Posted tagged ‘social learning’

Is the pedagogy of MOOCs flawed?

26 August 2013

This is a question that I tackle in my Udemy course The Wide World of MOOCs.

Almost immediately after I uploaded this preview to YouTube, someone on Twitter politely challenged me.

She took umbrage to my assertion that MOOCs are pedagogically richer than “regular” online courses.

Her counter argument was that the pedagogical devices that I cited – readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups – are the same learning and teaching functionalities available in any LMS.

While this claim is partly true, I wish to share with you my [elaborated] defence of my initial assertion. Why? Because I think it’s important to hear all POVs, and I’d like to know whether you agree…

Hand on keyboard

Right off the bat, I don’t believe that all the pedagogical devices that I cited are available in any LMS. They may be available in many LMSs, but certainly not all of them. Moreover, although an organisation may have a subscription to an LMS that offers these devices, it may not have them activated.

That of course is not to say that the e-learning designer is prevented from using these devices; for example, he or she might leverage other non-LMS technology within the organisation or in the cloud. However, in my experience and in conversations with others, it is clear that they often don’t.

Again, that’s not to say that no e-learning designers integrate devices such as online discussions and social media groups into their LMS-hosted courses, but even if they do, the target audience tends not to play ball. How to encourage active participation on social platforms is a hot topic in the L&D sphere, and there is no easy answer because it’s a question of organisational culture which can’t be “fixed” over night.

As for local meetups, in all my years I have never seen this offered in a regular online course!

Network Analysis of the EDCMOOC Facebook group

MOOCs, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. All of the MOOCs I have experienced include readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups. And the participants do participate. Sure, that’s to be expected given the massive scale of MOOCs, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Case in point, the University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC is one of the best online courses I have ever experienced. While it had its fair share of pro’s and cons, it was a hell of a lot richer than the boring page turners that too many among us have learned to associate with “e-learning”.

And there was no LMS in sight.

Everyone is an SME

20 August 2012

One of the recurring themes on my blog is a call for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to share their knowledge with the wider organisation.

In my view, this isn’t just an expectation: it’s an obligation. Organisations whose people embrace collaboration will prosper, while those who don’t will be left behind.

While the stereotype of an SME is a Sheldon-like character with superhuman intellect, the convenient truth is that we’re regular folk.

Of course the level of expertise in a particular domain will vary across a population, and the label of “expert” will naturally be assigned to those who have the most. However, it would be a folly to assume that the eggheads are the only ones who have anything to contribute.

You see, everyone is an expert in something. When humans work in a domain day in, day out, they familiarise themselves with it; they grow to understand its subtleties; they think up ideas to improve it; and they recognise the difference between business reality and academic fallacy when other people talk about it.

SamSo while they might not be experts in the entire domain, they will be experts in parts thereof.

Take Sam for example. He’s an administrator in the back office of a financial services organisation.

He’s no expert in superannuation, but he sure knows how to process a unit switch – even complicated ones. He processes dozens of them every day.

So when you need someone to record a unit switching tutorial, who you gonna call? It sure as hell won’t be Carl the CFP, or Mary the MBA, or anyone else with an acronym after their name. It will be Sam, the unit switching expert.

Spectacles

When we view the concept of subject matter expertise through this lens, we realise our roles as learning professionals need to change:

  • We need to stop deifying the few. This creates an “us & them” mentality which – even if affectionate – discourages the participation of the mortals.
     
  • We need to empower the many to share their expertise. In the modern workplace, this will involve social technology.
     
  • We need to cultivate a participatory culture. The best technology in the world is useless in an organisation with inhibitive policies and attitudes. Tools are meant to be used.

So unless they are doe-eyed novices, all the employees in your organisation have knowledge and skills to share. And if they don’t or won’t, let them find alternative employment with your competitors.

Drivers of Yammer use in the corporate sector

18 June 2012

Yammer has been quite a success at my workplace. Not off the charts like at Deloitte, yet very much alive and growing.

It warms my heart to see my colleagues asking and answering questions, sharing web articles, crowdsourcing ideas, gathering feedback, praising team mates, comparing notes on where to buy the best coffee, and even whining a little.

Every so often I’m asked by a peer at another company what they can do to increase the use of Yammer in their own organisation. I’m happy to share my opinion with them (borne from my experience), but thus far I have been cognisant of the fact that I haven’t cross-checked my ideas against those of others in the corporate sector.

So I recently invited 14 community managers from around the world to rate the key factors that drive Yammer use in their respective organisations. The results are summarised in the following graph.

Yammer drivers graph

While my sample size is probably too small to infer any significant differences among the factors, observation reveals a tiered arrangement.

The front runner is business champions. These enthusiastic users encourage the use of Yammer with their colleagues across the business. The importance of this factor is unsurprising, given the effectiveness of WOM in the marketing industry. Employees presumably trust their team mates more than they do HR, IT, or whoever “owns” Yammer in the workplace.

The next one down is another no brainer: internal promotion. Typical promotional activities such as newsletters, testimonials and merchandise not only raise awareness among the users, but also act as ongoing reminders. If WOM is the steam train, promotion is the coal that keeps it chugging.

Intrinsic motivation is obvious to anyone who knows the saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. In other words, you can unleash your business champions and push all the promotion you like, but if the individuals who comprise your target audience lack a collaborative attitude, they won’t use Yammer.

Rounding out the top tier is top-down support and participation. Not only is it important for the user’s direct manager to be enthusiastic about Yammer and participate in it him- or herself, but it’s also important for the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO etc to do the same. They must lead by example.

Yammer icon

At the next tier down, informal support resources have some importance. I guess self-paced tutorials, user guides, tip sheets etc are less of an imperative when the system is so damn easy to use. Not to mention that just about everyone knows how to use Facebook or Twitter already, so in that sense they have prior knowledge.

User acknowledgement is also somewhat important. Everyone wants their questions to be answered, and perhaps attract a “like” or two. Otherwise, why would they bother?

The placement of Community Manager at this tier pleasantly surprised me, given the pool of respondents. Nonetheless, some sort of management of the forum is considered important in driving its use.

Integration of Yammer-based discourse into L&D offerings was also placed surprisingly low. I suspect that’s because only intrinsically motivated learners participate in it anyway.

Rounding out this tier, it appears a decent sense of netiquette is the norm in the workplace. You would be a clown to behave otherwise!

Yammer icon

At the lower tiers, we see the factors that are considered less important by the respondents.

I guess a formal usage policy is irrelevant to intrinsically motivated users, while prizes, points and other forms of extrinsic motivation are similarly redundant. Same goes for activities and games such as “fun facts” and trivia quizzes.

And one thing’s for sure: a traditional project management approach characterised by a hard launch and follow-up training misses the mark.

Yammer icon

In summary, then, we see that enterprise social networking is multifaceted. There is no silver bullet.

If your objective is to drive the use of Yammer in your organisation, you would be wise to focus your energy on the factors that offer the greatest return.

In the meantime, bear in mind that social forums grow organically. It takes time for individuals to see what’s in it for them and jump aboard.

Having said that, if the culture of your organisation is bad, it either needs to change or you should shift your efforts to something else.

The 10 Commandments of Microblogging

7 February 2012

As microblogging solutions such as Yammer sweep across the corporate sector, a melting pot of social media veterans and newbies inevitably begins to boil.

And this is a wonderful thing. Loads of new people from disparate areas of the business┬ácommunicating and collaborating with one other, usually for the first time ever? I’m all for it.

Having said that, many of the noobs have never microblogged before. Some don’t even have a Facebook account, let alone Twitter.

This in itself isn’t a problem. They don’t need to qualify to participate, and their views are just as valid as anyone else’s.

However, it probably means they don’t know the ground rules.

And this can be a problem, because it frequently distracts other participants, discourages other noobs from joining in, and generally makes the whole process of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing much less efficient than it otherwise could be.

So what is good practice?

Good practice is a subjective concept, but some universal principles have emerged over the years.

If we set aside the obvious – bullying, belligerence, condescendence, and generally being an a**hole – then we have what I call the 10 Commandments of Microblogging

We'll need a supreme court or something to interpret these.

I. Thou shalt use a real profile photo.

It’s really important in the workplace – especially the virtual workplace – that we know what you look like. At the very least it signifies you’re proud to be a member of the team.

II. Thou shalt respect other people’s opinions.

You might not always agree with us, but that doesn’t make you right. Consider our contexts and circumstances before pulling on your Captain Correct lycra.

A subset of this commandment is: Thou shalt not put words in other people’s mouths. Be careful of how you respond to our messages. Be mindful of what we did – and more importantly, what we did not – say.

III. Thou shalt steer clear of politics and religion.

We don’t care what you do or don’t believe in. Nothing you say in this forum will change our minds.

IV. When linking to an article, thou shalt explain why it’s relevant.

We’re busy people. We won’t click a link just because you say it’s “fantastic”.

V. When praising someone, thou shalt describe the outcome.

Saying that one of your team members was “really helpful” is really nice. If you explain how and why it matters, you’ll encourage the rest of us to be really helpful too.

VI. When running a poll, thou shalt include all the options.

If our answers aren’t options, we won’t pick another one to humour you. We’ll just ignore the poll, and you’ll be left with skewed results.

(Hint: “None of the above” is often a get-out-of-jail-free card.)

VII. Thou shalt not post many messages in quick succession.

This is known as “flooding”, and it makes you look like a douche. If your messages are truly valuable, then spread them out over time so that we can digest them and formulate constructive responses.

VIII. Thou shalt create a group.

It’s great that you’re so passionate about medieval basket weaving, but you’re polluting our feed with irrelevance. Create a group and party like it’s 1399.

IX. If you appreciate someone’s message, thou shalt “like” it.

It’s called professional courtesy, and it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. It also shows your boss that you have a brain and you’re not afraid to use it.

X. Thou shalt answer questions like an angel.

If you don’t know the answer to one of our questions, refer it to someone who does. The point of an enterprise-wide microblog is that it generates value. If that value is not realised, then why would we bother coming back?

Revelation

Of course, I’m not going to pretend that social media veterans role model these 10 Commandments like modern-day disciples.

We’re all human, and we stray across our lanes every once in a while – sometimes with good cause.

Nevertheless, I hope they provide some semblance of order that will extract the most out of our corporate communities.

A circular argument

18 July 2011

Much has been said of the “circles” feature in Google+, and rightly so.

Google+ Circles

I really like the idea of targeting my messages to just friends, or just family, or just whomever. It makes sense.

It’s Google’s trump card against the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Slap in the face

The achilles heel of Facebook is that its friending system is binary: either you are my friend or you are not. If you are, I’ll be sharing my family reunion updates with you, and conversely I’ll be sharing my experience of burning a police car during the Canucks riot with my mum.

Clueless Facebook update

Few of us are aware you can “customize” whom you share your updates with, but selecting individuals one by one is hardly user friendly – especially if you want to update 67 people.

Indeed, Facebook has a “friends list” feature which allows you to filter your incoming news feed. You’d think it would allow you to filter your outgoing news feed too. Granted, I’m no Facebook expert, so maybe this can be done. But that’s the point: so much about Facebook is onerous and secretive. I’ve got better things to do.

Bye bye birdie?

Then there’s Twitter. Some commentators have heralded the death of the popular microblog at the hands of Google+ because, unlike its alleged nemesis, its messages are restricted to 140 characters.

Dead Twitter bird

I couldn’t disagree more. The 140 character limit is Twitter’s saving grace, and ultimately its competitive edge. Fellow tweeps, I love you all – but in very small doses. If I want more, I’ll read your blog.

As for targeting messages, Twitter can’t do that. However, it’s easy enough to manage multiple accounts with a client such as HootSuite.

Hammer time

Forget Facebook, forget Twitter. The one who has the most to fear from Google+ is Yammer.

Don’t get me wrong: Yammer has revolutionised social learning in the workplace. (Twitter dropped the ball big time by failing to introduce corporate accounts.)

To me, Yammer is the most similar to Google+. In particular, its “groups” feature allows you to direct your messages to a particular bunch of people. You can also assign people to groups – even if you’re not the group’s admin.

All good for Yammer, right? Wrong.

Yammer logo Google Hammer Mario Version

You see, everyone on the planet has heard of Google, but relatively few have heard of Yammer. And guess who’s shifting their attention to the business sector.


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