Tag: web 2.0

Square pegs and round holes

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…

Children's shape puzzle.

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

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.
 

Social media: Prevention is better than cure

My previous article Social media: It’s not about the technology! focused on the internal use of social media by employees to import and share knowledge inside the organisation.

This article shifts its focus to the external use of social media by employees to export knowledge outside of the organisation.

Traditionally this is called marketing, customer service or public relations. From a learning perspective, it might also be called educating your customers.

Close-up of a wolf's head.

The big bad wolf

I think it’s fair to say that some companies still have a phobia about social media. Their fears are eloquently illustrated by Mark Smiciklas who in turn was inspired by Social Media Today’s article The Top Six Reasons Companies are Still Scared of Social Media.

Only recently an acquaintance of mine asked me:

What if someone says something negative about the company?

If you are wondering the same thing, allow me to ask three questions of my own:

Does your company rely on the generosity of its former employees?
Does your company rely on the ethics of its competitors?
Does your company rely on the benevolence of the general public?

If you answered “no” to these questions, but you don’t participate in the social media space, then I’m sorry to say that you are fooling yourself.

A whole bunch of people probably are saying something negative about your company – you just don’t know about it!

A complaint is a gift

The best service providers around the world make it really easy for customers to lodge complaints.

Instead of viewing complaint management as a cost, they see it as a priceless opportunity to fix problems, retain existing customers, and even win over new ones.

It shows transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

Doing nothing is not an option

Remember when you were a kid and you thought that by covering your eyes, no one could see you?

That’s what your company is doing if it doesn’t participate in external social media. You can choose to hear no evil, see no evil, but it will still be seen and heard by everyone else.

Reclaim control over your own brand by joining the conversation. Have your say. Defend yourself. Counter disinformation. Be heard.

At the same time, embrace the opportunity to engage with your customers. Listen to them. Ask them questions. Invite their feedback. Fix their problems. Service their needs. Knock their socks off.

If you don’t, what’s the worst that could happen?

I’ll refer this question to United Airlines…

Yep, that little ditty has attracted over 8 million views so far.

But it’s not just the clever memes you should worry about. It’s also the long tail of boring, low profile gripes that fester unanswered.

I’ve changed my mind about a restaurant or an online shop plenty of times because of negative comments about them on the web.

Three things you can do

These days, you can’t ignore the phenomenon that is social media. It’s far too popular for that.

So why not use some brain power and leverage it to your advantage?

Here are three things you can do:

1. Scan the social media space and respond to gripes against your company.

Don’t fight your customers. Help them.

2. Go a step further and create an alternative channel in which your customers can voice a complaint.

If a particular demographic of your customer base is hooked on social media, why not provide a Twitter presence or a Facebook page or a discussion forum in which to attract, contain and manage the discourse?

Seriously: how many of your customers will go to the trouble of finding the phone number of your call centre, navigate through your infuriating IVR, wait on hold for 15 minutes while listening to your inane music (or worse, ads), then explain their problem umpteen times as they get flick passed around the office.

Have you called your own call centre lately?

3. When someone does complain, nip it in the bud by responding immediately and appropriately.

Fix the problem rather than try to wriggle out of it.

Never give anyone the moral authority to go all out with a “United Breaks Guitars” style of complaint. That behaviour indicates exasperation on the part of the customer, which means it’s your fault.

If, however, it does happen, then respond to it in the very same forum. IMHO, United’s final mistake in the whole sorry saga was to fail to post a comment on YouTube saying something to the effect of: we are seriously concerned about your allegation, it doesn’t reflect our corporate values, we are investigating it immediately, and can you please contact us via x so that we can get more details from you.

I’d rather 8 million people saw that.

The moral of the story

A wise and handsome man once said, “If a man punches you in the face, you may sue him in court; but you will still have a broken nose.”

Everyone knows prevention is better than cure.

Social media: It’s not about the technology!

As an enterprise, Acme Corporation is “dipping its toes” into social media. It might be said it’s adopting a cautious, almost experimental approach to the concept.

While the organisation has invested in social technology, and maybe even documented a social media policy, the majority of its social media activity is driven from the bottom up.

In other words, usage of social media within the organisation relies heavily on grass-roots support and viral marketing among its rank-and-file employees.

Does this sound like your workplace?

If so, what does it mean?

In a nutshell, it means you still have plenty of scope to increase your social media activity and realise the corresponding benefits of collaboration, engagement and informal learning.

A hand over a laptop keyboard.

Take it to the next level

So what does your organisation need to do to take social media to the next level?

To help answer this question, I’ve decided to share 10 insights about workplace social media from a practising learning & development professional in the corporate sector (ie yours truly).

Disclaimer: These insights are not the result of any scientific analysis. Instead, they are the result of observation, conversation, experience, gut instinct, self-important opinion, and general naivety.

1. Field Of Dreams was just a movie.

Just because you build it, doesn’t necessarily mean they will come.

2. Some of your employees will take to social media like ducks to water.

They will be the local champions who celebrate the concept of social media, participate avidly, and engage in true collaboration.

3. Some of your employees are not team players.

Sure, they know the right words to say, and the bare minimum to be seen to be doing, but that’s about as far as it goes.

You will never force these people to collaborate. Sorry.

4. Not everyone who shies away from social media is a lone wolf.

Numerous reasons might explain their lack of participation, such as:

  • scared of technology
  • too shy to voice an opinion
  • wary of looking silly in front of the whole company
  • too many tools and whizz-bang gadgets to keep track of
  • legal implications
  • security implications
  • too busy

The question you need to ask yourself is: How many of these reasons are legitimate (which means they can be addressed) and how many are excuses that mask deeper problems?

5. A grass-roots, bottom-up approach will only get you so far.

While plenty of organisations have invested in social technology, and some have even documented social media policies, most corporate social media activity appears to be driven from the bottom up.

To achieve the critical mass of users and ongoing participation rate required for ROI, you need to adopt a complementary top-down approach.

The sustained support of — and participation by — senior executives is essential. They must lead by example.

6. The fear of overstepping your authority is a natural inhibitor.

The company should state explicitly what its employees can and can’t do on both internal and external social media, preferably via a formal policy.

Otherwise many employees will err on the side of caution, which may mean refusing to participate.

7. A decentralised model of implementation may not be effective.

If the managers in your workplace don’t implement social media on their own accord, you might need to change the structure and processes of your organisation to make it happen.

Specifically, someone needs to own it. This may mean appointing a Social Media Manager to centralise the authority, engage with the right people, and drive real outcomes.

The Social Media Manager will need to exhibit that rare combination of determination and creativity to overcome the multitude of reasons why it can’t work, and instead focus on how it can.

8. Banning social media is a double-edged sword.

If you block access to social media frivolity, you also block access to useful resources.

Of course, personal mobile devices can circumvent the company’s access policy anyway.

9. Self-regulation can be effective.

That’s not to say that no one will ever abuse their privileges, but again, a good social media policy will define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

Most people will follow suit.

10. No one else cares.

If your organisation doesn’t embrace social media, the Earth will still turn without you.

If your employees don’t want to collaborate, participate and learn, that’s your problem.

Organisational culture

In summary, the potential of social media is not about the technology. It’s about culture.

To maximise the value of the available tools and platforms, your employees must want to be collaborative; your managers must want to try something new to achieve greater success; your company must be proactive.

If this doesn’t sound like your culture, your competitors won’t mind at all.

Reflections of LearnX 2009 – Day 1

I attended the annual LearnX Asia Pacific conference this week at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

While the weather was dreary, I found the sessions topical and thought provoking. Below I’ve shared some of the key messages that I drew from Day 1…

Darling Harbour on a dreary April morning.

The Magic of Speed Thinking

Ken Hudson, Director of The Speed Thinking Zone, kicked off proceedings with a keynote address about working smarter, not harder. Ken’s central theme is that being able to think faster and better can help us unlock ideas and improve our productivity. Maintaining that “our brain works better when our bodies are moving”, Ken got everyone in the room to participate in a few ice-breaker activities involving coin catching and brainstorming answers to pop questions. I must admit, it lifted the energy of the room.

Ken then introduced a 9-circle template with the question “In these tough economic times, why should we invest more into training?” – and asked us to list 9 possibilities in 2 minutes. The idea isn’t necessarily to achieve a full gamut of answers, but to get the party started quickly. I think Ken’s ideas have real potential for expediting meetings and stimulating brainstorming sessions, but I still think that careful thought and deep reflection are necessary follow-ups. For more information about speed thinking, visit Ken’s website and refer to his book The Idea Generator.

Bringing Generations Together through Collaboration and Informal Learning

Faith Legendre, Senior Global Consultant at Cisco WebEx, provided the audience with a synopsis of our 4 major generations today (Generation Vet, Boomers, Gen Y & Gen X), and an overview of their changing learning styles over time (push to pull, formal to informal, comprehensive to nibblets, and physical classes to online).

While Faith recognised that generational attributes are widely disputed (eg online habits are not defined by age but by exposure to emerging technology), her key message is that people across all generations are using technology today to bridge gaps and collaborate. Faith also highlighted the technology collaboration community at Cisco Community Central.

How to capture evaluation data to prevent costly e-learning deployment failures

Susan Pepper, Managing Director of the ROI Institute of Australia, reinforced the need for rigorous evaluation to ensure the success of e‑learning. Susan adheres to 5 levels of feedback, comprising Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation, plus the calculation of return on investment (ROI).

Susan also recommends that evaluation data be collected not only post implementation, but also during implementation to remedy any problems as they arise. Another key message is that e-learning programs require thorough planning, particularly to determine the organisation’s need, which in turn should inform the objectives of the solution.

Learning without boundaries

Ben Saunders, Business Analyst Consultant at HCS, provided us with a comprehensive overview of m‑learning. While pointing out that m-learning started as far back as 3000BC when the Sumerians carved out text onto portable stone tablets, Ben recognises that the increasing sophistication and decreasing cost of mobile devices (eg smart phones) are making m-learning more relevant today.

Ben categorises the limitations of m‑learning under three major banners: hardware (screen size, usability, information security), software (multiple operating systems, unsupported file formats, SCORM compliance) and culture (work/life balance and the digital divide). However, he also notes that learners are already using mobile technologies in their general day-to-day activities, leading them to expect to do likewise for education.

Extending your reach: Learning at a distance

Glen Hansen, National L&D Manager at Employment Plus, shared his organisation’s experience of using web conferencing to transition from traditional face-to-face learning delivery to a blended model. While the transition period was challenging (learning curve, lost skills through staff turnover), Glen cites significant benefits, such as: enhanced collaboration, enablement of JIT learning, consistency of message and reduced single point sensitivity.

Glen also shares some practical tips for webconferencing, such as: conduct a needs analysis before launching web conferencing, trial potential software prior to selection, enquire whether the provider includes training in their package, appoint a moderator to support the facilitator during sessions, freeze the webcam to save bandwidth, use plenty of graphics, and provide opportunities for the learners to interact with one another. Glen also recommends The eLearning Guild’s Handbook on Synchronous e‑Learning.

Selling e-learning to your clients: A culture change approach

I must admit that I felt like I had walked into the wrong session, as Ingrid Karlaftis, National Account Executive at Catapult E-Learning, adopted the vendor’s perspective of selling an e-learning solution to an organisation. However, I think Ingrid’s key messages can help e-learning practitioners within organisations, especially when implementing a project or major initiative.

For example: never over promise and under deliver, work hand-in-hand with your clients along the journey, identify the needs of each team across the business (they will be different!), promote the notion of “one community”, train the trainer, maintain your transparency, provide constant support, measure and report.

Professional Audio – The Key to Effective E-Learning

This was a shameless sales pitch, but to be fair, the presenters didn’t pretend otherwise. Adam Morgan and his crew promoted the advantages of employing professional actors (rather than “Tim from Accounts”) to produce the voiceovers in your e-learning courseware. Why? Because actors are better skilled at engaging your audience.

Adam has a point in that an outfit like Voiceoversonthenet can cater for different audiences through variables such as accent, tone, gender and pace. So should you use an actor? Well that’s up to you.

Learning Leaders Panel

The final session on Day 1 was a facilitated discussion about building talent and learning anytime, anywhere, at any pace.

Among the topics discussed: Bob Spence observed that informal learning relies on trust that the material being learned is worthwhile; Rob Wilkins shared his view that the feudal management system of a typical corporation inhibits its use of social media for learning; Anne Moore suggested that organisations need to become more like Gen-Y’s to support the next generation of employees who will lead us beyond the GFC; John Clifford informed us that every Telstra field technician has a laptop and a mobile device to enable e-learning on the road; Ann Quach recommended that we focus on content, then its mode of delivery (avoid using a blog or wiki just because it’s the latest fad); and Wendy John reminded us to empower staff to learn when they need to, otherwise engagement will be low and the experience will be a waste of time.

Stay tuned for an overview of Day 2…!