I had the privilege of running another "Being Creative in a Digital World" online workshop this morning.
The conversation ranged widely - with only four people it meant there was a fair bit of scope for discussion.
We discussed how, when working in the social media space, having an authentic voice is absolutely critical. I recommended reading the Cluetrain Manifesto (free download), as it really opens up how organisations should connect with their markets.
We considered how to get the best out of tools like Twitter, Yammer and Socialcast. As I wrote in my Best Practice Guide to Yammer:
You walk into a conference room. It's your first time at this particular conference and there's no welcome pack. You can see quite a few people standing around drinking coffee and eating small pastries. But no-one's talking to each other.
You have three options:
- Turn around and walk out.
- Find someone you know and begin a conversation about one of the conference themes.
- Introduce yourself to someone you don't know and look for areas of common interest
Social media tools can sometimes feel like that conference room. For many people it's a strange new environment. There are no clear rules on how to behave or what to do. We know the value of networking, but doing that online can be daunting at times.
We also looked at how RSS feeds can make it a lot easier to keep up to date, maintain your connections with your information sources, to filter out what you don't need to see and to share what you've learnt. (See Harold Jarche's guide to Personal Knowledge Management). The key thing is to find your trusted sources, and the best way to do that is through personal recommendation, but also to seek out those sources who do not necessarily agree with your own point of view.
We then went on to think about how the tools at our disposal encourage creativity across organisational and even national boundaries. The first couple of minutes of Chris Anderson's talk at TED really highlights this in the context of dance - through Youtube kids are sharing moves and building on what they're learning.
We looked at tools that are making it easier to share content:
- Content sharing tools like Slideshare, Vimeo (where quality seems to be more the norm than Youtube), Flickr (for images)
- Mind-mapping/brainstorming tools like Mindmeister, Personal Brain, CmapTools, Bubbl.us and Text2MindMap
- Knowledge aggregation tools like Google Reader, Netvibes, Addictomatic
- Productivity tools like Doodle (for meeting scheduling) and YouSendIt (for moving large files around), Google Analytics (for seeing how people are using your stuff)
We made the point that free tools might not necessarily be appropriate for large-scale use. You need to understand the business model as well as the risks of putting your data on servers you know nothing about.
Finally, one of the delegates highlighted an example of a truly collaborative and creative project, the Johnny Cash Project
As with all these sorts of workshops there's no real end result, other than an increased awareness of what is possible. It's then up to the individuals to then go work out what will work for them, in their context.
If you weren't aware of this already, later this year I shall be doing a 230 mile bike ride from London to Paris in aid of the Big Issue Foundation (an established UK-based organisation that helps homeless people to get back on their feet).
If you are a company in the learning technology / training / education field, I will happily put your logo and a link on my blog sidebar in return for a donation (£100 is suggested, but I'll accept less!) - Please see the small print though.
If you donate more than £100, I'll write an independent review.
If you are an individual and wish to donate, please let me know how I can help you in return.
This blog (according to my software's hit counter) gets about 800 direct browser hits per day. Although that has gone up to 5000 when a post gets picked up by the L&D community.
I will reserve the right to choose whether or not an advert or review is appropriate. Basically, I'll include anyone if your product is legal, honest and decent, and you're selling to any of the following sectors:
- Adult learning
- Workplace learning
- Organisational development
- Internal communication
If you're not sure whether you fit the readership of this blog, then contact me first.
Reviews will be independent and honest. They may contain criticisms and ideas for improvement. You will have the opportunity to respond before the review is published.
Reviews that are written as part of this scheme will include the Big Issue Bike Ride logo.
Adverts placed on this site do not indicate that the owner of this site is recommending the products.
I will take none of the monies raised - although, it must be said, that some of it is paying the costs of putting on the Bike Ride.
About the Big Issue Foundation
The Big Issue Foundation is dedicated to the well being of Big Issue Vendors, working with over 2900 individuals across the UK. Their skilled staff work one to one with vendors, tackling issues ranging from health and accommodation through to money management and aspirations.
The Big Issue Foundation is about taking control, moving forward, gaining independence and rebuilding lives. They exist to enable vendors to continue on their journey away from homelessness.
Did you know that life expectancy on the streets is only 46 years old?
You can help support me, and The Big Issue Foundation, by making a secure online donation using your credit card at my fundraising page.
There's a lot of thought flying around the web at the moment about the concept of "flipping the classroom" - using the internet to provide pre-classroom lectures and the classroom to embed that knowledge through exercises, coaching and discussion.
Key posts include:
Maryna Badenhorst - To flip or not to flip (an excellent analysis)
This is a model that's been working reasonably well in workplace training for a number of years now. It does rely on there being some sort of motivating influence to do the pre-work though. Generally, given the choice, most people will just rely on being able to bluff their way through the classroom session.
As I said, on Maryna's post, the key thing is “appropriate use” of the resources at our disposal. It’s about enabling flexibility of choice for the teacher and for the learner.
We need to balance financial cost with the effective and efficient use of time, and with the underlying motivational level of our students/trainees.
We need to consider whether 1:1 coaching would work best for a particular student/context, or whether a small group discussion, or even a 1:many lecture.
The problem with much of our educational/training infrastructure is that it’s built on a highly inflexible classroom-based model of teaching. The investment has already been made in those buildings and the administration processes that surround them.
To become more flexible, some of these ways of working will need to be torn down before they can be rebuilt.
I can imagine a training or educational organisation that is based around a problem-based curriculum, which uses small Action Learning Sets, coaching, online lectures, searchable resource libraries, inspirational speakers (like TED talks), informal conversations and a whole host of other types of interactions in different sized groups. It would be complex. Sometimes it would appear chaotic. It would certainly be an interesting one to manage. But it would relate far more to the real world than our closed classrooms with a trainer/teacher and delegates/students.
The model of learning and development provision, up till now, has generally been a "Push" approach. Learners get told by the managers, or compliance, or whoever, that they should do a particular course (whether face-to-face or elearning).
As we move towards more of a "Pull" approach, with learners taking far more responsibility for their own learning, our training departments will find that they are in stiff competition with many other (often far easier to access) sources of learning.
For example, why would I choose to go on a Management Development course, when I can, for free, get access to an excellent set of management development resources, as well as an active community of practice? (ie. Manager Tools)
Why would I buy a course in HTML or CSS, or virtually any web programming language, when I've got free access to well-designed tutorials and resources? (ie. W3Schools)
Our L&D departments need to learn that they're now in the marketing game. They're not just selling to managers. They've got to sell to the learners themselves. This is especially true if your learners hold the L&D budget and can spend it as they like...
The Learning Management System has (or should have) a key role to play in marketing your training interventions.(I don't like to use the word "courses" and L&D is so much wider than just the course.)
Just think about the information contained within its walls:
- the content you're making available
- learner roles
- learner team relationships
- what learners are searching for
- what learners have bought or used
- when they did their purchasing / using
At least, the LMS should be collecting this data... Facebook's market value of $33bn is only that high because of the information it holds about its users. Why? Because it's highly valued by advertisers.
If our LMS's were doing their job properly, we'd see them looking less like process-driven, data entry systems and more like Amazon. In the image in this post (click on it for a larger version), I've highlighted some of the key things that Amazon does that could easily be transferred to an L&D scenario:
- Global search - available from the home page onwards
- Ubiquitous catalogue - with all products classified as learners would understand
- Products able to appear in multiple categories
- Promoted products appearing prominently
- Links to products that learners have looked at but not yet bought
- Links to products that the learners have expressed a greater interest in but not yet bought
- Links to products that are related to ones the learner has looked at
There's more that's hidden inside the system:
- Recommendations based on previous purchases
- Learners able to sort and filter search results by best-selling, ratings, price
- In our case, perhaps the ability to filter based on location, length, pre-requisites, level, qualification, whether online or face-to-face
I've been talking to a lot of learning technology vendors over the past few years, and I'm amazed how few seem to have understood the extent to which the learner is now in control, not just of their learning, but of the money that's being spent on it.
If they don't make their systems as easy to use as Amazon, Ebay, Youtube or even Wordpress - putting the user at the centre of the experience and building an effective marketing platform - then they will paint themselves into a corner that consists exclusively of "Push" training where budgets are held centrally.
I'm sure that's not a realistic way of doing business in the future?
I have a dream (from 2005!)
Why search is critical (2011)
Having a good search engine is a key component to any content-rich learning strategy.
It's important for your learners, as searching is the main place people start these days when they want to find out something. Providing a page that pulls together results from inside your documents, from your course descriptions, and from content/posts provided by other people is by far the best way to get people to use your materials.
It's important for your content providers, as, with judicious placement of "important" items near the top of the list, you can encourage your learners to make more use of the centrally-provided content.
It's also important for the "business", as, by analysing what people are searching for, you've then got the equivalent of a training needs analysis (as discovered by Google [watch from about 13:32 in the video] ) . This assumes you've got a reasonably-sized sample. If you have, then this is by far a simpler process than doing a full TNA.
“If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem starts to look like a nail.” Maslow
L&D Departments need a toolkit that can support a wider range of learning activities than most L&D departments are currently concerned with.
Some of these tools may not be owned by L&D, but by internal comms, or even IT. But L&D will need to be aware of them, and have access to them.
It might be possible to work on a small-pieces, loosely-joined approach, like that advocated by David Weinberger. That's a great approach for maximum flexibility and speed to change. But it doesn't make the best use of the masses of data that will accumulate in these systems, unless, like the consumer-focussed platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Ebay etc) you provide well-documented APIs to allow communication between the tools.
That data could then be mined to enable organisations to target support more effectively (the Facebook approach). If you knew what people were searching about and discussing, you could understand what the training needs were in your organisation.
It could also be exposed to users to enable them to make more informed choices (the Amazon approach). By collecting data about collective behaviour, you can make recommendations to individuals.
To achieve this, perhaps IMS Global needs to start looking at wider scenarios than just formal training/learning, and begin to develop a set of simple APIs that vendors can sign up to for data transmission via web-services?
That's a big ask. I know how long it takes to get agreement on anything like this...
Of course, an alternative would be for the major players in the LMS and social learning market to get together and agree (and publish!) APIs that anyone can then adopt.
That feels more feasible...
Often, when we think about the idea of introducing ICT into the classroom (whether in schools or in the workplace), we are simply thinking about ways to change what is happening inside the classroom.
In these cases the role of the teacher or tutor tends to remain the same as pre-ICT days, as does the way teaching is managed and administered. Good teachers, who were already engaging their students with challenging activities, will continue to do so. Poor teachers, who bore their students rigid with lectures and "read-these-pages-in-the-text-book" activities will also carry on as before - except they'll now perhaps direct students to web-based resources.
Those organisations that have really grasped the potential of ICT are using it to support systemic changes in the way they work.
- A secondary school in Coventry that rewrote teachers' contracts to allow them to work from home via video and text conferencing
- A primary school in Bolton that was fed up with having to close the school on snow days and started using simple blogs for online lessons, now builds blogging into the heart of what they do - with great success
- Companies are changing from knowledge-hoarding to knowledge-sharing cultures simply by allowing employees to use corporate micro-blogging sites
- Companies are making far more use of online meeting software and telephone conferences in order to save on travelling time and the cost of meeting rooms
- Tamil Children are shown to be able to teach themselves English and molecular with no input from a teacher (Limits to self-organising systems of learning - the Kalikuppam experiment - Sugata Mitra) Athens password required - unfortunately!
In the education and training world, these examples seem to be fairly rare though.
Let's think what could happen if we really used ICT to its full potential:
- Teachers & tutors would expect students to submit their work and receive feedback electronically. (Now that's easy - I really don't understand why we don't do it already?)
- We would only use physical classrooms/meeting rooms when we absolutely have to - when it's the only way to achieve something. Getting everyone together in the same room is using valuable resources both in terms of space and also people's time. Much of the time there is no point other than "it's what we've always done".
- We would share expertise across schools. But that would need all state-sector teachers to be paid centrally with no competition between schools. Perhaps that's a change too far? But why?
- We would be able to cope with children entering school when they are ready for it, and moving at the right pace for them - and not have to follow our current "sausage machine" processes that are simply designed to support administration and management rather than learning
- We would assess people when they are ready to be assessed, not at some arbitrary point in the year
- Teachers & tutors would be expected to engage in, and contribute to, professional development networks
These are just a few ideas. What do you think would happen to your training or education organisation if we really allowed ICT to be used to its full potential?
As a concept, organisations are beginning to realise that Learning & Development is far wider than the formal training which has, up to now been the primary focus of investment.
Over the past 40 years, research has consistently indicated that:
- 70% of learning & development activity takes place from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem-solving.
- 20% comes from feedback and from observing and working with role models.
- 10% comes from formal training.
As an example see the recent report from Best Practice on how managers learn (pdf).
The Learning & Development function within an organisation has a role to play in supporting each of these aspects, whilst, at the same time, understanding that control over the learning experience becomes devolved to the end-user for much of the time.
In a rapidly changing work environment, employees need a range of tactics to help them adapt to different situations.
These will often include:
- Asking someone who might know “the answer”
- Searching for (and finding!) information that will help them work out “the answer” – both from internal and external resources. (There is a strong relationship here with a knowledge management function)
- Using a job-aid that has been prepared for this situation
Learning from other people
Employees will maintain a network of peers, who can provide answers to questions, feedback and modelling of best behaviours.
These may include their managers in a coaching relationship, but, more likely will be their direct peers, and, more often these days, will be people both inside and outside the organisation, with whom they have a virtual relationship.
The goal of all formal training is to change behaviours to match the organisation’s stated values. Here there is a strong relationship with internal communication and external marketing – to ensure that the messages going out to clients and shareholders match the reality of how the organisation works.
Formal training may include:
- Classroom workshops
- Online webinars
- Direct communications from “the centre”
- Designed learning experiences, such as simulations and tutorials
- Assessed activities
L&D departments need to recognise these different ways of learning, develop ways to support them, and learn where to focus their investment to give the most return.
That's probably the subject of another post, but, if you can't wait, read Clive Shepherd's book: The New Learning Architect
Part of the purpos/ed project.
In a recent Twitter post, I said that I think that "the purpose of education is to develop a creative society that will ask difficult questions."
I've made no mention of children, but, in all the posts in this distributed conversation, everyone seems to assume that education is something that society does with (or to) the youngest members of that society, until such a point at which they can learn on their own.
Actually, from my point of view, we seem to do the opposite. We take children, who are literally "born learners", and we educate the ability to learn out of them, by forcing them through the sausage-machine that is our "education system".
As Lou McGill so eloquently states, from her experience, the state education system "offers a standardised one-dimensional approach that assumes a commonality of potential."
How can we expect people to be creative, if we expect them all to achieve certain, set, targets, and disparage certain areas of learning as less important than others?
The trouble is, our whole society, politically, economically, socially and educationally, is driven by competition rather than cooperation, on being seen to be better than others, rather than just being. We're all in it. There's almost no escape. It's part of our psyche. Our lives are built on becoming "better than" others.
It takes quite a major rethink about the purpose of life itself to break free of that mindset...
... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
(Philippians 4:10 - sorry to my non-religious friends, but it's relevant)
Let's say we do break free of discontentment. What then? What would be the purpose of education if we didn't have to keep proving ourselves?
It would be about achieving our individual potential. It would be about helping each other to find out what we are good at, and developing those skills/gifts/talents. Not to be better than someone else, but to be as good as we can get.
It would be about encouraging the creative minds we're born with, and developing them - not stifling them.
It would be about looking out for injustice and not accepting it.
It would be about being able to tell people how we feel, and about dealing with ourselves when we get hurt.
It would be about learning about how the behaviour of this amazingly complex universe can be described by the most simple maths (eg. E = mc2 - why???!).
It would be about imagining yourself in someone else's shoes, having compassion, and knowing what to do about it.
Stephen Downes says it so much better than me in his post: "Things you really need to learn"
So, to summarise, the purpose of education in our current society is to become better than other people. If you're not satisfied with that (and I'm not), then you need to rethink what life is about, and then the purpose of education is to achieve your own, individual potential alongside other people.
I saw Sudhir at an earlier conference last year, where he covered how Google is exploring new ways of supporting learning internally.
The video below is basically the same talk, but from the ALT-C conference.
Two key things that came out for me:
- How it's possible, instead of going through a "painful" Training Needs Analysis (TNA) process, to use the terms people are searching for to understand what are their training needs.
- The exciting G-Whiz tool, which allows other people to tag you with what they think you're good at. (NB. There are controls built in!) This then means it's possible to find expertise in the company very easily.