Saturday, December 19, 2009

Developing Managers with Everything DiSC®

On August 30, I published this blog entry: New Take on an Old Standard. It is about Everything DiSC®, which is a style assessment tool that allows users to gain insight into their behavioral preferences at work. At the time, I had just purchased the Everything DiSC® package so my team could administer it and incorporate it into some of our management training programs. We have used it several times since then, and as promised, I wanted to report back on our experience using this tool.

The Training Approach: We have incorporated Everything DiSC® into several of our management programs. Participants go online prior to their scheduled class and complete the DiSC® profile as pre-work. It takes them approximately 30 minutes to complete. Once they are finished, they are able to immediately generate a very rich feedback report which we ask them to bring to training. During training, we define what the different DiSC® styles are and we help the participants identify the implications of their style preferences. We also cover how to read other people to determine what their likely DiSC® style is, and how to apply DiSC® in various management situations such as delegating work and developing employees. Essentially, Everything DiSC® enables us to cover some aspects of Emotional Intelligence (Self Awareness and Social Awareness) in training without calling it that. In my experience, managers sometimes get uncomfortable when emotional intelligence is mentioned, so this gives us a way to address their learning needs in this area in a non-threatening way.

(The four basic DiSC Styles surrounded by eight corresponding management behavioral preferences)

The Participant Take-aways: We purchased the management version of Everything DiSC®. The profiles generated for the participants and the feedback they receive on their style preferences is presented in a very practical context for the jobs that they are doing. Although there are only four DiSC® styles, there are many potential combinations of responses to the profile questionnaire, so each feedback report is unique. The reports contain personalized feedback on how DiSC® style preferences influence behavior in the following areas:

  • Management Style (priorities, preferences and implications for time management)
  • Directing and Delegating
  • Motivation
  • Developing Others
  • Working with Your Manager (influence without authority) 
The Measurement Results: The DiSC® segments of our management training programs are receiving some of our highest level 1 (participant reaction) ratings. I know level 1 metrics are nothing to get excited over, but considering that the discussions that take place during the DiSC® segments of our training are really discussions about topics such as delegating and motivation, I think this is noteworthy. Many “seasoned” managers attend our training sessions. To have them rate these segments highly tells us that they are adding new insights to topics that might otherwise seem like a retread to them.

We are also seeing positive results in our level 3 (behavioral change) metrics. Evidence that our managers are incorporating DiSC® style information into their management approaches can be seen in the goals they are setting in their post-training action plans and in their follow-up progress reports.

The Added Bonus: In addition to the personalized profiles and feedback reports the participants receive, Everything DiSC® also gives us the ability to generate composite and comparison reports. The composite reports plot DiSC® styles for a given population such as everyone in a particular job or an intact work team. We have been conducting DiSC® training separately for managers in our Sales and Service organizations. The composite reports for these two groups show that very different patterns of behavior have emerged within each group. It provides us great information for performance consulting and change management. The comparison reports plot two individuals on a continuum for the same categories in the individual profile reports. They provide feedback that is helpful for coaching and conflict resolution.

On the whole, Everything DiSC® has been a very positive addition to our management development programs. Each time we have used it we have been asked by at least one member of the class if we could administer it for their work group. So it looks like it has franchise possibilities as well!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tweeting at Conferences: Etiquette vs. Impact

I had an epiphany during this week’s #lrnchat. Participating in these discussions has been tremendously helpful in my quest to understand the value social media tools provide for learning.

This week’s chat started off with questions about how media sharing tools (such as Youtube) and collaborative content creation tools (such as wikis) are impacting corporate learning. As this discussion ran its course, the next question that appeared in the chat scroll was about the role of social media at in-person conferences. In response to this question, one of the chat participants made the suggestion that we should “bring the backchannel forward” in conferences. He stated that, "social media does not have to be a post-event activity; instead it should be an attendee."

After reading his post, I pictured a speaker in front of a room full of people with Blackberries in hand, eyes down and thumbs flying as they twittered messages back to the members of their respective online communities. The next image that came to mind was of my teenage children pulling out their cell phones to respond to text messages from their friends at inappropriate times. Being a relatively new social media user (I started blogging and tweeting in August) I viewed these two situations as much the same, so I naively typed in this question in response to his post: “Isn’t it rude to tweet during conference events?”

My question garnered some interesting responses, such as: “Not at a good one,” “It’s engagement,” “These days it seems like an insult not to,” “It extends the conversation,” and “Is it rude to take notes?”

Reading these responses made me realize that I need to change my frame of reference. My “pre-social media” point-of-view was that it would be disrespectful and disruptive to do anything other than give the speaker my full attention. But as I thought about it some more, I thought, “Of course the speaker would want people to share his or her message beyond the conference-goers.” Then, I began to calculate the impact:

Imagine a conference presenter speaking to an audience of 100 people. Let’s say half of them are social media users. And out of that half, half of them were interested enough to tweet the speaker’s message back to their online communities. That would be 25 people extending the message beyond the in-person audience. Now let’s say that each of those 25 people had 100 followers on twitter. The speaker’s message has now potentially reached 2500 people. Even if only a small percentage of those 2500 people retweet the message it still extends the impact even further. And these are very conservative estimates. I currently have 88 followers and I have only been a twitter user since August. Factor in long time users who have huge followings and the numbers grow exponentially.

As a result of this, I have revised my mental model of social media activity at conferences.  Far from being rude, it is actually complimentary to tweet during presentations.  And never mind about about it being disruptive, it actually helps the speaker be more productive. So, next time you are at a conference, don’t be surprised to see me in the audience at with my mobile device in hand. I promise it won’t be because I am texting home to find out if we are having meatloaf or chicken for dinner.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Instructional Design: To Degree or not to Degree

While cruising through the blogosphere this week I stumbled upon a debate about whether or not people who practice instructional design should have an advanced degree in the field. The two points of view are well represented in writings by Cammy Bean - Learning Visions (not necessary) and Karl Kapp – Kapp Notes (should have it).

Reading their arguments caused me to reflect on my own career path and choices. I have held a variety of positions in learning & development over the years. On my blog, I identify myself as a “Learning Generalist” but at heart I am an Instructional Designer.

Early in my career I began writing training programs using instincts and intuition. I made instructional design choices that made sense to me about how one would learn and internalize new information or skills. For the most part, I made good choices and my learners were successful. Publications such as Training magazine, T&D (as it is now called) and the InfoLine provided me with an informal “101” education. Later on I supplemented those readings with books on instructional design and courses from Darryl Sink & Associates, Langevin Learning and Bob Pike’s Creative Training Techniques. Through these vehicles and a lot of trial and error I sharpened my skills.

When e-learning appeared on the horizon and I was scared to death. I never was much of a technical person and I was sure my career was over. Eventually, some user-friendly tools came on the market and I was able to avert this crisis by learning how to use Lectora and Articulate Presenter software. It was a new medium but still required sound instructional design.

As my career progressed, I found myself wanting to know more about my chosen field. I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Instructional Systems at Florida State University. Participating in the program had its pros and cons. On the pro side, it opened doors to new resources, sharpened my course development skills, and deepened my understanding of how people learn. I gained a better understanding of what motivates learners and how I could attend to their needs and motivations through instructional design. On the con side, I was a victim of the learning trends. I had to endure every new learning trick, tool and pet project my professors threw at me. But in the end, I am better off for this experience.

The bottom line is that the program has made me a more competent and confident learning professional. What I once did on intuition I now do deliberately and my results are consistently better. My company (which is paying for my education) has benefited greatly. I have success stories to tell about learning projects that I don’t think I would have even attempted prior to participating in the program. I am sought after as a learning strategist inside my company and my career satisfaction is much higher now.

But here’s the thing: Would I have had this success if I jumped right into graduate school early on? I don’t think so. Years of self-development and practical experience helped me to get the most out of the program. So I don’t believe it is necessary to have an advanced degree to be successful in this field… but it sure helps.

Friday, November 27, 2009

In Praise of SharePoint

Recently, we have made some great strides in my company in our quest to convert training from event-based to ongoing. We made a deliberate attempt to reframe training by thinking in terms of “learning environments” instead of “learning events.” Rather than simply setting up training programs as two or three-day instructor-led events, we have been viewing each class as an ongoing community of practice. Participants still gather to attend a learning event but then they continue to work and learn together virtually after the instructor-led segment of the training is completed.

To enable ongoing collaboration, we use Microsoft SharePoint. For those of you who may not be familiar with SharePoint, it is an integrated suite of tools that provides content management, discussion, and information-sharing capabilities. It can be used organization-wide or scaled down for small groups. In our case, we set up an individual SharePoint site for each class we conduct. Our training program participants, facilitators, and subject-matter experts connect through their SharePoint sites to build on topics discussed during their learning events and to capture and share new informal learning. SharePoint helps us do this in several ways:

1. Ongoing Dialog – There have always been options available for participants to use to stay connected after training, but few classes usually sustain their momentum for long. Because SharePoint offers so many capabilities, participants seem more motivated to stay connected through this tool than other means we have offered in the past.

2. Job Aid Sharing – When we conduct training, inevitably, someone asks a question and the subject-matter expert will respond saying, “I have already worked that out,” or “I have a spreadsheet for that.” The SharePoint site provides that subject-matter expert – and anyone else in the class – with a place to share documents that are relevant for class members.

3. Best Practice Sharing – Typically when we conduct training, we generate lists of best practices for the topics that we cover. We post these lists on the SharePoint site after class. This provides real value for the participants. They go back to the site to get this information. While they are there, they are able to build on those ideas or add new ones to the lists.

4. Action Planning – It is also customary for us to have training participants commit to specific actions they will take after they leave a training class. We challenge them to put what they have learned to use in the business. To do this, we distribute and collect back action planning worksheets during our classes. We post these commitments on the SharePoint site so the class members can see what each person has committed to doing. We also use the SharePoint calendaring function to set up milestones for tracking progress. This has been a great benefit to our class members. They offer each other tools, ideas, and suggestions on how to meet the goals they set during training through the SharePoint site.

5. Program Evaluation – The SharePoint sites provide us with another means to collect level 3 (behavioral change) and level 4 (business result) evaluation data. We mine completed action plans and general dialog in discussions on the SharePoint site for each class for evidence of applied learning and business impact.

One obvious usage I haven’t mentioned here is for program pre-work. At this stage of the game, most of our collaboration work is post-work. The reason? SharePoint is still new in our organization. Our training classes seem to be the first place our employees are encountering it. Also, my team is new to it too. We are still working out how best to introduce it on the front-end. Our goal is to begin using it for pre-work in 2010.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Web-based Learning: The Missing Piece

Last week I made a cross-country journey from Connecticut to California to conduct training for a group of managers from our offices on the west coast and in the southwest. All the way out on the plane, I kept thinking, “Everything on this agenda could be handled through virtual classroom training.” That thought was also on my mind during training as we pushed through our first day’s agenda. With each new topic or segment, I was mentally redesigning the program for web delivery:

When our knowledgeable subject matter experts were speaking, I was thinking: they could be reaching more people through a web-based virtual classroom session.

When the managers in the training were sharing best practices, I was thinking: this discussion could be more in depth and have a longer shelf-life if we were doing this in a wiki.

When we covered some of the necessary static content through PowerPoint presentations, I was thinking: this could be repurposed as e-learning and assigned as pre-work.

When we broke the participants into groups for activities in which they had to tackle real business problems, I was thinking: they could have received these as case study assignments, worked on them, and submitted them by uploading them to a class SharePoint site or to our LMS.

In short, at every turn during the day I was reinforcing my belief that by using sound instructional design principles, this whole learning event could be delivered as an equivalent – or even improved – learning experience using web 2.0 tools and virtual classroom technology. Redesigning the program for the web would transform it from a single learning event into a program that could engage the learners for a longer period of time. It would also be scaleable and repeatable for other audiences. The day’s events just reaffirmed that what I have read in the Virtual-ILT research, and what I have experienced in my own web-delivered programs, really can be effective.

Then we went out to dinner.

There were eighteen of us: training participants, facilitators, and subject matter experts. We had a round of drinks at the bar before moving on to our oversized table for dinner. The conversation was lively. Some of it was personal, some of it was job related, and I'm happy to say some of it recapped key learning points from the class that day. At one point I sat back in my chair just to look around and listen to the group. I heard their laughter, their casual remarks, and their informal conversations. I saw the pleasure of relaxed camaraderie on their faces. At that moment I thought, “This is the piece we are still missing.” Our current generation of online learning, collaboration, and web 2.0 tools doesn’t do enough to replicate this part of the learning event. I’m sure they will someday soon. But will they serve beer?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Web 2.0 Learning Shift

A fundamental shift is taking place in the world of corporate learning. Training departments that were primarily focused on developing knowledge and skills by pushing course content out to their target audiences face direct competition from Web 2.0 tools. Many would-be learners no longer wait to sign up for a course to get the information they need. Instead, they turn to the internet using search engines such as Google or Yahoo! (and now bing), or to Wikipedia for quick answers. A number of other factors also point to this being a time for change:

Do More with Less – This has been a corporate rallying cry for decades now and it is not going away. Just when you begin to think that you can’t cinch the belt any tighter, you are asked to punch another hole in it. This is both a budget and a manpower issue, so even if running training courses could still meet the need, this just isn’t feasible.

ILT and eLearning are not the Answer – Been there; done that. People are no longer getting excited by the traditional corporate university model with its catalog of instructor-led training and eLearning courseware.

Remote, Mobile and/or Agile Workers – Offering training in “the office” doesn’t have the same meaning anymore. The number of people working from home, from the road, or from other remote locations continues to increase each year. For these people virtual learning is a natural extension of the virtual workplace.

Social Media Explosion – Like it or not, employees are using social media tools. They are connecting to people outside of their companies and sharing information freely on facebook, twitter, and personal blogs. User created content has become a powerful source of information through these tools.

So where does that leave us?

Well, providing solid content that meets our learners’ needs will always be important, but instead of “courses” or “programs” being central to what we do, we need to think in terms of “environments” and “enablement.” We need to help learners connect to the right resources quickly when they need them – and to each other. Instructional designers and course developers have to make the leap from producing instructor-led training and elearning courseware to embracing a new platform, one on which they can create virtual collaborative learning environments that allow their company’s employees to learn both formally and informally. Learning needs to combine real world experiences with opportunities for reflection, sharing, questioning and refining. Improvements to virtual classroom tools in recent years now allow this to be done effectively.

For many, it is a struggle to make the leap. Creating an environment that enables informal learning requires giving up some control over objectives and measures. By its very nature informal learning will produce its own unintended outcomes. But isn’t it a good thing if people learn more from our design efforts than we put into them?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Importance of Learning about Your Learners

I just got back from the CLO Summit at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. It was a long trip from Connecticut, but well worth it. Red Rock is a great place for a conference and this one was exceptional. There were approximately eighty Chief Learning Officers, Talent Management Vice Presidents, and other development professionals in attendance. It was an intensive three days, focused on key issues impacting the learning industry. There were presentations on organization structure, learning trends, and strategies for managing a learning function during these challenging economic times.

One CLO from the insurance industry presented a case outlining how she built a comprehensive program to raise performance levels among independent agents. It was in support of her organization’s strategy to meet growth targets. This required the independent reps to double their two-year productivity. It was an impressive success story that provided an example of the power of solid instructional design. But what particularly struck me, was the emphasis the CLO placed on learner analysis in the instructional design process. All too often we take this step for granted, instead relying on competency models to tell us what we need to include in the training. In truth, as this CLO well knows, competency models tell only part of the story. Her learner analysis went much deeper, using what she referred to as a waterfall approach to analyze required behaviors at cascading levels.

Listening to her describing her work reminded me that my most successful projects were the ones in which I employed all parts of the instructional design process, including a thorough learner analysis. By that I mean an analysis that explores as many characteristics of the target audience as is possible. In addition to reviewing required competencies, here are a few questions I have found helpful to include in my learning analyses:

What entry behaviors do the learners already possess? In other words, what required skills have they already mastered? This is what the insurance industry CLO was trying to determine in her waterfall approach to learner analysis.

What prior knowledge of the key topics do the learners already have? Usually, learners will have at least some familiarity with the proposed training topics. By answering this question you can determine which topics to emphasize and which topics to downplay. You may even discover topics that can be discarded altogether.

How do the learners feel about the proposed topics? Are they interested, motivated, or indifferent to the proposed topics? Answering these questions will help you size up how much of a challenge it is going to be to capture and hold your learners' attention, and whether or not you will have to make a case to them about the importance of reaching the learning goals.

How do the learners feel about potential delivery approaches? What are their expectations regarding how training will be delivered? Are they expecting live classroom training, e-learning, or something else? You may have the flexibility to choose a delivery approach that is favorable to your learners, or you may not. Either way it is best to know what you are getting yourself into as you develop the program.

What general characteristics do the learners possess as a group? Are you training a homogenous group, or are they very diverse? Group variables should be considered when developing objectives, instructional strategies and motivational approaches. Ultimately, you want to give yourself every possible advantage in knowing what learning activities are most likely to be successful.

This is just a sampling of some of the questions that could be included in a learner analysis. Many others will be specific to the program being developed.

I wish I could say I was always thorough in all my analyses. But at times, I have been guilty of relying on competency models and cutting corners. This mostly happens when I'm short on resources and under deadline pressure. However, like the insurance industry CLO who presented her case at the summit, when big issues are stake I will push back on those deadlines in order to do the right thing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Media Is Tuning In to You!

On Monday I attended the ASTD Southern Connecticut Chapter’s monthly meeting. The topic was, what else: Social Media. The speaker was Jennifer Scott, of HireEffect LLC. She specializes in talent acquisition and career coaching. She helps her clients use social media for recruiting and/or job searches. She had great advice for both the people in the audience who are currently in career transition, and for the small business owners who are trying to reach more customers with their training/consulting services. Currently, I’m in neither of these categories, but certainly could be some day. Nevertheless, as someone who just recently began immersing himself in social media, I found her presentation to be valuable and helpful.

She focused on three key social media tools: LinkedIn, facebook, and twitter and made good points about each. But her main point was that we would be crazy not to take advantage of the networking opportunities afforded by social media. Years ago, companies had to work hard and pay dearly to get their name out there. Now, through these tools, the media is tuning into you! Social media tools provide free targeted advertising for your business, your job search, or your personal brand.

She gave some advice on how to develop a social media presence. Here are a few of her key points and my takeaways.

  • Clearly define your value proposition. Before you jump in and start appearing all over the web, know what your niche is. What do you want to emphasize? What do you have to offer?
  • Be consistent. Your web presence should make sense overall. In other words, your headline on LinkedIn and your Bio on Twitter should tell the same story about you – and it should match your overall value proposition.
  • Optimize your profile. Take advantage of all the real estate offered on social networking sites to describe your offering or your company. Carefully consider keywords for your profile that are job, business, and industry specific for the audience you most want to reach. Remember, this is free targeted advertising!
  • Don’t just show up; Participate! - Submit news articles. Initiate and join discussions. This is social media. Contribute to the groups that you join. Forward articles or people’s profiles to others who you think might benefit from them. When you make good points in a discussion, people naturally become curious about who you are and will want to link back to your LinkedIn profile or your company’s facebook fan page.
  • Convert social networking into direct connections –Where it makes sense, call a social network contact to offer your services, or to find out more about what it is they have to offer. This is really what it is all about isn’t it?

I am about three months into my explorations with social media tools. Each day as I learn more I become more encouraged by the possibilities for using them for learning inside my organization. I really feel that we are on the cusp of a new evolution in corporate learning that will see us becoming more focused on creating environments to capture informal learning rather than being content and course deliverers.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Five Examples of Learning Metrics that Matter

This week I participated in a discussion on learning metrics with my new friends at #lrnchat. What a pleasure it is to be part of these weekly events. Where else can you say things like, “if we start analyzing the problem using the Six Boxes® model based on Thomas Gilbert’s theory, we are sure to make some progress” without people running away to see if someone refilled the punch bowl?

The questions that were tossed around this week were:
  • Are learning metrics different from business metrics?
  • What are you measuring in your organization?
  • How do you tie organizational learning to business performance outcomes?
  • What else besides metrics do you use to show impact?

I was excited and a little bit surprised as I watched the responses roll by. I get so caught up in what I’m doing at work that I lose sight of what is going on in the rest of the world. Some people seemed to be struggling with measurement basics, while others seemed to have a strong grasp on the topic. This got me thinking about what we are doing at my organization, which probably falls somewhere in the middle.

I thought a lot about this discussion after it was over. Really, the heart of the matter is: What value do we as learning professionals bring to the organization? How do we show it? The short answer is that we do this by helping business leaders meet their goals.

I have been fortunate throughout my career to have been involved in a number of projects that made a huge impact on the business. But I can also recall times when it was difficult to see connections between the work that I was doing and the impact it was having on the organization. These are the times when we all fall back on measures such as, “butts in seats,” level one evaluations, and elearning completion rates. These are important feedback indicators for the training department, but they usually don’t mean very much to business leaders. That being said, I can think of examples in which these measures alone have been important to the business. What it comes down to is that sometimes the measures associated with learning success will be obvious and glamorous, and other times they will not. Here are a few examples of both from my experience:
  1. Sales Training is one of those cases where the metrics are obvious and easy to align to the business. We run a class on how to sell against our competitors effectively. The natural metric associated with this is the number of competitive takeaways. We have clear evidence that sales reps who take this class have a higher rate of competitive takeaways than the general rep population.

  2. Equipment Service Training is another example with obvious metrics. Well-trained service reps fix problems more quickly and are able to tackle more service calls in less time.

  3. Operations Training can have a variety of metrics. We ran a class on how to write work instructions for a part of the business that was very procedurally oriented. Every time they had people leave the department due to promotions or turnover, processes broke down. Our metric was the existence of well-written work instructions in the departments that participated in the training. This helped the business leader keep continuity when there was turnover.

  4. Compliance Training metrics are not very glamorous. This is a case where counting up completions works to serve the measurement need. Our legal department wants to reduce or eliminate ethics violations, or failing that, be able to prove the company did its part in making employees aware of their responsibilities and the consequences. We make sure everyone goes through our business ethics course and provide a report shows that this has been done.

  5. Soft Skills Training metrics are of course the fuzziest area. Yes we conduct level three evaluations to show behavioral change, but most people don’t get too excited over these. However, our Chief Human Resources Officer is very interested in employee engagement. She knows that offering soft skills training helps people with personal development which is important to engagement. She also knows that managers and supervisors who use what they have learned in soft skills courses are going to receive higher engagement scores. So yes, we count “butts in seats” for these courses.
The point I’m trying to make with these examples is that the metrics have to match the need.  When we help our organization’s leaders meet their goals by identifying and addressing the learning component of their business problem, we are truly adding value.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's in Your Instructional Strategy?

So here I am at the latter stages of a rather hectic day trying once again to gather and process my thoughts about social learning.  Why is it such a popular topic in the learning community right now?  Why have I been nearly obsessing over these tools for the last few months?

My October 3 post on the topic has gotten some attention, including a comment from John Darling who reminds us, " is also important that we not confuse the "tools" (e.g. twitter, forums, linkedins, etc.) with the process. These technologies are simply one part of the means we can use..."  Of course John is right.  Social learning tools just provide another media option for consideration when developing your instructional strategy.   A good instructional designer considers the learning goal, learner characteristics, performance context, objectives and measures, and then considers delivery options that might be appropriate for the situation.  Costs and practicality issues help to narrow down the choices and ultimately drive the final decision.

So why all the fuss?  Unlike other delivery systems, social learning tools hold the promise of capturing and sharing informal learning.   That is a valuable prize for those of us who have devoted our careers to helping others improve their job performance.

At the beginning of this year, my team launched a redesigned onboarding program for our newly hired sales representatives.  As part of our analysis before the redesign, we interviewed participants from the older version of the program.  A few months after their graduation, we asked them what their most valuable learning experiences during the program were.  None of the people we interviewed cited the formal elements of the program (such as the elearning modules or webinars) as most valuable.  Instead, they said their most valuable experiences were, "riding along with seasoned sales reps" and, "listening over the cubicle wall when experienced sales reps were on the phone with customers."  Armed with this feedback my team was determined to find a way to capture these experiences and build them into our new program.   For the most part, we have succeeded.  We developed activities that foster these interactions and we use a wikispace to allow program participants to share and learn from each other's experiences.

Ultimately, we would like to allow this type of learning to take place in all of our programs.  The bottom line is that people learn a lot from each other.  Social media tools can help us to harness some of those individual experiences and spread them around to benefit more people.  That is why I continue on this mini-quest of mine.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hats Off to Fort Hill: Driving Business Results through Learning Transfer

This week I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in the Fort Hill Company's 2009 Best Practices Summit.  It was a gathering of learning professionals who had come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the learning community in today's economic climate.  The folks at Fort Hill did an excellent job as hosts, facilitators, and subject matter experts at the event which featured keynote speakers David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, Sue Todd,  President and CEO of the Corporate University Xchange, speaking on branding learning, and Jim Kelly, COO of ING Direct, sharing his perspective on what business leaders want from learning and development.  There were also more than a dozen best practice presentations by Fort Hill customers and business partners.  I had the opportunity to talk about the training program I run at my company to develop high-potential sales managers.

Fort Hill's primary focus is enabling learning departments to deliver business results by driving learning transfer.  This has to do with learners being able to transfer the knowledge and skills acquired in the training setting back to the job.  When wearing my instructional designer hat, the three main things I try to attend to in course development to aid learning transfer are:
  1. Clearly specifying conditions of performance when writing objectives - these are often those "givens" you see written into objectives such as, "Given a list of terms about leasing, write a definition for each one."  There is something a little unnatural about the rhythm of this type of statement so I don't always include objective statements that are written this way in the training materials that my participants see.  However, behind the scenes, this is how I prepare my instructional objectives.
  2. Using authentic tools or situations when designing learning activities - for example, when training new sales associates on how to uncover customer needs, instead of using an artificial form created for training purposes, supply them with the actual needs analysis tool they will be expected to use on the job. 
  3. Building mechanisms for follow-through right into the training - get learners to commit to specific actions they will take after training has been completed.

In support of item three on this list, The Fort Hill Company has an excellent line of products and services that do just that.  I use their Friday5s® tool in the program for our high potential sales managers. Our goal is to prepare these managers for promotional opportunities at the next management level. We want to develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills now to make sure they can handle the business challenges they will face at the next level.  To that end, each program participant is asked to set two specific goals during the later stages of the training program.  These goals are entered into the Friday5s® tool.  Through the system, participants are prompted to spend five minutes each Friday for a period of time to plan actions and update activities to follow through on these goals.  The training participant's manager is also able to access the system so he or she has line of sight into the goals and actions for coaching and feedback.   Using this system helps our participants sustain what they have learned and put it to use back on the job.  As an added bonus, it gives me the ability to identify evidence that items learned in training are being applied and that they are leading to business results. This makes reporting on the impact of the training clearer and much more effective.

The Fort Hill event itself was a great model for learning transfer.  Their team pulled together a knowledgeable group of learning and development professionals who shared real experiences and applications of learning tools.  There was something that each of us could transfer back to our jobs.  It truly was a best practices summit.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I Have Learned...Socially!!!

After two months of blogging and tweeting, I have actually begun to learn something through this experience.  Here is my story:

On Thursday night I participated in a #lrnchat session on Twitter with other people interested in learning.  The theme of the chat was, "learning from each other socially in different ways."  I logged on a few minutes early and was politely greeted by a few others who were already there.  At the appointed start time, the chat leader began tweeting the rules.  They appeared on screen one by one, interspersed with greetings from other chatters who were just arriving.  There were seven rules in all.  The gist of which I have repeated here:
  1. Introduce yourself and your location
  2. Share your favorite topics
  3. Write complete thoughts so those seeing your tweets outside of the chat will understand them
  4. Play nice (but sarcasm was welcomed!)
  5. Periodically retweet so others will understand the context of your responses  (I didn't get this at first, but I got it now)
  6. Remember to include #lrnchat in all posts (Putting this at the end of your tweets includes your post in the chat stream)
  7. Five minutes before the end of the session, let the group know if you need anything from them and then close by reintroducing yourself
After all the rules were read, several threads of discussion took place.   I paid attention and participated in a few, but there were several others that went right by me.

The first thread I followed had responses to a prompt asking, "What have you learned this week?"   Some learned about instructional design, some about twitter; I typed that I learned there is a community of learners that meets through Tweetchat on Thursday nights.

Then we began to discuss social learning.  One person suggested social learning is the convergence of ideas. Someone else suggested that all learning is social.  Several people refuted this with examples and testimony.  I asked, "How does social learning fit into the corporate learning world with its security restrictions and data privacy concerns?"  One person sent me a direct response saying, "It doesn''s the very antithesis...uncontrolled by "the man" and self/group constructed."   I thought that was interesting, since one of my goals is to learn how to bring these tools into the corporate learning environment.  I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

Someone asked, "If Socrates coulda' tweeted...would that be social learning?"  This garnered the response: Socratweets!

After all of this, a good discussion thread got started on learning measurement.  Certainly it is difficult to get a handle on the impact that learning through social media could have on a business.  It was clear that this issue creates a barrier for acceptance in the corporate learning world.

In all, the chat lasted ninety minutes.  I had fun participating in it and afterwards - as a good learner should do - I took time to reflect.  So here is a brief summary of my thoughts about my experiences with social learning this week:
  1. I have been blogging for about two months now.  During that time I have been reading and connecting with other bloggers.  It is through one of these connections that I discovered the existence of the #lrnchat group
  2. By linking back to another blogger who read and commented on one of my blogs, I learned some of the vocabulary and syntax used to make tweeting more effective
  3. Through #lrnchat, I learned that there is more to twitter than just isolated tweets
  4. I learned that twitter can be effective for learning if you have people with common interests all tweeting together at the same time
  5. I learned you can make your tweeting more meaningful by using techniques like retweeting, direct replies, and writing complete thoughts
So I think I'm beginning to get the idea of social learning.  I'm not ready to include it in my instructional strategies at work yet, but I'm hopeful that I will be able to at some point.

For you curious social anthropologist types, here is a link to Thursday's #lrnchat transcript.  Be warned, you have to navigate through the zigzag nature of the discussion threads.  As a matter of fact, someone in the group suggested coining a new term for this: Zigzag Learning.  You can also see my contributions to the discussion in isolation by going to  and viewing my posts dated Thursday, October 1. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Thanks, I'd Rather Manage

Today while munching on a veggie and goat cheese Panini, I participated in a lunchtime webinar offered by the American Management Association (AMA). This is not something I normally do but the title of today’s session was The Inescapable Conundrums of Managing. How could I pass that up? In it, Ed Reilly, AMA’s CEO, interviewed Henry Mintzberg, renowned Professor at McGill University in Montreal, about his new book Managing. Professor Mintzberg has been researching and writing books on management since the 1970s. In discussing his latest one, he made some interesting points about leadership and management.

His main points were that there has been too much emphasis on leadership and that it is time to get back to management. In discussing the relationship between the two, he said, “a manager who can’t lead is discouraging, but a leader who can’t manage doesn’t know what’s going on.” He described a problem he called macro-leadership which seems to be the polar opposite of micro-managing. People who are macro-leading are too removed from how things are done. They need to get on the ground to help people grow and get results.  He felt that this was more important in getting businesses through tough times than leadership.

Among other things, he discussed how to develop managers. He said, “You can’t create managers in a classroom.” By this he meant, that you can develop some skills such as coaching or negotiating in the classroom, but that it takes more than that to become a good manager.  Instead of traditional management training programs he felt we need to recognize that successful managers learn from experience, so we should build learning around managerial experiences. He described a learning approach where you have managers work on a business problem in small groups, you supply some conceptual information, but the solution to the problem will be worked out by using the collective experience of the managers in the group. They solve the problem and in the process, they learn and grow.  You can learn more about this approach at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, What Does It All Mean?

Okay, I woke up this morning thinking about Twitter.  I know, scary isn't it?  I was thinking, "I should Tweet something, but I really don't have anything meaningful to say in 140 characters or less."  In this week's Learning Consortium call,  Elliott Masie stated that we were in the "hype and experimentation stage" with Twitter.  Last month, the CLO-Network posed the question, "Is social learning the hope for the future or just hype?" Yesterday's entry in the Corporate eLearning Strategies and Development Blog began with, "If you haven't jumped on the Twitter bandwagon because it seems stupid..."  So I find that I am not alone in seeking learning value in this tool that is gaining 10 million users per month.

Bill Sherman is also searching for that value.  He wrote an article in the August issue of Chief Learning Officer titled, "When the Bird Tweets Does Anyone Learn?" One segment of the article I found particularly interesting discusses the conditions that need to be present for social media to serve as a valid learning delivery medium.  Here are his points along with some of my thoughts:

The use of social media must organically fit with the program's overall instructional design, rather than be thrown in as an afterthought.

This is one of the things I fear most right now: people throwing these tools into a program just to be trendy.  A good instructional designer knows the choice of delivery media should be driven by the learning design.  The media chosen has much less impact on a program's success than the instructional strategy.

The organization's technology strategy must support social media to fully leverage the just-in-time learning capabilities the platform offers.

I have to give credit to my company's IT department.  They have recently introduced Yammer (Twitter's corporate cousin) into our organization.  We are beta testing it.  We are also using a software tool for forum discussions to capture ideas for innovation and for holding customer forums about happenings in our industry that impact their business.   So, once we can figure out the best way to leverage these tools for learning, I think we will have the IT support we need.

The organization's culture must intelligently embrace and practice the use of social media.

There are a handful of regular Yammer users in our company.  And, like Twitter, there are many people who have signed on and said, "Hello! I'm here." and were never heard from again.  

Learners must be receptive to social media, and alternatives must be available for those who feel uncomfortable with social media.

This raises yet another challenge for working with multiple generations in the workplace.  My thought here is that if we start by designing the use of social media into programs where it makes sense we can gradually build acceptance.  When I introduced the idea of using a wiki in our onboarding program, at first my senior course developer and the program facilitators were skeptical and resistant.  But after a while, they began to see it was easy to use and added value to the program.  They began to suggest replacing some of our activities with new ones centered on using the wiki.  I'm hoping that in the near future, we will be doing the same with tools like Twitter.  I don't think this bird is just going to fly away.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Discussing Podcasts and Social Networking with the Learning Consortium

Today I participated in one of Elliott Masie’s monthly Learning Consortium calls. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, this is a valuable way to spend an hour each month. Mr. Masie hosts the calls which address topics of interest to the consortium membership. Members submit questions ahead of time and he provides a brief response from his point of view (usually citing research he has done or read) and then opens the line for other consortium members to share their opinions. Two topics of interest to me came up on today’s call: podcasting and social networking tools.

We have tried to do a few things with podcasting as a learning tool in my company, but in truth all we have done is create audio learning programs. The distinction being that audio learning programs are posted on a website and made available for download, whereas podcasts are delivered to a device such as a cell phone or a laptop through a subscription feed. In any event, the process for creating them is the same. One of my team members is currently working on an audio learning series for managers. It will cover ideas for increasing employee engagement. So, when podcasting came up on the call, it caught my interest immediately. Here are a few of the key points that were shared about creating successful podcasts:
  1. Keep them focused - the most effective podcasts cover only a single topic
  2. Keep them short – don’t overproduce them with long introductions or irrelevant segments
  3. Use two or three voices to create interest – like successful radio shows, podcasts work better when there is a dialog between two or three people rather than just a single voice talking to the listener. If possible, use a mix of male and a female voices.

 If you read my earlier blogs on wikis or microblogging, you know web 2.0 tools are of interest to me. I have been experimenting with several tools to try to determine their practical uses for learning. This is one of the reasons I started blogging. The question that was addressed in today’s call was about which tools are making an impact on workplace learning. Mr. Masie described wikis as belonging to the category of “collective intelligence” tools. He stated that these tools have caught on and are making a strong impact. He noted that because these tools are mainly for sharing “user created content” that rating pages or entries has become important. Ratings help sort out the good from the bad content to bring key learning points to the forefront. I have included a “rate my blog” gadget and a “Digg It “ button on this blog so I can get feedback on what people find most valuable when reading Many Ways To Learn.

The discussion about microblogging was right on the money. Mr. Masie described us as being in the “hype and experimentation cycle” with tools such as Twitter. This is absolutely true for me. I have no idea what people expect me to write on Twitter and, quite frankly, I haven’t found many people who are compelling enough to “follow.” Our in-house tool (Yammer) is showing some promise. I have witnessed a few key connections take place through discussions on Yammer. Also, I received a reply to one of my posts from  a VP with whom I wanted to make a connection. A lot of my work aligns with what she is doing in her department. It was nice to see she recognized that as well.

For what it’s worth you can follow me on Twitter if you want to: Better still, you can follow Elliott Masie:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

VILT = ILT Part 2: More Than Just the Medium

My last blog entry about the VILT survey conducted by Skillsoft PLC received a comment from Hank Riehl at Skillsoft - Thank you Hank. In his comment, Hank outlined some of the elements that have made the Skillsoft Live Learning courses successful. He also provided a link to a DOE study of online learning that reports on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. This reinforces the Skillsoft survey result.

The researchers who published the DOE study performed a meta-analysis (combining the results of multiple experiments to obtain a composite estimate of the effect) of 51 learning studies in which they could find useful effects. The studies were conducted between 1996 and 2008, most of them being from 2004 or later. The studies were typically conducted in an academic environment, mostly with older learners in college or graduate school.

The report asserts the researchers consistently found advantages in online and blended learning programs over face-to-face instruction. This statement provides great support for anyone trying to make a case for converting a classroom program to the virtual world, but the researchers caution online and face-to-face conditions in the studies examined differed on multiple dimensions, including the amount of time that learners spent on task. So the advantages observed may be the product of those conditions rather than the delivery medium.

This is what I was getting at in my previous blog entry: VILT can be successful, but it takes more than simply switching the medium from ILT to the virtual classroom. It takes rigorous and thoughtful instructional design to create the right conditions for learning. The Skillsoft PLC survey and the DOE study provide support for the notion that it is worth it to put that effort into designing an online or blended learning program.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

VILT = ILT...or Does It?

Last week, SkillSoft PLC (a leading elearning provider) published the results of a survey showing that learners feel virtual learning is just as effective as face-to-face instructor-led training. They randomly polled 1800 learners who previously attended a SkillSoft Live Learning course within the prior year. 70% of the respondents rated virtual instructor-led training (VILT) as either the same, better, or much better, than traditional classroom-based instructor-led training (ILT). Granted, this is just a survey, not a study, so it does not prove effectiveness, but the findings do not surprise me. We have had great success and acceptance with VILT as a component of our courses at my company . However, I caution anyone from just swapping ILT programs in favor VILT without doing anything else.

It was difficult to get people bought into a virtual classroom approach when it first became available. But after the tragedy of 9/11, and the anthrax scare that followed shortly afterwards, our workforce was reluctant to get on planes for training classes. They became much more open to the idea of virtual learning.

We capitalized on that acceptance and started conducting basic webinars, but we quickly evolved from there. Webinars created a very passive learning experience which we found to be insufficient for most of our needs. We shifted our thinking away from VILT being viewed as a replacement for ILT by itself. Instead we began to view it as only a single component of what is needed to replicate a successful ILT experience. This was around the time that “blended learning” became an industry buzzword. In any event, we began to develop integrated distance learning programs that incorporated elearning modules, readings, self-paced activities, and testing. The virtual classroom component was used to bring in the interactive discussion element, but it was not being relied on solely to create an equivalent learning experience to ILT.

Today, we run several successful programs this way, including our 3-month long onboarding program for sales new hires. In the 3-month period, they complete nine training modules during which they participate in a total of 17 VILT sessions. Test results and work performance indicators show that our program is equally successful (and in some areas superior) to its ILT predecessor. So again, while I’m not surprised at the Skillsoft survey results, I find it usually takes more than just a VILT session to create a successful learning experience.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Power of a Well Placed Question Mark

Yesterday afternoon, my team hosted a webinar as part of an ongoing training program. We were fortunate that our Subject Matter Expert also had excellent facilitation skills, so we really didn't have too much to do. But that is not always the case.

Has this ever happened to you: You are invited to attend a webinar about a topic that is relevant and important to your work. You add it to your calendar. At the appropriate date and time you log on, eager to discuss the topic and have a few important questions answered. The webinar begins. About 15 minutes into it you realize this is going to be a "one way street." That the Subject Matter Expert (SME) will be doing all the talking, while you listen. Gradually you feel the energy drain through the phone line. You begin to hear the muted clicks of someone typing at their keyboard. You start to think about other things you have to do too. Before you know it, you and half of the other participants have tuned out and are politely hanging on waiting for the session to end.

This is often happens when there is no learning person available to host the webinar and facilitate the discussion, or when you don't have someone like the guy we were lucky enough to have leading our session yesterday. Many of us have had to rely on Subject Matter Experts to lead their own sessions at some point in time. In those cases, we prepare and coach them as best we can, and hope for the best.

One technique I have found helpful in these situations is to go through the presentation slides with the SME before hand and place a question mark on the lower right corner of the last slide for each topic. In a typical 60-minute webinar, there may be three or four key topics being covered, so there would be three or four slides containing the question mark. This serves as a visual reminder to the SME and the participants that they have reached the end of the topic and this is a good time for questions before moving onto the next topic. I tell the SME to let the group know at the beginning of the session that when they see the slide with the question mark, that is their opportunity to ask questions. Then, when they finish covering the points on a slide with the question mark, they simply need to ask something like, "What questions do you have about {topic x} before we move onto the next topic?"

This is helpful in both creating and managing the level of dialog in the session. Participants recognize the opportunity to ask questions when they see the question mark and they also recognize that the question and answer period for that topic is over when the SME moves to the next slide.

So before I move onto the next topic in this blog, what questions do you have?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Makes Us Tick?

Today I downloaded the Career Factbook for HR and Learning Professionals published by Bersin & Associates in June 2009. Essentially, it provides the results of a study conducted in the Spring about what drives success, motivation, job satisfaction, etc. in the HR and Learning industry. Below are the key findings from the study, with my two cents added as commentary.

1. The HR and L&D Profession Is Largely Comprised of People Who Enjoy and Value Serving Others, Training and Coaching, and Engaging in the “People Side” of Business.

No surprise here. These values are core to the job.

2. There Is a Distinct Break in the Development Needs, Desires and Key Skills of Practitioners, and That of HR Directors and Executives.

The study shows that people who go onto higher level roles in HR and L&D (Directors & VPs) generally have some line experience at some point in their career, and usually develop a deep level of expertise in one or more functional areas within HR along the way.

3. HR and L&D Professionals Are Most Frustrated in Their Careers by Two Factors – Lack of Resources and Lack of Executive Engagement.

Tell me about it. Our skills and good intentions as learning professionals are not enough by themselves. I have always said that the single biggest success factor in any of my major projects has been executive sponsorship.

4. HR and L&D Professionals Are Not Highly Motivated by Compensation.

There you have it. We’re not in this for the money. Although a little more never hurts!

5. The HR Profession Has Highly Specialized Disciplines – And, within Each of These Disciplines, Individuals Take Great Pride in Their Expertise, Experience and Understanding of Solutions.

Hence the reason we are often willing to do this for less money than we really deserve.

6. While the Various HR Disciplines and Domains Require Different Unique Skills and Knowledge, People Regularly Migrate between HR Disciplines.

This is true for me. I have had roles in training, organizational development, talent management, instructional design and leadership development throughout my career – and I have dabbled in other areas of HR through project work along the way.

7. Career Satisfaction Grows with Age and Tenure.

This is good news. There must really be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

8. HR Professionals Are Highly Educated, with More Than 80 Percent Obtaining College Degrees and More Than One-Half with Advanced Degrees (participants in this study).

I possess a Master of Science in Industrial Labor Relations and I’m currently working towards a second Masters in Instructional Systems. And I still can't figure out how to use all the new learning technologies that are available today.

9. HR and L&D Professionals Greatly Value and Appreciate Education, Research, Collaboration and Formal Training for Their Own Careers.

Well, we are a development-oriented bunch. We take advantage of the opportunities we offer others. Why not? Its good stuff!

10. HR Professionals Today Are under Tremendous Stress.

Is that so? The economy, compliance, downsizing, cost reduction, performance management, corrective action, onboarding, compensation, retirement, severance, health care costs, succession planning, filling open jobs, filling training seats, e-learning, distance learning, blended learning, mobile learning, Employee Free Choice Act, Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, EEOC, OFCCP, AB1825, H1N1…

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Promise of Seamless Collaboration

My company has invested in Microsoft tools as the common platform for all of us to use. We have been using software packages such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access for years. Fairly recently, we've add Outlook (for calendaring and time management), Live Meeting (for virtual meetings), Sharepoint (for project collaboration) and the newest addition, Communicator (for instant messaging and instant meetings). The idea behind this strategy is that all of these tools work together and integrate seamlessly to allow virtual work groups to collaborate effectively. This also creates many new possibilities for synchronous (real time) distance learning.

I decided to run a project team meeting through Communicator this week as a test run to see how this might work for learning. It was a three-person meeting in which we were scheduled to revise a training proposal that we are scheduled to present to an internal client group next week. My intention was to invite my two team members to share my computer desktop through Communicator so we could discuss and edit the document together.
One of my team members was able to connect right away. The other, had difficulties. We could get him connected inside our virtual meeting, but every time he tried to take the final step to view the shared document he would get bounced out of the meeting. After 15 minutes of the three of us trying to troubleshoot, we decided to try another meeting approach. My second approach was to launch Microsoft Live Meeting from inside Communicator (since we were already there) and collaborate that way. I was excited because the team member who we could not connect with got right into the meeting, but my other team member, who had no problem with the desktop sharing in Communicator, was being blocked in making the jump from Communicator to Live Meeting. Again, we spent 15 minutes troubleshooting before we abandoned this approach as well.
After wasting 30 minutes of our meeting time, we went back to our usual meeting approach which was for me to set up a meeting directly in Live Meeting and send them email invitations to join me. This worked just fine and we were able to complete our proposal.
While I am encouraged by the promise of these collaborative tools, right now it is just a that: a promise. I can't imagine trying to use these tools with a training group when we can't even get a three person meeting off the ground. That being said, I am excited and encouraged by the possibilities. I know, one day soon, we will be designing learning activities that involve these tools and conducting learning sessions through them. In the meantime, we will just keep practicing so we will be ready when they are.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Horton Hears a Who...On Youtube!

One of the things we here at the MWTL blog (a.k.a. me) are interested in is how people use the Internet and web 2.0 tools for learning. I have been exploring learning websites, blogs, twitter, yammer, etc. to figure out how people use these things for learning. Once again I found a great example right at home with my son Andrew.

Andrew has been bitten by the acting bug. Recently he was invited to audition for a local production of Seussical! a musical based on those lovable Dr. Seuss children's books. One of the books that is central to the story is Horton Hears a Who. Inexplicably, this book was not among the many Dr. Seuss (Now he understood learning!) books we read to our children in their pre-school years. (Their favorite was Fox in Socks. The kids loved to laugh as I messed up this tongue-twister of a book.)

Andrew wanted to try out for the part of Horton, so he needed to do some research. He downloaded the Broadway soundtrack to his Ipod and then went onto wikipedia and looked up Seussical! to get an understanding of the plot. Next, he went to Youtube where he found many clips from local productions of the musical. By the time he went to audition, he was ready, having viewed and heard several different takes on the songs he needed to sing to impress his director.

Andrew quickly learned what he needed and got the part. As his father, I'm happy for him and I'm looking forward to his performances in November. As a learning professional, I'm fascinated - and a little bit scared - by all of this. The people I am tasked to train in the corporate classroom have access to the same tools and resources that my son used to research his part. With that much information at their fingertips, we as trainers are no longer asked to fill the role of information provider. Our job is to help people embrace and use these tools to their best advantage. At my company, we have just begun to incorporate tools such as sharepoint, wikis, etc. into our learning programs. In a few years, my son and his friends will be entering the work force. Imagine what their expectations around learning will be.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Take on an Old Standard

This week I had my team together for a working session/meeting. There are four of us and since we all work in different places, we only get together in person about 5-6 times a year. Our focus has been on instructional design and course development in past years, but due to some changes in our department our primary responsibility is now leadership and management development. Since that is the case, I thought it would be beneficial for us to explore style assessment tools that we could incorporate into the management training programs we offer. I wanted to find something that would provide rich, practical feedback for our managers, was cost effective, and easy to administer.

I asked my team to research some products and we decided to test drive a tool called Everything DiSC. DiSC has been around for many years. It is a simple tool that offers information to help people understand why they act the way they do - and to some extent - why others do too. It maps behaviors into four basic styles: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S) and Conscientiousness (C). The idea is that we all use a blend of these four styles, but most of us strongly gravitate toward one or two of the styles (My profile is CS). We purchased the "starter kit" for the management version. For a reasonable price, we were able to outfit ourselves with everything we need to administer this tool, and some pretty good follow up training to provide managers on how to apply it in work situations.

The package we purchased included a thumb drive with everything we need to run a DiSC workshop including a leader's guide, printable handouts, and a Powerpoint slide deck with embedded video clips. The slide deck is overkill at 122 slides, but it is easily configurable. The embedded videos are short and to the point. They provide good examples of the styles, with just enough ambiguity to make the behaviors portrayed credible. The profiles are taken online. Participants get their results immediately, with a back up notification going to an in-house administrator (in our case, one of my staff members). The reports are easy to read. They provide feedback on the styles. Since we purchased the management version, they also provide feedback on the impact DiSC styles have on how managers delegate work, develop others, and on the motivational climate they create. My only criticism so far is that instead of direct pricing for profiles, you have to purchase "credits." The number of credits needed to purchase a profile varies based on volume. This is a minor annoyance, but the tool seems great. Our plan is to have a few of our training colleagues take the online profile to give my team a chance to practice debriefing it. We will then incorporate it into a few of our upcoming classes. Check back for updates.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yammering On About Nothing; Kudos for Dr. Gupta!

Okay, so I joined my company's Yammer beta site. My goal as a learning professional is to see what kind of learning possibilities there are through this tool. I wanted to see what kind of dialog is going on in my company. What are the hot topics being discussed? How is knowledge being spread and shared to build a better future for us all?

What did I find? Everyone on Yammer was discussing - Twitter. There was a running thread of yams(?) about this article from Information Week stating that 40% of "tweets" were pointless babble. Up to this point my quest for learning through Web 2.0 tools hadn't been very fruitful.

Back on Twitter, George S and Weird Al weren't providing me much, but I found a ray of hope for learning in a few threads started by Dr. Gupta. He is using "twitpics" to share xrays of various conditions and asking people if they can spot problems. It appears that he has a lot of followers who are medical students and professionals. So Twitter can be used for mini coaching sessions with online followers. Hmmm...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Let's All Microblog!

This week I signed up on Twitter and Yammer and I really have no idea why! These are two popular "microblogs" that "everyone" is using these days to write short snippets about themselves. Twitter is a public microblog that asks the question, "What are you doing right now?" Yammer is its corporate cousin. It has the same basic concept except that it is only open to members of the same company. So instead of asking, "What are you doing?" Yammer wants to know, "What are you working on?" I figure I would give both of these a go to see how they might be useful for learning. The way they work is that you that you sign up to write your snippets (on Twitter these are called tweets; on Yammer are they yams?), you choose people to "follow" if you feel they have interesting snippets, and people choose to follow you.

When I joined Twitter I was presented with an array of choices on people to follow. Not being sure how this was going to work, I chose three people as a starter kit: George Stephanopolous, Weird Al Yankovic, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Shortly after I tweeted (do I really have to call it that?) I immediately had three followers: sexytoytwiter, bitchymyall710 (who is having a lingerie party - I guess I'm invited!), and some guy named Vernon. If you are interested in joining my new posse, you can find me at

I'll let you know how Yammer is working out in a few days.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wikis: The New Whiteboard of the Virtual World

One thing you can say is true about trainers: we love our flip charts and whiteboards. Where would we be without these simple tools that enable us to draw out all those great ideas from our class participants? Think of the satisfaction we feel when we can tell they are "getting it" based on the quality of their contributions added to our flip charts or when we see them building on each other's ideas on the white board. We know real learning is taking place - and it took nothing more than a few good questions and a blank white piece of paper to get there.

I have a theory that a lot of resistance to online learning can be attributed to our love of the flip chart. Trainers and trainees alike often say things like, "there is no substitute for classroom learning" or "you just can't get the same level of interaction and participation online." When I hear these statements, what I really hear is people pining for those exercises that allow us to wallpaper the room with great ideas and shared learning. We love to take a step back, look around the room and admire the power of the classroom learning experience. In shifting to online learning, we are concerned about losing the ability to create that impact.

Enter wikis. Wikis are websites that use wiki software to allow users to create, edit and link pages online. By now almost everyone has looked up information on (or at least heard of it). It is a free encyclopedia that was created through online collaboration and editing by users. It is essentially an enormous virtual whiteboard. On a smaller scale, wikis can be used for collaboration in online learning. In my company, we recently converted an onboarding program from classroom to online. There was concern that this was not going to work because we were losing the important classroom interactions. To compensate, we went to and signed up for a private label account that allows us to use wikis for online exercises and collaboration as part of our class. We constructed a variety of exercises involving the wiki. For example, we have an exercise in which each class member must review a separate online module and write a review of it on the wiki. Class members read and share comments on each others reviews helping them to get more out of the online modules than they would if they were just viewing them on their own. We have another exercise in which we ask the class members to review one of our marketing tools and then go to the wiki space and write down ways this can be used with customers. They comment and build on each others ideas over the course of a few days. At the end of the exercise, the class participants take away a very practical list of ways to leverage the tool.

To learn more about how wikis work, click here to see a youtube video that does a great job of explaining them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Technology and Generational Differences

Back in the 1980s when I was a twenty-something, my first job as a trainer was in a department store. I used to conduct orientations and Point-of-Sales Policies and Procedures classes for new sales associates. A good number of my class participants were older women who were hired on to work a part time schedule. They would be trained along side younger workers providing me my first lesson in generational differences. We would discuss sales transactions, I would review the steps required to complete them, then the class would practice them on the cash registers. In those days we were using electronic cash registers that required all of the information on the price tag to be keyed in individually: merchandise classification, sku#, price and markdown. When it came time to practice, the younger people in the class would jump right in and start poking around on all the buttons on the machine. Many of the the older workers would freeze overwhelmed by all the coded buttons and intimidated by the beeps. They were fearful of making mistakes that would cause the registers to be out of balance. I would reassure them that in the classroom, we were working with dummy data and that these registers were not connected to anything, so it was safe for them to practice even if they made mistakes. We had a large transaction set so the register classes were spread out over three days. By the third day I could get most of them over their fears, but there was always one or two who were terrified when they got to the selling floor and had to do all of this with actual money and merchandise. As a trainer, this was my first lesson in generational differences. I learned that when it came to technology, many older learners would require patience and reinforcement, and that I would need to break the process down into very small steps.

Flash forward twenty some-odd years. My wife and I just purchased a new cell phone plan and bought new phones for ourselves and our two teenage children. My new phone is very different then the one I had previously. It has a numeric key pad for making calls on the front, but then it flips open to provide a full keyboard for text messaging. When we brought the phones home, I distributed a box to each family member with their phone. I then sat down to read the quick tips booklet and user's guide that came with my phone. My two children immediately cast the boxes and booklets aside and began using their phones. My son started by importing his contact list from another device and my daughter immediately began texting her boyfriend. A few days later when my phone rang, I was still feeling a little uncertain about how to unlock the thing and answer a call. My daughter Emily saw me struggling with this and snapped, "Oh dad, all cellphones are the same. Push Send to talk and End to drop the call." At that moment I flashed back to the little old ladies in my POS classes at the department store. Was I becoming one of them? How did I go from young and confident to uncertain and (slightly) intimidated by a simple electronic device? Now I'm beginning to identify with that older worker who is on the other side of the great technology divide. But what to do about all the new technologies and web based tools that are rapidly being introduced and easily adopted by younger generations? How am I as a learning professional going to keep pace with all these innovations as my children and their peers enter the workforce? How will exposure to blogs, wikis, social networking, mobile devices and the like impact these kids' expectations on how they will work and learn at work? These are the things I'd like to explore in this blog. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 7, 2009

There Are Many Ways to Learn

Teachers, trainers and coaches all have preferred methods for applying their talents to impart knowledge or to help others build skills. They use these methods because they work "most of the time" for the people they teach, train or coach, but I'm sure they will all admit that they do not work all of the time. Learning professionals know it is good to have a variety of teaching, training and coaching approaches available for use in addition to their preferred methods because people learn in different ways. Learning theorists have defined broad categories of learning such as audio, visual or kinesthetic (hands-on) styles.

Today's technology provides more options than ever for accommodating these learning styles. This blog is one example of a relatively new learning tool. You choose to read this because you are interested in learning something and this method of learning appeals to you. It is my hope that through this blog I can share some of my experiences as a learning professional and have others learn from them. At the same time, I must admit that I have never "blogged" before. It is also my hope that this will help me learn more about learning both through using this tool and through the comments and reactions I get from my readers (if any!). This is day one. We'll see how it goes...