Friday, March 25, 2011

Knowlegeable to Knowledge-able with @mwesch

I'm very excited to be at Michael Wesch's keynote at Learning Solutions 2011. Michael's from the department of anthropology at Kansas state university and is a well known figure exploring the effects of new media on society and culture. This is a topic that I'm particularly interested in and it really gets me warmed up to see someone from academia come up with a talk like this. I'm expecting a lot of real stories and empirical evidence. You should definitely look up Michael's YouTube channel - great videos and great stuff to learn. He's also a twitter god - 10,000+ followers?

The place that Michael turns to for answers is his students. He has 200-400 students each year and he studies them like an anthropologist. Classrooms are the quintessential areas of learning in society and there's something really wrong with them. You get disappointing results such as questions like, "How many points is this worth?". The video above is an illustration of stuff that's so wrong with education today. Facebook through class all day - there's literally something in the air. The knowledge is all around people and a lot of advanced technology is so ubiquitous that it makes connection, organising, sharing and learning easier than ever before. In Michael's world people need to be knowledge-able, be able to find, share, learn, organise. We're in the middle of profound cultural change and only the knowledge-able can cope with that change effectively.

Our Culture is Changing

Michael has spent a lot of time in New Guinea and it's a fairly tough place to live in given the things that people have to eat and how they survive in the tropical weather in rainforest. When he was there it felt to Michael as if he had a total loss of self. He says your self is reflected back to you by your context and he had to recreate himself in this new culture and environment. There was no media there to guide him. He realised just how important media was to him. The next 8 years that he was there, media helped the people there in a big way. For example population census - it should be really easy to write down the names and list the people in a village right? Except the people in village don't really have regular names. Their names are like 'brother', 'sister', etc. The other examples was disputes. People would get together in a village get together and fix the relationship in a group. When you bring in the written law, this obviously changes things dramatically. Media is therefore not just tools and communication - they mediate relationships. Media changes, relationships change and the culture changes.

Think about how we watch TV. We watch TV for the content, but the content drives relationships. We watch TV while at dinner, we congregate in groups to watch sport. These are the conversations that create our culture. Now this kind of stuff should be showing it's effect on education, but it doesnt - 43% of students are bored, up from 20% in the 80s. How do people get engaged in American Idol and not as much in class?

"What we are encountering is a panicky, an almost hysterical, attempt to escape from the deadly anonymity of modern life… and the prime cause is not vanity… but the craving of people who feel their personality sinking lower and lower into the whirl of indistinguishable atoms to be lost in a mass civilization."  - Henry Seidel Canby, 1926

Let's understand this phenomenon. We use the word "Whatever". So what's a brief history of the phrase "Whatever"? Let's analyse it over time. In the pre-60s "Whatever" meant "That's what I meant". After the 60s it became synonymous with "I don't care" or a "Meh...". This reflects itself in the Nirvana lyrics of the "Smells like Teens" song. So why is American Idol popular, it's a way for people to raise their personality and not be indistinguishable. More people want to be important today - more people want to be the new American Idol. From the late 90s to now, people have adopted the "I'll do what I want" meaning for "Whatever". It's an empowered generation and free culture. This is embodied in the book, Generation Me. It's a very broad cultural phenomenon which is driving a search for identity and recognition. Our choices are so incredibly broad, you're not born knowing who you are and want to be. We all need identity and recognition and the media keeps bombarding us with messages of the kind of people we should become. The search for the authentic self leads us towards self-centered modes of self-fulfillment and disagreement on several things - values, views, approaches. We're more disengaged and more fragmented. The new media revolution is creating the cultural background for this kind of a change.

A User Generated Knowledge Economy

Web 2.0 is changing the way we connect to onother. We need to rethink ourselves as the video above will show you. Michael created this at home and it has had 11,319,629 over the last four years. This is when Michael shared it with four friends just to get feedback. Can you imagine that? Things got viral and he was soon topping Digg. This was a way for user generated filtering. Think about it - Michael created this video. That was user generated content and digg helped users to filter this out. People can go ahead and organise it themselves using delicious - this is a user generated organisation. Things like RSS feeds help people get stuff on their own systems and this becomes user generated distribution. This is a new knowledge economy that's shaping itself through the input of the users than a top down authority.

Companies like Dorritos are letting users create videos for them to do their advertising. They ran a contest and selected the top 5 in their contest and one of the winning videos took just $12.79 to create. This is a sign that we need to rethink the way we do things. Ebay is changing the way we commerce. People are renting out rooms and cars and people are banking without without banks - 10% loans this year will be peer to peer and negotiated through the social web. We're doing politics differently - Obama's campaign was an example. But think of how we would do governance differently if we built society ground up on what technology have. We can design democracy fromnthe ground up. Ubiqutous, context aware, social, semantic social networks are changing our world.

Why does this matter?

This deeply matters. We know ourselves through our relations with others. New media is changing how we perceive ourselves and how we relate to each other. We have a cultural inversion today. There's a tension. We're expressing individualism like never before but we value community. We talk independence but we value relationships. The free hugs campaign was pre-social media but when it goes on YouTube it gets 67,900,361hits and becomes a global phenomenon. Think of how this kind of thing becomes revolutionary. This is how people are talking back to brands. The above YouTube video caused a big brand to bring users to the table and force themselves towards change. There's new possibilities all around us. There are great tensions and those tensions allow for creativity in learning.

The first video on this blogpost was something 200 students collaboratively scripted and filmed using new media tools. What's important to note is that knowledge is all around us. The classroom is not the place where we should be going for knowledge. As architects of culture, we need to understand this phenomenon and our environment. The walls of the classroom are not the truth. Information is not just a part of these walls. Authority isn't single source. The uncultured project is an example of someone walking out of class to change the world - Shawn Anand's story is truly inspirational. Our understanding of this phenomenon is important. We have to create learning environments that help people be knowledge-able and live in this new environment. We need three things:
  • Real world problems;
  • People working together;
  • Leveraging technology effectively
Michael's students create free documentaries that get viewed the world over. This is an example of how they've leveraged collaborative technology to change the way people learn and be knowledge-able. Inspiring. Michael's rattling away examples before I can absorb them all. This is just so inspirational, world changing. Projects like ushahidi are changing the way we help people. This is a new knowledge economy - it's time to be knowledge-able.

Micro Learning - Knowledge in Four Minutes or Less with @intellectus_kc

I've just run into Joseph O'Malley's session on Micro-Learning. Given my fascination with YouTube and things like 50 Lessons, this is a topic I'm quite interested in. So I'll just liveblog what I'm learning. Joseph seems to be a very entertaining guy, given the conversation he's striking before the talk begins. So I think the session (which is a full house) will be entertaining to say the least. Joseph is the senior director of knowledge for St Luke's Health System. Directors go to project meetings and take credit for others work. He's an average person who wants to do great work and wants to share. He hopes that we can take his experience and make it work for us. So we're sitting back and relaxing and letting him drive. His session is called 'How Britney Spears inspired learning innovation..." - LOL! St Luke's is a non-profit and the IT training team has three elearning programmers and four classroom instructors. In healthcare, there's a strong case for instructor led training and these guys take care of the entire life cycle of the learning.

The challenge is that of time. Any time in elearning or training is time away from work. People in Joseph's session get ideas from many places, but this idea came from celebrity gossip! That's how Britney got involved in all this. Britney is unleashed and Joseph promises that you'll see her everywhere because of him. Joseph claims that his inspiration came from the Britney Spears umbrella incident where she had a bad day, shaved her hair and then attacked a papparazi's car using an umbrella. So Joseph's team got onto the web looking for the video and went to CNN and they noticed how the videos are just a few minutes long - two and half minutes at an average. If news agencies can educate the public on important topics in less than three minutes, Joseph's team should be able to do it four, shouldn't they?

So what is micro-learning?
The ability to provide short snippets of education electronically. They called it Knowledge Nuggets - memorable education delivered in four minutes or less. Joseph's urging us in his really funny way to not get caught up in who invented the term or the definition. So for the project they decided they wanted a large audience, geographically distributed. The topics would be high level concepts, detailed, step-by-step instructions wouldn't work. Minimum, simple retention and application of basic knowledge. The time limit was just four minutes and they were strict on themselves. That said post-tests and knowledge checks were outside this our minute time limit.
The Problem
St Luke's approach to quality improvement is called PI and they want all employees to have an awareness of it. They provided this education during new hire orientation and it used to be a 30 minute lesson delivered all in Powerpoint and the fact is that it didn't work. Only 6% could name the stages of PI correctly and the remaining 94% didn't know about it at all. Not good, eh? So what did that education look like - it was a 41 slide bullet point fiesta with a questions slide at the end! For better or for worse, Joseph's team used ADDIE to guide them through the development process. Here were the problems:
  • Too complicated - too much information up front.
  • There was no branding - the PI model didn't have links to strong images
  • There was no context - no simple story to understand how they could use it.
  • There was no St Luke's - the education needed a familiar element
So Joseph's team grabbed people from the steering committe and came up with education objectives and put a set of design objectives to keep it simple, engaging and short. David will now show us what he pitched to PI steering committee of St Lukes. He explained the micro learning concept, the simplicity and the intent to keep it engaging, humourous and fun. More importantly they decided to use real St Luke's people as actors. They went with some real graphics, real storyboards, tangible proofs of concept that helped the leadership understand what they were upto. They actually used real sketches to explain to the leadership what they were trying to do. Joseph's stuff looks like a really great story, helicopters on the hospital, a big problem and a crack team coming together to solve the problem. How the team actually came together and put together the solution modelled the different phases of the PI approach, a nice headfake to learn how the approach actually works. The management loved it but didn't believe that the team could do it in four minutes. They had a request - they wanted a knowledge check at the end of the module. They also had to have a compromise to use a funny mnemonic - Polka Dots Make Animals Itch. This is ridiculous to me, and for Joseph's team this didn't fit their story. They decided that they'll do two knowledge checks. One would be a high-powered executive PI Game. The other knowledge check would be Luke a dog with polka dots.

Joseph's now going to now show us the actual knowledge nugget. The video looks really slick, but nothing you can't do with a little bit of effort. It's humorous and is very similar to the approach that common craft follows with their videos. The story they've got up there is not just funny but also attractive and engaging and it does end in four minutes. Joseph is showing us the knowledge check and the fact is that even without the knowledge check people were able to apply the model. The Luke dog polka dots knowledge check is really funny - if you get things right, the dog stops scratching and is happier. The PI executive game looks even cooler - they actually had people in leadership roles playing actors because they believe in this thing. This is a great example of how leadership involvement can be really effective. The leadership people were happy to do ridiculous gigs to support this. They used real people's voices too to give it that little extra. I'm so impressed - this is way cool stuff. They even gave their actors credit. The fact is that you can do stuff like this in Powerpoint.

What were their results?
94% of the employees who viewed the knowledge nuggest passed the post test on the first try. The course satisfaction score was 4.89/5.00. After 6 months 96% knew what PI was, 94% were able to cite the room signage story from the video as an example. 68% could list the five phases in the correct order. All this for 44 hours of effort creating the video, 28 hours to create the executive PI game and 14 hours to create the Luke game. The tools they used were digital cameras, Flash, Photoshop, Sound Booth and After Effects. Investing in things like pen tablets made things really easy. They've done more knowledge nuggets ever since like "What is Knowledge Management", stuff around the influenza vaccine, ER trauma, patient safety, etc.
Joseph has really encouraged us to look out for inspiration just as their inspiration was Britney and I think this was one of the best presentations at the conference. You can follow him on twitter too.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Your Brain on Graphics with @elearningcoach

I've just run into Connie Malamed's sessionabout research around visuals and I'm late. I'm going to start blogging right away. Connie's been talking about the power of visuals - e.g how Dan Roam simplified the US healthcare problem. Connie's the author of one of my favourite books - Visual Language for Designers. I'm going to struggle to give you the complete picture (pun intended) because Connie's book is really what you should read for this kind of thing. Here's what she's covering.

Why we're wired for graphics

Everyone's worked on courses where the visuals could be better. We have 1,200,000 fibers in the optical nerve as against 30,000 auditory in the auditory. We're hardwired for visuals. This is why we have the picture superiority effect where an image trumps words for descriptions most of the time - what we call "a picture speaks a thousand words". Pictures are a much closer replica of our environment than words. So how do we process visuals. We have a store called sensory memory and we process from visual and auditory sources.  We take input from the sensory memory into the working memory. A lot less information actually comes through the working memory to get encoded into the long term memory. Working memory limits the information we process. That capacity is quite limited - 4 bits of information at a time. This is information from top cognitive scientists. Information in this working memory is quite short, it lasts only a few seconds.

So how do we represent visual information? We represent images differently from works. These are internal representations that represent some physical characteristics of the real object. It may not be exact - maybe a line drawing of the actual picture. We represent things to ourselves very simply and that's a case for simplicity in graphics. Our capacity for remembering pictures in long-term memory is enormous. You could go to an image library and recognise all the pictures that you've ever used. People give meaning to the visuals that they process. You add context to the images you see, your values, what you understand, your culture, your beliefs.

"The mind is not a camera" - Stephen Kosslyn

We're not just recording devices, we're adding to the worlds as we see it. This said, we can go wrong with graphics - take a look. Research inspired design can therefore help. It's based on evidence and facts and can be applied to the real world.

How do you speed up your message?

Preattentive processing - we're always scanning our environments and by doing that we create a coherent picture of what we see and how we make sense of it. What things pop out? We notice these features quite strongly. There are certain characteristics of visuals and graphics that we can make pop out to make use of preattentive processing. Grouping is another technique that helps people understand things that go together. Connie shows some interesting ways to do the 'pop out':
  • Colour contrast
  • Unusual elements in pictures
  • Size contrast
  • Shade contrast
  • Direction and position in pictures - what in visual language we call orientation
  • Motion vs stationary 
  • Depth
  • Shape

How do we do the grouping then? How do you let your learners know what goes together?
  • Proximity is an obvious way to group elements
  • Color is also a great way to group elements together
  • Similarity is also a great way to create grouping; eg: several colored circles close to each other
  • The law of common fate - we usually group lines or anything that's going in the same direction
  • Connectedness - objects that are connected with lines or another visual element seem grouped
  • The boundary principle. Anything that's within a single boundary gets grouped together

How do we make graphics efficient

When elements of a graphic are consistent in meaning, the information is easier to process. Connie showed us examples of where we read the words RED, GREEN and BLUE in entirely different colours. This obviously was strange for the entire group. What if the arrows for a skydiving graphic go up instead of a downward direction that actually is the direction in which we would actually dive. There's something to say about reducing realism - it makes graphics cognitively efficient. Illustrations are a great way for novices to learn, as against elaborate 3D pictures. It provides fewer distractions, it takes less time to percieve, it minimises load on working memore and it's easier to encode this in our long term memory. So how do we actually achieve this?
  • Reduce noisy detail
  • Increase contrast
  • Make it minimalistic - silhouette instead of detailed pictures maybe?
  • Fewer colors
  • Less detail
  • Smooth surface
  • Minimal shadows
  • Going from high fidelity to low fidelity graphics
  • Use of line art instead of detailed pictures
  • Use of iconic forms; everyday icons like shopping carts which people
  • The use of symbols - people recognise this stuff very quickly
How do we connect through emotions?
Can your image create a reaction in your audience's body? Images have that ability to move us in some way. Emotion and cognition are really tied together. Emotions affect mental process. They capture attention, increase brain activity and can really improve retention. This is because we build associations with images based on experiences. We are also particularly attuned to faces - this is something I've observed too. Our eyes move towards even cartoon faces. In fact that's one of the first things that we see on a visual. It's almost a way to create a 'pop out'. Connie is showing us this image. Emotional images are definitely awesome for changing attitudes. Graphics with statistics can create emotion around the numbers. Think hungry child in Haiti when you're showing a graph on poverty.

There's another side to emotion as well - surprise! Surprise results from novelty and humour. It comes from the unusal juxtaposition of elements and it comes from unexpectedness.

How do we make the abstract concrete?
Abstract graphics make understanding quite easy in some cases. Charts and diagraphs, graphs, maps, timelines, visualisations, etc provide an abstraction of the real images. You can use diagrams to show the big picture view to people. Diagrams can really simplify things for your audience. You can try to externalise people's internal mental models. For example if you're teaching the sales funnel, then use the funnel metaphor to explain it. Use graphs to present quantitative information. Maps can show so much more than geography. Timelines can show progression, evolution and history. Tables don't need to be boring and text based. You can use visual tables like this one!
This was such a great, information dense, yet engaging talk by Connie. Explains why she's one of my favourite bloggers and writers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lessons Learned from 200 Rapid Elearning Gurus with @TomKuhlmann

I'm at what promises to be a great session with elearning's only bonafide rockstar - Tom Kuhlmann. Tom's the author of the rapid elearning blog and in my opinion one of the best community managers in the world. Tom's talk today is around lessons we can learn from the several rapid elearning gurus across the world. Tom's made a living out of helping people that are one or two person teams who have to do everything by themselves but don't necessarily have the budget or the skills to do it all by themselves. The rapid authoring tools like Articulate make course creation easier but now people have to do all of the work that originally a graphic artist, developers, instructional designers would have done in a team. Anyways, the Articulate Guru contest is such an amazing example of intelligent designers doing more with less. I'm going to catalogue live what Tom says we can learn from the 200 gurus who have submitted to the contest.

Elearning can mean many things: Tom's talking about elearning from back in the day. If you look at the stuff you've done years back, you'll perhaps look at it and disown it! And then you look at cool courses around you and then you think what's wrong with you and what's wrong with your company? The key to remember that all the interactivity doesn't need to come from the elearning course itself. It could come from the classroom, it could be from a chat - think of your course as a media meatball. The top complaints Tom gets is that either they're not funny or they basically just don't have any point! Anyways, elearning can mean many things. We need to feel good about what we're doing because what we do can be useful to a specific audience and there's always room to learn and improve.

Limted resources shouldn't hold you back:Powerpoint has been representative of several things, people seem to speak of it almost as a different literacy. From an animation point of view you can do a lot in Powerpoint. The only trouble is that you can't create much logic. You can definitely create interactive courses - the interactivity needs to be meaningful though.

People like to laugh: If it's boring no one's going to look at it and the notion of humour changes over time. What was funny in the 80s may not be funny today. The challenge with humour is that 80% will find it funny and 20% will sue you. Also, we need to get beyond being stuck up. Just because a topic is serious doesn't mean it can't have humour. The idea is to not try to be funny, but to do real 'campy' stuff. People like seeing cult like viral things going on in the course, they like seeing their friends on video. The lack of professional polish is really cool because it makes things real. Tom's referring to this course when he's mentioning this. The campiness made it a memorable product though it wasn't the best in the world.

Where's Waldo: People need to know where they are. This gives them a sense of how much more they need to commit to something, how much they've achieved. Think of how you read or buy a book. Could you read a book without knowing how big it was or what it contains or without having a table of contents? This is almost the way Steve Jobs presents - make your course easy for your audience to follow. Don't get people 'stuck' in a course, don't block the navigation. Give people credit for being adults - get them in, get them out and give them control. Just because you can doesn't mean you have to!

How can you mix it up? If you just have scenarios after another, it can become monotonous. If you just have questions one after the other, then people are going to feel like you're interrogating them. We need to think through the pacing of our course and mix things up. This is also what we need to remember around not making our courses seem templated. Tom's got several rapid elearning models to talk about. Example being the the rapid situational interactive which he often talks about. But if he kept doing this screen after screen, it would be incredibly monotonous. The good courses are different from the bad courses in that they have variety.

What is interactivity? There are several pieces of interactive things that you can do on a screen. Well from an elearning standpoint it's either a click and reveal or a mouseover or a drag and drop. Engage is a cool app for example. The trick that Tom mentions is that interactivity is meaningful when people are mentally engaging with the elearning. People do often get excited about mouseovers and things like that, but it's important that the interaction gives the learner something to do; eg: collect information and do something with it.

Do you need to train people on how to use your course? Because if you do, then either you've done something hugely wrong or you've hired the wrong people. Do you really need to tell people that they need to click the blinking red button in the corner? Get over it!

Beware of the Frankencourse: You don't have to do everything in one course! It becomes too much. Even Tom doesn't recommend that you use all of his tips in one single course. Don't just throw stuff together, develop a consistent look and feel and make everything 'blend well' together.

Pay attention to details: Sweat the small stuff. Think about how you've placed objects on the screen. How have you justified text on your screen? Have you tested how your interactions work?

Be creative and use the user community like free money: The Articulate community is one of the best, most supportive communities on the internet and is out there, responding to elearning professionals day in and day out. I must say I'm amazed at how cool the stuff on ScreenR is - people share such cool stuff.

Some examples that Tom shared

Tom promises to share links that I may not have posted here and you can take a look at these courses to get inspiration for your own stuff:
  • Stephanie Hartnett's Motivation Course - great example of how you can do some really advanced stuff with humble tools
  • EWGA Dallas Chapter's Golf Course?
  • SCA Supply Chain Academy's course on Understanding Safety Stock
  • The Surgery Squad Rhinoplasty Course
  • The Learning Nurse's Nasal Simulation
  • Kevin Thorn's Mission Turfgrass - it's so cool that you won't believe it's in Articulate! Tom mentions that the only criticism of this could be that there's way to many progress meters in the game.
  • Mike Enders: Psyched in 10 - great storytelling, humour and narration. Nice easter eggs that get people attracted and then engaged. If you had to build just linear click and read courses, this is a great inspiration.
Tom's encouraging us to use the community and become gurus ourselves. This was a great talk and great tips to take away. What a rockstar!

Mobile Learning Best Practices and Lessons Learned with @JudyB

This morning, after my successful iPad purchase (yeah!), I'm attending Judy Brown's session on mobile learning best practices. Judy's an absolute goddess in this neck of the woods, so I'm hoping to learn heaps from her, so without further ado, I'm going to start liveblogging and letting you know what I think I'm learning. Technology is changing rapidly and it's a whole new world today, says Judy. The US seems to be a little behind Japan in terms of technology, but they're definitely up there in learning innovation. Judy is speaking about her stint with Asian Development Plan with UNESCO. The folks there were asked to come up with their mobile learning plans with some of them not having electricity! In contrast, in the west people carry Blackberrys and iPhones. In Asia and Africa at least this is starting to be about just supporting life as usual.

Mobile penetration is quite heavy, given the show of hands of the group here. 26.5% people engaged in mLearning, 40% exploring. 51% report a positive ROI! Ambient Insight reports that mobile learning is here and is a ripe technology (across seven categories of learning). eLearning is actually coming down a fair bit. Venture capitalists are investing heavily in this market as well, because mobile technologies have really unlimited reach while desktop technologies have lmited reach. We're moving to the second generation of mobile learning with cloud based, 4G connectivity. Eric Schmidt describes the mobile ecosystem as a confluence of computing power, connectivity and cloud computing and proclaims a new focus for the industry - putting mobile first. EBay and Southwest have gone ahead and changed direction significantly given their mobile strategy. We only use 23% of what's on a web page - the rest is noise. Mobile cuts that flab out in a big way. We're creating heaps of information today - is our curriculum adding to the information flab? Judy's now going through several slides very quickly.

The key is that social, local and mobile are all converging. HTML5 is a key innovation at this time that can potentially help portability of interactive apps across platforms. We have interesting stats in place about mobile penetration (source Tomi Ahonen):
  • 5.2 billion subscribers
  • >625m access internet only through mobile
  • 4.2 billion people use text messaging
  • People look at their devices every 6.5 minutes on an average
  • There are more people with mobile phones than with toothbrushes
Ray Kurzweil says "Mobile phones are misnamed. They should be called gateways to human knowledge." The UK has done a lot of projects in mLearning focussing on new age devices though. Learners say that it made learning more interesting and made them learn in a wider range of places. They say they can learn in a wider range of times. Teachers say that they're able to tailor their learning experiences to their learning in a big way. Judy recommends the w3c mobile site as a great place to learn.

Tips to get started
  1. Begin with the user: What are they already doing with mobile? Several students own cell phones. Smartphones have grewat penetration. People are using these for media creation - video and stills.
  2. Start with the end in mind: What do you want to accomplish? Are you trying to help increase sales? Will this be performance support? Will this connect communities? Will this help with reference materials? If you're doing something just for fun, it's not meaningful. The 5 moments of learning needs are when people want to learn for the first time, when wanting to learn more, when trying to remember, when things change, when something goes wrong. Which moment are you catering to? What nuggets will people take away from other learning experiences that people need immediate access to? This could be the driver for mobile. This is not just elearning on the mobile. Judy recommends mobile for stolen moments of productivity. The US Army believes that perishable knowledge should not be taught in the schoolhouse, but instead be made accessible. Judy also recommends that we think outside the course.
  3. Plan for Success: What will success look like for you? Many companies can't share what they're doing, but Judy has a great case study from Merrill Lynch's mobile program - GoLearn. They've discovered that going mobile makes things 45% faster. 100% of their audience want more of this kind of stuff and 99% of the audience believe that the format supports learning in a big way. The problem was that they didn't plan for this success and were not able to deal with the deluge of demand that followed.
  4. Remember Capabilities: What is not available to people on the desktop or laptop? It's important to design for the form factor and capabilties of the new devices than just porting an old way of designing to the mobile platform. GPS, multi-touch, voice, cameras, video recording - these are all new capabilties and they need to feed into the design decisions. Think about content creation, basic communications, training delivery, social networking, on-demand information access.
  5. Think Differently: Judy showed us a commercial course on language. The cool aspect of this course is a nifty little twitter button which the user can press and that brings up a twitter stream that shows the word or phrase you're learning about in the context of people's live tweets! What a cool way of understanding how to construct sentences in a new language? A tweet that Judy is showing us tells a story of how easy it is to deploy to mobile app stores (3 days on Android, 5 days on apple's app store) as against 112 days to go to print! Judy is also showing the app for the Obama campaign that we also participated in. How awesome! There's a hair dressing curriculum on mobile - I personally find that interesting; do I want someone to read a course on mobile and then cut my hair?
  6. Think small: Bitesized, nuggets, micro-learning, small screens. Remember mLearning is about different platforms!
  7. Consider spacing effect: It's now affordable. We know that repetition is key to retention. We know that learning that happens over a period of time is naturally aligned to the way we pick up our skills. She is showing how based upon a woman's delivery date, she can send text messages to number and get information over time that makes sense at the time that expecting mothers need this. Information in context, trumps instruction out of context. In Neil Lasher's case it can just be a simple phone call. Will Thalheimer has heaps of research in support of the spacing effect.
  8. Consider tools: What do you need? An app? Or are you going to deploy just for the browser? Or are you going to invest in cross platform development? There are products that act more like platform connecting to your LMS and act as players for your mobile device. This is an example of develop once, deploy many times. There's a nice mlearning guide at ADL that should work across all devices - this is an example of making a mobile website that just works across several devices. ePub is a great format to publish to mobile devices. Judy is showing a crisis response related project that she built in 3 hours, that works across several devices.
  9. Test, test, test: Judy puts a lot of stress on testing, though with the caveat that emulators are the same thing as actual devices.
  10. Plan for distribution and ongoing support: Make it known, market it, make it visible. Does your IT helpdesk know how to support this?
  11. Looking ahead: Judy recommends that we look ahead at emerging technologies like augmented reality, QR codes, augmented reality and interactive story telling (ARIS). And contrary to popular belief this may not be a huge cost to create.
  12. Don't try to boil the ocean: Judy also says that we shouldn't bite off more than we can chew. We need to start with doable projects. I would add that we need to start small, think big, release quickly and iterate!
Important considerations
Judy recommends that we think of the following seriously:
  • Security
  • IT partnership
  • Policies
  • Ownership
  • Assessment
  • Union and time issues
  • Connectivity
  • Bandwidth costs
  • Industry changes
  • User expectations
Resources that Judy recommends
  • mLearncon - coming up in June this year
In addition, Judy does a weekly newsletter every Monday morning that you may want to subscribe to. This in my opinion is a great catalogue of the state of the art in this space.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Knowledge Management in the age of Social Media

Last week Dinesh, Nikhil and I encountered the second stage of our social business journey at ThoughtWorks. Over the week, we had a few conversations with other ThoughtWorkers focussing on one common question, "Where do I put x?". While our platform itself places no restrictions on where users can post content and while we have a really powerful search engine, the mental model of folders to place your information is still prevalent. It's been about four years since I last created a very structured folder system on my computer. Today I just save files where I please and then let Spotlight or Quicksilver find the files for me when I need them. Coming back to our social business platform though, the primary driver for this initiative was to answer a long standing knowledge management challenge at ThoughtWorks. Our aim at least when we started off, was to map our organisational capabilities and make them explicit for the average ThoughtWorker. While social media seems to have lowered the barrier for content creation and sharing considerably, there's a separate question about structure that we need to answer. How does the traditional world view of knowledge management fit in the world of social business?

Prescriptive Structure Leads to Empty or Neglected Containers
Useful content doesn't come up by magic. Content also doesn't come up as a result of an imposed structure. Content arrives on platforms because some people feel a strong ownership for it and believe that there's value in sharing it. Over a period of time they use metadata such as tags, ratings and comments to provide a layer of information and commentary to the content. Given a reasonable amount of time, the structure for all the content on the platorm starts to emerge. Tag clouds help create a map for users so they can browse through the content. Search engines start throwing intelligent results for searches. User commentary, ratings and flags provide a layer of quality control over the content, helping all members of the community find the best content for the purpose. This is the phenonmenon of emergent structure that Andrew McAfee has spoken about in his book - Enterprise 2.0. The key however is in understanding that while content is valuable, context is significantly more precious. To know your colleague who wrote that phenomenal blogpost, to be able to see how people used her ideas, to be able to look at the other contributions by this user, etc are a generative side to the knowledge management puzzle. It's a side that opens up possibilities for serendipity which traditional content focussed approaches are unlikely to achieve.

No Structure is a 'One-Size-Fits-All'

The same presentation that I upload to a conferences space could be the one you look for in the technology space. While I like a Twitter style approach to finding interesting content, you may prefer a Digg style model. While one person may choose a communities of practice model to personal learning, another person may just look for a more structured sitemap/ folder approach. Regardless of which approach you choose, you're likely to marginalise a certain group of people. The modern internet has given us so many options that we're almost spoilt for choice and everyone looks at stuff differently. The key is to give people a way to personalise their knowledge intake in a way that suits them. Flexible consumption is the need of the hour.

Personal Knowledge Management and Sense Making is the Key

The modern workplace requires modern skills. While it's all too well to complain about chaos and information overload, a key skill in this age, is the ability to set up filters that help you make sense of everything. As Clay Shirky explains in the above talk, it's not really information overload - it's filter failure. People also need to be comfortable with missing stuff. If things are really important, they'll come to you. Others will repost it, there'll be heavy discussion and the content will rise in popularity. A huge part of the 'information overload complaint' also has to do with the gluttony and greed to be 'on top of everything'. Managing digital knowledge that matters to you, requires deliberate practice. Harold Jarche calls this the practice of personal knowledge management. Knowledge workers need to develop the skills to connect with others, exchange ideas and to contribute effectively to a knowledge collective. This requires inward facing categorising and sorting skills to deal with the flow of information. Organisations need to support knowledge workers through the journey of learning these skills, since it's crucial to their own success. The role of the knowledge management organisation then perhaps shifts to a higher touch, personal productivity consulting role. Over a period of time knowledge managers need to move into community facilitation roles because the traditional responsibilities of uploading documents to repositories will no longer exist. The only structure that's likely to make sense, is self selected structure.
I'm keen to learn how other social media/ business consultants are answering the structured KM question in their organisations. Do you have an experience to share? Please drop in a few lines in the comments section and tell us your story. If you're keen to tell me face to face, I'm at the Learning Solutions Conference all of this week and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is there a balance I'm missing? Let me know - I'm all ears!

Monday, March 14, 2011

4 Social Business Lessons I Learnt Last Week

The last week at work was great. Against several odds, we launched our internal social business platform - myThoughtWorks. The uptake until now with just three working days of operation, has been tremendous. We've seen 1016 documents, 347 social bookmarks, 294 threads and 293 blogposts on the platform from about 524 contributing users. 1310 of our 1700 users are active on the platform and that is a huge win, given our vastly distributed nature. The last few weeks have also been a great learning opportunity for our team and while it's easy to surround ourselves with those statistics and feel good about them, the truth is that our journey has only begun. In today's blogpost, I want to share with you some of my musings and our team's collective learnings from the weeks gone by.

Never Overlook Communication

I was chatting with Mark Needham last night. For all his eccentricities, Mark is a very reasonable guy and someone who just gets social media and social learning. Mark however, was one of the people who was taken by surprise with our launch of the new platform. When I spoke to him, he mentioned that while he'd gotten the memos, none of them were interesting enough for him to pay any attention. It brought out a very interesting point. The meaning of your communication is in the response you get. If someone as connected as Mark knew nothing about the launch, it meant that we were perhaps not communicating effectively to get his attention. When we were launching MediaWiki in my previous firm, we'd faced a similar experience. Corporate communication means nothing if no one receives your message. The success of a social business initiative does depend on effective communication leading up to the launch. This ensures that the key movers and shakers are already warming up to the idea. Shocking high potential users doesn't do much good. If one way doesn't work, try another. In coming weeks we're planning several more roadshows, user meetups and other ways to make our communications click.

Understanding User Context is Key to Success

"Communication channels are highways of habit: people have their preferences and they generally stick to them." - Jono Bacon, The Art of Community
Everyone in the enterprise usually wants to contribute to its success. If social business is key to the success of your enterprise most reasonable people will want to jump in. Provided of course, you communicate well enough. This being said, we need to be empathetic towards the slower adopters. It's often not a lack of will to contribute, but the limitation of the performance context that stops people from being gung-ho adopters. Let me give you an example. Our most recent social learning implementation rests on the Google stack. We use Google Sites as a wiki, Google Groups for discussions, Google Chat for chatrooms and Google Videos for media sharing. The heart of the implementation however is Google Groups. For consultants at client site who are often coding at client computers, the easiest way to stay in touch with the rest of the company is email. When you add to that, limited access to ThoughtWorks systems, accessing any other platform becomes a big challenge. Google Groups gets around this problem quite well by providing simple mailing lists for communities. It also helps that a vast majority of western software developers like mailing lists! The move to a social business solution is great for our enterprise if adoption keeps going up as it has in the last three days. Adoption also depends on our empathy and responsiveness for user mindsets and context. In coming days we need to find ways not just to make things like email integration and mobile access seamless for our onsite consultants, but also to ensure that we can build such relationships with our clients that it's not taboo to access the enterprise social network while onsite.

Choice is not Always a Great Thing

Every time you provide an option, you're asking the user to make a decision. - Joel Spolsky
Social media has transformed my learning and there's no doubt about that. I do remember though that when I first saw Twitter, I couldn't wrap my head around it. It's quite simple isn't it? Just 140 characters! For some reason I just didn't get it. The process of finding people to follow, setting up a client that works for you, choosing hashtags that matter was just too complicated for me back in the day. I've struggled similarly with Facebook when it was new. Social media is like that. It becomes powerful when you make the right choices and personalise effectively. Personalisation however, is about making several choices and not everyone is happy to have choice. This is the part of the social business puzzle we need to figure out. While we want most people to make meaningful choices, how can we create useful defaults that the average user can get away with? The shorter the setup time, the easier it is to dive in and participate.

Intuitive is an Overloaded Word
We use the word 'intuitive' way too loosely in design circles. We often debate pointlessly around little things that'll make our interfaces 'intuitive'. This often reminds me of the old BSD bikeshed painting analogy that Sriram Narayanan pointed me to. The fact is that the little things that make a platform intuitive for one are the same things that make it unintuitive for another. Intuition is really a factor of context, experience and familiarity. When my mental model matches the model that an application provides, it seems intuitive. When mental models clash, it's unintuitive. The catch with social business implementations is that they are unlikely to be intuitive to users that are unfamiliar with the social paradigm. In fact, I can say that even experienced users of social media who don't use it in a business context are likely to struggle at time. So instead of fussing over how to make the experience intuitive, it's crucial that we make the experience 'learnable'. There's also no substitute to providing people support when they need it. Complaints are good - they are opportunities to connect with users, educate them and build relationships. Nikhil Nulkar, our enterprise community facilitator (a.k.a ninja) is great at doing just this.
Learning is a continuous process and after going through several social learning initiatives and experiments, I'm glad to be implementing a proper social business solution for my employers. I'm learning heaps about this stuff, and as time goes on I want to share these insights with you. I'd love to hear your thoughts about today's musings so please drop a line in the comments section and tell me.

I'm going to be at Learning Solutions 2011 next week, so if you're in the vicinity please come and say hello. It'll be great to catch up.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Identities 2.0 - The Human Face for Enterprise Social Software

Image credit: Faithful Chant
People have identities. Whether we like it or not, these identities exist regardless of whether someone works at your company or not. People create and share content already. Whether we like it or not, they do a lot of this outside of your company. I'm a big believer of the notion that enterprise social software needs porous walls. The fact is that in real life your organisation's walls are quite porous. Most knowledge workers are fairly active on Twitter, some of them write blogs. Some speak at conferences and some use services like Tripit to manage their life and to stay connected with other people. Their connections include but are not limited to other people in your organisation. The eventual success of our social business implementations will come when we can actually facilitate information exchange across these porous walls. Can we use our social business platforms to build a composite brand for people using their activity from across the web? The technology to do this is commonplace, but to actually execute this we need to think human. How can we make corporate identities on social business platforms intermesh with people's existing brands on the public internet? Here are some ideas I've been pondering over:
  • Twitter Integration: Can we design people's profiles in such a way that it automatically shows their Twitter stream, if they've added the Twitter ID to the system. Yammer already does smart things like integrating selective tweets with the Yammer activity stream. How frictionless is it for people to post to the enterprise social network directly from Twitter! As a corollary how tough can it be to send selective status updates from the enterprise social network to Twitter?
  • Facebook Integration: Can people who are my friends on Facebook automatically be my friends on a social business platform? Could we at least get a way to scan our Facebook friends list and find corresponding friends on enterprise network? Just as in Twitter, can we have a 'lifestream' that allows people to see what we're upto in our daily lives? Can the integration of workstreams and lifestreams help build a connected enterprise?
  • Blogs: While internal blogging is cool, most people are unlikely to retire their own blogs and they'll still continue to post great, useful stuff in there. How can we integrate people's blogposts from the external world into the enterprise activity stream? This could be a big win from an enterprise knowledge standpoint. It's also a recognition for people's personal brand - a small gesture that leads to great personal satisfaction.
  • A Rational Approach to Privacy : There's always a certain amount of risk averseness towards storing personal data on SaaS platforms. This being said, most great social business platforms are SaaS solutions, where data isn't on your private servers. I understand there are some concerns particularly in Europe, around mandating storage of personal information on the cloud. I still believe that there are a few things to be mindful of. Most people already put this kind of information on services like Facebook, where they have no ownership of data. This indicates a certain level of comfort with storing personal information on third-party systems. With most SaaS providers we're protected by an NDA. As long as you can determine a practical exit strategy, should storing personal data be really such a huge risk? Frankly, the constant status updates that people will post are far more personal than a company phone number. And if push comes to shove, can we offer a choice to individuals about storing what they consider personal data on a SaaS solution? Until we ask, we'll never know who has an objection. It's always a bad idea to base design decisions around the outliers in your organisation - it only means that your system wil suck for the vast majority.
  • Composite Profiles: People already have profiles all across the web. Can we find ways to integrate profile data from established services like Facebook and Twitter? In fact, as a step to that, do our profiles need a 2.0 twist to them? Social business implementations still capture only old-school contact information on profiles. Can we start to capture modern, context information such as Facebook and Twitter IDs, blog urls, etc on profiles? Eventually, these could be data sources to help you establish a strong social media presence on the web. Imagine how easy it'll be to have a constantly up-to-date list of your employees on Twitter. Or for that matter, a constantly up-to-date employee group on Facebook. Collecting context information is only a first step to this.
Of course some of this can require significant heavy lifting in terms of customising your platform or building custom functionality. That said, I believe there's tremendous value in doing such stuff and all of us should at least place innovation of this nature on our social business roadmaps. Do you need to partner with your social business platform providers for some of this stuff and help them build it out as experimental functionality? Should we select platforms that allow us to create mobile apps that could actually bring these worlds together, much like a FriendFeed for the enterprise? There are several ideas that we can think of - the key is to ensure that we don't separate corporate identities from public identities. People are people and the corporate identity is no mask for who they really are.
This article is an adaptation of an article I wrote on our internal blogging platform at ThoughtWorks. That in itself is an example of the separation between the real world and the enterprise. I had plans to write a completely different article this week, but the thought of composite identities was too compelling not to socialise on this blog. What's your view on the topic? Feel free to drop in your thoughts into the comments section of this post.

By the way, I'm speaking at the Learning Solutions conference this month. I'll be at Orlando for the entire week, and am doing the following sessions:
I also want to use this opportunity to connect with as many of my tweeps and industry colleagues as possible. So if you want to catch up for a few drinks or do an evening trip to Disney World, count me in. Sahana Chattopadhyay of ThoughtWorks is also going to be at this conference, so if you wanted the India story of learning technologies, we'll be happy to catch you up. See you there!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

My Presentation Slides from XConf

Yesterday, I did an introductory talk on social learning at XConf - an internal ThoughtWorks conference. I got a largish audience which actually left me quite pleased and I thought the talk went quite well. I want to share my slides with you and if I get time, I'll record audio over these visuals so you can get the full message. Feel free to use these visuals the way you please. As with all content on this blog, it's under the Creative Commons license.
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