They’re not like us

Posted 12 May 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: informal learning, motivation

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As learning in the workplace becomes increasingly informal, the motivation of employees to drive their own development becomes increasingly pivotal to their performance.

This is a point that I fear many of our peers fail to grasp.

You see, we love learning. We share knowledge on Twitter, contribute to discussions on LinkedIn, read books, write blogs, comment on blogs, subscribe to industry magazines, share links to online articles, watch videos, and participate in MOOCs. We tinker with software, experiment with new ideas, attend conferences, and join local meetups. We crowdsource ideas, invite feedback, ask questions, and proffer answers. The list is endless.

No one forces us to do all this. We do it because we enjoy it, and we understand that it is critical in keeping our knowledge and skills relevant in an ever-changing world.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that not everyone does this. I’m not referring to some of us in the L&D profession, although that’s an ironic part of the problem. For now I’m referring to a large proportion of our target audience. In a nutshell, they’re not like us.

An embodiment of this concept is the 1% rule. This heuristic maintains that in a typical online community, only 1% of the members create new content, while the remaining 99% lurk. A variation of this theme is the 90-9-1 principle, which maintains that in an online space that empowers users to create and edit content (eg an intranet or wiki), only 1% of the members will create new content, 9% will edit it, leaving the remaining 90% who consume it.

Of course, these ratios assume a participating population; they don’t account for the proportion of the membership that is disengaged with the community. That is to say, not even lurking. And that proportion may be surprisingly large.

In any case, I’m not interested in getting tied up in knots over the numbers. Like 70:20:10, these are merely rules of thumb that reflect a broader truth. I also appreciate that lurking isn’t necessarily a bad practice. The consumption of content is an important element of “learning”. No argument there.

A problem arises, however, when active participation is expected. Consider an ESN such as Chatter: 1% of the organisation won’t adequately reflect the enterprise’s collective intelligence. Or a discussion forum that supports an inhouse training program: 1% of the participants will fall short of the critical mass that is required to develop a rich, diverse and meaningful discussion. In such cases, the vast majority of the SMEs are effectively holding back their expertise, and those with experiences to share are not doing so. Hence the learning experience suffers – even for the lurkers.

Another challenge we face is pre-work – or more to the point: it not being done. Of course this has been a problem for as long as pre-work has existed. However it’s becoming acute for those among us who are trying to implement a flipped classroom model. Value-add activity can not be undertaken when the face time is spent on the non-value add activity which should have (but hasn’t) already been done. It defeats the purpose.

Again, when the expectation of active participation is not met, everyone’s learning experience suffers.

Tumbleweed rolling along a deserted road

So how can we as L&D professionals change the situation? How can we motivate our participants to participate actively…?

My poll results from Drivers of Yammer use in the corporate sector are somewhat enlightening. Indeed, I have enjoyed some success by getting executives actively involved, as well as by calling on champions throughout the business to push the barrow.

I recently asked a presenter at an e-learning conference what she does when her target audience aren’t actively participating in the discussion forums that she sets up, and she replied matter-of-factly that she reports their reticence to their respective managers. Ouch! but apparently it works.

Natalie Lafferty blogged about a paper recently published by the Virginia School of Medicine, in which they reported dwindling attendance at their flipped classroom sessions…

“In sessions where students could sit where they wanted, they were less prepared as they would typically sit with their friends and would choose their table based on fun rather than who knew their stuff. The session for some served as a ‘social catch-up’, others admitted they watched videos. There was however a difference in approach to team-based learning sessions where students were assigned into groups; they were more likely to prepare as they were more concerned about appearing stupid.”

I call the latter phenomenon “social accountability” and it appears powerful.

Jayme Linton blogged about encouraging her students to do their pre-reading by employing similar techniques such as “speed dating”…

“Speed dating allows students to interact with several peers in a short amount of time. Students talk for a short time (1 or 2 minutes) with a classmate, typically in response to a question or set of questions. After the specified time period has passed, students rotate and have a conversation with another peer.”

Dare I suggest again the major concern of the participants is their social standing?

Carrot and stick

While all these techniques evidently motivate the target audience to participate, I can’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. Because each of these motivators is extrinsic.

Whether it be ego, fear, politeness or bald-faced sycophancy driving their behaviour, I put it to you that the retirement of the motivating technique by the L&D pro would result in the cessation of that behaviour. By definition, the motivation is not intrinsic and so the participants are relieved of their incentive to continue.

Of course, an alternative is to cultivate the participants’ intrinsic motivation instead. For example, if the content is authentic, relevant and engaging, then that makes it compelling, and that should pull the participants in. However, I put it to you further that even with the most compelling content in the world, it will be worth nil if the participants are not habituated into interacting with it and with one another about it.

Which leads me to consider a hybrid approach: using extrinsic motivators to drive the desired participant behaviour, which is consequently rewarded by an experience that is intrinsically motivating. In other words, scaffolding the informal learning process with a formal structure, thereby driving the behaviour that achieves the outcome that drives the behaviour.

Perhaps over time a sustainable participatory culture will emerge and the need for such scaffolding will dissipate. In the meantime, though, we may have no choice but to dangle the carrot with the stick.

The Comparative Value of Things

Posted 29 April 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: cartoon, social media

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This one goes out to all the trolls.

Relative scale with platinum at one end and anonymous comments on social media at the other.

The point of compliance

Posted 15 April 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: compliance, motivation

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Why do we wear seat belts?

To avoid the fine… right?

I really wish I embedded this video into Take the law out of compliance training, but I didn’t.

So here it is now.

The triple-threat scenario

Posted 31 March 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: instructional design

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There’s no shortage of theories as to why a scenario works so well as an educational device. But for me, it boils down to context.

An authentic and relevant context facilitates two important processes.

1. Sense making

The authenticity and relevance of the scenario contextualises the content so that it becomes more meaningful for the learner. It approximates a real life situation with which she is familiar so that she can make better sense of it.

2. Transfer

When the learner finds herself in a similar situation in real life, she will associate the current context with the scenario and thus apply her experience from it more readily.

When we combine these two affordances with the engagement power of video, we create a triple threat which dramatically increases our probability of success.

An offer they can’t refuse

Posted 10 March 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: instructional design, motivation, multimedia

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One of the best conference sessions I have ever attended was presented by Chris Bessell-Browne from Qantas College.

E-Learning at an airline is challenging because a relatively high proportion of the workforce does not have ready access to a computer. This poses a problem when, for example, you need to roll out compliance training to each and every individual.

One way in which Qantas solves this problem is by showing a series of video scenarios to large groups of their employees. The scenarios involve real employees as well as paid actors, and they recreate scenes that have actually happened at the organisation – eg a young woman receiving unwanted attention from a colleague at the Christmas party, a baggage handler being bullied by a peer in his team, a manager reprimanding one of his team members for her dishevelled appearance, etc. Each video is then followed by a slide featuring several discussion questions, asking if so-and-so was in the wrong, that kind of thing.

According to Chris, the discussions get quite animated as people argue their case for or against. Because there is often no clear “correct” or “incorrect” answer, the interaction represents a melting pot of views and perspectives – carefully facilitated by the L&D pro. It makes the learning experience engaging, relevant and authentic. In other words, nothing like typical compliance training.

As Chris proceeded with her presentation at the conference, everyone in the audience was on the edge of their seat as they eagerly anticipated the next instalment.

When was the last time anyone reacted like that to your training?

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

Video breathes life into content.

For example, while reading about how to provide effective feedback and perhaps downloading a 6-step job aid may be enough to improve your feedback giving skills, suppose you could also watch a video of a manager providing feedback to her direct report. Now you have a role model to follow, and a real-world example to make sense of.

So why doesn’t everyone do this? We have the tools at our disposal – from the camera on our smartphones to a plethora of free editing software downloadable from the internet.

I suspect one of the barriers is fear. We look at the slick productions such as those commissioned by Qantas, and we’re afraid our own efforts will appear amateurish in comparison. And you know what: they will!

When professional production houses shoot a video, they do so beautifully. The picture is rich and sharp. The audio is crisp and clear. The lighting is perfect. That is, after all, what you are paying them for. And it ain’t cheap.

When we record a video on our smartphone, the picture might be somewhat dull, the audio tinny, the lighting dodgy. But I put to you that if the quality of your production is good enough to see and hear, then it’s good enough to learn from.

And if the content is relevant, you’ll find your target audience surprisingly forgiving. You needn’t be Francis Ford Coppola because what really matters is the learning outcome.

So my advice is simply to give it a go. Test a few home-made clips on a pilot group to see how they fare. Incorporate constructive feedback, build on your success and scale it up. Your videography skills will improve over time, and you might even consider buying better equipment and software.

Sure, a beautifully crafted production will always be preferable, but it’s not always attainable or even necessary. You have the power right now to provide your audience with a learning experience that’s engaging, relevant and authentic.

So make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Out of the shadows

Posted 24 February 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: mobile, technology

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“What apps do you recommend?”

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the workplace, this is a question I am being asked with increasing frequency.

And I don’t really like answering it. I mean, I have my faves, but they are my faves. What I find useful might prove useless for you. It all depends on the nature of your role and what you are endeavouring to do with your device.

So to better inform my answer to this question, I am crowdsourcing a list of favorite business apps. I can now point to a dynamically curated selection of apps that a range of other people find useful. The weight of numbers lends credibility to my recommendations.

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

While it’s early days yet, I’m not surprised to see Evernote streaking ahead. In just about every conversation I have with my peers about apps, the peppermint pachyderm rates a mention. It seems everyone is talking about the elephant in the room!

However, I am surprised by the listing currently in second place: Dropbox. I’m not surprised by the fact it’s listed as a favourite app – Dropbox is excellent! – but rather that it’s listed as a favourite business app.

You see, while Dropbox offers wonderful affordances in terms of cloud-based storage and retrieval, it’s (apparently?) not very secure. Despite its Help Center’s claim to the contrary, the internet is littered with warnings such as this one and IT departments tend to frown upon its use.

Nonetheless, people use it. A lot. For business.

I see this as a sign of the times. Employees are circumventing their company’s restrictive and frustrating IT policies with their own technology.

Now I must stress that I am neither an IT manager nor a security expert. I am not arguing one way or the other on whether this is right or wrong. What I am saying is that this is happening. Shadow IT is casting itself over the corporate landscape.

Consider the implications for the e-learning professional:

  • Your employees expect to access information and resources on their own device – whatever make, model or operating system it may be.
  • Your employees are watching YouTube videos and engaging in social media, even if those sites are blocked by the company.
  • Your employees are participating in MOOCs, even if you disagree with their pedagogy.
  • Your employees are playing games when they get bored or they need a break.
  • Your employees are familiar with apps and they are using them.

The list goes on… You can try to suppress it – or embrace it.

Isn’t it time for your organisation’s e-learning to come out of the shadows?

The caveat of the performance centre

Posted 10 February 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: roles

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One of the more exciting ideas to emerge from the corporate learning space, which I hasten to add is yet to be realised, is to transform the Learning & Development department into a performance centre.

Rather than charging L&D Consultants with marketing the team’s lovingly crafted interventions, or reacting to random solution-first requests from the business – We need a team building workshop! – the Performance Consultant analyses the real needs of the business and identifies the relevant solutions.

This is not a novel idea. For example, I am aware of an Australian bank that established a performance centre over a decade ago, while Helen Blunden recently shared the following via an OzLearn chat:

On the face of it, this makes sense to me. I subscribe to the notion that the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, and the raison d’être of the performance centre is to shift our focus to its namesake.

However, I do have a caveat: If the performance centre is populated with L&D types, then the solutions they devise are probably going to be L&D oriented.

This won’t appear to pose a problem unless you appreciate that not all performance ailments are due to an L&D deficiency. On the contrary, poor performance may be caused by myriad factors such as:

Nails• A flawed process
• Obsolete technology
• Inadequate resourcing
• Noise or other disturbances
• Office politics
• Interpersonal conflict

…or any number of human conditions:

• Stress
• Sickness
• Demotivation
• Exhaustion
• Laziness

…not to mention one of my favourites offered by Joyce Seitzinger in the aforementioned Ozlearn chat:

Of course! Recruiting the right person for the role in the first place!

My point is, while poor performance may well be due to a lack of capability, it might not be either. An effective Performance Consultant must determine the root causes of the problems – whatever they may be – and respond accordingly. Do former L&D Consultants have that skillset?

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


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