Friday, December 16, 2011

Three Angles of Approach for Instructional Design Reviews

In a world where most e-learning development is rapid e-learning development, one of the design process elements that could be easily overlooked is the design review. Instructional Designers and Course Developers who are challenged with getting new modules out the door as quickly as possible to meet a business need may be tempted to skip design reviews as they try to crunch their project timelines down by a few days. But this is a risky proposition. Experience shows that the chances the developer got everything right the first time are slim to none. Skipping design reviews might seem like a great way to save time, but pushing modules out without them may diminish learning and create rework.

Design reviews don’t have to cause project delays if they are planned properly. Anyone who is working to develop a course against a tight deadline will have a pretty good handle on what is going to be done by when. The key is to use this information to schedule design reviews as early on as possible. This will lock in the reviewers and also create additional incentives to keep the project on track. Don’t worry about unforeseen circumstances that might jeopardize readiness by the review date. Put a stake in the ground! The worst that could happen is that the review meetings will need to be postponed and rescheduled.

The bigger issue is: who needs to be involved in the design reviews? Ideally, as few people as possible but reviewers have to be able to cover all the necessary angles. There are three key ones to consider:

Content – Subject matter experts should weigh in on whether or not the content covered in the module is accurate. Since most instructional designers will work with subject matter experts while developing a course, this should be the easiest reviewer to secure.

Learners - Even if the content is accurate, it may not necessarily be relevant. A learning partner who is familiar with the target audience can help by answering questions such as: Is there content missing that the audience might need? Is there content included that could be dropped? Is the module coming across in a way that is clear and motivating to the target audience? Getting questions like these answered during the review process will help pilot tests go more smoothly.

Learning – There is more to learning than just communicating content. The module has to be instructionally sound. A peer review by another instructional designer will ensure the objectives are being met and the learning activities lead to intended outcomes.

And of course, any additional set of eyes is helpful for catching errors, typos or technical glitches.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Top 10 Tools for Learning in 2011

Each Year, Jane Hart founder of the Center for Learning & Performance Technologies invites learning professionals from around the globe to vote on top tools for learning.  Voting closes tomorrow November 13.  Afterwards, she will publish the final list.

It is tough to limit choices to 10 tools, but here is the list I submitted based on what we have been using inside my company, and what I have been using personally for informal learning, development and collaboration.
  1. Microsoft SharePoint - we have been using this to create learning environments around formal courses to enable informal learning - includes wikis, shared calendars, document repository and many other joyful tools!
  2. Yammer - our enterprise microblogging tool has provided a venue for groups to form and learn from each other.  Informal learning, collaboration, social learning, sharing - it all happens here.
  3. Microsoft Office Communicator - share your desktop and video conference using voice over IP in an instant.
  4. Delicious - my personal knowledge management favorite.
  5. Skype - bringing people together - even when they're not!
  6. YouTube - when you want to make a point clear to people, you can usually find a brief video to share that does it for you.
  7. Dropbox - new to me and moving up the list. With the growth of tablets, this tool becomes more important for sharing.
  8. SlideShare - great for researching presentations and sharing your own
  9. Twitter - I've learned more through the connections I've made through twitter over the last two years than through any other means.
  10. Ted Talks - If you haven't seen one, check them out.

If I could have added two more I would have added Evernote, and of course, Blogger.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Branding Learning vs. Learning Brand

Over the last few months as we have been developing processes for our company’s newly formed Learning Shared Services, we have had many discussions about branding and brands. We have pulled together workplace learning professionals from at least ten separate training departments that were operating independently within the company to create our Shared Services group. As you can imagine, we have quite a hodgepodge of looks, feels, and approaches to providing learning services to reconcile into something that can effectively serve the enterprise both globally and locally.

The team that I assembled to work on our project management and course development processes has had much dialog and debate around branding and brands. One of the first things we needed to do was to draw a distinction between the two - so we could define both for our needs - before we could move forward.

Branding Learning - We agreed that how we are Branding Learning is reflected in the look and feel of the learning materials we produce for Instructor-led, virtual classroom, and e-learning programs. It includes design and placement of logos, color schemes and the like on our materials and program communications. It is a subset of our Learning Brand. To address our branding issues, we took two immediate steps:

(1) Neutralize all old program branding in favor of common company branding guidelines, color schemes, fonts, etc.

(2) Develop a new “family of skins” for our e-learning programs and a standardized approach to creating instructor guides and participant materials for instructor-led training. (Note: special thanks to the elearning brothers for helping us to create the new skins.)

Learning Brand - Our Learning Brand is reflected in the image created by the experiences our learners and business partners have when they interact with us through classes, projects, portals and any virtually any place in which we have a presence. There are three things we need to work on to ensure the brand image we project, is the one we intend:

(1) Brand Alignment – We need to ensure that our brand is aligned with business expectations. Some questions we need to answer for ourselves are: What do our business partners look to us for? What do we contribute to the business? How do we impact business results such as growth and profitability?

(2) Brand Presence – We need to market our services and be visible when and where the business expects to find us. Some considerations here include: What channels are our learner and business partners most likely to use to engage our services? Do our marketing messages convey competence, relevance and credibility as a learning partner? Are our messages and offerings in synch with business needs? Is our branding consistent in all places in which the business will encounter us?

(3) Brand Experience – We need to match the expectations created by our marketing in the delivery of our services. Considerations here include: Are we consistent in our offerings? Do our learners get what they expect out of our classes and services? Do our services meet their needs? Are our e-learning programs consistent in quality, usability, and results achieved? Do we live up to “the deal” when learners attend our instructor-led or virtual classroom programs?

Whether you are operating on a local or enterprise level, these considerations are important to ensure alignment and the right positioning to support your business’s needs.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two Years and Still Growing

Today is the second anniversary of the launch of Many Ways to Learn. I never thought there would be much interest in a blog about workplace learning, but here we are two years later. When I talk about my work among friends and family, everyone runs the other way. But this blog does have a modest following, and the connections I’ve made through it have been enriching both personally and professionally. Feedback indicates people are gaining something by reading it, which makes it worthwhile to continue.

Two years ago, I started writing this blog as part of a personal experiment. I was not using social media tools at all. As a learning professional, I felt it was important to understand these tools. I wanted to see if they held any promise for use alongside our formal learning offerings. I didn’t expect they would, but I was wrong. They certainly proved to hold promise. I slowly began to introduce them to my team members. I have a creative bunch so I wanted to see what ideas and suggestions they might come up with for usage in service to our learners. At the time, terms like informal learning, social learning, personal knowledge management, and content curator were not part of our day-to-day working vocabulary. I’m happy to say they are today. In November 2009 I really began seeing the possibilities. I wrote this blog entry: Web 2.0 Learning Shift to describe what I saw happening. Since then we have implemented a number of non-traditional learning solutions at my company to give our learners alternatives to classroom training or self-paced e-learning. Do we have all our learning opportunities embedded directly in the workstream? No, we don’t. Do we have more learning opportunities in the workstream than we did two years ago? I am proud to say yes, we do.

Here are a few more YES/NO situations to describe the current state of learning at my company.

YES – people are having workplace discussions and sharing resources though social media.

NO – not everyone in the company is on board.

YES – we have a formal social media policy.

NO – we don’t block people from using twitter or facebook at work.

YES - we do have our own internal social media network (through Yammer) available to employees worldwide.

NO – our senior leaders are not all active in our social media network.

YES - we do have online discussion groups and virtual meet-ups to promote learning.

NO - we can't measure what people are learning through these groups, but their discoveries are evident.
YES – we are conducting classes virtually.

NO – we are not using virtual reality tools like Second Life.

YES - our virtual classes are interactive discussions.

NO - our virtual classes are not passive PowerPoint webinars.

YES – we do have wiki-based tools and activities that allow learners to build off each other’s ideas.

NO – we don’t have control over what people post or the edits they make – but it has not been a problem.

YES – we have created learning environments in SharePoint to help our employees manage their learning experiences.

NO – they don’t all take to SharePoint like a duck takes to water.

YES – we do offer just-in-time access to workplace answers through our knowledge management system.

NO – we have not retired our learning management system.

YES – our employees are accessing (some) audio and video content through mobile devices.

NO – the mobile content does not mainly originate from the learning department.

YES – we do capture and share best practices through social media tools.

NO – our social media tools are not the most commonly used means of sharing best practices.

YES – we have increased our employees’ ability to learn through informal means.

NO – we haven’t stop designing and delivering Instructor-led classroom training.

YES – we develop a lot of rapid e-learning programs.

NO – our e-learning programs are not all award winners, but they don’t have to be to be effective.

The last two years have certainly been interesting. They have shown me there are indeed Many Ways to Learn. Through writing this blog and interacting with readers, I’ve discovered a lot and grown quite a bit as a learning professional. I’ve used what I have learned to help my department evolve and to help employees in my company be successful. I also hope this blog has led others to make a few discoveries. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What Tools Are Instructional Designers Using These Days?

July has been a busy month for me.  One of the things I've been doing is interviewing candidates for an open Instructional Designer position on my team.   It is great (and a little scary) to see the wealth of talent and experience that is available.   I've enjoyed the interviews.   It is such a pleasure to be able to talk about instructional design and workplace learning with other people who are passionate about it.   Most people run the other direction when I start talking about these things.

Below is a list of tools created from the resumes I received in response to my job posting.   If you're looking for someone to help you with any of these tools, I've got a lead for you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Virtual Collaboration Is Easy

There certainly are Many Ways to Learn. One of them is to sit back and observe. That is what I did this week as I watched two tech support people from two different companies troubleshoot a software problem on my laptop. The amazing thing was they did this seamlessly, working virtually, from two different parts of the world.

I recently installed a new software package on my computer. The installation went fine, but I was having difficulty registering it with the company from which I received it. I called their tech support group, based in Cincinnati Ohio to troubleshoot my registration. After attempting to help me register by going through the usual steps (and two alternative methods), the technician determined that something on my computer was blocking communication to my registry. In order to access my registry, I needed to be logged in as a system administrator rather than with my usual user ID. Of course, this was my work laptop and being an employee at a good ole American company that is concerned with data security, I don’t have admin rights for my computer. In order for me to log on as an administrator, I needed to call my company’s tech support team which, being a good ole American company, we have outsourced to another company in India.

So I put the Cincinnati guy on hold while I called India. The India guy helped me get logged on as an administrator, but I still wasn’t sure what I needed to do. Using the conference call feature on my phone, I connected the Cincinnati guy and the India guy at the same time. The Cincinnati guy tried to describe what needed to be done to the India guy and me. Neither one of us was quite getting it, so he suggested setting up a web meeting so I could share my desktop with him and he could perform the required steps for me. It took a minute or two to get the web meeting going, but once it was, he began proceeding through the steps to complete my registration. This was going along fine until he hit a snag. He encountered an unfamiliar setting that was blocking him from completing the registration. The India guy knew what this was, but he had difficulty getting the Cincinnati guy or me to understand what we needed to do to get through this blockage. Fortunately I was able to share my desktop with him to using Office Communicator so he could complete those steps. That freed things up for the Cincinnati guy to complete what he needed to do to get my software registered.

It was fascinating as I sat in my office in Connecticut watching the Cincinnati guy and the India guy take turns manipulating my laptop while the other watched in such a matter-of-fact way. It really brought home the message about how easy it is these days to work collaboratively or to provide just-in-time coaching support at a distance.

Friday, June 17, 2011

3 Ways to Foster Collaborative Learning #LCBQ

The Learning Circuits Big Question (#LCBQ) for June asks:

 How do we break down organizational walls when it comes to learning?

To me, this is really a question about organizational readiness for collaborative learning. As I assess my own work situation, I think about the expectations the business leaders in my company have about what learning is, and I think about the dynamics within the learning group. In both cases, there is some change management needed. Here are three things I focus on to foster the evolution of collaborative learning in my organization:

Help people recognize that formal learning is not always the answer. Business leaders often come to us saying, “We have a training need.” In their mental model of the situation, they envision people sitting in a classroom for a couple of days, or going online to complete a few elearning modules and the problem is solved. Likewise, it is a knee-jerk reaction for instructors who make their living in the classroom, or for course developers who produce and publish elearning, to think of formal learning as a solution first. Sometimes this will be the answer, but in many cases, slowing things down and considering other alternatives can yield creative and effective solutions other than formal learning. The communication tools and connectivity we have today through our laptops, mobile devices and social media create many possibilities for learning through collaboration.

Partner with the geeks. Every company has them. They are the IT people who are always pushing for the latest technology upgrades; the marketing people who blog, tweet and update company events on facebook; the recruiters who do all of their networking and sourcing through LinkedIn. They have made the leap from the traditional ways of doing things in their field to newer approaches. They recognize the power of the community and the relative ease with which people can be summoned and organized through social media at virtually no cost. It is among these folks that you will find champions for change who will help you knock down the walls.

Let communities grow organically. While it may be tempting to try to jump start collaborative learning by requiring people to sign up and participate in social media groups, this really cannot be forced. Collaboration through social media, for learning or other purposes, has to be an “opt in” experience. The most successful communities are built around common interests by people who want to be there because they are passionate about the topics or issues being discussed. That doesn’t mean you have to sit back and wait. As a learning person you should be present and visible on social media in your organization. Model behavior for business people and your learning colleagues. Seed the waters in the conversation stream by sharing resources and links around topics that are of interest to your learners. They in turn will be encouraged to join in the conversation and share as well.  We have been doing this for some time at my company. Check out this blog post from January 2010: Social Media Strategy for Learning for information on how we have been doing this using yammer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Little Green Men Invade the Parking Lot

Anyone who has ever walked into a corporate classroom, sat down with coffee in hand waiting for the session to begin, has probably looked up and seen a clean white sheet of flip chart paper tacked up to a back wall or taped behind a door with the headline “Parking Lot” written across the top in brightly colored markers. It is usually something the facilitator joyously points out during the beginning of class ritual somewhere among the agenda, the objectives, the what-do-you-want-to-get-out-of-today’s-session discussion and the directions to the restrooms and fire exits. It is the tool of choice to capture those seemingly unanswerable questions and comments that arise during class that must be deferred to, and deliberated over by, the all-knowing but unavailable subject matter expert “who can’t be with us.” It is an old stand-by meant to comfort the class and bring relief to the facilitator. The participants are comforted knowing their insightful questions or challenging real-world situations that takes us beyond the boundaries of what is being covered in class will be acknowledged, addressed, and perhaps even acted upon, by the remote and powerful bigwig who has the knowledge and clout to tackle such things. The facilitator draws relief from the fact that by jotting the issue down on a post-it, and popping it up on the Parking Lot, she won’t have to sacrifice valuable classroom time trying to unravel a seemingly unsolvable esoteric puzzle. Yes, the Parking Lot is a longstanding, battle-tested classroom tradition that is tried and true. But has reached the end of its day?

I recently took over responsibility for a managing a group technical training instructors. They conduct classes to prepare service technicians to install and repair a variety of hardware and software products we sell as part of our customer solutions. Having spent most of my workplace learning career focused on leadership, communication, and other soft skills topics, it is going to take me some time to understand nuances of this baffling world of electro-mechanical wizardry, touch-screen interfaces, and the impact of trying to train 64-bit software on a 32-bit machine (if that is even possible). This week, in a meeting with one of the instructors, we got into a dialog about how he keeps up-to-date on all of the technical knowledge he needs to run his classes effectively. With the amount and frequency of product introductions and updates in our company, I expected he needed to build a “Parking Garage” to capture all the questions I imagine to be unanswerable in this mystifying technical realm. He shrugged his shoulders seemingly to indicate that “it’s part of the job.” Then he admitted that it is impossible to keep up with all the product changes. But even though that is the case, there is no Parking Lot in any of his classrooms. He told me about the long list of engineering and operations subject matter experts he has on his MS Office Communicator instant messaging contact list. At any given time during class, he can scan the list to see who is “green,” meaning they are online and available. So when someone in his class asks, “What was the thinking behind moving the lever to the other side of the unit in the version 4 release of Product X?” he doesn’t reach for the post-its. He taps the keyboard and gets the answer right then and there. And when the service technicians leave class, they pull out of the parking lot not only well trained, but with the list of little “green” men and women in tow as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

3 New Roles for Learning Professionals Driven by Web 2.0 #LCBQ

Last month, the Learning Circuits Big Question (#LCBQ) asked, “How can you address the "I want it now!" demand from stakeholders?” You can read answers from those who were asked to weigh in at the Learning Circuits blog, and you can read my response here. To follow up on that question, the #LCBQ for May is:

How do we need to change in what we do in order to address learning/performance needs that are on-demand?

My read of this question is that it is asking us what new elements we as learning professionals need to add to our jobs to support our learners in the on-demand world of instant answers available through web 2.0 search engines, social media, and online collaboration.

I’m not an industry researcher or thought leader so I’m not pretending to an expert on this topic. But as a person who makes my living as a workplace learning professional, I can share my perspective on what I’ve had to do differently to embrace these tools and incorporate them in the mix of solutions available to the learners at my company.

As I see it, there are three new roles I’ve been playing because of web 2.0 that either didn’t exist - or I didn’t need to play - years ago.  We as learning professionals need to consider these roles part of our job in today's world:

Personal Knowledge Manager – For years, we talked about capturing and documenting organizational knowledge to enable business continuity in knowledge banks and other places. Now with the glut of information that comes at us each day, we need to think about knowledge management on a personal level too. We can’t possibly keep all the available information in our heads, so we need to come up with ways to organize, store and retrieve content ourselves, for both our own personal knowledge and for use in helping our learners. Online note taking tools such as OneNote or Evernote can help us capture thoughts, ideas and things we hear; while bookmarking tools such as diigo or can help us store and tag web content.

Content Curator – As learning professionals our traditional role has been to analyze a business problem, uncover the learning need, do some research to identify content that can address the need, and then use it to build a course. That was then and this is now. In the on-demand world, by the time we go through that process our learners have already sought out alternative sources to meet their needs using company intranets, Google searches or Wikipedia. So alongside being content creators, we need to be content curators as well. We need to be able to filter through available information and select the most appropriate bits of it, discard what doesn’t fit, organize and sequence what’s left in ways that will tell the story to help learners meet their needs.

Community Manager – Probably the biggest shift for us as workplace learning professionals is embracing the idea that people can learn from each other without much information coming from us. With today’s social media tools, it is so easy for groups to organize, share information and collaborate. We can help them be effective at this by translating our facilitation skills to this environment. Sometimes all that is needed is to provide an online venue and dangle a small piece of content out there for them to organize themselves around. Then pose a few thought provoking questions and let them at it. They can use their collective skills and experience to problem-solve and learn from each other. You may need to do a little coaching from time-to-time to keep them on the right track, but community members will ultimately decide what they want to contribute to, and take away from the experience.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Inspired by the Lectora End-to-end eLearning Solution

This week two of my team members and I attended the Lectora User’s Conference in Cincinnati. (Lectora is an elearning development tool from Trivantis.) It has been a few years since I last attended this conference. It has certainly grown. There was double the number of attendees at this year’s event, which was a bit surprising. The last Lectora conference I attended was held in Las Vegas, a place that certainly offers more to do in the off hours. But it was the tool, not the location that compelled me to return to this event. Before the end of 2010, I purchased a few licenses for Trivantis’s then new release: Lectora Inspire. The Inspire version of Lectora improved on what was already a great tool for authoring elearning by including the ability to launch and use flypaper, Camtasia and Snagit right from inside the software. My team members and I wanted to attend this conference to get ideas from both the folks at Trivantis and the other conference-goers, on how to take advantage of these great new capabilities. We got that and much, much more.

The Trivantis team put together a terrific event that included captivating keynote addresses from Elliott Masie, on key learning trends, and Tim Ferguson, CIO at Northern Kentucky University, on the explosion of mobile learning. Each day, these were followed by practical, informative sessions and workshops on how to use the new tools built into Lectora Inspire.

But the biggest news from the conference was the four announcements from Trivantis:
  1. They’ve entered into an agreement to acquire flypaper, a tool that allows you to add interactivity to your courses by creating flash animations and effects simply, without having to be a flash developer.  This should lead to even more capabilities in future versions of the Lectora tool.
  2. They introduced Snap! by Lectora, a PowerPoint-to-elearning tool to serve the same needs as Articulate and Adobe Presenter at the low cost of $99.  From the looks of it in the demonstration, they are going to give the other guys a run for their money.
  3. They launched WeLearn, a new social eLearning network. They tried something similar a few years ago, but didn’t get much traction with it. WeLearn is a retooled approach that is currently in Beta.
  4. They introduced CourseMill Express, a lower end version of their CourseMill Learning Management System that should be helpful for small businesses that don’t have the funds to invest in a full-blown LMS.
All-in-all, this was quite an event. It gives someone like me, who leads an enterprise team of instructional designers and course developers, a lot to think about. The Lectora line up now creates a strong end-to-end solution with Snap! at one end and Inspire (including flypaper, Snag-it and Camtasia) at the other. I could outfit my team members with the tools they need based on their level, but have them all working across the same platform.

Note:  To read messages from the conference-goers on twitter, search on #2011LUC

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Use the Six Disciplines to Create Breakthrough Learning

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning is a terrific book for anyone who is interested in fostering effective workplace learning. Now in its second edition, it is about time I got around to writing about it. The 6D concepts and the approach outlined in the book have helped me and my team create successful learning experiences that have led to real behavior change and improved business performance.

There are few surprises in the book for a well-trained or well-read learning professional. The magic is in how it has all been put together. Cal Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andy Jefferson have done a great job synthesizing quite a lot of theory and research which they have distilled into a practical, no-nonsense framework for learning design. They create a clear, easy-to-follow road map for learning professionals and business leaders alike. Their company (Fort Hill) has also developed some great tools, such as the Results Engine® (an updated version of the Friday5s® tool that I wrote about in this 2009 blog post), to support the later stages of the 6D model, where the activities required for genuine learning are usually tougher to sustain.

What are the Six Disciplines? Just that: disciplines. What a great word for us in the workplace learning field. Even when we know the right thing to do, workplace issues such as competitive pressure, speed-to-market needs, and budget constraints sometimes tempt us to abandon good intentions or compromise our standards. We need to maintain the discipline needed to create a complete learning experience, one that will lead to desired business results.

So here are the 6Ds:

D1 – Define Business Outcomes – D1 reminds us that we need to start with the end in mind. We need to look upstream to what the business is trying to accomplish, not just look at learner needs in a vacuum.

D2 – Design the Complete Learning Experience – This is my favorite concept in the book. We need to attend to all phases of learning, (Prepare, Learn, Transfer, Achieve) not just create a course or a learning event.

D3 – Deliver for Application – If we truly want learners to do something different as a result of what they have learned, we need to make sure they understand the context of what they are learning, make learning relevant to their needs, and ensure they have the opportunity for practice and feedback.

D4 – Drive Learning Transfer – This is where the rubber meets the road. Can learners repeat what they have learned in the work environment? Will they have opportunity to use the skills? Will they be motivated to do so? Will they have the support of their managers and peers? All of this must be considered in the Prepare phase, so that when learners get to the Transfer phase, the mechanisms to support learning transfer will be in place and working properly.

D5 – Deploy Performance Support – Closely aligned with learning transfer is having the performance support to sustain motivation. At the very least, this means learners have the support of their manager. At best, they have job aids, performance support tools, and receive coaching to help them during the Achieve phase.

D6 – Document Results – Of course, it is important to measure performance. It is important for learners, their managers, the learning department, and business leaders to know what is working, what is not, and what the impact is to the business.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and begin practicing the 6Ds. Also, check out the Fort Hill Company website for more information on the 6Ds and the Results Engine® transfer tool.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Still Learning ... through #lrnchat

Where do I spend my Thursday nights?  Well, between 8:30 and 10:00 PM eastern time, I'm usually online participating in a twitter-based #lrnchat discussion.  For those of you who are not familiar with #lrnchat, it is a weekly gathering of workplace learning professionals, hobbyists, academic enthusiasts, and education junkies who get together to discuss learning topics.  A very geeky thing to do I'll admit, but it is a lot of fun.  It has also been an important part of my professional growth and development since I began participating in - and learning from - these chats in October 2009.  I wrote this blog post: I Have Learned ... Socially!!! at the time to share the excitement I had in that experience. I have been returning ever since.

I have to admit, not every topic, every week is a home run, but the batting average is pretty impressive.  And even in those weeks when to topic isn't the greatest, it is still fun to talk and share laughs with the other community members.  But every once in a while, a thought provoking question, a comment, or a discussion thread whacks me on the side of the head and a good idea penetrates my thick skull.  That happened again this week.   The topic was "Using Social Media in Projects."   The first question of the night was, "What projects are you working on that use social media?"   Happily, I was able to contribute a few responses here.  I and my team have been incorporating social media tools into our learning design for quite some time now.  But it was the second question that hit me upside the head:  "How are you using social media to gather formative data about your projects?"   This was a simple, straightforward question.  It absolutely made sense.  But the truth of the matter is I haven't been using social media to gather formative data.  I don't really know why.  I'm usually very diligent about analysis and data gathering in the early stages of a learning project.  In fact, I'm sometimes criticized for spending too much time doing it.  It never occurred to me that I could be using social media as part of my data collecting.  But as soon as I thought about it, it made absolute sense to do so.  I can cast a wider net and likely get a faster response than I can with traditional data collection methods.

The good news is that I can learn.  My company has recently re-outfitted our sales and service employees with an upgraded mobile device.  The time is right for us to begin deploying mobile learning.  We are in the early stages of developing our strategy.  So on Friday, I logged onto my company's yammer network and posted a few questions about mobile learning.  I asked people to share experiences they may have already had with mobile learning, and to share expectations about topics, tools and support they would like to see through mobile learning.   Responses were starting to trickle in by the end of the day.   I will continue the dialog next week.

Thanks again to my #lrnchat buddies for the whack in the head.  See you next Thursday.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Addressing Stakeholders Who “Want It Now” #LCBQ

The Learning Circuits Big Question for April is: How do we address the “I want it now” demand from stakeholders?

It is easy to see where this question comes from: Business leaders can mull over strategy decisions for a while, but once they decide on a course of action, they want to move forward as quickly as possible. You, as their learning partner, will want to accommodate the need for speed, but the demand for quick action often does cause some tension. Having worked in corporate learning for 20+ years, this is a situation that I have often faced. Assuming there is a real learning need behind the request, there are usually three questions that need to be answered before you can respond to your stakeholder.
  1. Can the target audience learn what they need to learn quickly?  For example, there is a difference between helping a transaction-oriented salesperson to learn a new procedure for processing a sales order vs. helping her learn how to become a consultative seller. You can get started on the latter quickly, but it will take time, practice and experience to fully achieve the learning outcome.
  2. Will you have access to the content, tools and Subject Matter Experts needed for a quick turnaround?  Much of the work that instructional designers do is dependent on having what is needed to develop the learning solution. Sometimes training requests come along too early in a project to be actionable. When that happens, the good news is that you are at the table with the team working on the project in its early stages. This gives you the opportunity to influence the development of tools and communication materials in ways that can be helpful to learning.
  3. Can other learning projects be delayed or put on hold while the learning team is redeployed to take care of this urgent request?   Most of us work in environments where there are multiple projects going on at the same time. Business leaders and/or learning governance boards will sometimes have to intervene to help the learning team sort out the priorities.
If the answer to these questions is “Yes” then go ahead, tell your stakeholder, “You can have that right away!”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Last of the 3-Ring Binders

This week when I return to work, I’ll be packing up for yet another office move. The latest round of transformation projects and real estate strategy adjustments has me going from the fourth to the fifth floor. At least I’m moving up in the world! I have moved many times in my career. During each of these moves, I have winnowed down the contents of my office to just the essentials and a few personal items. So when the move coordinator asked how many boxes I’ll need, I replied, “Probably one, but better get me two just in case.” causing her to raise an eyebrow in surprise.

As I think about packing up next week, I realize that office moves are great milestones for reflecting on how things change over the course of our careers. Each time we move, we throw open the drawers and closets and pull out items we might not have seen in a while. We have to decide what to discard and what to take along with us into the next phase. As a learning professional, one of the staple items in my closet has been a collection of 3-ring binders - the ghosts of training past. Less and less of these end up in the “keep pile” with each move.

Two decades ago, when I relocated from New York to Connecticut for a promotional opportunity, I had a ton of these binders. Some from programs I had designed and delivered; others from classes I had attended. Among them, there was at least one binder from a program that probably had a title like, “How to Cope with Change.” I’m sure I checked to make sure I had it backed up on a floppy disk before throwing it into a dumpster along with many others that would not be making the move with me.

Ten years ago, when I moved from a satellite building into our corporate headquarters a few miles away, I still had many 3-ring binders with me. Among them, there was probably one with a title like, “How to Create and Drive Change.” I’m sure I backed it up on a CD, pulled the out pages and put them in a recycling bin, before offering the empty binder to another department for reuse.

Now as I make the move from four to five, I have only a few 3-ring binders with me from some of my favorite programs, one’s that have helped me greatly over the years. Among them is a program with a title like, “How to Manage in an Ever Changing World.” Since no one is using 3-ring binders these days, I’ll make sure it is backed up to our SharePoint site before separating the paper, plastic and metal parts and placing them in the appropriate bins.

Note: for suggestions on what to do with discarded 3-ring binders visit

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Three Ways to Use Video with Office Communicator to Enhance Learning

Like many companies these days, my company uses an instant messaging tool to enable informal communication and impromptu virtual meetings among employees. The tool we use is Microsoft Office Communicator. Recently, our IT department has added the ability to enhance discussions through Office Communicator by using webcams. Last week, our Innovations in Learning group (a yammer-based Community of Practice group inside my company devoted to workplace learning) discussed our early experiences with the new capability and its potential uses for learning.

In early explorations with the tool, group members tried out and described three different uses:

Connecting additional participants into a classroom ILT session from a distance – while overall it was perceived as a plus to be able to bring in participants through video who otherwise would not have been able to attend, the experience as described was challenging for both the participants and the facilitator. In a course that was designed to be led by an instructor with a live group, there were elements that did not work for the people joining from a distance (no surprise there!). Also, the facilitator reported needing three laptops and cameras to make the session work (one trained on the facilitator, one on the group, and one on the materials being shown or discussed in the room). This meant that a second person needed to join the facilitator in a “producer” or “moderator” type role.

Conducting small group virtual training sessions using desktop sharing – one of the great things about Office Communicator is that you can have instant meetings by sharing your desktop. Adding webcams makes the meeting experience a little more engaging. Office Communicator is limited to only showing one person on screen at a time. The software displays the image of the person who is speaking. So while you can't see the whole group at once, you can see the facial expressions and body language of the person who is speaking.  And since it is easy to quickly set up a virtual classroom without a lot of preparation using Office Communicator, this can be practical for small group sessions, post-training follow-ups, and distance coaching.

Using Office Communicator for virtual break-out rooms - Many virtual classroom training sessions are conducted using software that was designed for meetings and do not provide break-out capabilities. Office Communicator can be used as a virtual break-out tool with or without webcams. The webcams add a little more intimacy to the small group discussions, which can help groups keep their attention on the task at hand rather than distractors they may be facing in their home office or at their workstation.

Webcams used with Office Communicator do increase the sense of "being there."   In this day and age of agile workers and virtual teams, any capability that can help shorten the distance between learners is welcome.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Informal Learning through Social Media - the First Ripple

From just a few drops, you can create quite a ripple effect.

It may sound cliche, but it is an appropriate metaphor for what happened last week:

If you have been reading Many Ways to Learn over the last year or so, you know that one of the topics I frequently write about is the use of Yammer for learning purposes.   I have made a deliberate attempt to get people in my company to recognize the value of using this internal microblogging tool to connect with people informally, to share information, and to collaborate with one another.   Two key things I and my team members do to foster Yammer usage are:
  1. Post messages and links on topics that are important to our learners.  Some of our most popular topics are #leadership #managing #change and #remote-teams.   We have been particularly focused on managers. We encourage dialogue around these topics and each of my team members has a growing base of followers as a result of the messages we post.
  2. Participate in a Yammer-based community group called Innovations in Learning.   This group discusses a different workplace learning topic every other month on Yammer.  At the end of the two-month cycle, we have a virtual meet-up to discuss the questions and messages that were posted about the topic for that period.  It is a public group inside my company that is open to anyone, but the majority of the members are instructional designers, course developers, classroom facilitators, and the like.  My goal in forming this group was twofold:  to start a community of practice on workplace learning, and to have the learning professionals in my company see how we could help others use social media as a complement to formal learning.
Last week I received this message from one of our managers:

"You were the first person I followed on Yammer and you seem to be very experienced on group and/or subject creation. Could you spend 10 to 15 minutes on the phone with me to help me facilitate a group dedicated to the competitive channel for dialogue starters and info sharing?"

I was so excited to receive this message.  After all the efforts we have made over the last few months, it was nice to see that someone had recognized the power of what we were doing and wanted to replicate that for another topic.  He has since set up a Yammer group and already has 24 members.  Unlike other Yammer groups that exist in the company, this one is not just about shared interests, it is focused on creating direct business success by being a forum for sharing ideas on how to sell against the competition.  I think this is an important milestone in our evolution towards embedding informal learning in the workstream.  I'm looking forward to many more groups like this sprouting up. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Social Media at Conferences, Revisited

In September 2009, I wrote this blog entry: Tweeting at Conferences: Etiquette vs. Impact about whether or not it was rude to tweet at conferences.  As someone who was new to social media at the time, my perspective was that when listening to a speaker at a conference, the polite thing to do was to put your handheld device away and give the speaker your full attention. What a difference a year and a half of experience can make. Now my view is that, as long as you are discreet and don't create distractions, it is not only complimentary to the speaker to share messages about what is being presented it is also valuable to do so, in a number of ways.

This week I attended a kick-off meeting in Dallas for my company's most important business unit.  Business leaders, managers and people from key staff functions spent four days together discussing strategy and tactics for 2011.  This was a business meeting not a learning event, so my team members and I mostly had time to experience the conference from a participant's point-of-view.  I had the good fortune to be able to listen, absorb, and share a lot of what I was experiencing through our company microblogging tool: Yammer, which is very similar to Twitter, only access is restricted solely to my company's employees.

Over the course of the four days, I posted messages that included direct quotes from business leaders, summaries of presentations, my thoughts about the implications of some of the things I heard, and general updates about what we were doing, the atmosphere, and the mood in the room. I really had four goals in mind as I was doing this:
  1. Share information with other team members - I manage a remote team that is scattered about the US.  Not all of them were able to attend the conference.  I wanted the team members who weren't able to be there to get as much real-time information as possible about the strategy so they could begin thinking about how it would impact their work.
  2. Exchange thoughts and impressions with other conference goers - Using social media is still relatively new in my company.  There were only a few other people at the conference who were also posting updates on Yammer.  But it was nice to connect with others in the room this way and jointly share our thoughts through discussion threads.
  3. Share information with others in the company - One of the conference goers who is also one of my yammer followers saw my yammer posts and came up to during the conference to say, "What a great idea: actually sharing our strategy with as many people in the company as possible, as early as possible."
  4. Create an archive of notes - I attached the hashtag (#) "Dallas" to all of the messages I posted during the conference so that I - and anyone else who might be interested - could easily retrieve them when needed after the event. 
On all counts I was successful.  And the messaging was not just one-way.  Team members and others who were not at the event responded to my posts with questions and comments that encouraged me to share more information, provide clarifications, and go into more depth on the topics that were of most interest. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Skype to the Rescue!

Here is a winter-time scenario that is probably familiar to many learning professionals:

You have a group of employees participating in a learning program.   As part of the program, they are scheduled to attend a classroom learning event.  Participants, instructors, subject matter experts and senior leaders are scheduled to fly in from different parts of the country to converge at the training location for three-days of discussion, instruction and action-planning for the days that follow.  Then the weather strikes.  One or more of the key players for this event can't make it on time, or worst case scenario, at all.   Instead of a smooth-running, well-planned event, now you are faced with using a less-than-ideal contingency plan. 

This week my team facilitated a program for a group of supervisors from our service organization at our training center outside of Atlanta.  The topics mainly had to do with people management issues.  Everything went as planned on days one and two, but winter weather threatened to disrupt the agenda on day three.  One of our key subject matter experts (SMEs), an employee relations specialist, was scheduled to join us for a three-hour segment on day three.  Since that was the only time he needed to be there, his plan was to fly in Wednesday night, join us for the positive employee relations segment on Thursday morning and fly back home Thursday afternoon.  He was coming from the northeast, where I live, and flew in from just a few days earlier.   I've lived in Connecticut for fifteen years.   We have had more major snowstorms this year than in any other year since I've lived here.   On Wednesday night, we had another one.  There was no way our employee relations specialist was going to be able to get to Atlanta for our session.  Time for plan B.

Now we had used this particular gentleman as a subject matter expert for similar training sessions in the past. He facilitates discussion about treating people professionally and in a manner that is in line with our company values.   He also covers important information about legal aspects of the supervisor/employee relationship.   Needless to say, I was disappointed that we weren't going to have him with us in person.  In the past, when things like this happened, we would often have the SME join us via conference call and through Microsoft Live Meeting.  This works well when the SME has a lot of written or visual material to cover.  But our employee relations SME doesn't use PowerPoint slides.  He doesn't have a three-inch binder loaded with printed materials.   He relies on group discussion and storytelling to deliver his message - and he is a very animated storyteller.   He is a dynamic and engaging speaker who adds a lot of value to the topic with his style.  His messages come through clearly and powerfully, and he makes a memorable visual impression.  I didn't want our supervisors to miss out on the advantages created by that style.

Fortunately, I have recently become familiar with, and comfortable using Skype - which is software for making voice and video calls over the Internet.   Both of my kids are in college.  My wife and I have been using Skype  in our conversations with them.   It is one thing to talk to them on the phone and ask how they are doing,  It is another to see their faces.  Are they smiling?  Do they look happy/sad/worried/tired/etc?   Using Skype with them has made us feel that we are all a little closer.  The conversations feel more intimate.  The visual information tells us much more than their voice and words alone ever could.

Knowing our employee relations expert's speaking style, I thought, "why not try to connect him into the classroom via Skype?"   I knew it would be risky.   Would the technology hold up for a three-hour segment?  Would the one-to-group dynamic work as well as the one-to-one conversations that I've had with my kids?  But in the end we decided to try it.   I called him on his cell phone to ask if he ever used Skype.  He said that he had it on his computer but had only used it once or twice over a year ago, but he was willing to give it a try.  Next, we had to find a large monitor and speakers to connect to my laptop so that the group could clearly see and hear him.   Fortunately, we were able to find everything we needed to make the connection.

On Thursday morning, I huddled the group in closer together so that they would be in camera range and dialed up our SME through the computer.  There he was, smiling and ready to go.  He was very comfortable with the set-up.  Even though he was sitting at a desk at home, he was still able to be as lively, animated and engaging as I knew him to be in person.   He could clearly see everyone and he responded to their body language, gestures and facial expressions as if he was in the room.  The one challenge we had was that our audio feed to him was through the microphone built into my laptop.  So there were some times when he could not hear comments or questions from the group.   I acted as moderator repeating/paraphrasing questions for him.  At his direction, I also drew a few diagrams on the flip chart and captured comments from the group during some of the discussions.  All-in-all it was incredibly successful.

Afterwards, I was thinking, "If we were this successful with this impromptu effort, imagine what we could do if we had actually planned and designed this as a distance learning segment."   Now my head is filled with possibilities.   I think we will be doing more distance learning using video calls in the future.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Inevitability of Social Learning

This fall, I read two books on learning and social media:  Social Media for Trainers, by Jane Bozarth which I wrote about in this blog on September 25, and The New Social Learning, by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, which is the subject of this post.

Both books are excellent, but they tackle the subject from two very different angles.   In Social Media for Trainers, Jane Bozarth shared practical examples of specific applications of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis in learning situations.   It is a very tactical book, and I ended up buying  copies for my team members so they could get some ideas on how we can better leverage these tools in our work.

The New Social Learning takes a different approach and is targeted to a broader audience.  It tackles the topic from a more strategic point-of-view.  I have recommended it to a few of our business leaders (outside of the Learning & Development function)  who expressed an interest in how social media can be used for learning, innovation, and idea exchanges among our employees, business partners and customers.

The authors view the use of social media in organizations as inevitable.  Millions of people are using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools outside the office as an effective and efficient means of communication and information sharing, why would they not want those same advantages in their work?  They express the choice we face as:  do we want embrace and leverage social media and integrate it into our work, or - as many companies do - do we want try to ban or restrict social media usage in some way? Obviously, they advocate embracing it and encourage their readers to put social media tools to use in their organizations citing greater shared knowledge, richer learning experiences, and an enhanced corporate culture as some of the payoffs.

Mr. Bingham and Ms. Conner take a relatively "tool-neutral" approach in this book.  Their position here is that specific tools come and go quickly these days, so rather than discuss them in the book, they provide a companion website: where information about specific social media tools can be shared and updated as needed.  Rather than discuss specific tools, they discuss usage by categories (such as microblogging and immersive environments) and the value created by each.  They do this by providing specific examples and success stories.  My favorite parts of the book are the "Respond to Critics" and "Recommendations" sections of each of the main chapters.  It is obvious that the authors have heard all the objections and criticisms typically raised by skeptics, and that they have inoculated themselves against them.  In this book, they are passing on the vaccine to us.