Posted tagged ‘social learning’

Where is L&D heading?

6 October 2015

Last week I was invited by David Swaddle to be a panellist at the Sydney eLearning and Instructional Design meetup.

The topic of the evening was Where is L&D Heading? and some questions were posted through by the attendees ahead of time, while others emerged through the discourse.

Here is an overview of my answers, plus elaborations and suggestions for further reading, for each of the questions that was (and was not) asked. Feel free to add your own views via the comments…

Businessman holding a crystal ball

With Ernst & Young dropping their degree entry requirement, how do you see the future of universities? Is the race to the bottom on time and price for degrees affecting employers’ perceptions of universities? What respect do MOOC qualifications get?

I find EY’s move here interesting, but I don’t expect other companies to follow suit en mass – particularly enterprise-wide. Having said that, dropping the degree entry requirement could make sense for specific teams such as Innovation, who might be looking for someone with creative thinking skills rather than a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

I see the future of universities as service providers, plain and simple. Students are customers, and increasing competition, deregulation and even the emergence of MOOCs has shifted power into their hands. Yes, deregulation may prompt the $100,000 degree… but who will buy it?

If students are customers, by extension so are employers. I don’t think the time and price of a degree are such big issues for them; instead I think it’s the relevance of the degree. Whether or not we agree the role of the university is to prepare students for the workplace, I think it’s going that way due to market forces.

Regarding MOOC qualifications, I think many of us are still looking at them the wrong way. When we worry about the status of their credentials or lose sleep over their completion rates, we’re perpetuating an out-dated paradigm of education based on formal learning. I prefer to see MOOCs through the lens of informal learning which values the learning over its bureaucracy. If a job applicant lists some MOOCs on their CV, I think it demonstrates an aptitude to drive their own development.

Question mark

How do you see the impact and importance of big data, adaptive learning, mobile learning and micro-learning?

While mobile learning gets a lot of hype – rightly or wrongly – my target audience is office bound. Yes, I can push content to their devices (and there’s a solid argument for micro-learning in this instance) but the truth is no one will do their training on the bus. Outside of work hours, most people don’t want to do anything work related.

I see more scope in pull learning. For example, it’s important that your intranet is mobile optimised, so when someone is away from their desk, they can quickly look up the information they need and put it into action.

The real power of m-learning though is in creating an experience. By this I mean integrating the content with the environment in which the individual is situated, and I see a lot of potential in augmented reality and wearable technologies facilitating this.

And let’s not forget about blended learning. If we allow our attendees to bring their tablets into class, they can participate in online polling, consume content and play games together. While this isn’t actually mobile learning, it leverages the technology.

As for big data, there is clearly a lot of potential in using it to inform our practice – if we can access it. I also see a lot of potential for adaptive learning in personalising the learning experience – if we can work with the tools. My caveat for emerging technologies such as these is what I call the “Average Joe imperative” – if regular folks can’t do it, it won’t gain widespread adoption.

Question mark

What about online social education and Communities of Practice? What are the challenges in using them properly in companies, schools or universities? Where are the success stories?

Beyond the technology, the success of social learning is predicated on the culture of the organisation. If you’re people aren’t the type who care and share, then a platform isn’t going to be much help. Having said that, I believe the managers in the organisation have a critical role to play in leading by example.

My go-to success stories for social learning are Coca-Cola Amatil, who have cultivated active communities of practice across state-based factory floors; and Deloitte, who are the poster child for enterprise social networking.

Question mark

Will interactive videos replace e-learning modules?

I think lots of things will replace e-learning modules!

As we embrace informal learning, we will rely less on e-learning modules in favour of alternatives such as social forums, job aids, games, and indeed, interactive videos.

I see the LMS then being used more for the assessment of learning.

Question mark

What tips does the panel have for coping with reduced training budgets?

My big tip here is that you can do a lot for free or on-the-cheap.

For example, if you want to film a training scenario, you could pay a production house many thousands of dollars to produce a slick, Academy Award worthy video clip. Alternatively, you could use your iPhone.

Sure, the quality won’t be nearly as good… so long as it’s good enough. What really matters is the learning outcome.

Besides, I think in-house production adds authenticity to the scene.

Question mark

Does L&D belong in HR?

I interpret this question as really asking “Should L&D be centralised or distributed?”.

My short answer is both. A centralised Organisational Development function can focus on enterprise-wide capability needs, while L&D professionals embedded in the business can address local capability needs.

Question mark

How does the panel identify whether an L&D professional is good? Does Australia need improved quality benchmarking or qualifications for L&D professionals such as instructional designers?

I think the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, so my definition of a “good” L&D professional is one that improves the performance of his or her business.

There are certain attributes that I value in an L&D pro, including being proactive, consultative, creative, and willing to try new things.

If I were considering an applicant for an instructional design role, I’d ask them to demonstrate their track record, just as I’d ask a sales rep to do. A portfolio would be useful, as would be their approach to a hypothetical project.

Furthermore, I think you can tell a lot about someone’s expertise through simple conversation; if they don’t really know what they’re talking about, it will become painfully obvious.

As for benchmarking and formal qualifications for L&D pro’s, I think they can help but I wouldn’t put too much stock into them. As EY is seeing, acing the qual doesn’t necessarily translate into good practice.

Question mark

What advice would you give to somebody interested in getting involved in ID?

I think getting involved is the key phrase in this question.

Attend meetups and events, get active on social media, participate in #lrnchat, work out loud, scan the academic research, and read blogs – learn from those at the coal face.

The definition of Enterprise Social Network

26 August 2015

Enterprise Social Network, n. 1. A software platform that facilitates communication and collaboration among the employees of a company. 2. A means of liking senior executives' posts.

Taking out the trash

5 January 2015

Happy new year!

I’m looking forward to 2015 as a time for exploring, building, experimenting, discovering, and learning.

Many of us like to make New Year’s resolutions in January – which rarely survive February – but this year mine are designed to last forever.

man taking out the trash

I hereby commit to the following five resolutions:

  1. No facey, no connecty.

    Humans have heads and names. If you apparently don’t, I won’t connect.

  2. Reject the hard sell.

    If your first message to me is sales oriented, you’re dropped.

  3. Do not feed the trolls.

    If you lack an open and collaborative mindset, I won’t engage.

  4. Do not feed the bullies.

    Bully-boy tactics do not lend credence to your argument; in fact they do the opposite. If you try to force feed me, the conversation is over.

  5. Shut the pop up.

    If a pop-up interrupts my reading of your article, I won’t bother quitting the pop-up. I’ll just quit your article.

Apologies if this seems like a negative way to begin the new year. However, by taking out the trash, I intend to let the light shine in.

What are your New Year’s resolutions…?

The grassroots of learning

22 October 2014

Here’s a common scenario: I “quickly” look up something on Wikipedia, and hours later I have 47 tabs open as I delve into tangential aspects of the topic.

That’s the beauty of hypertext. A link takes you somewhere else, which contains other links that take you somewhere else yet again. The Internet is thus the perfect vehicle for explaining the concept of rhizomatic learning.

Rhizomatic learning is something that I have been superficially aware of for a while. I had read a few blog posts by Dave Cormier (the godfather of the philosophy) and I follow the intrepid Soozie Bea (a card-carrying disciple), but unfortunately I missed Dave’s #rhizo14 mooc earlier in the year.

Since I’ve been blogging about the semantics of education lately, I thought it high time to dig a little deeper.

Bamboo with rhizome

It seems to me that rhizomatic learning is the pedagogical antithesis of direct instruction. Direct instruction has pre-defined learning outcomes with pre-defined content to match. The content is typically delivered in a highly structured format.

In contrast, rhizomatic learning has no pre-defined learning outcomes nor pre-defined content. The learner almost haphazardly follows his or her own line of inquiry from one aspect of the subject matter to the next, then the next, and so forth according to whatever piques his or her interest. Thus it can not be predicted ahead of time.

Given my scientific background, I was already familiar with the rhizome. So is everyone else, incidentally, perhaps without realising it. A rhizome is the creeping rootstalk of a plant that explores the soil around it, sending out new roots and shoots as it goes along. A common example is bamboo, whose rhizome enables it to spread like wildfire.

In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari adopt the rhizome as a metaphor for the spread of culture throughout society. That’s a massive over-simplification, of course, and quite possibly wrong. The Outsider represents the extent of my French philosophy bookshelf!

Anyway, the point I’m bumbling towards is that Dave Cormier has picked up this philosophical metaphor and applied it to the wonderful world of learning. He explains in Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words:

“Rhizomatic Learning developed as an approach for me as a response to my experiences working with online communities. Along with some colleagues we started meeting regularly online for live interactive webcasts starting in 2005 at Edtechtalk. We learned by working together, sharing our experiences and understanding. The outcomes of those discussions were more about participating and belonging than about specific items of content – the content was already everywhere around us on the web. Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the curriculum.”

I note that this explanation from 2012 is somewhat different from his paper in 2008, which of course reflects the evolution of the idea. In Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave similarly mentioned the abundance of content on the Internet, and also the shrinking half-life of knowledge. He contrasted the context of traditional education – in which experts are the custodians of a canon of accepted thought, which is presumed to remain relatively stable – with today – in which knowledge changes so quickly as to make the traditional notion of education flawed.

Dave posited educational technology is a prime example. Indeed when I studied this discipline at university, much of the learning theory (for instance) enjoyed a broad canon of knowledge to which students such as myself could refer. It was even documented in textbooks. Other aspects of the subject (for instance, the rapid advances in technology, and the pedagogical shifts towards social and informal learning) could not be compared against any such canon. The development of this knowledge was so rapid that we students relied as much on each other’s recent experiences and on sharing our personal learning journeys than we did on anything the professor could supply.

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

From 2008 to 2012, I see a shift in Dave’s language from Rhizomatic Education to Rhizomatic Learning. This I think is a better fit for the metaphor, as while it may be argued that the members of the community are “teaching” one another, the driving force behind the learning process is the active learner who uses the community as a resource and makes his or her own decisions along the way.

I also note the change from “the community is the curriculum” to “participating in the community is the curriculum”. Another semantic shift that I think is closer to the mark, but perhaps still not quite there. I suggest that the content created by the members of community is the curriculum. In other words, the curriculum is the output that emerges from participating in the community. So “participating in the community produces the curriculum”.

As a philosophy for learning, then, rhizomatic learning is not so different from constructivism, connectivism, and more broadly, andragogy. The distinguishing feature is the botanical imagery.

However this is where my understanding clouds over…

Is it the abundance of content “out there” that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the construction of new knowledge that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the learning journey that is undertaken by the individual learner?

Perhaps such pedantic questions are inconsequential, but the scientist in me demands clarification. So I propose the following:


The knowledge that is constructed by the community is the rhizome.

The process of constructing the knowledge
by the members of the community is rhizomatic education.

The process of exploring, discovering and consuming the knowledge
by the individual learner is rhizomatic learning.


If we return to my Wikipedia scenario, we can use it as a microcosm of the World Wide Web and the universe more broadly:

The ever-expanding Wikipedia is the rhizome.

The Wikipedians are conducting rhizomatic education.

I, the Average Joe who looks it up and loses myself in it for hours on end,
is experiencing rhizomatic learning.

In the age of Web 2.0, Average Joe may also be a Wikipedian. Hence we can all be rhizomatic educators and rhizomatic learners.


I also detect a certain level of defensiveness from Dave in his early paper. He prefaces his work with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s An enemy of the People which rejoices in the evolution of “truth” in the face of conventional resistance [my interpretation], while later on he addresses the responses of the “purveyors of traditional educational knowledge” – primarily in the realms of academic publishing and intellectual property.

I think Dave was right to be defensive. Despite the pervasive learnification of education that would theoretically promote rhizomatic learning as its poster boy, anything new that threatens the status quo is typically met with outrage from those who stand to lose out.

A case in point is moocs. Dave refers to Alec Couros’s graduate course in educational technology, which was a precursor to his enormously popular #ETMOOC. While a cMOOC such as this one may be the epitome of the rhizomatic philosophy, I contend that it also applies to the xMOOC.

You see, while the xMOOC is [partly] delivered instructivistly, those darn participants still learn rhizomatically! And so the traditionalists delight in the low completion rates of moocs, while the rest of us appreciate that learning (as opposed to education) simply doesn’t work that way – especially in the digital age.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no anti-educationalist. Regular readers of my blog will not find it surprising when I point out that sometimes the rhizomatic model is not appropriate. For example, when the learner is a novice in a particular field, they don’t know what they don’t know. As I was alluding to via my tweet to Urbie in lrnchat, sometimes there is a central and stable canon of knowledge and the appointed expert is best placed to teach it to you.

I also realise that while an abundance of knowledge is indeed freely available on the Internet, not all of it is. It may be hidden in walled gardens, or not on the web at all. Soozie makes the point that information sources go beyond what the web and other technologies can channel. “Information that is filtered, classified or cleansed, consolidated or verified may also come from formal, non-formal or informal connections including teachers, friends, relatives, professional colleagues and recognized experts in the field.” But I take her point that all this is enhanced by technology.

Finally, the prominence of rhizomatic learning will inevitably increase as knowledge continues to digitise and our lens on learning continues to informalise. In this context, I think the role of the instructor needs much more consideration. While Dave maintains that the role is to provide an introduction to an existing learning community in which the student may participate, there is obviously more that we L&D pro’s must do to fulfil our purpose into the future.

On that note I’ll rest my rhizomatic deliberation on rhizomatic learning. If you want to find out more about this philosophy, I suggest you look it up on Wikipedia.

The dawn of a new generation

22 July 2014

User-generated content (UGC) is not a novel concept, but most of us in the corporate sector have barely scratched its surface.

Beyond enterprise social networks – which are hardly universal and face substantial challenges of their own – UGC in the broader sense is beset by concerns about content quality, accountability, organisational culture, job security and power dynamics.

And yet… the world is changing.

Notwithstanding either the validity or the importance of our concerns with UGC, the traditional training model is becoming increasingly unsustainable in the modern workplace. And besides, I think most of our concerns can be addressed by a change in mindset, a little imagination, a dash of trust, and a collective commitment to make it work.

To explore the practicalities of user-generated content, the Learning Cafe sponsored a webinar entitled Learner Generated Learning Content – Possibilities, mechanics and chaos? The event was hosted by Jeevan Joshi and presented by myself, Andrew Mazurkiewicz and Cheryle Walker.

My part comprised a proposed solution to a fictional caselet. Both the caselet and the transcript of my proposal are outlined below…

Call centre

Ron is the manager for a 250 seat contact centre at an insurance company in 3 locations. Ron has made sure that there is a comprehensive training program to cover all aspects of the job. However in the past 6 months improvements have plateaued despite improving the content and structure of the training workshops. Ron did an analysis of contact centre data and concluded that further improvements were only possible if practical knowledge and better practices known to the team were shared in the team.

Denise, a team leader suggested that operators would be keen to share how they dealt with difficult or complex calls using the web cam on the PC and post it on the intranet. Ron was concerned that recording may be a distraction and may be perceived by some as monitoring performance. Kit, the Learning Consultant insisted the videos should be loaded on the LMS so that the time spent and results could be tracked. There were also concerns that inappropriate videos may be posted. Denise was however convinced that it was a good idea and the only way to improve further performance. What should Ron do?

Formal training

Well firstly I think Ron should retain his formal training program. It’s important for the organisation to cover off its “must know” knowledge and skills, and formal training can be a quick and efficient way of doing that. Besides, moving away too radically from formal training would probably be a culture shock for the company, and thus counter-productive. So in this case I suggest it would be best to build on the foundation of the training program.

Training is the front end of an employee’s learning & development. I know from first-hand experience that there is a lot for contact centre staff to take in, and they can’t possibly be expected to remember it all. So the formal training needs to be sustained, and a powerful way of doing that is with an informal learning environment.

Formal training complemented by a content repository

A key component of the informal learning environment is the content repository – such as an intranet or a wiki – that contains content that the employee can search or explore at their discretion. The logical place to start with this content is with the existing training collateral. Now, I don’t mean simply uploading the user guides, but extracting the information and re-purposing it in a structured and meaningful way on-screen.

If Denise knows operators who are keen to generate content, then I would certainly welcome that. These people are the SMEs – they live and breathe the subject matter every day – so they are the obvious choice to add value.

However, I’m not sure if web cams are necessarily the way to go. In the case of dealing with difficult calls, audio would be a more authentic choice; visuals wouldn’t add anything to the learning experience – in fact, they’d probably be distracting. The operator could request a particular recording from the quality system and write up in text how they handled the call. And if they used a tool like Audacity, they could easily cut and edit the audio file as they see fit.

Another way of generating content – especially for process and system training – might include Captivate or Camtasia, which are really easy to use to produce handy tutorials.

An important point to remember is that the operator on the phone might need to look up something quickly. For example, if they have an angry or abusive caller on the other end of the line, they won’t have the luxury of wading through reams of text or listening to a 7-minute model call. So it’s important that the practical knowledge be provided in the form of job aids – such as a template or a checklist – that the operator can use on-the-job, just-in-time.

I don’t agree with Kit that this content should be put on the LMS. Frankly, no one will go in there – and in my opinion, that’s not what an LMS is for. By definition, an LMS is a Learning Management System – so use it to manage learning. It makes sense to use the LMS for the formal training program – for things like registrations, grading, transcripts, reporting etc. In contrast, what we’re talking about here is the act of learning – not its management. The operator needs a resource that is easy to access, easy to navigate, to learn what they need to do their job in the moment.

We must remember that the point of learning is performance – so the focus of our measurement and evaluation energies should be on the performance stats. The employees would have been thoroughly assessed during the formal training program, so now is not the time to go loading the LMS with more stuff just for the sake of tracking it. The real tracking now should be done with the business scorecard.

Formal training complemented by a content repository, which in turn is complemented by a social forum.

OK, a missing link in this solution is a social forum.

If an operator can’t find what they need, a social forum enables them to ask their crowd of peers. And again, because these peers are themselves SMEs, someone is likely to have the answer. Not only does this approach service the operator with the information they need, but other operators can see the interaction and learn from it as well.

Also, by keeping tabs on the discussions in the forum, the L&D professional can identify gaps in the solution, and review the content that is evidently unclear or difficult to find.

So in summary, my solution for Ron is an integrated solution comprising his formal training program, complemented by an informal learning environment including a structured content repository, which in turn is complemented by a social forum.

Those among us who like the 70:20:10 model will see each component represented in this solution.

Formal training (10) complemented by a content repository (70), which in turn is complemented by a social forum (20).

Do you agree with my integrated solution? What else would you recommend, or what would you propose instead?

Are we witnessing the dawn of a new generation? Can user-generated content be a core component of the corporate L&D strategy? Or is it just a pipe dream?

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.


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.


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