killer app of the internet - email. As Andrew McAfee says, "Email is freeform, multimedia (especially with attachments), WYSIWYG, easy to learn and use, platform independent, social, and friendly to mouse clickers and keyboard shortcutters alike." McAfee is right, and let me add that email is easy - it's the one thing everyone knows about and looks at. It's personalised - everyone sets up their inbox the way they want. And most importantly it tends to be the de-facto standard for a lot of people to receive work alerts and manage their professional workflows. Mailing lists are one of the first forms of social collaboration on the web, and sophisticated groupware like Google Apps make searching easy. So why do we need social platforms in the enterprise?

I know Nikhil and I try quite hard to articulate what we see as the obvious benefits of going beyond email. In today's post I want to say why email is not enough, if you're looking to build a connected, learning organisation.

Collaboration happens across a spectrum
"When you don't know what you don't know, you should hang out with people who may already know."
I recently read John Seely Brown's book - the Power of Pull. If you've followed this blog in recent weeks, you may remember that I was privileged to meet him at DevLearn 2010, where he kicked off the conference with a keynote on a pull based knowledge economy. Brown looks at collaboration across three separate levels, which I view as part of a spectrum. When people know what they don't know, they want the opportunity to access knowledge by either searching for it or asking other people. This is where email and search can come in handy. The trouble is, that often people don't know what they don't know. This is where Brown talks about the concept of a spike - concentrations of talent around the world. He talks about how musicians gravitate to Nashville and how software engineers go to Bangalore or Silicon Valley. When you're in the area of innovation for a field of your choice, you learn accidentally. The stream of information around you creates the phenomenon of serendipity.

The most important part of the collaboration spectrum however is co-creation. A groups that just generates a lot of conversaton is what I call a "hot-air community". The talk needs to culminate in some action. When people discover new ideas, concepts, tips and tricks -- all this needs to come together in some form palatable for new members of the community or even those not part of the discussion. The value of a community's knowledge economy is in the useful work that it's members put out.

It's not all about the content
Mailing lists generate a lot of content. Questions and answers, interesting musings, controversial views - they have it all. As someone on mailing lists for ages, I've always struggled with the lack of context though. Let me explain. An answer on a mailing forum isn't enough. I could search through an archive and find that answer, but the metadata around it is what matters. For example, how valuable was that answer? What kind of other topics does that conversation relate to? Who wrote this response - what is her role, what are her interests? Where else does she contribute? How can I get to see more of her contributions?

Context gives us the answers content cannot. I've written earlier about the importance of metadata on enterprise 2.0 systems and frankly - email doesn't provide the metadata we need to provide context to our conversations. We need rich metadata and people profiles to augment our conversations.

The walls are not the truth

Mailing lists are an example of walled gardens. Just because you have a mailing group for developers doesn't mean that only developers have the answers. Emergent practice needs divergent thinking. As Scott Page says quite eloquently, diverse groups of smart people outperform an alpha group of specialists when the problem they're solving is sufficiently complex. So, if the only representation of an analyst community is a mailing list of people, then we run the risk of assuming the mailing list as the people who have the answers. This is often not true, because answers can often come from the most unexpected sources. Conversations need to be out in the open, to give solution providers the best chance of finding the problem they can solve.

Membership doesn't indicate subscription
Personalisation is key aspect of getting the most out of our public internet experience. Even if I subscribe to a mailing group, I may not care about everything everyone in the group says. Mailing lists lock people into a stream of communication that they may or may not like to subscribe to. I can say for myself that I usually just value a few people's voices. On the public internet I filter my input by following only the people and conversations that I'm interested in. I look through activity streams and jump into conversations through a matter of choice. I think of it as being akin to sitting by a flowing river -- I don't need to drink all the water in it. I just dip my toe when I feel like it. Email doesn't allow following people or following interesting conversation. This is where the Facebook activity stream paradigm comes in handy. I get emails, but only when I join a conversation. In fact, I can control what kind of alerts my activity streams generate for me, not the other way around. Control emerges from informed choices - rich profiles, followership, tagging, etc.

Email integration is key to engagement but not the end all

I believe centering your learning strategy purely around email is a mistake. Andrew McAfee clearly mentions that people's resistance to move beyond email and groupware comes from what Richard Thaler has called the endowment effect - we value what we have significantly more than newer items, especially if the new item will substitute what we already have. McAfee also mentions that email is a channel technology - designed to keep conversations private. Web 2.0 technology such as wikis, blogs, media sharing, microblogging however are platform technologies. "They accumulate content over time and make it visible and accessible to all community members." I also argue that beyond the content they provide far more context around what you see. Now this is not to say that we need to ditch email and move on - that would be a change management nightmare. The key is to leverage email in a manner that it draws users to the platform. Simple transition paths like being able to contribute via email, are crucial. That provides a simple transition path for those resisting change.
While backward compatibility with email is a challenge at a lot of Enterprise 2.0 projects (from the look of it), I find it surprising how little I use email in my personal life. I mostly stay in touch with people over Facebook and Twitter. The fact is that I keep putting off all emails I need to write on a personal level. It's way too heavyweight for the way I like to communicate. In my immediate team, we exchange very few emails because we mostly stay in touch over Yammer. We end up using Yammer and use email only for channel oriented communication.

Am I downplaying the benefits of email? I'll be curious if we'd have been keen on email if the de-facto standard of the world was collaboration platforms. I seriously doubt it. What do you think? How are you getting over the email problem?

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!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mobile Learning - 7 Interesting Patterns


Over the last two DevLearn conferences, the big buzz has been around Mobile Learning. While the thinking around this was far more mature this time around, a lot of the initial conversations still seemed to be around porting existing elearning courses onto mobile devices. Of course, the presence of pioneers such as Neil Lasher, Judy Brown, Ellen Wagner and others has helped clear the air around mobile learning a bit. I think at the recent conference, it was pretty clear that mobile learning isn't exactly 'elearning on the move'. Nor is mobile learning all about the iPhone, though the images on this post might make it seem like that. To confess, I've gotten interested about learning on the go ever since I got an iPod - and that's not even a mobile phone! In that, you might already realise that there are several different degrees of mobility. The heterogeneous nature of the mobile ecosystem today brings a bunch of challenges with it:
  • Varying form-factors of devices - screen sizes vary across several mobile devices.
  • Varying platforms that bring the challenge of compatibility across devices. Droids, iPhones, Blackberry phones and Symbian phones are as different from each other as chalk and cheese.
  • Varying degrees of internet connectivity; from 4G connectivity in the USA, to absolutely limited connectivity in Africa and most of Asia.
  • Varying platform capabilities - not everyone has an iPhone or a Droid. In fact my curent phone is so worn out that I can't even see the keypad.
These challenges aside, mobile learning is a storm that's coming especially with feature phones and smartphones becoming a common phenomenon across a lot of the modern workforce. I'm by no means an expert in this space - just a commentator. I have however, been observing a bunch of patterns with mobile learning that could become the norm for how this practice evolves in the enterprise. In today's blogpost (which I anticipate could be a tad long), I want to outline some of these patterns and invite discussion on what you think the future of this space could look like.

Learning Apps
Having an iPod has opened me up to the world of mobile apps and I've been looking for learning applications like a hungry cat. My device has several applications that will teach you something or another. For example I use an application called Presenter Pro that's a free download from Rexi Media. The app is a little pocketbook of wisdom on making better presentations and has examples, exercises and quizzes that'll keep you engaged. In a similar manner I've got an application on my iPod that's all about Delhi and is helping my wife plan a trip at the end of this year. An app about Yoga poses has become my anytime, anywhere yoga instructor in a pocket. Apps are starting to get so ubiquitous that it's led Clive Shepherd to ask if they're the future of elearning. I personally think apps have a long way to go on that front, because not everyone has a smartphone. Even if they did, an app based strategy is risky and costly given the development skills your team will need and the number of platforms that dot this space. Apps definitely have some place in your learning strategy of the future, but I guess it'll always tricky if you put all your eggs in this basket.

Books and Documents
My Kindle has revolutionised the way I read, and the availability of reading applications for Kindle books on PCs, Macs and mobile phones has made my learning extremely flexible. In fact the reading experience on the Kindle is so social that it gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts about what I'm reading, with my social network - anytime, anywhere.  Then again, the notion of bookclubs becomes far more interesting with Kindles. You can have upto six separate devices connected to one Amazon account. Which means that the books, bookmarks, notes and highlights also sync across the devices. This has interesting implications for learning in the enterprise. Devices like Copia seem to be built for enterprise book communities from the ground up.

Also, the ubiqutous nature of formats such as PDF makes portability almost a non-issue across devices - that makes iBooks my favourite application on the iPod. In fact, online applications like Project Rome make PDF a far more interactive format than what we've known it to be. Is this a low cost entry point to provide low-cost, high-quality mobile learning to our workforce?

Podcasting and Portable Media
At DevLearn, I had the pleasure of meeting Inge De Waard, who has really pushed the envelope of elearning by taking mobile learning to South America. Now who would think that continents with limited connectivity options could support the high-quality, video based learning that Inge's team created for medical professionals in this location? As you may be able to glean from the slides here, the idea is quite simple. The health care workers all have iPhones, because these are significantly more convenient to carry around than laptops. The videos come from a freely published podcast on the iTunes store. To get around the cost of 3G connectivity, the institute of tropical medicine have gone ahead and provided these health workers with Airport Express wireless routers that they can use with their home broadband connections. That allows them to download the videos on their iPhones and access them on the move. For a health worker on the road, the big challenge is to have the ability to keep charging their device - video takes a lot out of your phone. So these guys have solar chargers for their phones - now that is clever! Given how effective video can be for showing demonstrations, introducing scenarios and short educational lessons, this is something that could be another low-cost, yet effective way to get learning onto the mobile. Don't know how to create a podcast? Here's a tutorial.

Social Media on the Move
My favourite use of mobile phones is to ensure that people stay engaged and connected with each other to learn socially. A lot of public internet applications already have feature phone and smartphone interfaces. I'm talking about applications like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. This apart, enterprise social software like Jive and Yammer have full fledged interfaces on the major smartphone platforms. The advantage of mobile connectivity for social learning is that it really starts to make learning an anytime, anywhere process. For enterprise social software, this takes away a huge barrier to participation - people can get answers to their questions, see interesting information emerge and co-create knowledge on the go. The key for success in my opinion, is to ensure that you pick social software that already provides mobile access. That reduces your deployment time in a big way and you can focus on the people angle of social media instead.

Game Based Learning
I was greatly influenced by Byron Reeves' keynote at DevLearn 2010. Byron mentioned the power of games in creating engagement and driving learning and Richard Culatta followed up with a pretty outstanding lightning talk on 9 reasons why you should throw out your online courses and start using games instead. While I think Richard's perhaps a bit too radical, I really liked his arguments - particularly how games encourage mastery by immersing individuals in a performance context. I think all games teach something or the other. For example the game you see in the photo above (Trainyard) is a great way to learn about analytical thinking and problem solving. It gives you the safety to fail until you succeed and in fact you get the see the consequence of every decision you make. There isn't always just one way to solve a problem, which is pretty cool because it encourages individual thinking. I could keep going about why Trainyard's so cool, but I think you should learn from an expert instead.

The gaming pattern is an interesting one to use for learning on the go, though I think heterogenous environments could make it quite expensive. Having said this, I think there are inexpensive ways of engaging people. Alternate reality games like the Zombie Apocalypse and Dr. StrangeLearn should be quite simple to port to a mobile web format that is cross platform, yet engaging.

Performance Support
One of the highlights of DevLearn 2010's Demofest was Neil Lasher's Phone2Learn. While I couldn't attend the demo myself, I know from the crowd I saw around Neil, that this was one of the stars of the show. The concept is quite interesting. Neil has gotten mobile learning back to the basics -- all mobile phones carry voice and Neil wants to leverage that basic capability. He's propagating the idea of a learning conversation and the concept of "Just-too-late" learning. Often we realise the need to learn only after we start working on something and don't know how to finish it. This is the "Oh Sh*t!" moment that drives a lot of modern day learning. What if you could pick up the phone and just ask someone how to solve your problem at this point? Neil's system facilitates this learning conversation by harnessing the latest in voice technology.

In Neil's words, "The most natural way to learn. Ask for what you need and have someone explain it to you as and when you need it and at a pace you can absorb."

While it remains to be seen how popular the concept of learning conversations becomes, it seems evident to me that this has a lot of value in environments that include innumerable small transactions. Performance support definitely has it's place in the workplace -- Neil's concept is a creative example of extending this approach to mobile devices.

The Mobile Web
In April this year, Paul Clothier wrote a very interesting article about Mobile Learning on the iPhone. Paul mentioned how easy it can be to create a mobile formatted website using simple tools like iWebKit. At DevLearn, Judy Brown showcased a mobile learning primer from ADL, which is what you see on image above. This is nothing but a simple website formatted for mobile access using iWebKit. For teams that have limited budgets and are looking to provide short, bite-sized chunks of learning over a mobile, this could be a good way to optimise for the form factor of the devices. What's more, this pattern could be cross platform and is unlikely to require a huge chunk of change to port across devices. Nice, huh?
Those are the patterns for mobile learning that I see from my experience. What other patterns have you been seeing? Do you have some revolutionary ideas to facilitate learning on the go? Let me know by commenting on this blogpost. That'll go a long way in making this article complete!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Enterprise Social Learning Needs Porous Walls

I was at DevLearn 2010 last week - I had a great time presenting and I learned from some true masters. Conferences like this are a great experience in terms of actually meeting people in your personal learning network and getting to know them first hand. While talking to a lot of industry colleagues out there, asking them questions and answering some of their questions I wondered why I was doing this. Why was anyone doing this? Don't all our companies have their own walled gardens of knowledge? Aren't they walled for a reason? Was I doing the right thing by sharing information? Was everyone else doing the right thing? These questions led me to think that there's perhaps a few fundamental realities that we're missing with the whole enterprise social learning practice. I briefly spoke about this to Charles Jennings after Jane Hart's wonderful session outlining the state of learning in the workplace today, and here's what I had to suggest to him.

People are Already Sharing Out There

We're born with the fundamental desire to share and learn from peers. We're also a lazy race of animals. We like to get the best possible results from the smallest effort we can invest. So when we need results developers ask questions on stackoverflow, learning professionals go to lrnchat and everyone of us goes to Google. When possible, we share ideas at conferences than in team meetings. In fact, I know quite a few people who wait months to come to a conference so they can find solutions to their problems. The truth is that if a problem has more eyeballs looking, then it has a greater chance of finding a solution. That's a mathematical fact, not just because of the sheer numbers, but also because of the huge power of diversity. The empirical evidence is stacked in favour of sharing more openly, yet organisations choose to hide information behind a firewall. The few times that people look inside their organisation for learning, is when the knowledge is specific and proprietary to the firm. Given that most firms are not the only ones that operate in their space, these instances are far and few in between. This explains the low uptake of enterprise intranets.

Parallel Social Universes need Common Sense Aggregation

"People's time is a zero sum game." - Mark Oelhert, Defense Acquisition University

The drive to mimic social software in the enterprise is a well intentioned one. Having said this, I believe it's a mistake to create parallel social universes in the enterprise. For example, a lot of enterprise 2.0 implementations see a blogging, social networking and microblogging system behind the firewall. Now there's nothing wrong in setting up this infrastructure as long as it leverages existing contributions on the public internet. What happens instead, is that organisations put up this social infrastructure and then expect employees to start blogging, 'tweeting' and networking within the firewall. Again, if someone's already doing this on the big broad internet, there's no incentive for them to contribute on the puny intranet. Think about it -- why would a blogger with an established following of 3000 readers, put in a new effort to blog internally where at the most a 100 people are likely to read her blog? And why would she risk putting her ideas on a platform where her identity is likely to die the day she leaves? Now you can coerce your employees into contributing to your enterprise social infrastructure, but that takes autonomy out of the motivation game. On the other hand, if we could harness the contributions people already make to the web - their blogs, their twitter feed, their delicious bookmarks; we not only leverage the collective intelligence of our workforce, we provide people with recognition for their individuality.

Porous Walls are the Way for the Future
The open source economy makes for an interesting way to tame complexity. When an organisation open source's software, there's not just an interesting business reason behind it, but also a few interesting technical reasons. Think about free development capacity for your software. How about a few new features added for no extra cost? Well yeah, you'll discard 90 contributions to get the 10 quality commits, but free work is free work! How about having people find and fix your bugs for free? This is an extended team, at little or no cost. Now of course, most organisations choose to keep some software proprietary to maintain a strategic advantage, and that's the reason that organisations are likely to keep some knowledge proprietary as well. This said, the vast majority of discussions on company forums are hardly about proprietary knowledge.

Just as we would open source software, isn't there a case for us to open up discussions and knowledge sharing beyond our firewall, limiting only confidential discussions to be within the company? Like open source, this has it's practical benefits and then, early movers have a strong branding advantage just like early movers in the open source space. As walls of the enterprise social network start to become porous this is likely to drive two way knowledge traffic for our organisations. Some of this traffic is likely to come from people we don't even employ! We need to think about the potential of such an approach and before we start to obsess over risk, we need to understand that this is an existing phenomenon. Whether we choose to facilitate it or not, this is already happening. I don't disagree that this requires a fair degree of social media education for our people, but I believe this is an effort well worth our time.
My conversation with Charles Jennings ended on the note that I see a Stage 6 on the Internet Time Alliance's workplace learning diagram. It's a step beyond working collaboratively and co-creating in a workscape. It's about transcending organisational boundaries and embracing a state of porous walls. In my view it is a state of the world that's more in tune with reality. People are already sharing their expertise in the wide open. We can choose to be blind to that and fight the web in a battle we can't win. Or we can be pragmatic and exploit this intellect.

What do you think? Am I going bonkers? I'd love to hear what you think of my hopes for the future of workplace learning. Don't be bashful and leave your comments here -- it's been a while since I heard from you.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Virtual Villages: Cultivating a Shared Practice Community

I am an absolute fan of Tom Kuhlmann and I can't resist the opportunity to participate in his session about Virtual Villages: Cultivating a Shared Practice Community. Tom really knows about this stuff, given the immense success of the Articulate Community. If there's one person you can learn about this from, it's Tom and of course his team. The Articulate community is a pretty cool place -- it doesn't have the snarkiness. You go for help and you get help immediately. There's heaps of content out there and it's one of the most useful places to learn. The cool thing is that people aren't rude to you and there aren't draconian rules.

What's a community
Community is the place where people share what they know and learn from each other. There are perhaps 150000 registered users on the group. If you take the spammers out of the community and the lurkers and you have 80,000-100,000 active users. You have lots of active users, but Tom's point is that numbers doing make a community, because 80,000 people doesn't mean that 80,000 people are sharing, sometimes it's only a small percentage. 

How does a community work?
The community is a place where people want to learn and they want to get to an expert who can help them learn. Tom started to engage with the Articulate community for his research project and started to contribute on it with no strings attached. He gave himself of being the expert who wants to find people who want to learn. Tom learnt a lot about the mechanism of the community process from this experience and from his research. When Tom joined Articulate, he was looking for people who are really passionate about helping people - David Anderson and Jeanette Brooks are folks who really dedicate their work lives in helping people. They are really special people. So a community is a place where:
a) someone wants to learn something;
b) someone is willing to help

The important thing here is that you don't make draconian rules, and you do the best you can to give away your work. Proprietary stuff makes it difficult for people to share. So while the community is all about building expertise, the new learners feel attracted to the community by their expertise. The Articulate community has a reputation model where they have MVPs -- honouring people's contribution to the community. This recognition often makes great contributors to become obligated to contribute and drives greater contributions from them.The key to a community however is that you want to ensure that while you promote the experts, you also make it easy for the new guys and avoid an elitist mentality. Tom gets a lot of traffic because the Articulate community makes communication and sharing easy using the technology they have available.

Technology is an enabler, but remember communities are all about people. Communities aren't all the same. A Volkswagen community is going to be different from a church community which is different from a software development community. The difference means that we need to structure every community differently. The truth about communities and this is a rough estimate:
  • 95% just want quick tips and tricks
  • 5% are conversing and active
If the 5% don't exist, the 95% don't appear to get the help. OTOH if the 95% aren't around, then the 5% who want to belong don't have a reason to be there.

Making your Community Work


Tom is now telling us about a few tradeoffs you may need to make when structuring your community:
  • High Fidelity/ High Convenience: Sometimes you may not have the coolest community but you give people a huge amount of convenience in finding stuff. OTOH, you may actually go for a high-fidelity and quality of communication to go for a little less convenience. Remember this is a balance not always just a choice.
  • Social connection/ Pragmatic Connection: How are people engaging? Are they engaging for the fact that they want social connections? Or are the out there because they want to be able to get most use out of the community
  • Community Experience/ Practical Help: People become part of communities often to belong and feel part of a sense of worth. On the other hand people other people are looking for a quick set of tips
Remember the cheap disposable phone does similar things to a status symbol phone. The audiences they meet are different though. My mother wouldn't care about an iPhone, but I care about it heaps. Remember that a community is an organic process. Think of your community as a tree -- your experts are the root and the others are the fruit. You want the fruit, but you won't have it if you don't tend to the roots. So whatever you can do to make your experts get more and more involved, will help you build a better, stronger community. Your experts will build the engine that brings other people in.

Remember that there's an overwhelming amount of information out there. You need community management and that has two clear roles:
  • For people who need quick, practical help, you need someone who is curating interesting information and brings interesting information to the surface.
  • For people who wish to belong, you need someone who is a connector and keeping the experts interested.
"You can't make people love you. You can only love them yourself!" - Tom Kuhlmann

People don't care about Articulate. All they care about is getting their jobs done. The community is not about Articulate -- so the team doesn't sell the tool on the forums. It just helps them get stuff done. On your companies community of practice, you can do this same thing by finding out what they care about and focus on that rather than focus on what you want to do. Don't focus your community of practice on the cool aid - focus on real work that people care about. See how you can help someone's team be more than the team that they have available to them. The community needs to make people successful.

To measure your community's success, think of what your fruit is:
  • is it the number of people?
  • is it the number of experts on it?
  • is it the amount of content you have?
  • is it the number of conversations you have?
Do be mindful that you avoid cliques, negative commentary, erratic norms and forcible community building. Think of how you'll grow as your community gets bigger. Create a way for people to get what they need. How can you share your expertise. BTW, Tom mentions WebJunction as an example of thriving community that you can also learn from.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Learning Culture Makes a Big Difference

I am participating in David Mallon's session at DevLearn where he's talking about the importance of learning culture in building a high impact business strategy. Now I must tell you that I'm a big fan of David and his talk last year gave me a lot of inspiration in creating ThoughtWorks' learning strategy. He is one of the best analysts you'll meet in the L&D space. Bersin is a great research organisation that you need to definitely know about and perhaps even be a member for and they are Josh Bersin's company -- he's an absolute god in this industry.

The research from David talks about data from 425 organisations worldwide. This is a very important topic for us. There's a force for transformative change in the learning function and the business at large today. The Business climate is changing because of growth, the economy, globalisation, etc. The workforce is changing with it's mix. The technology is changing at an astronomical pace and the organisational dynamics are affecting HR and L&D decisions in a huge way. We have a very different workplace and workforce today.

One of Bersin's pieces of research is called Talent Watch - this is about Leadership in HR and Learning. The top challenges for 2010 have been around pressure to cut costs, the need to accelerate innovation, growth and global expansion. This has implications for us as learning professionals. Do we have the skills to thrive, now that we're coming out of a downturn. Do we have the next generation of leaders in place? Are we prepared for scaling and growth. 44% organisation are focussed on new products and services. 52% are seeing accelerating growth in the current environment.

Why are some organisations better than others?

Today's topic however is about learning culture. What is it that enables certain learning organisations to do significantly better than others? The short answer is:
  • alignment with business
  • doing effective things
  • doing things efficiently
We contribute in three ways:
  1. Skills and Competency Development
  2. Talent and Capability Development
  3. Learning Culture Development
Increasingly talent needs drive learning organisations. High performing organisations are 3 times more likely to have a strong learning culture, reveals David Mallon. Remember that this is part of research from over 425 organisations! But what in the world does a learning culture mean?

Learning culture is driven by business outcomes. Bersin has studied ten performance measures for this:
  • Productivity
  • Innovation
  • Learning Agility
  • Workforce Expertise
  • Time to Market
  • Market Share
  • Customer Responsiveness
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Customer Input
  • Cost Structure
What drives the learning culture?

But even all of what I've written doesn't answer what would drive a strong culture of learning? Bersin has come up with a High Impact Learning culture model and includes a few values:
  1. Building Trust - jow do we rely on people to learn from each other?
  2. Encouraging Reflection - do we value reflection and learning from our mistakes?
  3. Demonstrating Learning Value - how does the organisation demonstrate that learning is an important thing?
  4. Enabling Knowledge Sharing
  5. Empowering Employees - learning happens when we take risks and step out of the box? Is making mistakes and failing fast a good thing? How ok is the organisation with failure - because this leads to bigger successes down the road.
  6. Formalising Learning as a Process : Learning is not an event, it's a process. How does the organisation support continuous learning?
We need leadership and management to drive the ability to learn, the motivation to learn and the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.  Here are the top 10 practices (of the 40) we need to focus on:
  1. Leaders are open to bad news.
  2. Asking questions is encouraged.
  3. Decision making processes are clearly defined throughout the company.
  4. Employees frequently get tasks or projects beyond their current knowledge or skills level in order to stretch them departmentally.
  5. Employees in the organisation have influence over which job tasks are assigned to them.
  6. The organisation values and rewards employees who learn new knowledge and skills.
  7. The organisation values mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, and provides structured opportunities for reflection.
  8. The organisation believes that learning new knowledge and skills is a valuable use of time.
  9. Employees generally believe the learning and/or developmental opportunities offered by the organisation to be of high value.
  10. Employees in the organisation take active part in their own personal development.
Most of this doesn't count as stuff that we control as L&D and this goes with my argument of ensuring that L&D partners with leadership, management and HR to ensure that we have a strong learning culture. Doing these things has strong value, because strong cultures = high performers. David is showing us some crazy ass graphs that prove this with empirical evidence. This isn't just about learning - this is good, sound business strategy.

Most of the surveyed innovative organisations do most of the things that you see in the top 10 list above. Do you want your organisation to be innovative?

Examples from the Real World
Cisco has a leadership development program. Cisco has a strong action learning approach to Leadership Development. This means that we learn the best to have a real world problem to solve. Cisco runs their program for 15 weeks and is a mix of formal and informal learning. The first 2-3 weeks is about self-directed learning. The second phase which is about 9 weeks where they actually work in a group to solve existing business problems. Phase 3 is all about feedback and development planning. It's a highly prestigious, and everyone wants to be part of it. Everyone's talking about it and the model is getting transferred to other programs as well.

ING Direct is an 'unbank' that wants to be low-cost and high touch. The CEO is always talking about learning and the fact that the people who are learning are the absolute rockstars. This is an example of leaders promoting learning and demonstrating learning value. The Orange Code of ING is all about learning as a culture.

Kelly services, one of the world's best recruiting firms invested in a good onboarding program and reduced turnover in a huge way. Strategic onboarding not just aids learning but creates a sense of connection to the company.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland integrates knowledge sharing program and processes with their organisation's objectives. They've got some of the most innovative social learning programs that you can think of. They've integrated knowledge sharing with performance management and they've made it a core competence for many in the company. They've constantly rewarded people for participation. They have collaboration days to actually help people to have extra time just to collaborate and learn from each other. The encourage employees to see knowledge sharing as a leadership development opportunity. This is an example of how the organisation believes that learning new knowledge and skills is a valuable use of time. Learning is part of the DNA of the company.

We need to be looking at learning culture as the foundation for our learning strategy. Bersin has a great piece of advisory research for this.

Getting started
David has some excellent suggestions for us to get started with developing learning cultures. This is golddust, read carefully:
  1. Make learning strategic - integrate it in support of capability development
  2. Make a belief in learning part of the organisation's culture of leadership.
  3. Make a great first impression for learning. Use onboarding programs to encourage employees to take personal responsibility for learning.
  4. Make full use of captive audiences. Use required training activities to prove the value of the organisation's learning offering and strengthen the L&D brand. This is a good lesson for stuff like compliance training.
  5. Make work educational. Use embedded learning like feedback, customer feedback, stretch goals,  job rotation and retrospectives.
  6. Make knowledge sharing an organisational habit
  7. Make performance management a driver of development. Think coaching and development.

Yet again, an awesome session by David, I like his sessions a lot and I thought it was a pity that some people left early.

The New Social Learning with Marcia Conner - Live Blog

I am exhausted, but I am also really looking forward to this keynote by the incredible Marcia Conner. You might have read my recent review of her book - The New Social Learning. If you haven't picked up the book yet, please do; it's an absolute must read for every learning professional in this world. In fact, I'll go to the extent that if you're an executive, a manager or just another knowledge worker, you should still pick up this book to redefine how people are learning. On a sidenote, the keynote is running late and I think it's because there are so many awesome stages going on right outside, such as the Mobile Learning Jam and the Social Learning Jam. Marcia's been working in the learning space for a long, long time and if you're one of her tweeps then you'll know what I'm talking about. She's encouraging people to make #dl10 a trending topic on twitter. That may be tough, but I'm sure with how good she is she'll get her fair share of traffic.

Social Learning is not a New Thing
We have 5 billion mobile subscribers in the world - 7 in 10 adults worldwide. 96% of people under 30 are on a social network. 9 out of 10 adults trust recommendations from friends and virtual strangers than any other source. The world is changing, but just not in our organisations. Marcia makes everyone stand up and then says that if any of our organisations are ready, then we can sit down. Looking at how many people are still standing, I can see a huge problem. That said, this is an indication that there are cool things happening across the world and if you have a problem, you're not alone.

Barnett Helzberg from a simple, personal love story came up with an entire campaign based on just one line - I am loved. This campaign has moved onto twitter as a viral marketing event on the #iamloved tag. The hashtag has a great followership and this an organisation that knows how to connect with their people. Helzberg has discovered that they can find pearls amidst sand unlike ever before. Change grows in unlikely corners. From being focussed on education, they focussed on how people learn.

This is not the same as being always social, not the same as running an LMS and not the same as informal learning. Marcia wrestles with Jay Cross about this quite a bit. This is not specifically elearning - but again your mileage may vary, your definition may vary. Social media is technology used to engage three or more people. Three, because something magical happens when communication moves beyond being a back and forth on a two way street. Social learning is participating is participating with others to make sense of new ideas. Social learning theory has been around for years - Lance Dublin talked about this in his session too. It's about participating with others and engaging others to make meaning. What's new is how powerfully they work together.

Here's another example from Marcia. This is about Telus. Imagine you're on top of a telephone pole and you believe something's not right. Since you believe something's wrong, you go back to your truck, videotape the entire situation and then take upload that video with two clicks of a video to your intranet called the Telus Exchange. People look at it and very quickly you have advice in 40 seconds on how you can deal with the situation. This is a real situation - four responses coming back in 40 seconds is quite amazing, huh? This is truly social.
Technology - The New Social Learning Enabler

"Technology changes, but humans don't." - Deb Schultz

Technology isn't core to this message and they enable our natural social nature. Social media has several categories:
  1. Social Networks/ Online Communities
  2. Media Sharing
  3. Microsharing
  4. Living Content - the overall category including collaborative documents and wikis.
  5. Virual Immersive Environments
  6. There are several other technologies:
    • bookmarking
    • tagging
    • etc
Coming up with one more story and my favourite one. Most organisations lock down social media because they think their information is very secret. Mayo Clinic has staff that gets 400 beeps on their pagers each minute. This is irritating if you're a patient they're taking cared of . So it seems like a good thing to shut this down. So they decide to use social media to control the flow of information to see it when they want to. They are using microsharing to create these regular updates. This kind of stuff is greatly improving performance of the medical staff and in general it improves knowledge sharing, fosters learning, provides more informal learning opportunities, improves communication, finds resources more easily, boosts collaboration, builds organisational relationships.

By answering the question of "What are you doing now", "What needs your attention NOW" and "What do you need to know NOW?" and "Are you available?" gives us several opportunities to create serendipitous, on-demand and embedded learning in the enterprise. The pity is that proper enterprise social software companies aren't in this conference.

The last example is Delloitte. They are the largest professional services practice worldwide and they wanted to ensure that they could be the best, progressive workplace they could be. They came up with an online community called D Street (on the lines of a Main Street) and this has now become a virtual organisational water cooler. They use D-Street as a core component of their corporate university and is a huge part of their organisational infrastructure.
What can we do
The fact is that it's not too late to get started. You may not be the innovator, or early adopter, but you can still be part of the majority that's catching up. At Humana, social media is completely blocked out but people still use their iPhones to chat on Twitter. People are using social media whether you like it or not. People are using it whether we like it or not - we need to harness this conversation. Each of us know a little bit about how people learn. We are in an amazing position to make change in our organisation. You may think that your organisations are strange, but you have chance to make change. This is the chance to get over it. We need to be leading this revolution. A lot of organisations want to be like cheetahs; that's one option because you could be an early adopter. But then again there are the crocodiles, you learn, you absorb and then you swallow the water-buffalo when it comes by. Luck is when opportunity meets preparation and that's how a crocodile works. Can you pick up social media skills and be like the 'slow' yet effective crocodile. Together, we are better.

It's simple - we can make quick status updates, share, repeat stuff that people say. It gives you the practice and the learning of a crocodile. Check it out, give it a go -- DevLearn is a great way to learn as are social forums like #lrnchat. We need to get clear, get informed and get talking and get started. Marcia wants us to promise that even if we aren't the cheetahs, we need to promise we'll be the crocodiles. I think that's something everyone can promise to do this. In a year's time, I'm pretty sure we'll see heaps more people being part of the social learning phenomenon!

This has been a simple, powerful presentation -- Thornton May is a tough act to follow and Marcia's done a great job. I really liked how she's made the case for social learning and tried to inspire people to get started with bringing in social learning to their lives and their organisations. Marcia's got a really great personality for someone who's a self-confessed introvert and I think I have heaps to learn from her as a speaker and an ideator in this space. Again, this is not new information, but her style was so persuasive that I loved her talk. Great job!

The New Know with Thornton May - Badly written Live-Blog

The second day of DevLearn 2010 and I'm absolutely thrilled that I came here. I must say this is my favourite conference in the whole world. Spending the evening with ThoughtLeaders like Aaron Silvers and Kevin Thorn and meeting the who's who of the L&D space has just completely rocked my world. This morning will be just another extension to this wonderful learning experience. I'm attending Thornton May's keynote - The New Know. This talk is based on his really interesting book (which I haven't read yet) on analytics powered of innovation. Thornton looks like a really impressive guy - comes in a suit with a bow tie. Seems to be his style because all his photos have him wearing that kind of stuff. He's calling this the post industrial campfire - whatever this means!

The challenges we face are real, they're serious and they're many. We will not meet them in a short span of time. A few things we need to know about Thornton - he's not an astronomer, mathematician or a geographer in the second century who believes the world revolves around him. He's not the sage on the stage either. He believes that this is about us, not him and that's a good lesson for all of us -- it's not about us, it's the people we serve. Thornton also claims to be a futurist. When he says this people dismiss him and then challenge him to do something truly futuristic. He's genetically engineered for travel. He's short, and he likes airline food! He's ridiculously well travelled and is amazingly well connected and loves taking business cards. He claims to be to pathologically observant - his mother was a spy, who was good at everything but parenting. He did learn from his mother - your network will keep you safe. He IS absolutely brutally honest. Anyways, his idea is to get our barking dogs excited about what's coming next.

For the past two years, Thornton's been on a journey. In every major geoprgraphical market and every vertical he's been asking questions:
  • What do you know?
  • What do need to know?
  • How do you get to know?
Because we live in a web 2.0 world, because this is not a lecture, this is not a holiday and because all of us are smarter than one of us -- we'll do a set of exercises. 

Exercise: Which historical moment closely resembles very closely the situation that we find ourselves in today? Thornton's gotten everyone chatting and he's prancing around this huge room! What? Isn't this a keynote? This guy is redefining what keynote addresses are all about. He is the true naked presenter. Anyways, Thornton mentions that as educators we need to be great pattern recognisers. The pattern we see is that the moment Thornton allowed us to speak, the energy level of the room went up. As educators, we need to give the mike up.

Thornton is running to the back of the room to give the mike up to one of the back benchers and the back bencher says she has no clue what situation resembles the situation of today. Another person is saying that this is an age where we're trying to forcefit solutions to mobilelearning as we did with elearning back in the day. Another person says that this is like the time we invented the printing press which triggered an information revolution. The next person says this is like the switch from horses to motorcars. There are quite a few others who're talking about the printing press. Another group said plastics and the space race. Someone says it's like the American revolution and my group thought it's like the Industrial Revolution. Lot's of great answers all around. This is nothing like any keynote I've ever seen. Thornton is rocking it!

So what patterns did we notice? There seems to be some sort of catalyst for change; there's power change happening. A lot of other people have answered this kind of situation and they've responded with:
  • Pearl Harbour
  • Day 30 of the Blitz
  • The Day after Hiroshima
  • Lewis and Clark after day 400 of their trip
  • Joan of Arc at the stake
  • Civil War
  • The Cambrian Explosion
The key is that we're at a major inflection point.

Exercise: When your CxO hears the phrase elearning, what's the first thing that leaps to their mind?

Here come the answers:
  • elearning will make email look like a rounding error
  • it should be learning minus the 'e', it should just be learning
  • it will make them look cool and cutting
  • what's the cost?
  • how about the security?
  • increase sales
  • how does it impact the network?
  • can we save cost by letting go of the field instructors?
  • i want to see something different from what we've seen
  • let's test it out for 6 months before you use it
Thornton talks about 'mental models'. Mental models are important, they can be functional, dysfunctional and should be monitored, managed and sometimes updgraded.

There are four kinds of people when driving change in the organisation:
  1. Hi Resources/ Hi Agreement: Champions
  2. Hi Resources/ Low Agreement:Blockers
  3. Low Resources/Low Agreement: Squids
  4. Low Resources/ High Agreement: Allies
Blockers are the people who we need to manage. We need to work with CEOs to think about:
  • Competition
  • Revenues
  • Changing Landscape
  • Franchisees
  • Execution
  • Risk
Exercise 3: Three ways we think the world three years from now is going to differ from the world we live in today.

Here come the answers:
  • information will be free
  • games and learning will find convergence
  • global shift - will happen
  • global learning and collaboration
  • people with learn Mandarin and Hindi
  • confusion as command and control disappears
  • working remotely and from home
  • people can keep wearing headphones at work
  • the mobile device will replace the computer
  • we'll be far more social -- moving to being community managers than learning managers
  • mobile is going to have a lot of impact
  • we might see more simulations
  • we might see more interactive worlds
  • the death of the LMS maybe
  • ecommerce and communication
Quite a few answers -- I'm too tired to type everything. Thornton takes a lot of your energy - this guy is energiser bunny on steroids.

"May-san ware-ware mondai ga arimasu yo!" - quote from May. This is a Japanese quote that means, "Mr May, we have a problem -- yaay!" Now technology doesn't last forever, we can't keep getting enamoured by it. The next is going to be different from now. We as humans are going to have trouble keeping up. In the Industrial age and the later industrial age, major change happened every 50-20 years, now in this age we have change every 5 years!

There's a new world, new problems, new behaviours. The pace of change is accelerating the pace of change for various piece parts of the world we live in is not uniform. A macro trend we need to understand is desyncrhonisation. We need to connect our ability to collect data and our ability to process it. "Information is not learning - some assembly is required." Google gives us thousands of results - 2 million results about "too much information"! In 15 years, we might be able to IP address every molecule in the universe. We're talking about information overload - this is not a bug, it's a feature. There's nothing we cannot know and we're the path to that knowledge. The only thing that'll become obsolete next - ignorance. In the future we'll be expected to know. We're known by the mistakes we make and bad calls are making us study high-tech references. We're going to have instant replay for every managerial decisions.

Is elearning under-Caesared? When Caesar got kidnapped, he asked his pirate kidnappers to double the ransom. We shouldn't undervalue ourselves. May ends off with a picture of a dog strapped to rocket and asks us when we light that rocket, will we have a happy puppy!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Total Engagement with Byron Reeves

Brain fried in a nice way -- that's what I'll say about my DevLearn 2010 experience so far. It isn't as if the sessions have blown me away, but the fact that I've had so much resonant thinking around me that I feel I'm learning more from just having a strong community of practitioners around me. When I enjoy things I usually feel mentally energised and physically I feel really tired. My back hurts right now, so I must be enjoying things right now. I have my session coming up in 90 minutes, but before that the live blogger in me needs to cover the second keynote of the day. Byron Reeves is presenting Total Engagement, a talk about what he's written about in his book on games and virtual worlds. I'm amazed that the room isn't as packed as it was in the morning. Byron Reeves is a professor at Stanford and is a thoughtleader in the field of interactive learning. Brent promises heaps of practical examples, so this should be pretty darn awesome.

The topic of gamification is pretty hot right now. Google seems to return 62,100 results at this moment, so that is as hot as you can define hot to be.

Real Stories

Byron starts off the session with some stories about real people.
  1. The first person is Nick, 23 years old, BS in computer science and instead of doing training signs up at rangefinders and starts off by creating an avatar to play a game. This is pretty awesome for Nick, because he needs to identify suspects at the underground station and as he does this, he learns, picks up points and advances in the game. In fact, Nick's boss tells him that he can stop playing when he reaches Level 17 and that's when he's done with his training. The catch is that Level 17 is a real live video feed from the station - real bad guys to cope up with. This throws away the manual completely and helps individuals build real competence.
  2. Byron now shows an IBM virtual world where there are 9 people sitting in a virtual world, meeting in their avatars and discussing the future of the company. They are actually doing work in the context of the gaming/ virtual world that we just saw.
  3. 19000 Cisco people met for a virtual conference in a virtual world, complete with games, saving $90 million. While people may not have liked the games as much as going to Vegas, it's still $90 million saved. Leaderboards, game interfaces and what not complete the entire experience.
  4. Microsoft has to do language reviews for their software. They just made this into a game, where the act of getting some work done got people up on a leaderboard in an alternate reality.
  5. Agile software development - there's already a lot of wisdom about using virtual worlds in that space.
  6. Byron is now showing us a Stanford game called Power House - a game to learn about energy saving. It helps people see their actual home energy use with Google Powermeter and use the real savings resulting from that knowledge to move their scores up!
  7. At Target the checkout clerk plays a game where if the clerk can scan an item quickly they get points on this game. Based on their scores, they compete for prizes and the fantasy league that's running at the back makes people sometimes work even longer than they usually do.
What's Hard about Work?
Byron brings up a story about a fictional character called Ted. Ted is looking for purpose and engagement, but is in repetitive and dull work. He needs to collaborate and cooperate on multiple teams in a decentralised organisation. He's trying to do his work in a slow, legacy bound environment which is risk averse, and crowded with information. The tools he gets to work are UGLY.

On the other hand another person finds engagement in sophisticated play. He's getting constant feedback in what he's doing with a role on a team. He collaborates with diverse teammates across the world - "I don't win unless we win." This person (maybe playing World of Warcraft) plays in environments with speed, risk tolerance, transparency, analytics, fair competition, and a meritocracy.

Some of the most interesting software we see these days is in the gamification space.

7 Reasons Why this will Work
The key for us to find a way to justify these reasons to ourselves and to our businesses:

1. Games are big: Farmville is a huge example of that. This is stuff that we can make fairly quickly and at relatively low costs and this has huge impacts. 12M people in WOW, several in Farmville, this is a huge user base. The average age of people doing this is 33 years, who are working full time. 25% have kids. $85k is the average household income -- that's middle class. So this isn't the teenager in the basement. People are playing about 25 hours a week and the oldest play the most about 40+ hours a big.

2. A new gamer generation is emerging: Byron and his team asked IBM and their people about their gaming habits. A lot of the leaders of some gaming guilds responded to this survey. 50% say that games have improved their leadership in the real world. 75% say that MMOs should be applied to enhance leadership for global companies. This is consistent with what Sherry Jin said at ThoughtWorks. The generation believes:
  • competition is fun
  • failure doesn't hurt
  • risk is part of the game
  • feedback is best when it's immediate
  • trial and error is the best plan
  • bosses and rules are less important
  • group action is common
3. The ingredients are known: You can look through the popular games and there are some recipes for success. Firstly self representation is important. People have the ability to customise their avatars in SecondLife and World of Warcraft for example. There's a story that you're part of. There's regular feedback that tells you how you're doing. There's transparency and there's an economy which you can actually trade for real money. You can look through the book for more of this.
4. A new science of fun: Byron is showing us two green dots on the screen where there are just two dots on the screen where you need to follow another dot as closely as possible. When people feel they're playing with a person, it activates the part of the brain for self-other connectedness. As against this when people feel they're playing a computer, this activates only the visual part of the brain. When we play another human being, our heart beats 10 times faster than usual. This is primitive engagement that actually makes us human and helps us keep building our ability to collaborate and engage socially with people.

5. Gamers are used to working: This notion of an exact distinction between work and life, serious and not and personal and professional is wrong. We have to get to an age of convergence. Byron shows us an incredibly complex medical game where doctors pay $15 a month to improve their diagnosis skills through gaming. This is work but it's fun too.
6. Changing ideas about play: Play is really important and it's not the opposite of work as some people may think. Byron tells us about Mark who wants to review notes from his sophomore calculus class. Mark wanted to find a way to do something really cool with a subject that he struggled with. He had an absolute blast playing with this bit of knowledge that he wasn't really good at. This is not the opposite of work. Playful contests are the essence of culture. Play allows us to rehearsse and learn; it determines social identity and facilitates our imagination.

7. Engagement matters: Byron's visited several companies that are thinking about what's hard about work today. Workers aren't engaged enough and if you really care about retaining the most passionate people you hire then you need to find ways to engage them. He shows us an example of workers in a healthcare context. A game called Puzzle Pirates which is an MMORPG where people have to solve tetris like puzzles in a group. Byron's idea was to take this game to the healthcare context by just swap out the puzzles and replace this with real work. 50-70% of these people leave every year. It's a very stressful job and that is not very engaging. The cost of that churn is huge, and there's a cost of doing nothing. OTOH if the organisation can bring in the values of collaboration, teamwork and fun into the workplace to engage their workforce through a game based workplace, they can actually reduce that churn and focus more on business results. Engagement is good business and it affects turnover, accuracy, efficiency, absenteeism, health, self efficacy, leadership, collaboration, innovation and what not. It's the kind of thing that can make a CEO do cartwheels in the hallway.

Dangers of the Approach

There are pitfalls we need to be aware of. Powerful also means dangerous:
  • avatar mistakes
  • anti-social narratives
  • repetitive streess
  • employment and HR issues
  • mistakes that alter people's reputations
  • abridgement of privacy
Byron reminds us to think of the risks when coming up with any sort of proposal that we come with in this space. In summary, the confusion of learning and working is useful, the engagement they create has business value and the gamification phenomenon is steadily increasing. So we need to stay alive to it and ensure we're smelling the coffee.

This has been an awesome keynote and I'm so sorry that I'm having to run out just because my session's up next. Thank you Byron and thanks Brent for getting us such a fabulous keynote speaker. I have no opportunity to listen to questions and ask some of my own. It's a shame!

The State of Learning in the Workplace Today

I've just scrambled into Jane Hart's session about the state of learning in the workplace today. This is a guide in soundbites and images and is a way to summarise the excellent guide on Jane's website that a lot of us have already seen. I'm a self-confessed fan of the incredible thinking that the Internet Time Alliance put out, so I am sitting through the session even though I already comprehend the material.

The traditional approach to workplace learning has been about managing and controlling the learning experience, keeping it really top down. There are 10 factors that are shaping the new era of workplace learning.

The 10 Factors


1. Recognition that informal learning is a key part of workplace learning
 In Jay's words, it's not all about classes and courses. "Informal learners usually set their own learning objectives. They learn when they feel a need to know. The proof of their learning is their ability to do something they could not do before". As Harold Jarche says, "Work is learning, learning work." The big folly of a lot of thinking is that several people are talking about formalising informal learning and they're just missing the point because then it doesn't remain informal anymore. As you may remember from one of my recent blogposts, Charles Jennings is a big proponent of the 70-20-10 thinking.

2. There are deficiencies in the formal learning model
Most formal learning is content heavy and interaction poor. It provides little opportunity for practice in context and for reflection. In other words, a large amount of formal learning is a cost rather than a benefit. There's an inherent inertia in formal learning approaches. It takes time and effort to design, develop and deliver learning content. Speed-to-competence is always a compromise.

3. Social media is having a big impact in the workplace
Jane runs an activity to evaluate the top 100 tools for learning each year and this year, the top 9 tools are all social tools, which shows a huge impact of social media to drive learning. This is a huge shift which we need to be aware of and catch up with.

4. Increasing consumerisation of IT
Enterprise systems are lagging behind, so people are using their own tools and devices. L&D isn't quick to respond to people's needs so people just help themselves. Individuals easily use familiar tools and they have their ways to circumvent ways to block their access to such resources.

5. Merging of personal, working and learning tools
The usual criticism of a lot of social media is that these aren't learning tools. This is the coolness of the phenomenon, where work, learning and personal life are converging in a very special way.

6. Individuals are doing their own thing
People are going to Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to tap into their social network to learn whether you have an LMS or not. Since the L&D department isn't as fast and the knowledge is out their, people are learning outside the learning department. So there is the top down training that exists, but there's the larger share of the pie which is about working and learning where things are really bottom up where people are using social media to learn with each other.

The idea is to avoid the word "learning" and to move towards "working smarter". "The only people who can own social learning are the individuals who thmeselves are learning each day from one another, based on the work and in the flow of work." - Marcia Conner

7. Autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude

The opposite of autonomy is control. We need to give people autonomy to manage their own learning, because that leads to total engagement.

8. Today's learning systems are not appropriate for the new era of workplace learning.
There's a huge problem with the current (or really the past) era of learning systems. The Great LMS Debate has thrown a lot of light on this issue. We need to integrate learning into work instead of putting it away in a system where it becomes nothing more than an information refrigerator. We need to find a way to integrate learning into our collaboration platforms.

9. The changing learning landscape is part of a much wider changing business environment
We need a new paradigm for getting things done and for empowering a new breed of employee that does not function well in a heirarchal top down, highly controlled environment - Michael Lascette. Clark Quinn has talked about this here.

10. Senior decision makers think there's a need for change in L&D
Most leadership respondents have mentioned that their L&D function is slow to respond, that they're stuck in business as usual and that they lack confidence in their L&D strategy. The fact is that if your CEO doesn't believe you make a difference, there will be a time you'll get cut one way or the other.

We need a shift

The ITA has been talking a lot about the shift to collaborative learning in the workplace as you'll notice from the above diagram. Jane is giving out three practical steps towards the new era of workplace learning:
  1. We need to encourage people and support individuals and teams to address their own learning and performance problems. We need to let go, give up control and move into creating the context for learning instead of having a huge focus purely on content. An easy way to do this is to ensure that we don't ban social media in the enterprise. Jane has an article about why you shouldn't ban social media - she has 10 reasons for you! People are doing their own thing to learn anyways, so blocking them means blocking their growth.
  2. Provide performance consulting services. We need to do training only when we've addressed other barriers to performance. The tools are secondary to the purpose that you're approaching. Harold Jarche has written an awesome article about how you need to approach problems with a consulting mindset than with a training mindset. Only a lack of skills and knowledge warrants training.
  3. We need to provide advice on appropriate tools and systems. To move from a point of top down control to a point of bottom up control, we need a way to be able to facilitate it through technology. We need an LMS to do the formal stuff, but we need to focus on the 70% and 20% of the 70-20-10 pie to ensure we're making the biggest impact.

This is a pretty cool wrap up of the stuff the ITA often talks about. Liked the summary and the fact that most of the alliance was around. It was fun meeting Jane and Harold in person for the first time.
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