It's been a while since my last post, mainly down to working on a couple of projects that have completely taken over. I was prompted to write this one, though, when the guys from Packt Publishing asked if I would review their latest book on Yammer.
Packt Publishing have achieved a great reputation for putting out books just at the point when they are going to be needed by more than just the early adopters of a particular technology.
That is true of this book, Yammer Starter. Yammer, the enterprise social network tool now owned by Microsoft is starting to go mainstream, alongside its competitors like Socialcast and Salesforce Chatter. As well as the bottom-up, slightly subversive, activities which have driven their adoption to date, we are now seeing senior managers, even at Board level, pushing for their use.
Partly this is a matter of "keeping up with the Joneses", but there are real business benefits to be had from social networking tools like these. Primarily, they are fantastic at breaking down internal, organisational silos, and allowing information to flow between them. I've, personally, seen this happen in a sales context with questions and answers about products and clients moving between sales teams that wouldn't have taken place in any other way.
But, to the book...
Before reading it, I had certain expectations about what would be included in a book like this. Back in 2010, I wrote my own Yammer Best Practice Guide, and Yammer have also created an array of support materials in their Yammer Success Center.
I was looking for things like:
- What Yammer can bring to an organisation
- Ideas on how to roll out Yammer organisation-wide
- A explanation of what Yammer can bring to an individual (the "what's in it for me" question)
- Guidelines on "best practice" in using the system
- How to pre-empt, and subsequently deal with, the occasional lapses in netiquette that will occur
- The role of the community facilitator
Given the rapid rate of change of any SaaS tool like Yammer, I would not expect detail descriptions of functionality or step-by-step instructions. These would only be current and accurate for a very short time, and therefore not appropriate to put into a book format.
The book itself is very short, and only available in eBook format (PDF, PacktLib, ePub and Mobi). At £3.39 or thereabouts, it's not going to break the bank, but then it's also not going to have much detail.
It has all the basic functionality you'd expect from an eBook; table of contents etc. So, no problems there.
Things do go a bit awry on the first page though...
Remember that Yammer is a web-based system. You get to it using your browser. There's nothing to install or download (unless you use the mobile/desktop apps - which are just useful extras, not essential). So I really don't understand why the author starts the book with a section on how to download and install Yammer? I may just be being picky, but using language like this right at the start doesn't bode well for the rest of the book. I would have much preferred this section be called "Setting up" rather than "Installation"...
Apart from that, the rest of the book contains a lot of information, useful to someone who is entirely new to Yammer (although it would help to have a little bit of a background in Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to understand some of the references).
There are a few too many screenshots and lists of instructions for me to be comfortable with the longevity of the book. It will need updating the next time Yammer makes a change to their interface. But, I suppose that's just part of the business model for this sort of publication.
The author does use a lot of examples to give context to the generic practice he's discussing. This is useful, as without such illustrations it can be hard to visualise what a tool like Yammer can offer.
He has organised the book around Yammer's functions, which is a common practice in such publications. It would have been nice to see it organised around business problems, such as "How can we organise information in Yammer?" or "How do I find out who X works for?" which then lead onto discussions of functionality.
The reasons for using each piece of functionality are mentioned briefly, but I don't feel there's enough in the book that addresses the "What's in it for me?" question, nor is there any consideration of Best Practices. The author is majoring on what can be done with the tool, rather than why it should be done or whether it should be done at all...
There is also no discussion of how to roll out Yammer into an organisation, and how to move from a bottom-up Yammer implementation (where a bunch of enthusiasts start using it for free) to an officially-sanctioned part of the organisation's communication toolkit.
To be honest, there's not much in this book that you cannot get from either Yammer's comprehensive Help Center or from their Success Center (which is full of ideas and materials to get your Yammer network off to a flying start).
However, if you want something that you can read offline, perhaps whilst travelling, then (apart from the installation issue mentioned earlier) this eBook would be an ideal starter guide. Use it as an overview of what's possible and then go back to your network to try it out.
Just remember that Yammer, like all social networks, cannot be controlled. People need to be persuaded and excited rather than instructed. As soon as you try to lock it down, or dictate how it should be used, your people will either choose not to use it, or simply bypass your rules. None of this is mentioned in the book, so you will need to read it in conjunction with Yammer's "Essentials for Success" too.
I have not received any payment for making this review, nor have Packt seen, or asked to see, the review before it was posted.
I did, however, receive a free copy of the eBook version for the purpose of writing the review.
Jay Cross, many moons ago, likened the job of a learning designer to that of a gardener. Yet too often, we treat learning as if it was a part in a machine.
Just like plants, people are complicated. Each individual needs just the right combination of external conditions, previous history, genetics and nutrients in order to flourish. The gardener's role is to help get the right plant in the right place and provide the necessary environment for growth.
(At that point the analogy can fall down - especially when you get into pruning!)
We have an endemic problem in our society - in that a love of learning for its own sake, and the self-motivation needed for effective learning are educated out of us at school. If you don't believe that, then watch Sir Ken Robinson's talk below.
Yet all of us are natural learners. From birth, we've been absorbing as much as we can take. Given the right conditions - of encouragement, challenge, modelling behaviour and access to expertise - we develop and grow intellectually, emotionally and physically.
Then "society" determines that there are certain things that need to take priority over others, and we go to school to be taught by the experts, and tested to make sure the experts are doing their jobs right. However much those experts want to develop and nurture the children in their care, they are constrained by society at large.
The huge majority of people are highly able language learners. We've done it once and can communicate effectively in one language. At school, in general in the UK, we fail dismally at language learning (going by the lack of ability most people have in a second language when they leave school). But all it takes is the right environment and a bit of external motivation (eg. I must communicate if I want food!) In other countries, where the motivation is higher and the environment more conducive, learning a second, third or even fourth language is the norm. It's actually very little to do with the teaching techniques - it's much more about the conditions.
There's probably little we can do to change schools and education - given the weight of public opinion that is stuck with Victorian ideas about learning. But let's not accept those ideas in the workplace.
In workplace learning, we tend to focus a lot on the learning intervention itself (whether it's a workshop, an elearning package, a mobile app etc), but spend very little time on fostering the conditions that will encourage learning & development. Our interventions would be so much more effective if they took place in the right conditions. Currently, it's like a gardener applying Miracle Gro, but to plants that are kept in the dark, with no water!
Just like a plant need light, wamth and water. What conditions are best for effective learning & development?
I would argue that the following are essential:
- a culture where a mistake is treated as a learning point not a failure
- a management culture built on coaching and challenging to improve
- access to expertise that people can understand when they need it
- immersion in the practices, behaviours or knowledge that we are trying to teach
There will be times when the conditions are not quite right, just like a gardener starting out with an uncultivated patch of land. There's no point just adding the Miracle Gro intervention and expecting it to work. A lot of effort will be need to get the other conditions right first.
If you haven't already seen this hugely important TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, then take 20 minutes to watch it now:
Last Saturday, I spent the morning working with a group from Church in the Peak who wanted to learn how to setup and run our PA system.
We started by unpacking all the component parts: the mixing desk, cables, multicore, microphones, mic stands, DI boxes, amplifier and speakers.
Then, using a series of slides containing images of the components and their connections as a guide, we began to connect things together. First off, the keyboard to the mixing desk and a monitor amp, via a DI box.Then onto the mics, making sure we keep things simple by maintaining strict control of which mic goes in which channel.
And then we moved onto the mixing desk. As we worked our way down the channel strip we did a bit of theory (loudspeaker dispersion patterns, impedance, clipping, frequency bands, cardioid pickup patterns etc), every time followed by hands-on tweaking to see what each bit did. As we "played" this led to further learning opportunities. For example, when pushing up the mid-range EQ control, we got feedback, so we then looked at how feedback could be kept under control.
All the time we brought it back to our own particular context; considering the room we meet in, where the speakers and mixing desk are located, and how to make it work best for the musicians, speakers, contributors and congregation.
At the end, there was another practical exercise - putting it all away tidily. With a particular focus on how to roll up cables so they don't kink!
Now, given my background and profession, you might expect me to argue that part of this could have been done online. Well, yes, probably a lot of the theory, and maybe some assessment could have been done away from the training session. And I will be putting some follow-up resources online for people to look at. But, really, in this case there was no substitute for real, hands-on practice.
To achieve the same results with a totally online experience would require a somewhat expensive simulation. A bit of a waste when there are only ten people to be trained.
But what if I was working with, say, 20 churches. Would that change the balance?
Quite probably. In that case, I would put a lot more effort into creating some generic resources that could be applied in multiple contexts. Ideally these would be put into practice in safe environments supported by coaches. But most churches don't have that luxury. Often the only time the PA comes out is on a Sunday when it has to work, and it has to work without mishap. Although the church is a very forgiving environment (well, it should be... given what we're about!) there's a limit to what people will put up with in terms of squeaks, crackles and dead microphones.
So, you have to give people time to play, and that's where the face-to-face workshop comes in. If it was only used for getting across the theory and answering questions, then face to face is unnecessary, but as a place to try out new ideas and to practice with immediate "feedback", it is unrivalled.
What about you? Are there cases in your workplaces where only face to face will work? How do you analyse and justify your choice of learning environment? How do you design learning opportunities so that the face-time supports and enhances the online time, and vice versa?
In our house we're starting to gear up for Christmas big style... presents, decorations, food, wine, carol service preparation .... Phew!
The Christmas Linebacker pops up each year to remind us, rather forcibly, that these are all trimmings - and pretty meaningless ones to boot.
You may as well ask "What makes a good book?" when thinking about the characteristics of good elearning. It depends on what it's trying to achieve, who it's aimed at, and the context in which it will be used. Are we talking about a novel, a textbook, a reference, a coffee table book, a children's picture book, etc?
Nevertheless, I'm going to try...
This thought process started during the recent Midlands Learning Tweetup. During the course of the evening, many topics were covered, but one stuck in my mind... We were trying to come up with examples of good elearning. It's not easy! Especially when "good" means "effective" - ie. they actually help people to learn, to make a lasting change. (See the Elearning Network's Campaign for Effective Elearning)
Anyhow, on reflection, I've come up with three characteristics that might help us to identify effective elearning. (But use them alongside Stephen Downes excellent article on Principles of Effective Elearning)
For any learning experience to be truly effective, people must be motivated to go through that experience. With elearning, when there's often little input from other people to cajole or encourage, that motivation needs be engendered by the materials themselves.
Ideally, the materials would be published in a place and at a time when there's already a desire for them (just like the way a book publisher would market a celebrity chef cookbook at the same time as their TV programme is airing). For example, it'd be great to publish a compliance course on information security just when there's been a major security breach with public consequences!
When that can't happen, it's the designer's job to do everything they can to grab attention as early as possible. Again, just like a book in a bookstore, you need to think about factors like:
- Initial reactions to things like the title and the blurb/description - what will make your target user want to click on the link to open the elearning? Using the "Don't make me think" principles (and remembering that people very rarely read what they see on a web page), make sure you use words that will be meaningful to the users.
- Do you need to make it look attractive? How much do you need to work on things like art direction - where you create a coherent look and feel? Or is the content in itself going to be enough to attract people?
- What is going to keep people with you as they use the materials? What's going to make them want to "click next"? How will you draw them into the story? What will make them stick with it until the end? Is there something to achieve? Something that they can only find out when they get to the end? If you're creating a linear elearning package, then you must think like a screen-writer or an author. Keep giving users something, but keep them wanting more. If you're creating a non-linear package, then think like a game writer. What will be the routes that people will take? What short cuts do you need to put in? What help will they need along the way?
- What will make people want to tell their friends/colleagues about the elearning? Think about what people share on the internet... it's usually stuff this is funny, controversial or useful. Which of these categories are you going to work with?
Of course, if your learners already want to learn all you need to do is provide them with instruction and information. But don't necessarily assume that they all have that required level of motivation. Just because you think something is important doesn't mean everyone does!
It's all very well having fun while using elearning materials. But what you're trying to do is get people to change the way they behave or think. For that to occur, good elearning will cause people to reflect on what they currently do/think and start working the way the elearning is suggesting. You actually want to bring in some element of "cognitive dissonance" - putting people in a state where they may end up trying to hold two conflicting ideas.
Often, this brings out some emotion. But, even if people disagree with what the content is saying, at least you've stimulated a reaction. That's better than no reaction at all.
You're wanting people to question what is happening, then to question their own behaviours and thinking, and then to change. In marketing terms, it's the point of "conversion" - The point at which a recipient of a marketing message performs a desired action (MarketingSherpa blog: Conversion defined).
"All sorts of ideas, if left to themselves, are gradually forgotten."
Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology, Chapter VII, Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885)
If you need to be convinced of that, read up on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which shows "that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material."
Ebbinghaus's theory, which seems to fit practice very well, is that the speed of forgetting depends on two main factors:
- how the memory is represented in the brain
If the idea is easy to remember - ie. it can be represented through a number of senses (an image, a smell, a sound) and connects into existing memories then repetition is less important.
If the idea is more abstract and less connected to other memories (eg. a phone number) then repetition is essential. "The capacity of memory is initially less than 30 seconds. If we don't repeat the information it disappears." John Medina - Brain Rules: Short Term memory
Just because someone can answer a quiz at the end of your elearning package doesn't mean that they will remember it tomorrow, or even in an hour's time.
Good elearning design incorporates elements that will help users to remember what they're learning, like repetition, connections to previous ideas, and connections to other senses.
But good learning solution design makes sure that repetition is built in across the whole solution, not just a package that may be used for 20 minutes, but also in the pre and post communications, and in any face-to-face or virtual events.
If you're around in the Derby area during the evening of Monday 12th November, come and join us at The Brunswick Inn, Railway Terrace, Derby, DE1 2RU
This will be a great opportunity to chat with people from across the institutional and corporate learning spectrum.
We’ll be gathering from 6:30pm until whenever. The pub is very close to Derby Railway station, and there’s lots of on-street car parking in the area.
It’ll all be very informal!
First posted on Xyleme's "Dawn of Learning" blog. Reposted with some slight changes.
It seems that, for years, people have been writing obituaries for the corporate Learning Management System (LMS). Just do a quick search for “LMS is dead” and you’ll find many blog posts, articles, webinars and conference presentations discussing its demise. Some people, myself included, have even been actively working towards this end trying to hasten its death through carefully worded argument and debate.
The trouble is that many organisations have invested heavily in their LMS. Somehow that investment needs to be recouped.
Rather than throw the whole thing out, its role needs to be adjusted so the LMS becomes a better fit for what is needed now.
Let's look at some of the typical problems encountered with most modern-day LMS implementations:
- They lock content away inside monolithic SCORM packages, often making little use of metadata, and no use of deep textual searching, to help people find content.
- They are separate from work. The model is like that of a separate training room and trainer, rather than a coach who works with you when you need it. Which do you think is the most effective?
- They are difficult to use. I have worked with an LMS bundled by a major ERP system provider which had, by far, the most unintuitive interface and user workflows I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. This is not atypical. If we have to train end-users (NB. not administrators...) to use our systems, then we've done something seriously wrong!
- They have little to do with informal learning. The title says it all: Learning Management System. The LMS is about supporting formal training, and helping organisations work out which people should undertake which training. As most of us realise, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the real learning that is taking place inside organisations. It's important, but the mismatch of investment between formal and informal learning often seems unjustifiable.
- They record data that has little meaning. Don't get me started... So many managers seem to think that if you record the fact that someone has viewed every page or can answer 10 questions straight after reading the content, that equates to them having learned something. (Perhaps, if we point them towards the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, we might help them to change their minds.) We need to learn how to make the important measurable, rather than the measurable important. All we are doing currently is measuring inputs, but treating that as evidence. That can't be right, can it?
But what are LMS's good at:
- Administering and recording training activity. For organisations that manage their face-to-face training on spreadsheets, often with large teams just moving bits of paper around, the LMS (or a better description: Training Administration System) brings massive benefits in efficiency, in reporting, and, often, in accuracy. Let's be clear. If you have a definite need to run formal training (whether online or face-to-face) an LMS is a useful tool for administering that training (although not necessarily for delivering it).
- Delivering computer-marked assessments. I don't mean the assessments that come in SCORM packages - where the only output is a pass or fail. I mean industrial strength multiple choice exams, with randomisation from a pool of questions and deep analysis tools (including ones which help you assess the effectiveness of each question).
- Joining up competencies and performance data with learning opportunities. This is where some of the major LMS's are heading - towards talent management. It's an obvious use case. But it does depend on one key thing - the competency and performance data must be accurate, consistent and up-to-date for the system to work effectively. If you've got that, then great. If not, then your investment may be somewhat wasted.
To meet these challenges, it's not really the LMS that is changing, but the role it plays in a wider learning and corporate ecosystem.
Alongside the formal learning opportunities provided and administered by the training department, we are now seeing systems put in place that, although not marketed as learning systems, are ideal for supporting informal learning:
- Systems like social networking tools - which enable better communication across organisational silos.
- Systems that allow user-generated content, particularly video, to be shared.
- Systems (like Xyleme's Bravais) that enable content to be published to a repository outside of the LMS for use in a much larger, searchable, informal learning context.
The important thing to note is that, often, these systems are not bought in by the training or L&D department, but by Operations. They're not bought as learning tools, but as a means of getting the job done.
So, we shouldn't write off the LMS just yet. But perhaps it's time for a rethink about where it fits best, and, maybe even stop trying to do everything with it?
Over the last 12 years or so, as I've learnt to become a self-sufficient learner, a number of articles from the early years have played a seminal part in developing my thinking. So much so, that they have become my "goto" places when I need to explain why I do things the way I do:
Some principles of effective e-learning - Stephen Downes
Interaction, Usability and Relevance. That's all you need to know. Stephen goes on to provide examples from the real world (outside e-learning) where these principles have born fruit.
Where is the Learning in e-Learning (PDF) - Gary Woodill
white paper, published in 2004, provided a valuable critique of the e-learning industry and explored the unique potential opportunities offered by the new technologies. You could read it now and think it had been written yesterday!
Scaffolding by design: a model for WWW-based learner support - J.C. Winnips
The concept of "Scaffolding", along with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, whereby teachers provide just enough support to help learners move on to the next stage, has been key to my thinking around learning design. This is a meaty PhD thesis, but it's worth reading - even just section 2, where he sets out the model.
Wide Open - Demos
Reading this paper, from the thinktank Demos, was the first time I'd come across the concept of "open source" being recognised in a wider context than software development. Concepts that are now widely promoted - such as the Open Knowledge Initiative and many other projects, both grassroots and institutional.
New Learning Environments for the 21st Century - John Seely Brown
JSB's paper set out a challenge to anyone offering "learning" - whether institutional or work-based. Although written in pre-Facebook and Twitter days, many of the ideas transfer well across the years.
A Journey into Constructivism - Martin Dougiamas
I have been an advocate of Moodle since its very early days. This paper, written by Moodle's creator, gives a brilliant insight into the learning philosophy behind Moodle - and therefore how it can work best.
Connectivism - a learning theory for the digital age - George Siemens
Yes, there are holes in this paper if you're looking at it from a serious academic perspective, but as a way of describing what is happening with society, technology and learning, connectivism is very hard to argue with. It pulls together network theory and learning to make a compelling case for changing the way we treat education and training.
The Buntine Oration - Stephen Downes
I remember listening to the podcast version of this paper over and over again when it came out. As usual, Stephen has put in some incredibly deep thinking, and carefully critiques & weaves together learning object theory, language theory, metadata, blogs and learning networks into a description of what could be...
A Framework for the Pedagogical Evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments (Word Doc) - by Sandy Britain and Oleg Lieber
This 2006 paper sets out a way of evaluating VLE's (Learning Platforms or LMS's) that are to be used within a formal education environment. It's still valid today, even with all the developments in Constructivism, MOOCs, mobile learning etc.
Jane Hart ( @C4LPT ) is compiling the 6th annual list of Top 100 tools for learning.
Here's my current set (based on what I'm using at the moment):
- Flipboard - one of the best mobile apps I've seen for consuming and filtering content.
- Jing - a free tool, from the makers of Camtasia, for creating quick annotated images or 5 minute screen capture movies
- Evernote - I'm starting to use this as my sole note-taking and thinking tool. The way it synchronizes across all my devices is almost magical!
- Google Chrome - I haven't found a browser yet that matches it for simplicity and speed - essential for a knowledge worker
- b2evolution - one of the most powerful multi-user, multi-blog platforms out there. I don't use even 50% of that power, but it's been the basis of my blog for many years. Its spam control measures are great.
- Wordpress - the website/blogging platform of choice for new projects. It's just so simple to use and to tweak. Spam control is a bit rubbish though!
- Yammer - after considerable research, this is still the best corporate social platform available. Great multi-platform capabilities, and they really understand what drives conversation.
- Google Reader - even though the interface has now lost quite a bit of "social' functionality, it's still the place where I maintain the list of RSS feeds from people and organisations that keep me up-to-date. It's where I go for deep-thinking. The link with Flipboard is excellent.
- Twitter - Perfect for quick breaks to have a conversation with people who are around at the same time. Anything more extended than a couple of lines doesn't work on Twitter (IMO), but nice to feel you're part of a wider community. The link with Flipboard brings Twitter posts to life.
- Yed Graph Editor - I'm still playing with this, but it's becoming an extremely useful tool to me; for organising thoughts and ideas.
[Edit: See also the Wyver Solutions Top 10 Tools for Learning from a corporate perspective]