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...