This is a book I would recommend to anyone who is involved with creating digital learning materials. Even if you’ve been around the industry for a while there will be ideas to pick up. It would be an ideal sourcebook for any training course for new designers, and could even stimulate quite a few heated discussions amongst established design teams!
Going from a job where everything is UK-centric to one where I'm now working with people from across the US, Australia and Europe, I've had to get to grips with time zones pretty quickly.
There have been a couple of embarrassing moments when I miscalculated, and ended up joining online meetings an hour late!
Half the problem comes because most people tend to use their local time-zone abbreviation. That's fine if you're all in the same country, and know what those abbreviations mean. But when you're working globally it's a recipe for confusion.
For example, how is someone to know whether Eastern Standard Time (EST) refers to EST in Australia or EST in North America? Does CST refer to China Standard Time, Central Standard Time (Australia), Central Standard Time (Central and North America), or Cuba Standard Time?
It gets even more confusing when some countries (like the UK) change their clocks in the summer (for some strange, historical reason that seems to be to do with farmers in Scotland...).
So to work out when a meeting should take place, I need to check with my colleagues which timezone they're in (checking the country to make sure) then work out the time difference between them and me. And everyone else in the meeting will need to do the same.
Wouldn't it be much easier if there was a common reference point, so all we had to do was a quick calculation without all the complex looking up of individual time zone differences?
Well, it exists. It's called UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Every time zone is then defined as being UTC ± an integer number of hours.
So, currently, I'm at UTC +1 (although that changes in October when the UK goes back to UTC Zero time)
Boulder, Colorado, USA, (Mountain Daylight Time) is at UTC - 6
L'viv, Ukraine (Eastern European Summer Time) is at UTC + 3
So, the only information anyone needs to provide, to arrange a meeting, is their UTC time zone offset, ie. UTC+1, UTC-6 and UTC+3
There's no need for anyone to go looking for a time-zone convertor
Let's say the meeting is at 08:00 UTC-6
For me, in the UK, the difference between -6 and +1 = +7, so I know that the meeting is at 3pm my time.
For colleagues in L'viv, the meeting is at 08:00 + (difference between -6 and +3) = 08:00 + 9 = 5pm their time.
I'm a firm believer in the open source movement, whether it's for software and any other sort of creative endeavour. Through the generousity of many people working together towards a shared vision some great achievements have been made. Just look at projects such as Moodle, Wordpress, and most of the software that underpins the internet.
When starting Wyver Solutions, my aim was to build it as much as possible on open-source principles - using open-source software, and being generous in our own approach to content and ideas. As well as keeping costs down, it also fits in with our values.
But, at the same time, you have to be pragmatic. If using open-source software means that you will need to spend too much time learning new ways of working, or it means that you can't communicate with the rest of the world easily, then it's time to change. I made that decision years ago when I chose to go down the Mac OS route for operating systems, and now I'm having to make that decision for office software.
Every organisation needs to have a suite of business communication software (ie. word processor, presentations and spreadsheets). Up to now, I've been working happily in OpenOffice. That's fine if you are the only person involved, and the output is going to be a PDF.
But as soon as you need to start sharing documents and presentations, with complex formatting, with other people who use other software (ie. MS Office), then it becomes time to fall into line and adopt what has become (through weight of numbers rather than any collective decision) the de facto standard.
It came to a head when I spent hours on an OpenOffice Writer document that just wouldn't display correctly when converted to the Word .doc format. It would have been fine if I'd just been publishing a PDF, or working with someone who used a application that had adopted the OASIS Open Document Format (a worldwide standard). But, in most of the organisations I'm working with, MS Office (and the Microsoft interpretation of ODF) has become the standard way of working.
So, it's time to get out the cash. Not because the software does anything better, but because, if I want to work with other people I need to fall into line.
How easy is it for your organisation to scale its activities up (or down)?
As you add new customers, what will be the impact on you? Does each new customer come with a massive overhead, or can you add them in with little additional effort?
You need to ask yourselves these questions whatever service you provide - whether it's learning & development delivery, software, support etc.
It's very easy to say, "We're small", and not build the scaleability in at the beginning. But if you think that, then you'll either stay small, or you will find it very difficult to grow without significant, difficult changes.
Let's look at some of the things larger organisations do that help them cope with the size of their operation:
- Depersonalised workforce - You'll rarely see an individual's email address when you deal with large organisations. Instead you get generic addresses and phone numbers that then allow the organisation to flex their numbers up and down as required.
- Personalised customer service - to allow organisations to provide a personalised service, from a depersonalised workforce, you need to keep your customer information in one place, so that any customer-facing employee can get to it as needed.
- Modularise - whether it's software or organisational functions, the more tightly defined each part is, the more flexible it becomes.
- Connected - Modularisation brings disconnection, so large organisations try to ensure that information can still flow effectively. That may be through physical or virtual networking, or (with software) through well-defined APIs
- One source, many instances - standardise the way you work and then deploy that multiple times. If you're talking software, then have a single codebase to maintain, that is used by all your customers.
- Rapid iteration - Standardisation can cause stagnation, but your customers' needs are changing all the time. Build in processes which allow you to make changes quickly to the customer experience.
- Strong foundations - The underlying processes and systems that allow your organisation to work, once they're in place, will be very hard to change (eg. finance systems, server architectures, software language). That change becomes harder the more people that use them. When you're building, make sure your foundations are strong enough, not just for the first floor, but also to add an extension... Otherwise, as you grow, you will end up spending a lot money just to maintain the foundation elements.
Of course, there are compromises. Small organisations can't afford enterprise systems. At least that's the accepted wisdom. But much of the approach to scale is less about buying the big systems, it's about a mentality that is always thinking: "How will this work when we grow"?
Here are some things even the smallest organisation can do, often for very little outlay:
- Have a single phone number for customer enquiries. There are many companies offering virtual phone numbers that then allow you to redirect as required. Look for those that then allow you to add "extensions" easily.
- Avoid using spreadsheets to maintain any sorts of records about your customers. Find a CRM system that you can grow into.
- Keep modularity and mass customisation in mind whenever you are thinking about new products or services.
- Build sharing and communication in at the heart of what you do. Small organisations are best focussing on their external communications, using established consumer tools. As you grow, you may want to keep some communications in-house, but with the culture there, it's much easier to change or add-in a new tool.
- Make "Re-use" your mantra - whether you're talking about content, products, services, or waste. And avoid the sort of reuse where each customer gets a slightly different service that you then have to maintain separately. One product/service that can be used in multiple ways is the ideal.
- Keep talking to your customers about what they need, and regularly review what you're doing. Stopping should always be an option on the table.
- Build your organisation on systems and processes that have been proven in larger-scale situations, or make sure you can change horses easily when you need to.
Image credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/622153
I wonder whether you have identified the source of the scientific term "Learning_Conversations"
If not let me point you towards our books - "Learning Conversations:- The Self-Organised Learning Way to Personal and Organisational Growth" Published by ROUTLEDGE 1991
"Self-Organised Learning:- Foundations of a Conversational Science for Psychology" 1985
"Learning to change" in the McGraw-Hill Training Series 1995 there are over 40 Ph.D theses in Brunel University Library which all contributed to the development of S-O-L and Learning Conversations. It seems a pity that you are unable to acknowledge this resource. Or if you do. We would welcome more explicit acknowledgement. Or find you own terminology, rather than debasing ours. Thank you!
I hadn't realised that Learning Conversations was a "scientific term", although it doesn't surprise me that someone's used it as a term to describe a process in an academic research context. Given that I don't have access to academic libraries, it's not surprising that I failed to pick this up...
I hope this post provides the explicit acknowledgment Prof. Thomas is looking for.
I also hope that my use of the term Learning Conversation as a website name, and in my ongoing discussion of the use of conversations to support learning, does not debase too much the work Prof. Thomas and his colleagues have carried out.
If anyone has a copy of the books referenced above, I'd be interested to read them. They appear to be out of print.
One of the main reasons people give to avoid using online social networking tools at work is lack of time. This post gives four ways you can play a part in your organisation's learning network, without requiring much time to do so. In fact, some of them may even save you time!
Use the tools provided to increase your speed
As you're looking things up and learning stuff, you'll find items that would be useful to your colleagues. Many social applications come with bookmarklets, or small programmes that let you quickly post a link. In my case, I use bit.ly to easily post links to Twitter. Two clicks and it's done.
You can do the same with extensions in Chrome or Firefox. It's even easier on mobile devices, which have social integration at their heart.
Feed your posts to the right people
If you're using Yammer or similar applications, they often come with a means of automatically filtering your Twitter posts, and pulling them into the organisation's internal social network. This is great if you have an organisation where people are less likely to be on Twitter, but are happy to use the internal tools.
Build connections, and exploit them (nicely)
Once you've got a network of people you follow, and people who follow you, then start using it to ask questions. You'll find that those questions will quickly fly around the organisation, and you'll get answers from people a number of network connections away from you. This is especially true if you find those people who act as the hubs on your social network. They won't have the answers, but they will have the connections to get those answer. (See: Wikipedia - properties of small world networks)
Stop answering the same question many times
If you've answered a question by email, then that knowledge only exists between you and the recipients. If you answer it on a blog, on in a video post, then that knowledge is made available to the rest of the organisation. If the same question comes back to you, then you can easily point people towards the answer.
With more organisations beginning to adopt social media as part of their daily work practices, it's important to pick up on some of the lessons learned from social media use out in the "real world"...
Have a human face
When you're working in a virtual organisation, where face-to-face contact is rare, it's really important to have a photo on your profile. We humans react to faces from birth. Without an image of the person to hang a conversation on, all you have is words, and sometimes voice.
Fill in your profile
Social media is often not actually that social. When you meet people face-to-face, a lot of the time is spent exploring points of commonality: where do you live, which school/university did you go to, who have you worked for, did you read such and such.
It's these little things that help to build a lasting working relationship.
Online, there's rarely the time for such chit chat. So we have to pre-empt it by giving out information up front.
Out in the real world, I try to have just one or two places where my profile (the things I want people to know about me) is kept up to date. At the moment, that's primarily LinkedIn. Every other profile I fill in just links back to that.
If you don't have a public profile yet, it's still important to have one within your work social media system. Choose a place you can link to easily, and put in as much detail as you can to help people gain a picture of who you are.
Narrate your work
Many social media systems contain an ongoing status update page, where everything that's done in the system is exposed to the rest of the community. Usually you can filter this down to just the projects or people you're interested in.
But that only covers the changes or updates the systems picks up automatically. It won't pick up the things that you're thinking about, or trying out. All this is important too.
As Andrew McAfee says:
Talk both about work in progress (the projects you're in the middle of, how they're coming, what you're learning, and so on), and finished goods (the projects, reports, presentations, etc. you've executed). This lets others discover what you know and what you're good at. It also makes you easier to find, and so increases the chances you can be a helpful colleague to someone. Finally, it builds your personal reputation and 'brand.'
See: Narrate your work
Make comments and links
Networks die when there are no connections being made. As new people enter the organisation, or new pieces of content get added, pull them into the network by linking to them and adding comments to the content. A strong network is one where links are constantly being made and refreshed.
Ask for help
It's OK not to know everything. In fact it's impossible to know everything. By asking for help you are giving yourself a learning opportunity, and also giving other people the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a public place.
These days, giving away your knowledge is one of the best ways of ensuring your place in the network (and hopefully your future in the organisation!)
This article started off being all my own work, but, on finding Andrew McAfee's Harvard Business Review article, it turns out that I'm using many of his ideas! So, if you want more on this, go to the source: http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/mcafee/2010/09/dos-and-donts-for-your-works-s.html
You'd think, given the immense problems seen with capitalism over the past few years, that more people would be up in arms about how our corporate institutions deal with people.
I won't pretend to understand very much about how capitalism works, or even much about economics. But I am interested in the beliefs that underpin how our society works, and the effects on society when those beliefs are allowed to work through to their full extent.
I'm starting to realise that all the options available for investment in a pension are based on market-values; whether it's the current price of the Euro, of gold, or of the price of the shares in a particular company.
When you "invest" in these, you're not actually making an investment in the thing itself. This particularly applies to company shares. The money invested in them doesn't go to the company to enable it to grow (except in the case of the initial offer of shares). Instead, you're just making a statement of confidence in the thing you're investing in.
Pension funds (one of the main drivers of capitalist thinking and behaviours), through their share ownership, gain a role in the governance of companies, but none of the money invested in the pension actually goes to the company itself.
There must be some benefits to this disconnect, but I'm not sure I understand them yet.
It does seem that the whole pensions market is just a bit of a gamble, all based on how people "feel" about the market, rather than about genuine economic growth.
It would be so much better, in my opinion, if I could invest my pension in schemes or programmes where the money could be used to stimulate growth, to make real products, or generate real benefits for people. For example, personal-lending programmes like (Zopa and Funding Circle).
But that's against the pension rules. I think because the HMRC want some level of independent governance that prevents fraudulent tax avoidance. I'm all for that, but there must be a way to make real pension investments that aren't just dependent on the movements of a market value?
It's been a long time since my last post (although it looks like I must do that more often, given the number of times it's been read!)
Life has been a little busy around here. Buying a house and changing jobs at the same time!
Yes, that's right... after nearly 12 years working for Capita, in various guises, I'm at last making the jump to something new...
Before I get onto what I'll be doing, I thought it would be useful to make a note of a few of the many things I've learnt over the last twelve years, since leaving the world of teaching.
- Learning how to do my job is no-one's responsibility but mine. If I can't do the job, then it's up to me to find out how to improve.
- My worldwide network of peers (some known, some unknown) is one of the best sources of knowledge available - especially when you're working in an area which has no in-house expertise.
- A management culture that is based on trust and accountability works.
- Online groups only work well when either a) everyone in the group is totally committed to it or b) there is a critical mass of people with enough in the core to keep feeding the group.
- The usability of corporate IT systems will almost always fall behind consumer-grade systems because the people doing the buying are not the people using the systems.
- An open approach to marketing software is a key driver towards greater usability - as the end-users can have more impact on the buying process.
- My blog has become (to me) an increasingly valuable repository of information and thinking. Far more useful than the scrattly bits of paper that I make notes on...
And so, to the future...
I will be working within the Xyleme team, as a Customer Account Manager, helping their UK clients to get the most value from their Xyleme platform. It'll be exciting, as some of the time I'll be working with big name corporations. At other times I'll be back in the education world - helping large learning providers with lots of content to deploy.
Xyleme is one of the world's leading learning content management system suppliers, and at the forefront of enabling XML-based, single-source publishing, to multiple platforms, in multiple contexts.
I'll be delivering this contract from within my own learning technology consultancy company (Wyver Solutions Ltd). As work on this, and other contracts grows I'll be looking for associates to work with me. If that's you, please get in touch.
There's already one downside that I've noticed to the move... Speaking engagements, which conference organisers were quite happy to give me when I worked at Capita L&D (a supplier), have now, for some inexplicable reason, been withdrawn now that I'll be working for Xyleme. I'm still the same person, with the same ideas. For some reason, people seem to think that I'm now going to be in all-out sales mode... Not my style at all...
Some things will stay the same though. This blog is going to remain my main thinking space. And I'll still be around on Twitter et al - possibly even more so now.
Stay tuned for the next chapter...
A small crowd of teenagers were gathered in the quiet computer room on a Wednesday afternoon. They watched in astonishment as, on a small square monitor screen appeared a rapid succession of numbers - prime numbers - those numbers that can only be divided by one or itself. To work out such a large sequence manually would have taken hours of painstaking, boring work with a calculator.
"How did you do that?" they asked of the young man with the mass of curly light brown hair who was operating the computer. He explained his method, which involved visualising a vast quantity of "pots", one for each integer to be tested - up to 1000, 10 000, or as high as the computer had memory to store.
"Start with the small prime numbers, the ones that we know already, like 1, 2 and 3", he stated. "Miss out 1, but, starting with 2, put a marker in the pots that are multiples of 2. That's an easy set of calculations: 2x2, 2x3, 2x4 etc. Then do the same with 3: 3x2, 3x3, 3x4 etc.
"What's the next pot without a marker? Five. So that's a prime. So, do the same thing with that; put markers in 5x2, 5x3 etc. And the next one? Seven. Same again.
"You keep going until your halfway to your maximum number. After that there's no point, because any number that's left unmarked times 2 will be bigger than your maximum.
"At that point, all the pots that don't have markers will be prime numbers. So, it's just a case of running off a list of those numbers."
It was a simple concept, made possible by a combination of the speed of calculations on the computer and the imagination of the person writing the programme.
After the demonstration, the rest of the group dispersed to their respective computers; to try it out for themselves, to make their game of Snakes run just that little bit faster, or to debug the code they'd spent hours copying in from a magazine.
It was the early 1980's. Micro-computers were just finding their ways into schools, and most teachers (like now) did not have the time or the interest to understand them, or their potential.
We were left to our own devices and quickly discovered how to control these new machines; to model real and abstract situations from physics, and applied and pure maths, to create games, and to play them. Nothing was networked, or attached to sensors or motors. It was just you, your imagination, and the programme.
But we weren't on our own. Some of us grasped some concepts quicker than others, and then demonstrated and explained. Some bought magazines that introduced new ideas. Some went to shows and came back with stories of 16kB RAM packs and 1.2MB floppy disk drives...
ZX81 with RAM pack and printer - Source: Wikipedia
As a group we learnt together, but independent of any formal curriculum, and with no support from anyone that you'd recognise as a teacher.
We learnt programming concepts, like loops and procedures. We learnt to be ultra-careful with syntax, to use error messages to help troubleshooting, and to write code together to catch problems quickly.
We learnt about operating systems, directories and files. We learnt that programming with variables meant we could change the way our code behaved by simply changing a handful of settings. We learnt the principles of using one chunk of code many times.
Time moves on, and nearly 30 years later, as I watch my son using Minecraft, I see him learning in the same way. No-one is teaching him, but through a combination of Youtube, the Minecraft wiki, discussing with friends, asking questions, and trial and error he is learning to:
- build virtual worlds with machines and habitats
- manipulate complex graphics files to change the look and feel of the worlds and their characters
- navigate the MacOS directory structure to find the locations for the various graphics files
- create and unpack zip archives
- pack and unpack .jar files to add in code modifications
- search for and find answers to problems in forum postings
- deal with mods that crash Minecraft
- manage a Minecraft server, with its security implications
- manage a Virtual Private Network (Hamachi) so he and his friends can work in the same world
In a similar way to the skills we gained on those Wednesday afternoons, my son and his peers are doing more than unwittingly teaching themselves computer science. They are developing wider thinking and problem-solving skills within a context of sharing, cooperation, peer feedback and self motivated challenges.
What can we learn as teaching and learning professionals from these two examples?
The key is to stop doing the learning for the student. According to Ewan McIntosh, we spend too much of our professional time trying to find ways to shortcut the learning process, which then simply short changes our learners. They become dependent on the professional, and gradually less capable of independent creative thought.
Instead, our job should be one that encourages learners to immerse themselves in the problems that surround them, helps them to synthesise the key information relevant to the challenges into connected ideas, facilitates ideation (the process of generating and collecting ideas), and provides tools and materials that will help them to prototype solutions.
The two videos below, both by Ewan McIntosh, discuss the situation we're currently in, and proposes a solution that is working now around the globe. The solution is called "Design Thinking", a process which encompasses the four components mentioned above: immersion, synthesis, ideation and prototyping.
Yes, it will probably take longer if we let learners spend their time immersing themselves in the problem and all its angles rather than spoon-feeding them the specific parts that the curriculum / training objectives dictate. But don't the benefits of developing self-sustaining, creative problem solvers outweigh that? (Perhaps not if you own a factory, or its modern day, data-processing centre equivalent... or am I simply being unnecessarily cynical?)