ALT-C conference - remote access details

Continuing Professional Development Send feedback »  3180 views

The 2011 ALT Conference will start in earnest on Tuesday 6 September.

For an overview of the conference go to http://www.alt.ac.uk/altc/alt-c-2011. The contents of this message are also on the ALT web site at http://www.alt.ac.uk/alt-c-2011/remote.

Here are some ways those not attending can benefit from the conference.

1. Conference Publications - the Conference Abstracts and the Proceedings Papers are available now as Open Access publications from http://www.alt.ac.uk/alt-c-2011/pubs

2. Plenary Keynote Sessions and Invited Speaker Sessions will be streamed, with online moderation throughout, using Adobe Connect. Go to http://altc2011.alt.ac.uk/pages/alt_live for details of what will be streamed, when, and how to access it.

3. The hashtag for the conference is #altc2011 and ALT's Twitter channel - @A_L_T - will be used to announce the starts of publicly accessible sessions throughout the conference shortly before each begins.

4. There will be a public web TV channel from the conference, with "vox pop" reactions to the conference from participants. Details to follow at http://altc2011.alt.ac.uk/pages/alt_live.

5. The full conference timetable and abstracts for all the sessions are available at http://altc2011.alt.ac.uk/calendar.

ALT does not charge for remote participation; at the same time we make no guarantees that things will work exactly as planned.

For more details about ALT and how become an individual, organisational, or sponsoring member, at an annual cost of between GBP zero and GBP 1276 per year go to https://www.alt.ac.uk/get-involved/membership

Presentation for #LearningLive 2011

Presentations & Workshops Send feedback »  2938 views

I thought I'd give a "heads-up" to those of you who are joining my session at Learning Live 2011. To be honest, the slides below won't help you very much on their own. However you might find them useful to get your thought processes started before the workshop - which will be very much a conversation using the slides as a stimulus.

Elearning learning

Learning, Social media Send feedback »  1886 views

You may have noticed the little badge on the right of this blog that says I'm one of elearninglearning.com's featured writers.

Elearning Learning brings together content from leading experts and companies like the Adobe Captivate BlogClark QuinnClive ShepherdJay CrossKarl Kapp, and many others. You can find a long list of the Featured sources on the right hand side of the ElearningLearning home page.  There is also a lot more content that comes in as well beyond the Featured sources.

They've recently launched some new features, to make it even more useful, so I'd recommend taking a look.

The home page itself will show you the latest and best content at any time.

"Best" is decided by the system based on social signals - that's clicks, views, twitter, delicious, and other kinds of inputs that tell us what people are doing with the content.  And the team try to make sure that great content from lesser known sources still makes it to the top.

Each day, week, month and year, the site generates a "Best Of" Edition.  You can change the Edition at any time.  That allows you to see some really great stuff looking a little more broadly than what you typically see on the home page.

The site is categorized in various topics such as concepts like Instructional DesignMobileSocial Learning; tools like TwitterLMSFlashPowerPointCaptivate; Companies like Rapid IntakeSaba; types like Examples and many more.

The intent of eLearning Learning is to bring together and make it easy to find great content.  You will only see a snippet of each piece.  When you click the link, you will be directed back to the source.  In other words, they bring the content together, but don't own the content.  They want you still to comment and interact with the content back on the original site - which, from an author's point of view is much preferred!

You can subscribe to the site by entering your email address and then choosing whether you want a Daily Edition or Weekly/Monthly/Annual Edition to be sent to you.  Or you can subscribe in your chosen RSS reader.

[Based on an original post by Tony Karrer: http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2011/08/elearning-learning-launches-new.html]

Review: NP Training Works

Reviews 1 feedback »  1128 views
NP Training Works logo

NP Training Works are a relatively small, US-based company who have developed an elearning content delivery business model that's quite different from the mainstream.

They are aiming at small companies and non-profit-making organisations, who don't have the budget to create content for themselves.

You're given the option to either buy into their existing library of content (delivered through a branded NP Training Works LMS), or to become a content expert. It's this latter model that's of most interest to me. The content expert provides the subject matter knowledge, NP Training Works provides the development expertise and the marketing know-how (for free), and the content expert receives a royalty payment whenever the content is used.

It looks to me like a very low-risk way for small companies to explore the potential of online content delivery, and get their message more widely known. NP Training Works is taking on much of the upfront risk, but mitigates that by being in control of the marketing of the content, which gets added to their content library - for use by their wider network.

It's the content library where they need to do most work, but this is probably on the back-burner until the number of available titles increases. Currently learners just browse a straightforward heirarchical catalog, but, if you really want to market well online you need to think about:

  • putting your products in multiple categories
  • intelligent algorithms that base recommendations on user activity
  • providing ways for users to rate and comment on products
  • allowing users to sort search results by criteria such as price, ratings, relevance etc

In other words, a combination of an ecommerce engine with an LMS delivery engine. If they get this right, they'll have a very powerful system indeed. I don't yet know of any LMS that has really cracked this concept of how to market the content they contain. For some reason, providers still seem to think that learners will use their content because they have to...

Twitter as your main learning tool? I still don't get it

Learning to learn, Social media 9 feedbacks »  4328 views

For two years now, Jane Hart's collation of the Top 100 Tools for Learning has had Twitter in the number 1 spot.  And any number of "learning technology" people will tell you it's their most important tool.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I just don't get it.

Twitter is a micro-sharing website - which means I can share a statement containing a maximum of 140 characters. That statement can contain links to other sites, plain words, links to other people (known as @mentions) and links to topics (known as hash tags or #tags).

Topics are created organically. A group of people agrees to use a particular #tag and then make sure each of their posts contain that tag.

Users can "follow" other people and see everything they're posting, or they can follow particular #tags. They can use either the Twitter website to do this, or any number of desktop or mobile applications - many of which allow you to be quite sophisticated in how you organise what you follow. (eg. Tweetdeck).

Twitter users have developed a number of abbreviations, which have now become adopted into the way the system works. For example, RT means ReTweet - ie. you are taking someone's post and pushing it out to the people that follow you.

The two characteristics of Twitter are:

  1. Posts can only be 140 characters long
  2. Posts appear as a stream. If you're not watching at the time a post appears, you'll probably miss it unless it gets retweeted later.

To my mind, Twitter is great for those quick "around the watercooler" conversations. Those ones that happen by chance, when you're in the same time and place as someone else (although with Twitter it relies on one person initially posting something that might be of interest to their followers - they've got no idea of who might be listening at the time - so it's a slightly different situation to a face-to-face conversation).

It's also great for pre-planned conversations, that are fixed to a particular time, and usually led by someone who asks a short series of questions. These questions often stimulate further discussion.

As a learning tool, Twitter does have some uses. But it has some serious disadvantages too:

  • conversations can get very frustrating due to the 140 character limit. Many's the time when I've given up on a debate just because I couldn't say what I needed to in the space available.
  • it's a synchronous tool. If I'm not on Twitter at the right time I will miss what's being said. This has the side-effect of making Twitter (like Facebook) a highly addictive activity.
  • finding a Tweet (a Twitter post) at a later date is nigh on impossible. Google doesn't help - because Tweets are so ephemeral, and no-one links to them, they are rarely, if ever, picked up by the Google search algorithm.

The Alternative?

I learn from the people around me, whether in the office, or from my wider network around the world. They are my personal subject matter experts. It's important to me that I keep up-to-date with thinking in my field (whatever that might be today!)

But I don't have the time or inclination to keep an eye out on Twitter for posts from each particular person. And, with each post being so short, they don't usually contain enough meat for me to get a real idea for what that person is trying to say.

So, my professional network takes two forms:

  1. People who think through what they're trying to say and present those thoughts through a piece of work that's taken some effort to produce. It might be a few paragraphs in a blog, or a video, or an infographic. The key thing is that those works sit in my RSS Reader until such a time as I'm ready to use them. At which point I can mark them as read, tag them for filing, make notes on them, or send them to an email address.
  2. People who I'm connected with on LinkedIn. Then, if I need to find someone to answer a question, I've usually got a very good idea of who is the best person. Unlike Twitter, which gives you very little space to tell anything about who you are.

Now, there may be people that have got to this article through the auto-tweet that my blog makes. That's great. I'm really pleased you happened to be using Twitter at the same time as the auto-tweet came through. But, if you were away from Twitter and didn't have any other means of being notified about the article, then you would have missed it.

When I started blogging, in pre-Twitter days, there wasn't a place to quickly share odd links to stuff, so I put them on my blog. Gradually though, these were replaced by longer articles like this one - far more useful to me (as they help me to crystallise my own thinking), and, I hope, far more useful to the few people that followed the blog.

With the wholesale move of learning professionals to Twitter, I think we've lost out a lot of the practice of learning - which is about research, analysis, synthesis and depth of conversation - stuff that you just can't do in 140 characters.

I'm still part of the froth and bubble that is Twitter - it provides a useful insight into what people are thinking about at that particular moment in time, and is an easy place to share links to things that might be of interest to others. But to name it my number one learning tool? No. I don't think so.

System adoption methodology

Technology, Context, Management & Implementation 1 feedback »  3585 views

Many systems are introduced into organisations, yet fail to realise significant benefits because people in the organisation either choose not to use the system, or do not use it most effectively.

Most of the accepted work on adoption of innovations has been carried out by Everett M. Rodgers. His book “Diffusion of Innovations” is the classic and has been widely quoted. It was first published in 1962 and is still in print.

This theoretical background helps us to develop a methodology that is more likely to succeed; by allowing us to focus on key user groups, and to highlight the benefits the innovation will have for those groups.

It provides three key dimensions to an implementation framework:

  • The adoption process – ie. where the individual is on the spectrum of knowing nothing to using fully;
  • The characteristics of the innovation in question that will influence the individual to adopt or reject it;
  • The characteristics of the individual – ie. where they are on the spectrum of being first to innovate through to being last to change.

These dimensions are described in below (using detail taken from Wikipedia, but based on Rodgers’ book), along with the actions that would be taken to support each stage.

The adoption process

Stage

Definition

Supporting Action

Knowledge

In this stage the individual is first exposed to an innovation but lacks information about the innovation. During this stage of the process the individual has not been inspired to find more information about the innovation.

Initial awareness-raising communication (such as roadshows, poster campaigns, emails etc) designed to highlight the individual’s need of the innovation.

Persuasion

In this stage the individual is interested in the innovation and actively seeks information/detail about the innovation.

Provision of information perhaps as a website or magazine articles. Preferably self-service, but may require someone to answer queries.

Decision

In this stage the individual takes the concept of the innovation and weighs the advantages/disadvantages of using the innovation and decides whether to adopt or reject the innovation.

Find people who will champion the innovation in their part of the organisation, and speak to their colleagues about it.

Implementation

In this stage the individual employs the innovation to a varying degree depending on the situation. During this stage the individual determines the usefulness of the innovation and may search for further information about it.

Provide “help” at the point of need, either through a self-service information portal, or through a help desk.

Provide coaching to encourage better and more extensive use.

Confirmation

Although the name of this stage may be misleading, in this stage the individual finalizes their decision to continue using the innovation and may use the innovation to its fullest potential.

Encourage this person to become a champion and to contribute to the help desk resources.

Characteristics of innovations

Rogers defines several intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt or reject an innovation. These characteristics help us to define the content of any communication about the benefits of the innovation.

Factor

Definition

Supporting Actions

Relative Advantage

How improved an innovation is over the previous generation.

Highlight the improvements and how they will benefit the individual.

Compatibility

The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life.

Highlight how the innovation fits into what the individual is already doing.

Complexity or Simplicity

If the innovation is too difficult to use an individual will not likely adopt it.

Highlight ease of use, or provide help and job aids that can be accessed quickly at the point of need.

Trialability

How easily an innovation may be experimented with as it is being adopted. If a user has a hard time using and trying an innovation this individual will be less likely to adopt it.

Provide simple ways of trying out the innovation, preferably with support from a champion where possible.

Observability

The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions.

Make sure that any communications are easy to spread to the individual’s network of contacts.

Ideally this would be built into the innovation itself, so that the individual can invite contacts to join them in using the innovation.

Characteristics of the individual

Rogers identified five categories of adopters within a particular social group, which are useful to those promoting change, as they help us to identify groups of people to target. [Taken from: Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, 5th ed]

Adopter category

Definition

Supporting Actions

Innovators

Innovators are the first individuals to adopt an innovation. Innovators are willing to take risks, youngest in age, have the highest social class, have great financial lucidity, very social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Risk tolerance has them adopting technologies which may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures.

Provide “early warning systems” that communicate innovations prior to launch.

This will generate interest and appetite amongst this group.

They will try out the innovation and will be ideal beta testers.

Early Adopters

This is the second fastest category of individuals who adopt an innovation. These individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the other adopter categories. Early adopters are typically younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity, advanced education, and are more socially forward than late adopters. More discrete in adoption choices than innovators. Realize judicious choice of adoption will help them maintain central communication position.

This group will become your champions.

They will need to be listened to in order to remain “on board”.

Provide mechanisms for them to give feedback and to direct changes.

Provide as much information as possible about the underlying technologies and the road-map for the future.

Early Majority

Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This time of adoption is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. Early Majority tend to be slower in the adoption process, have above average social status, contact with early adopters, and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system.

This group will become the critical mass.

They will need a lot of input from champions and should be the target of marketing communications highlighting the features and benefits of the innovation.

Late Majority

Individuals in this category will adopt an innovation after the average member of the society. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. Late Majority people are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, very little financial lucidity, in contact with others in late majority and early majority, very little opinion leadership.

This group will need input such as case studies showing real benefits, and possibly a great deal of “hand-holding”.

They will need to grow into using the innovation through constant exposure.

They may need some extrinsic motivating factors, such as recognition or reward to encourage use of the innovation.

Laggards

Individuals in this category are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little to no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change-agents and tend to be advanced in age. Laggards typically tend to be focused on “traditions”, likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial fluidity, be oldest of all other adopters, in contact with only family and close friends, very little to no opinion leadership.

This group may need to be forced to use the innovation by making it the only way that they can complete certain tasks which are important to them.

Or the organisation may accept that this group will eventually leave, and not worry about persuading them.

Communication process

Most system rollouts only look at communicating with users once the rollout is ready to begin. This is too late. It's far better to start that communication process as early as possible.

This communication should be two way. Effective system rollouts need to listen to users via a consistent feedback loop that is easily accessible to end users.

I'd recommend that there is someone on board who is responsible for community engagement. Ideally that person will already have quite a good network within the organisation.

The community engagement manager will have a number of roles that tend to follow a repeating cycle:

  1. Listen to “war stories” about how the technology is being used
  2. Reflect those war stories back into the community and ask questions
  3. Get to the heart of any problems – whether technical or cultural – and discuss those problems with the user community
  4. Set expectations, without over-promising
  5. Demonstrate the technology in action – being the lead champion
  6. Find the “pinch points” – situations where the technology does not live up to expectations
  7. Respond to issues that you hear about by providing easily accessible work-arounds or advice
  8. Find the success stories and disseminate them
  9. Gather people who will become the technology champions around the organisation
  10. Aggregate and disseminate knowledge from the other champions – give them recognition as experts.
  11. Make sure the community is made aware of any issues with the technology as soon as they arise

Training activities

The training element of any technology implementation includes all the people-centred training and communications activity that is not directly related to purchasing boxes or writing code.

Ideally, these activities are built-in at the start of the project, and should consider:

  • Awareness-raising communications
  • User documentation
  • Local champions
  • Context sensitive help
  • Telephone support
  • Self-service support portal
  • Ongoing hints and tips
  • User forums

Not all of the above are appropriate in every situation. Yet all should be considered at the start of the project.

IT Toolkit for a Learning Organisation #LearningLive

Technology, Presentations & Workshops Send feedback »  1322 views

I'll be running a workshop at this year's Learning Live conference in September (13th & 14th in Birmingham if you're interested!)

During the workshop, I'll be focussing on key processes such as:

  • Maintaining effective customer and supplier relationships
  • Managing face-to-face and online delivery of formal events
  • Forecasting and monitoring revenue and costs
  • Providing learners with access to up-to-date resources
  • Supporting informal learning

But, when choosing any IT system to support your business, you need to consider at least the following three questions alongside your functional requirements:

  1. Do you need the system to be able to cope with inputs from multiple users, or just from single, unconnected users?
  2. If server-based, do you need the system to be hosted inside or outside of your organisation's firewall?
  3. Would you prefer to go for a multi-functional tool, or a set of best-of-breed tools?

I'll be asking the participants at the workshop to discuss the advantages of each of these approaches. So, this is a heads-up to any people planning on attending to get your thinking hats on ;-)

Of course, if you want to think in advance, please feel free to comment below.

[I've discovered that the commenting engine on the Learning Conversations site doesn't like people posting comments within two hours of each other! Until I get that fixed - if you get an error when commenting, please try again a little while later.]

IT and users on a collision course?

Technology 1 feedback »  1421 views

Reading this post from Huddle, on the death of the traditional enterprise, made me wonder how much, by moving into the corporate IT world, I've now become part of the problem?

I agree totally with them that users' expectations of IT, and particularly the ability to innovate quickly, have increased exponentially - far beyond what IT departments within large organisations can often handle.

Already I'm coming across situations where organisations are adamant that they wish to keep their IT departments well away from projects, because they know full well that involvement from IT will result in hugely increased costs, and massively extended timescales.

The question is, how to achieve innovation whilst still maintaining robust and secure systems across the board, and with an eye to bringing innovative projects into the mainstream if they're successful?

Any tips?

Big Issue Bike Ride - finished!

Not yet categorised 2 feedbacks »  1876 views

Over Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week, along with 140 other people, I cycled a total of 240 miles from London to Paris.

Our team of Capita colleagues raised over £5000 for the Big Issue, and we were that over £200,000 has been raised overall. It was the biggest fund raising event the Big Issue Foundation has ever done.

The whole thing was professionally run with excellent support teams with all the food and drink we needed, along with spare parts, tools, mechanics and medics!

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me for their support. You can find a list of my corporate sponsors on the home page of the Learning Conversations site.

And if you want proof that we made it to Paris:

Mark at La Tour Eiffel

Information systems management workshop

Presentations & Workshops, Information systems 1 feedback »  6549 views

I'm shortly to be leading a short workshop on information systems management.

Topics under discussion will be:

  • database design
  • user interface design
  • information architecture
  • collaborative information management
  • working with suppliers

I've put some notes below about the sorts of things I'm likely to cover - but I'd welcome any additional input on useful points or resources.

Database design

Write once - read many. There should only be one place you put each piece of data. This is the difference between a spreadsheet and a relational database.

When designing your database, try to normalise it as much as possible.

Normalisation tries to ensure that:

  • No data is unnecessarily duplicated
  • Data is consistent throughout the database
  • Queries can be created to easily pull out data from related tables

(from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg7r3DgS3rA)

Then use lookups or relationships to pull those pieces of data in when they are required.

User Interface design

Too big a topic to cover fully in one workshop. But I'll highlight Steve Krug's book: Don't make me think - probably the best introduction to usability I've come across.

Two key principles:

  • Consistency: follow conventions where possible. Where not, make sure you keep your own conventions
  • Simplicity: focus on the user's need at that point in time

User-centred design is key, such as personas, use cases and ongoing usability testing.

Much depends on whether the system will be mandated or optional. If it's optional, you really need to make an effort on interface design, otherwise people will go elsewhere.

Information architecture

Will your information be hierarchical - in separate silos to organise - or flat - using metadata tags.

Hierarchies allow for drilling down, and for visualising data.

Tags allow information to sit in more than one place and connections to be made between different information elements.

Combining the two brings in the concept of Faceted Search - often seen in ecommerce sites, eg. http://www.johnlewis.com

Collaborative information management

Examples include Wikipedia and Delicious.

By allowing information users to generate, tag and refine information - the final result can become more useful.

See James Suroweicki's book - The Wisdom of Crowds

Examples include Google's approach to tagging and finding expertise. You are tagged by your peers with your expertise - rather than telling your peers what you are an expert in.

Questions include: What controls and feedback loops need to be put in place that allow the process to happen, yet reduce the risk of mis-information.

Working with suppliers

Here you need to be considering issues such as data protection, information security, cost, time, project management processes etc.

It's a matter of finding the supplier who has a similar attitude to risk that you have. But being prepared to pay for high quality and low risk.

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