Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Week at the Technology Assisted Learning Conference...

I spent the first half of this week in Chicago at Corporate University's Technology Assisted Learning Conference.  The conference was small, but impactful.  It provided a nice mix of presentations by industry thought leaders pointing out near-horizon future directions, and case examples from practitioners who are making good use of currently available technologies for their learners today.  As an added benefit, the conference was co-located with Social Media for Recruitment. Both conferences' schedules were aligned to allow for networking.   And although the conference was small, it did attract a wide range of attendees, including participants from a variety of industries (Finance, Real Estate, Technology) and geographies (Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands).  I was proud to be listed among a great group of speakers that included Allison Rossett, Tony O'Driscoll, and Charles Beckham each of whom delivered presentations that lived up to expectations to be the highlights of the event.

Dr. Rossett started things off with a keynote address on creating engaging elearning.  She shared practical advice organized into a list of "5 Essentials" which I summarized in my notes as:  The Right Stuff (relevant content), Guidance (providing certainty through clear navigation and instructions), Active (setting the level of challenge in the zone of proximal development), Relationships and Connectivity (capturing the power of the social experience), and There When Needed (clear, accessible, nothing unrelated).  Shortly afterwards, Tony O'Driscoll took the podium to bring us all into the immersive world of Learning in 3D as described in the book he co-authored with Karl Kapp (who's pre-conference workshop I unfortunately missed.)  Towards the end of the day Charles Beckham walked us through applications for the new social learning community platform, Jambok.

These were the expected highlights of the event.   However, sandwiched in and around these presentations were case studies highlighting technology applications in learning from a variety of companies.  I got to kick things off in the opening slot on day two with a case on our virtual approach to onboarding.  It was such a pleasure to be able to share the work we are doing with others in the learning community.  With that out of the way, I enjoyed presentations highlighting practices at The Nielsen Company (global learning community of practice), Harley Davidson (global elearning translation and deployment - and very high on the cool factor), excellRx, Inc. (using avatars - without making them too creepy!), AIMCO (creating cheap, effective, viral video) and others.

All in all, it was a blast.  This was Corporate University's first Technology Assisted Learning Conference.  I have a feeling it is an event that will grow in popularity over time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Using Yammer for Learning

 If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I have written a few posts about my experiences with Yammer and how my team uses it to encourage and foster informal learning in my company. Having read a few of my entries, the kind folks over at Yammer invited me to take a turn as guest blogger.

Check out the post over at the Yammer blog: Try Yammer; Maybe You'll Learn Something

You can also review my previous entries about Yammer in this blog: @dorothy there's no place like home #ozSocial Media Strategy for Learning, Formalizing Informal Learning and Yammering On; Others Yammer Back 

Yammer is increasingly becoming an important part of the way we work in my company.  It has also challenged us to think about how people learn in a hyper-connected world.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Coaching Remote Employees Can Be Quite a Ride

My son just got his driver's license.  I was nervous when he went out to take his road test because it was a rainy day with wet road conditions.  But no matter; in the weeks leading up to his test, we spent plenty of time in the car together, so he was ready.   I'd done the same thing with my daughter two years earlier.  I used the same approach with both of them but the experience was very different.   When my daughter was learning to drive, she verbalized everything she was thinking and feeling and asked me a lot of questions.  I always knew where should stood and what help she needed from me.   With my son, it was just the opposite.   We would get in the car and drive together in silence.  Every once in a while I would ask him, "How is it going?"  or "What questions to do you have?"   Most often he'd reply by saying, "I'm good" and would continue driving. 

One day as we drove a long in silence, I started to think about work.  In the last few months, we have been doing a lot of work helping managers who are leading virtual teams.   This is something that I think about a lot.  I've written about it twice before: in January and again in April of this year.  On this particular day, I was thinking about the challenges managers face in trying to coach remote workers. Coaching employees in general can be a challenge, but being separated by distance (and perhaps time) adds another level to the challenge.

I began to think about what it would be like for a manager who had to coach remote employees who had personalities like my two children.   A manager coaching someone like my daughter would probably welcome the feedback.  She certainly gives you enough to work with, but there is always the danger of getting off track.  On the other hand, a manager coaching someone like my son might find his silences difficult to interpret from a distance.  This got me thinking about how important it is for us to continually reinforce the advice we provide to our managers who coach remote employees.   Here are some of the key points we try to drive home with them:
  1. Use a Combination of Scheduled and Impromptu Coaching Sessions - It is important to have regularly scheduled coaching sessions with remote employees.   But don't pass up an opportunity to pick up the phone in between sessions when there is something important to discuss.
  2. Use Technology Tools to Keep You on the Same Page - In this day and age, there are a lot more technology options than just using the telephone.  Use web conferencing tools, wikis, or blogs for shared note taking.   If possible, use webcams with a service such as Skype to allow a more "face-to-face" type interaction.
  3. Start, but don't Stop with Results - You probably have metrics and performance indicators that will make discussing work outputs with your employee feel very natural, but don't stop there.  Use performance results as a jumping off point into a deeper discussion about work activity and resource needs.
  4. Listen Carefully to Your Employee - It is important to stay focused on your employee during remote coaching sessions.   Busy managers must avoid the temptation to multi-task.   Use active listening techniques such as clarifying, paraphrasing and giving feedback.
  5. Probe Silences - Don't allow silences, hesitancies or unreturned phone calls to go unexplored.  Unlike driving lessons with my son, managers of remote employees don't have the advantage of actually seeing what is going on to compensate for what is not being said.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Deciding between Formal and Informal Approaches

Our department has recently gone through - let's call it a bit of a "refresh."   As a result of this, we have been lucky enough to fill three positions with people who have instructional design skills and experience.   This is a nice supplement to the folks who are doing course development work in the department already.   Now we have a nice mix of experienced and novice developers.  We have some full-time instructional designers.  We also have instructors and facilitators who do some part-time course development work.   In any event, with the three new additions I'm excited by the capabilities we now have on the team.   Now I'm trying to figure out the best way to help the new people learn about our company and our processes. At the same time, I need to consider how we can do more to develop our novice course developers.

When our department was first formed (a few transformation projects ago!), we set up an instructional design standards committee.   I chair this committee.  Our work thus far has focused on outlining a course development process to ensure quality, consistency and efficiency for the learning programs that are produced in our department.   To that end we created a Course Development Map which breaks down our internal instructional design process into four phases:  proposal, design and development, implementation, and course maintenance.   The map outlines the steps in each phase and includes links to tools that can be used to complete some of the steps.   Along with the Course Development Map, we also created an Instructional Design Standards performance support tool to help specifically with developing instruction.  It includes guidelines for writing and evaluating objectives, suggestions for activities and interactions, skins for e-learning, templates for ILT workbooks and leaders' guides, and guidelines for fonts and graphics that align with our corporate branding and color schemes.

Okay, so here is my dilemma:

Our new instructional designers are all enthusiastic about contributing to the team.  All three have asked to join the committee.  We already have sufficient representation from each of the sub-teams in our department.  I'm concerned that if these new people join, the committee will become too large an ineffective.  This got me thinking: our process and standards are already in place.  We do tweak them from time-to-time based on feedback collected during various design projects, but we haven't made any major process changes in a while.  Perhaps we no longer need the top-down approach.  Instead of the committee, we might form a Community of Practice that would allow everyone to contribute and share best practices around instructional design and learn informally.  Our novice designers could learn from our experts; our new employees could learn from our tenured ones.

But is this really a better approach?  The new employees and novices might need more structure and defined learning goals.

It seems that my situation mirrors the discussions about whether or not to use formal or informal learning.   Similar to the tools created by our committee, formal learning is a great way to help novices learn the ropes.  It is structured, with clearly defined outcomes, timelines, and measures.  With this approach we can be sure our new designers will learn the things we want them to know.  On the other hand, the Community of Practice approach promotes informal learning.  It is natural, fluid and voluntary.  The outcomes are not as clearly defined but that may encourage deeper investment, learning beyond our minimum requirements, and creation of new knowledge.

 So, if you were in my place what would you do?