It’s a Long Game, Be Patient (or Back to Blogging).

Two years ago, I reluctantly gave up on something as I despaired of ever making progress on it. But today, I reflect on that disappointment as, after all, effort well spent but the benefit was very different from and frankly more valuable than what I’d wanted.

I was regularly joining calls about our Learning Management System (LMS). I was vocal, I felt I was adding value but very little changed in the direction I was hoping for. Undeterred, I persisted. I pushed harder and harder but still saw no results. I felt I was starting to alienate people when I was only trying to help, and I realised that my approach wasn’t working. I realised I could get a better return for my efforts elsewhere so I focused on other things and made satisfying progress. But it’s always irked me that I had to give up on the LMS calls.

Fast forward to today. I’m working on a new project. I was invited, it’s transformational, hugely challenging  but rewarding and this time people are listening.  But that’s not my point. I find myself thrown together with someone I’d never worked with before, but he seems to appreciate my perspective and when he offers his own I find it eerily echoes my unspoken thoughts. We work together across the boundaries of the project: we work together because we share a passion and a mindset. There is no pretension, we freely insult each other without fear of offence. We’re honest, open, comfortable, EFFECTIVE.

I didn’t know how this happened. I’m not a person that’s easy to get close to. We agree that we’re both “weird”. On paper the chances of a productive relationship look slim. I thought that perhaps the fact that we work on opposite sides of the Atlantic might explain our comfortable cooperation.

Yet we’ve now had the chance to meet in person a couple of times. We worked pretty well together remotely, but our shared passion demanded that we work together face to face to get things done even more effectively. I thought it likely that co-locating would expose fractures in our relationship for sure. That would be fine, you just can’t work that closely without some friction. But no, it didn’t. No friction, just increased productivity and shared understanding resulted.

So, we went for a few beers to celebrate. For me, the story so far is surprising enough in itself…but there’s more.

After a couple of pints the conversation got more personal. I wondered  how we had begun to work together and get along. So I asked that question and was surprised at the reply – “Oh I’d heard you talking on those calls a couple of years ago. I related to what you were saying, you seemed to be talking a lot of sense and your thinking was in line with mine, so I felt like I already knew you”. So, you see how my efforts all that time ago weren’t wasted after all – they didn’t achieve what I had in mind, but they resulted in gaining something much more valuable – friendship. So the moral is: well intentioned effort is rarely wasted – you just have to be patient sometimes.

P.S This post is a result  of the whole experience. Our conversation around introversion and reluctance to self-promote brought me to coyly admit to my sparsely populated blog. He lightheartedly threatened to troll the comments. I told him he was welcome, but it made me resolve to write more, and of course I had just the thing to write about…

Taking Action to Support Informal Learning: The Informal Learning Inventory

A marine biology inventory in progress

Perhaps an inventory of activities could give us a view into the murky waters of informal learning... Credit: Kim Lindgren on Wikimedia Commons http://is.gd/Dvg8TN

I’ve been talking with a fellow positive deviant at work about the importance of informal learning and how we need to raise awareness of its value in our company. We’ve decided to take some action beyond talking about it, starting with an “Informal Learning Inventory”. Here’s an explanation of  my inspiration for this, why we might want to create it, and what it might look like.

I’m not sure where I heard the term “social learning audit”, possibly from Charles Jennings, or perhaps it came up in the “Conversation with…” Evil Janes (Bozarth and Hart) video, but wherever it came from it sparked an idea for how to increase the visibility and perceived value of informal learning.

Firstly, here’s a great answer to a question I’ve been asking myself. “What’s the point in measuring informal learning, shouldn’t we just accept that it’s going to happen anyway?”

“I struggle with helping learners recognize when they are learning. They think of it instead as “solving a problem” or “getting an answer”. They don’t say, “Gee, I’m a motivated, self-directed adult learner, and I think I’ll become more mindful of that.” They instead say, “I’ll just Google ‘spreadsheet tutorial’ and see what I find.” And if they don’t recognize when they’re learning, it may just not occur to them to share their new learning with others, or mention it to the boss, or include it in their weekly status report.” Jane Bozarth – Bozarthzone

(The article also links to a nice Pinterest board on what learning looks like.)

A social learning audit sounded like a great idea to me but the first thing I realised was that many employees generally would be put off by that name. For one, “social learning” has been hijackedso that what comes to mind for many people when they hear it is “social media”, when really it’s much more than that. Secondly, “audit” has (negative) connotations of control which is not our aim. Especially in financial services, calling it an audit is unlikely to encourage people to get involved. Finally, the inevitable acronym “SLA” would be confusing too. I decided to use “Informal Learning Inventory” instead.

Here are my very early  initial thoughts on the Inventory. I’d welcome your comments.

What do we want to achieve?
Discover where the effective informal learning is happening already, what groups are already sharing knowledge and skills informally? (Possible existing communities/networks: New hires? Role based? Location based?)

Why do we want to do this?

  • Help employees and managers recognise the value of informal learning
  • Encourage sharing of knowledge and collaboration
  • Identify success stories & model behaviour
  • Index where the experts are, harnessing the knowledge and skills capital of the org

How would it work ?

  1. Employees at the grass roots level record what they learn outside the classroom…
  2. Managers  model this behaviour by recording what they’ve learnt…

These two are not mutually dependent but they are mutually beneficial.
Ideally, managers would buy in and lead by example and encourage their employees to do the same. It can happen organically without manager input though. In that case, the manager may then see the value of having access to this powerful information about the knowledge and skills of the team and be more supportive of it in the future.

The inventory would be set up to be totally open and visible to anyone in the company, however it will probably be formally supported and championed  in some areas. This offers  the best of both the “if you build it they will come” and the “targeted pilot” approaches.  It would be possible to filter the inventory so that it only displays certain managers or groups.

Ideas for info to collect:

  • Employee name (automatically populated by system)
  • What did you learn (summary- in the form a question? (What question did you answer?))
  • Source of learning (colleague, someone external, internet, intranet, book, trial-and-error etc etc)
  • Time spent learning
  • If learnt from another person, who?
  • Link to source (for online resources, or for books)
  • Description (details of what was learnt, add attachment?, further reference, book chapter page reference?)
  • Tags based on subject

These are my thoughts so far. Put like this, why would we not want to do it? There’s very little risk or effort involved and it has some great potential benefits. My point in sharing it here is to help me reflect on it, to socialise it to see what other people think, and to just share the idea in case seeing it stated in this way is useful to anyone. Please comment to let me know what you think.

Balancing New and Shiny with Mature and Steady

Reflecting on speaking about live online training and virtual classrooms at Learning Technologies Exhibition 2012, I’ve come across an example of how we need to churn the technology we use to support learning and performance. It’s not all about new and shiny, there’s a big place for mature and steady.

Virtual classrooms seem to be a popular topic at the moment, so much so that I was asked by Redtray to speak with Towards Maturity about it at Learning Technologies. I was surprised to find that there was interest in this topic generally; I had begun to think that people were only interested in tablets and mobile ‘phones these days. Yet there’s been a lot of activity around live online bubbling away on the internet, articles, research, white papers, webinars etc. recently. The skeptic in me wondered whether it was vendor hype to some extent, but the research suggested otherwise. In particular I was interested to see the results in this Towards Maturity quick poll where Live Online came in above Mobile as the “must have” technology people thought they’d be using in 2012:Towards Maturity poll: Live online: 47percent; Mobile: 29 percent

I decided that the real test of this would be how many people attended my seminar, a valid barometer because Epic were doing a “build a mobile app in 15 minutes” seminar at the same time. I saw one of their sessions earlier in the exhibition and they had huge attendance. Things were not looking good for me, I feared my seminar would have more presenters than attendees…

But I’m pleased to say I was wrong. I had a full house and people standing at the back. (Granted one gentleman had just come for a sit down and a snooze but we’ve all done that, right?) So my session about live online was almost as well attended as the the one on mobile. I’m not saying that people “prefer” one or the other, I’m just surprised to see that there is as much interest in technology that’s been around for about 10 years or longer as there is in the new sexy stuff.

So why’s this? Perhaps this is the difference between emerging technology and mature technology. Has web conferencing/virtual classroom reached the point that it’s plug and play to implement? Certainly the fact that vendors like RedTray and Brightwave are now offering content delivered using it suggests that the tech has reached a point where it’s good enough that people will pay for training delivered by this method. I bitterly recall the early days where reliability was hit and miss at best – no vendor was going to want to deliver their product that way, but now they do. There is an argument that mobile technology is plug and play already – it just works. Well it does if you have the right device, good data connection, and (critically for wide corporate adoption at least) the infrastructure to support it. On the exhibitor stand of course it’s slick, but back in the day a web conference provider’s offering would have seemed like magic too. Today, web conference tech will work in most environments – the systems specifications that you can expect a basic end user to have today are higher than 10 years ago therefore a web conference will now “just work” for more people, and that makes rolling it out much more realistic – one less perceived and real obstacle.

Here we have two hot topics from the exhibition, both with vast potential to support learning and performance in the workplace and beyond but they’re at different stages of acceptance. Is live online / virtual classroom / web conferencing now “Crossing the Chasm” – Geoffrey A. Moore?(via Harold Jarche.) Maybe we’re starting to see the early majority getting on board whilst with mobile we’re still at the innovator/early adopter stage.

What does this mean? As if you need telling, it means it’s an exciting time in the world of technology and learning. It’s a strong example of how we, as people who support other people need to be aware of what’s out there and be flexible enough to churn through the technology, explore what’s new, implement what’s mature, and retire what’s obsolete.

We all do this at different speeds and that’s ok, as long as no-one get’s left behind!

Choose Training or Performance Support? Only if it ‘urts.

Urts: Ubiquitous Real Time Support“Only if it ‘urts”? What…?

URTS = Ubiquitous Real-Time Support. I made that term up but it doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s my vision of the ultimate desirable tool, the “killer app” for employees in the workplace: Relevant performance support, everywhere, all the time.

But it doesn’t replace “training”. To me it doesn’t even sound similar.

A colleague asked me this question the other day:

“What do you think about perfomance support in comparison to training?”

For me, this is an easy one because it started with “what do you think”. I always answer questions that start like that correctly. But answering it helped me crystallise my thinking about these two terms. (Yes, it was social learning in action, and no technology in sight…)

Firstly, let me clarify what I understand by each term.

Performance Support  is the “Help” menu of whatever program you’re working in. It’s exactly the information you need, when you need it and no more. It’s contextual, timely, easy to access, visible usable and it answers your question. It’s the expert sitting opposite you. It answers when you say “Dave, how do I ….”.

Training is delivered based on what the trainer understands your need to be. They will probably not have asked you what you need (they may have asked your manager, or your manager’s manager, but honestly: maybe not). It’s standardised and will tell you useful things, and let you practice skills that you’ll probably need for your job. You’ll begin the session ignorant, and end it proficient. You will forget most of what you have learnt within two days unless you practice it.

Secondly, the answer to the question: What do I think?

I think there is a place for both of these, and most likely always will be. You have to begin somewhere, so a formal training class (online self study or live) is going to be the place to start for most people. I see intro level courses continuing to be important to provide a grounding in subjects and skills. Starting from scratch, people find it hard to learn more advanced skills and knowledge because they don’t have a context to put it in (psychologists call this a schema). The trouble is, that as the needs become more specific for each individual, they become more diverse for the trainer (can someone draw this for me please?). Bottom line: “trainers” can’t create advanced level courses that cater for every single individual’s needs.

That’s where the user assistance or performance support comes in. Ideally, it would be live and face to face, asking the person next to you, but in an increasingly dispersed, agile workforce that person might not be working on the same thing as you, and the person you really need might be in another timezone. So we should put mechanisms in place to overcome this: Where the expert is local, support them in their support of others; Where the knowledge needs to be captured and shared remotely, let’s support that. How do we do that? Well, that’s another question to be answered later, but if you have ideas on it why not add them in the comments? For certain, it’s an emerging and developing requirement. At this point “trainers” have two options: get on board and start facilitating performance support interwoven with formal courses, or risk becoming irrelevant to the businesses they support.

So, we need training and we need performance support . But in both cases we need to do things right and move toward “just-in-time” not “just-in-case” (Charles Jennings).

What do you think? I’m interested to hear in the comments, and remember – you can’t get that question wrong.

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