Posted tagged ‘implementation’

Allergic to ATNA

21 December 2010

The reactions of some world leaders to the US diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks has been, well, predictable.

According to The Guardian, Gaddafi of Libya praised WikiLeaks for exposing American “hypocrisy”. Chavez of Venezuela called on Hillary Clinton to resign in the wake of “all of this spying and delinquency”. Linera of Bolivia decried “insults” and “third rate espionage”. And so on around the globe.

I look forward to these governments submitting their own diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Then the world can judge their behaviour behind closed doors.

Yeah, right.

Obama and Chavez shake hands like old friends

The hypocrisy of these world leaders has prompted me to self-reflect.

I don’t want to be one of those e-learning “experts” who waxes lyrical about emerging technologies and lofty ideals like collaboration, only to leave it to others to implement (because that’s the hard bit).

I actually want to do it, enable it, drive it, test it, improve it, share it.

Hence I have published this post. Now that I’ve told the world, I have to keep myself accountable!
 

How not to do social media

1 December 2010

As my friends can attest, I’m a big Socceroos fan.

Socceroos fan

I grew up playing football (aka soccer) and although a few different codes compete for my attention in my home town, the World Game is the one I truly care about.

It was to my great joy, therefore, that the national administrators of the sport comprehensively revamped the local league several years ago. I think it’s fair to say the previous administration was widely perceived as incompetent, so it was no surprise when it was scrapped. The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) was born, and in 2005 the A-League kicked off.

Side note: I wasn’t the only one scratching my head when West Sydney wasn’t a founding club. Maybe it was a sign of things to come.

Around this time I was getting into Facebook. I had become a “fan” of a couple of other sports clubs (eg Wests Tigers) when I noticed there was no Facebook page dedicated to the Australian national football team. So, being the passionate fan that I am, I started one.

In no time I had attracted over 10,000 fans. I dutifully sent out updates for upcoming matches, and I even provided the details of local TV coverage for fans who couldn’t attend in person.

This went along swimmingly until I got a message from Facebook HQ telling me that I had no rights over the page and my administration access was suspended. The message said I could submit an appeal outlining why I should be granted access, which I did on the basis of the page being a “fan” page. I even suggested that the title of the page be changed to “Fans of the Socceroos”. Naturally I staked no claim whatsoever to any IP such as the Socceroos logo.

Lo and behold, Facebook never replied.

What can I deduce from this? Obviously some clever dick in the FFA had the bright idea of jumping on the Facebook bandwagon – and the easiest way to do this was to hijack the fan page that I had lovingly curated.

The irony is I would gladly have handed them the reins if only they had the professionalism to ask.

But they didn’t. Suffice to say it left a bad taste in my mouth.

A different approach

The sorry affair was a faded memory as I watched Grace Gordon from Soap Creative present at last month’s SMCSYD.

Bubble O' BillGrace was busting social media myths when she mentioned a brand that piqued my interest: Bubble O’ Bill.

For those of you who are not aware, Bubble O’ Bill is an ice cream that was first launched in the US in the 1980s, but achieved peculiar success in Australia soon after.

In 2009, customer Nick Getley liked the brand so much he created a Bubble O’ Bill page on Facebook that – at the time of writing – has 844,276 fans!

Switched on Media tells us how it came about:

The history of the Bubble O' Bill fan page

It is the penultimate sentence that resonates with me:

Overwhelmed by the warm support for this Aussie icon, Streets Ice Cream contacted Nick and offered to work with him to make the page official.

Take a bow, Streets. You approached social media in the spirit that was intended, and now you are reaping the rewards.

The difference between right and wrong

So what does this have to do with e-learning?

Well, as time goes by, e-learning is increasingly converging with social learning through social media. The two marketing cases outlined above teach us that when we implement a social media strategy, there is a right way and a wrong way.

The right way is to be inclusive, collaborative and supportive. If you empower your champions to follow their passion, they will lead the charge on your behalf.

The wrong way is to be draconian, faceless and isolationist. If you burn your champions, you will lose your allies.

The proof of the pudding

So to conclude, let’s compare fan bases.

The fan bases of the Socceroos and Bubble O' Bill pages on Facebook (01/12/10)

The Socceroos, the pride of a nation, has 144,378 fans on Facebook.

Bubble O’ Bill, the ice cream cowboy with a bubblegum nose, has 844,276 fans on Facebook.

Whose social media strategy will you adopt?

Square pegs and round holes

28 September 2010

What’s your role in the workplace?

How does that compare to what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I ask you this because what we think we should be doing and what we actually find ourselves doing are often two very different things.

That concerns me because I’ve been blogging a lot about a revamped learning model which relies heavily on Web 2.0 technologies to support informal learning.

In the back of my mind, I realise that revolutionising the learning model in this way would shock some organisations.

To work effectively in those environments, the model would demand significant shifts in roles and responsibilities away from the status quo, towards what I suggest the employees should be doing instead.

Allow me to elaborate…

Various pegs in their right holes

The role of the learner

In my view, every employee has the obligation to drive their own development.

An Informal Learning Environment (ILE) empowers them to do just that. It’s a space where they can explore content, ask questions, and seek help from their peers.

This relieves the L&D professional from alternately spoonfeeding and coercing grown adults into doing what they should be doing for and among themselves.

In short: the role of learning should be assigned to the learner.

The role of the subject matter expert

Taking the logic one step further, every employee also has the obligation to share their knowledge with their colleagues.

Web 2.0 empowers them to do just that. With tools like blogs, wikis and discussion forums, they can contribute content, participate in the conversation, and keep everyone up to speed in their domain.

This relieves the L&D professional from developing and managing content over which they have no authority.

In short: the role of knowledge sharing should be assigned to the SME.

The role of the manager

Must it be said that every manager has the obligation to manage the development of their own staff..?

With the help of their subject matter experts, managers should identify required competencies, assess proficiencies, assign development goals, fund and approve training, and hold regular development discussions.

This relieves the L&D professional from getting bogged down in technical matters over which – again – they have no authority.

In short: the role of managing the team should be assigned to the manager.

The role of the L&D professional

So if the L&D professional is no longer responsible for babysitting and strong-arming employees, conjuring content, and doing the managers’ jobs for them, what on Earth are they responsible for?

The answer is plenty, including consulting, training needs analysis, instructional design, developing content for which they are the expert (eg development plan templates, development discussion workshops), facilitation, community management, training evaluation, research and governance.

In short: the L&D professional supports the learners, subject matter experts and managers in playing their parts to improve the capability and performance of the organisation.

Change management

In the 99% of organisations in which a greenfield opportunity does not exist, my revamped learning model represents a paradigm revolution.

Given legacy systems, entrenched practices and perhaps a less-than-booming corporate culture, successful implementation would require skillful change management to say the least, not to mention a lengthy, multi-phased rollout period.

Dare I suggest the new paradigm may also prompt a review of the organisation’s recruitment criteria?
 

How to revamp your learning model

7 September 2010

In my articles Online courses must die! and The ILE and the FLE in harmony, I advocate the development of a virtual Informal Learning Environment (ILE) to work in tandem with the Formal Learning Environment (FLE) to support both the learning process and its administration.

Heeding the advice of Bill Brandon, I will now flesh out that idea with an illustration of how it might be implemented in a real organisation.

Informal learning

I believe in the power of informal learning. In fact, I go so far as to say it should be the central philosophy of the organisation’s learning model.

In a practical sense, that means we need to provide our learners with tools and resources that they can use to drive their own development.

This is where the ILE fits in: It’s a space (like a website or intranet site) that centralises those tools and resources.

The ILE illustrated

There are a thousand and one possible combinations and permutations of an ILE.

However, if I were to consider (read “fantasise”) a greenfield opportunity (read “pipedream”), what would I design?

Essentially I would base my design on three core components, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Informal Learning Environment, consisting of a wiki, a discussion forum and personal profiles

Figure 1. Informal Learning Environment

Core component #1: Wiki

The primary component of my ILE is a comprehensive wiki.

In a big corporation like the one I work for, knowledge is distributed everywhere – on obscure intranet pages, in random folders, in people’s heads – which makes it really hard to find.

A wiki enables the organisation to centralise that collateral, whether directly (by inputting it) or indirectly (by linking to where it exists elsewhere), thereby functioning as the first port of call.

A wiki can contain – or point to – all manner of media, such as text, graphics, documents and multimedia. The learner can search and explore the content that’s relevant to them, just-in-time if need be.

The flexibility of a wiki also allows anyone to contribute content. This empowers the learner to share their knowledge with their colleagues, build on the knowledge that has already been contributed by others, and communally keep it up to date.

Core component #2: Discussion forum

The secondary component of my ILE is an open discussion forum. I say “secondary” because my rationale is that, if the learner can’t find the knowledge they need in the wiki, they can crowdsource it via the forum.

A discussion forum enables the learner to post a question to their peers, thereby leveraging the collective intelligence of the organisation. Of course the learner can also share their knowledge by answering someone else’s question, and they can learn incidentally by reading the questions and answers of others.

The questions posted to the forum may also serve to expose knowledge deficiencies in the organisation, which can be remedied by updating the wiki!

Core component #3: Personal profiles

The tertiary component of my ILE is a bank of personal profiles. I say “tertiary” because my rationale is that, if the learner can’t find the knowledge they need in the wiki nor via the discussion forum, they can target an SME directly.

For example, if the learner is struggling with a Java programming problem, they can look up a Java expert in the system and send them a direct message. The SME may be recognised as a “Java” SME because they have said so in their profile, or – if the technology is sophisticated enough – their contributions of Java-related content in the wiki and participation in Java-related conversations on the discussion forum flag them as such.

I’m in two minds as to whether a full-blown social network is useful for internal learning purposes. Apart from profiling, I’m not convinced that friending, status updating and other Facebook-like activities add much value – especially when a discussion forum that accommodates groups is already in place.

Formal learning

Self-directed, informal learning is great. However, there are some things your employer must know that you know.

The most obvious example is compliance, eg privacy, trade practices and OH&S. If you breach the regulations, the company will be in hot water, so they’re not just going to take your word for it.

There are plenty of other examples, such as a certain level of product knowledge, that may be critical to the role.

In a practical sense, this means we should map required competencies to each role and assess the employee’s proficiency against each one. That probably leads to a development plan, which in turn forms a subset of the performance agreement and is subject to regular appraisals.

Then there are formal training events like courses and workshops that are important and require documentation, and some people want their informal learning (eg reading a book) recorded too.

The FLE is a space (like a database or platform) in which all this administration is done.

The FLE illustrated

Again, there are a thousand and one possible combinations and permutations of an FLE.

However I base my design on two core components, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Formal Learning Environment, consisting of an LMS and reports

Figure 2. Formal Learning Environment

Core component #1: Learning Management System

The primary component of my FLE is a Learning Management System (LMS).

The LMS is an oft-derided yet invaluable educational technology. I suspect the typical organisation under appreciates it because it uses it illogically.

My advice is to use the LMS for what it’s designed for: managing learning. Competency maps, auto-marked assessments, registrations, completion statuses, grades, transcripts, performance agreements and performance appraisals are what the LMS does well. Some even extend into talent management and other HR domains.

Conversely, my advice is to avoid using the LMS for what it is not really designed for: managing content. Leave that to the ILE, which is a much more open and flexible environment, and is purpose built to support “learning”.

Core component #2: Reports

The complementary component of my FLE is the range of reports that can be generated from various systems to provide useful data. Such data may include productivity statistics, quality scores, complaint volumes, engagement indices… whatever can be analysed to identify training needs and/or evaluate learning outcomes.

At the end of the day, learning must support performance.

Putting it all together

My revamped learning model, then, comprises two discrete but related virtual environments:

1. An ILE, and
2. An FLE.

The former supports the process of learning; the latter supports its management.

A revamped learning model, consisting of an ILE and an FLE

Figure 3. A revamped learning model

Separating the two environments like this aids in segregating them in the human mind.

Why bother?

Because learning should be a joy.

By definition, an ILE should be unforced, unscored, unthreatening.
It should be a safe, open space where people are excited to go because they want to learn, without the burden of forced navigation and pass marks.

Simultaneously, an FLE should focus on what really matters. Too often when formal and informal learning are mixed, goals blur and we run the risk of formalising for formalising’s sake. We don’t need to monitor our colleagues like Big Brother; we just need to assess them when necessary.

How long is a piece of string?

Of course, many more components may be reasonably argued for inclusion in the learning model.

An onsite classroom, for example, is obviously a part of the formal learning environment. So too is a university campus on the other side of town.

In terms of informal learning, the water cooler, a cabinet of books – and even the pages in a book – may be considered components of the ILE.

How about a library of online courses? That might be considered a component of the ILE if the learner is free to explore it at their convenience, but it will suddenly revert to the FLE if the learner is instructed to complete a particular course.

Clearly then, the ILE and the FLE are elastic concepts, highly dependent on perspective and context. That’s why I have focused on the core components that I think can provide a universal framework for a revamped learning model.

The two virtual environments are constant; everything else around them is variable.
 

The ILE and the FLE in harmony

15 July 2010

In my previous article Online courses must die! I advocated the development of Informal Learning Environments (ILEs).

Since then, Steve Wheeler’s thought-provoking article Anatomy of a PLE has prompted me to extend my argument a little further.

My updated premise is that an organisation – be it a corporation, university or otherwise – should facilitate two discrete but related virtual environments on behalf of its learning community:

  1. An Informal Learning Environment (ILE) which supports the learning process; and

  2. A Formal Learning Environment (FLE) which manages that learning.

The ILE will contain self-paced, self-directed, unmeasured learning resources such as readings, video clips, podcasts and discussion forums. The ILE might be called a learning portal, a learning centre, or some other friendly moniker.

In contrast, the FLE will contain administrative tools such as enrolment lists, formal assessments, grades and transcripts. The FLE might be called an MLE, VLE, LMS, or some other acronym.

Both the ILE and the FLE can be hosted on the same platform, but I think the front end of each needs to be demarcated in order to psychologically separate the “learning” from its administration.
 

Online courses must die!

7 July 2010

A touch dramatic, isn’t it?

Now that I have your attention, please bear with me.

There’s method in my madness…

The myth of rapid authoring

The proliferation of so-called rapid authoring tools over the last few years has coincided with an explosion in the number of online courses developed in-house.

In the bad old days, technically challenged L&D professionals had to pay exorbitant fees to development houses to produce simple modules. These days, however, everyone seems to be creating their own online courses and distributing them via an LMS.

In tandem with this trend, though, has been the increasingly familiar cry of “It’s not interactive!”. Critics rail against boring page turners – and rightly so.

Bored at the computer

But you know what? Even when L&D professionals consciously integrate interactivity into their online courseware, I usually don’t think it’s all that engaging anyway. Increasing the number of clicks required to view the content does not make it more interactive. It just makes it annoying, especially for time-poor employees in the corporate sector.

Yes, I know you can embed real interactivity into courseware via games, branched simulations, virtual worlds etc, but hardly anyone does that. It requires time – which you don’t have because you’re too busy building the online course – or dollars – which defeats the purpose of developing it in-house!

So what’s the alternative?

Frankly, there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. Think about it: PDFs display structured text and pretty pictures. Just like a typical online course, without the fancy software or specialist skills.

Businessman typing on keyboardAnyone (and I mean just about anyone) can create and update a PDF. Suddenly SMEs are back in the game…

Write up a Word doc and convert it? Easy.

Update the Word doc and re-convert it? Easy.

Now that’s what I call rapid.

The best of both worlds

If we dispense with online courses in favour of PDFs, how can we incorporate interactivity into the learning experience?

Enter the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

Occupying a place on the continuum somewhere between a VLE and a PLE, an ILE is an informal learning environment that a facilitator manages on behalf of a group of learners.

Essentially, an ILE is a space (like a website or intranet site) that centralises relevant learning resources in a particular domain. The site may host some of those resources and point to others that exist elsewhere.

So your PDFs can go in there, but so too can your audio clips, videos, puzzles, games, quizzes and simulations. Don’t forget podcasts, RSS feeds, slideshows, infographics, animations, articles and real-life case studies. Not to mention blogs, wikis, discussion forums and social bookmarks.

Man working on computer

Unlike a VLE, an ILE is strictly informal. The learners can explore its resources at their own pace and at their own discretion. No forced navigation, no completion status. In this sense, the pedagogy is constructivist.

Unlike a PLE, an ILE is communal. It exists to support a community of practice, whose members can (or more accurately, should) incorporate it into their own respective PLEs. In this sense, the pedagogy is connectivist.

But that’s not to say that the pedagogy of an ILE can’t be instructivist either. The facilitator should provide a learning plan for novice learners which defines a sequence of study, identifying specific resources among the potentially overwhelming array of options.

The sky’s the limit

An ILE is a scalable and flexible learning environment. If we view each resource within that environment as a learning object, we can appreciate how easy it is to add new content, update old content, and remove obsolete content.

Marbles

It’s incredibly inefficient to use up the precious time of an L&D professional to build, publish, test and upload an online course, only to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload it later, just because a few words need to be changed and a graph replaced. Instead, the SME can create and update the object via Word.

If you are keen on creating interactive tutorials, games or virtual worlds, now you can go for it! You have more time, and new tools are coming out that are making these kinds of thing easier to do. The finished product can be added to the ILE as another learning object. Again, if it needs to be updated later, there’s no need to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload a whole course – just that object.

If you commission an external developer to build a smokin’ hot immersive scenario, guess what: you add it to the ILE as another learning object. When it needs to be updated, you pay the developer to work on that object and that object only.

In this age of iPhones and Flip cameras, why not encourage your learners to generate their own content too? It’s another rich source of objects to add to the mix.

All these examples illustrate my central premise: when content is managed in the form of independent learning objects, it remains open and flexible, which means you can keep it current, relevant and organic.

Rockin’ role

Under the ILE model, the role of the L&D professional finally evolves.

Happy professionalThe SME is empowered to produce content, which frees you up to apply your own expertise: instructional design. This may involve a greater focus on engagement and interactivity.

The responsibility of learning is assigned back to the learners, which frees you up to guide, scaffold, encourage, discuss, prompt, probe, challenge and clarify. In other words, facilitate learning.

Your value in the organisation goes through the roof!

Take the ass out of assessment

I claimed earlier that there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. I glaringly omitted assessment. Please note I left it out on purpose.

There are just some things that the company must know that you know. You get no argument from me on that.

However, how we assess that knowledge is bizarrely old fashioned.

Ass

While it’s convenient to wrap up some content and a quiz into a single package, I just don’t see the point from an instructional design perspective. Forcing someone to register into a course, just to pass a dinky quiz at the end, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal. From exploring an ILE to chatting around the water cooler, there is a myriad of ways that people learn stuff. Assessment should represent the sum of that learning.

This is where the LMS comes in. In my view it should manage assessment, not content. More specifically, it should deliver, track and record standalone tests that are linked to particular competencies.

When the LMS is used in this way, the L&D model aligns more closely with the learning process. The employees learn informally all over the place, using an ILE as their central support resource, then (if necessary) they record their competence. The focus of measurement shifts from activity to outcome.

This unorthodox approach makes many people nervous. Their primary concern is that someone can jump straight onto the test and pass it immediately, without ever “doing the course”. In response, I make these three points:

  1. You can jump straight to the assessment in most online courses anyway.

  2. If someone bluffs their way through the assessment and passes, clearly it wasn’t robust enough. That’s your fault.

  3. Conversely, if someone passes the assessment because they already have the knowledge, what’s the problem? You are recording competence, not making people’s lives difficult.

Of course, this kind of nervousness isn’t confined to the corporate sector nor to e-learning. For example, many universities have a minimum 80% attendance policy for face-to-face lectures. I don’t see the point of turning up just to fall asleep with my eyes open, but that’s another story!

The method in my madness

Online courses must die because they are unsustainable in the modern workplace. They aren’t rapid, flexible or scalable, and they usually don’t take full advantage of their medium anyway.

So unlock your content and manage it in the form of individual learning objects in an ILE.

Shift the bulk of the content to PDF. In the age of e-readers, no one will notice much difference.

By all means invest in authoring tools, but only in ones that will help you create interactive and engaging objects – easily.

Exploit Web 2.0.

Use standalone tests to record competence on your LMS. They cover all sources of knowledge.

Informalise learning. Formalise assessment.

Everything big started small

1 July 2009

Last week, AMP hosted its biannual innovation and thought leadership festival, which this year was billed AMPLIFY09: Convergence and Emergence.

AMPLIFY09: Convergence and Emergence

I was lucky enough to attend many of the speaking sessions, and even live blog some of them.

Dr BJ FoggWhile the topics were diverse, one of the principles in particular that resonated with me was “Everything big started small”, which was workshopped by Dr BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University.

Starting small

In his session The New World of Persuasive Technology, BJ noted that, when you consider the history of successful consumer Internet services, a striking similarity emerges: each one started in a small, focused way.

Tree seedling, courtesy of Fire Engine Red, Flickr, under Creative Commons.

BJ offered Google as an example, which started as a search engine developed by a couple of college students.

Other high profile examples I can think of include Dell, which stemmed from its eponymous founder building computers in his dorm room, and of course Microsoft, which stemmed from Bill Gates and Paul Allen developing a BASIC interpreter for a microcomputer.

BJ’s point is that as small offerings succeed, they can expand. Sure, growth is slower than a big bang, but it’s steady.

Floresta Amazonica, courtesy of leoffreitas, Flickr, under Creative Commons.

And perhaps most importantly: when small offerings fail, the impact is small – so the remedy and recovery can be quick.

Compare that to those complex, ambitious offerings that try to offer everything to everyone. They require huge amounts of time, effort and money to design and implement. If they succeed, great; but if they fail, there is so much more to lose.

Tall trees, courtesy of inajeep, Flickr, under Creative Commons.

The bigger they are, they harder they fall.

Implications for e-learning

In terms of e-learning, the principle of “Everything big started small” can apply to introducing a new technology (eg blogs, wikis) or pedagogy (eg m‑learning, virtual classes).

Businessman, courtesy of surely, stock.xchng.comAt my workplace, I will be mindful of introducing a new initiative on a small scale. Probably the most appropriate means of doing this would be to select a pilot team to trial it.

If the initiative is successful for the pilot team, I can add more teams into the program and perhaps evolve the offering. Further successes will, in turn, drive further expansion.

If the initiative happens to fail for the pilot team, I can fix the problem quickly and re-deploy the updated offering.

If the initiative fails spectacularly, I can simply pull the pin – without inconveniencing the broader organisation or wasting our shareholders’ money.


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