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.