Starting over…

New Beginning

Every Day is a New Beginning

Well – it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted to this blog. In fact, I’ve been quite delinquent in this aspect of my personal learning and development. Since it’s the end of the year, it seems an appropriate time to focus on resolutions for the New Year. Of course, first on the list is to post more regularly to this blog.

What I hope is that I finally develop the habits of regular, reflective writing that will help me to think through the issues, ideas and projects that I am encountering in my professional life throughout the year. In past I have submitted irregular posts that had value, but I simply did not post often enough to fully enjoy the benefits of blogging. So here’s to a new beginning and my resolution to post more often throughout the year!

Surviving or Thriving in the Twitterstream?

Twitter Stream

Twitter Stream

Michele Martin posted a great question on The Bamboo Project Blog yesterday about Twitter and how she is just not connecting with it as a useful tool. I thought it was a GREAT conversation starter and you need to stop by just to check out the humorous videos that she posted about Twitter (I agree with her that the John Stewart one is a fave!)

With all the chatter about Twitter on CNN, Today and a number of other high profile outlets, the question is a good one. The general gist of the comments seems to be that some people find Twitter useful and others find it distracting. Nothing new or unusual there. Any number of tools come along that some find useful and others do not.

I like the push to think about it more deeply though. What really do I get out of Twitter? Is it useful to my work? Are the nuggets of gold worth sifting through the “flotsam and jetsam” of the Twitter stream?

I believe Twitter has added value to my work. I’ve been able to discover new colleagues and to network more closely with existing contacts. I’ve reviewed a lot of the links that get thrown around Twitter and many of them have been quite useful. I don’t think that I would have found them with my RSS feeds.

It has taken me some time to learn how Twitter works best for me. And I’m still learning and tweaking it. My big breakthrough came when I started using hashtags to follow more specific conversations. As I mentioned on Michelle’s blog, I don’t mind the cocktail conversations all around me, but I’m off in a corner with a smaller group talking about ideas and issues that we are all passionate about. I like that.

Another analogy that I have used is my graduate school experience. To me, blogs are akin to the classroom. The focus was deep thinking, critical analysis, new ideas and a focused effort on pulling apart ideas, theories and great works to formulate my own thinking.

Twitter, on the other hand, is like the grad student bull pen where we all had our “offices” (cubicles really), or the lounge or Larry’s Bar on Friday afternoons. These conversations were more casual. They jumped around a lot and they included everyday trivial snippets about lunch, tests, weekend getaways. But they were an indispensable part of my education in grad school. I learned about new books, projects, fresh ideas, additional contacts, etc. and Twitter seems to be doing the same for me now.

I am sure that everyone is different, but this analogy works for me. I am interested in hearing from all of you? What analogy works for you? What was the turning point for you with Twitter – good or bad? What tips do you have to help someone filter out the cocktail conversation?

One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!!!!

thumb-war1I recently attended a training seminar in which the instructor provided the following exercise. (Of course it worked better in a face to face setting, but since I was suitably impressed with it, I thought I would share it will all of you as well – hopefully it will translate into text!)

The facilitator began by instructing all the participants to turn to their neighbor and face them. He then said -“Okay, now have a thumb war and keep track of how many ‘pins’ each person gets…you have 60 seconds.” Of course, all of you have been to these training seminars before, so there was a lot of sheepish laughter and a few rolling eyes, but pretty soon the small room echoed with overlapping calls of “One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!” Quickly the room was filled with laughter as everyone remembered how much FUN it was to try and pin someone’s thumb. I am sure you have done this before – or at the very least, you have seen someone have a thumb war before – so you can just picture the various contortions that everyone was putting themselves in just to gain a hint of advantage.

All too soon, the facilitator called a stop to the fun and asked, “Okay, let’s hear how many pins everyone had.” Once again, the responses started off as low mumbles….3 to 1…5 to 2…mumbles also soon gave way to laughter as the scores were tallied…8-0…15-1…no kidding…15 pins in 60 seconds. Wow! (Maybe we have a professional (thumb) wrestler on our hands…pun somewhat intended!) We thought we were done, but the facilitator had another trick up his sleeve. “Okay, now I want you to do this exercise again, but this time, I will pay you $10 dollars for every pin that you get.” Wow! you should have seen everyone’s eyes get bigger. The anticipation was palpable and manifested itself through people moving forward in their seats, licking their lips and just getting downright ready for some serious pins.

But wait. “Before you all start,” the facilitator interrupted, “I want to show you something.” He called up one of the participants to the front of the room and said, “Okay, let’s get ready for a thumb war.” They clasped fingers…with their thumbs sticking straight up…and then he said, “Let’s rotate our hands a quarter turn toward so that everyone out there can see our hands.” “Okay,” he said, “start the stopwatch…and….go.” Now the head fake (thanks Randy Pausch), the facilitator put his thumb down immediately and said, “Pin me….now let me pin you….now let’s speed it up.” By the time the stopwatch hit sixty seconds, we lost track of the number of ‘pins’ that each person recorded because they were moving so fast working together.

You could have heard a pin drop. Did you see the head fake? As soon as the facilitator mentioned that he would pay every participant $10 dollars for each pin – EVERY ONE of us made it a zero sum game. We all approached the activity from the viewpoint of scarcity. NOT ONE PERSON approached it from a view of abundance (Thanks Benjamin Zander!).

What a powerful lesson. How many times a day to we look at our learning problems as zero sum games? How many times a day do we view our projects through scarcity rather than abundance? This isn’t rocket science here, but it sure was an eye opener.

Next time you encounter a problem…take a minute and have a thumb war…maybe a more creative solution – one that enlarges the pie – will come to mind.

I’m not listening…

not-listening1Harold Jarche and Jay Cross recently discussed the idea of closing down the training department and getting out of the training business. Harold quotes Jay as follows:

“Next week, we will close the training department. We are shifting our focus from training to performance. Legal or the line departments can handle compliance. Any remaining training staff will become mentors, coaches, and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers, and cutting costs.”

I am certainly all for this idea of shifting the focus from training to performance. But it seems that we’ve been trying to do this for some time. Dave Ferguson will tell you that he has been out on the front lines with this message for what seems like forever. So will Clark Quinn. If that’s the case – namely that many of us in the learning profession believe in performance outcomes over training (and I bet it’s a LARGE majority that do hold this belief) – why have we failed so miserably in making our case to the powers that be as well as to the people we are supposed to serve?

Will Thalheimer may have some clues. In a recent blog post Will contemplated why it is so hard to get people to change their minds about things. He specifically mentioned the examples of anti-bacterial soap and vitamins. Basically, long standing evidence runs counter to people’s standard beliefs, yet even in the face of this evidence, they still cling to older beliefs and behaviors. In his final thoughts, Will says:

“…we often forget that long-held views are not easily overcome. We need to be more careful and more energetic in confronting them. It’s not our learners’ fault when they don’t make the turn. We have to make it our fault. We have to take responsibility.”

My question for all of us to consider is: What’s our responsibility regarding performance outcomes? If we know this is what we need to target, why can’t we get buy-in from other constituencies? Weren’t we ALWAYS supposed to be focusing on improving core business processes? Weren’t we ALWAYS supposed to be strengthening relationships with customers? Weren’t we ALWAYS supposed to be cutting costs?

Are you still using anti-bacterial soap in your training efforts – or have you taken a good hard look at the evidence and decided it’s time to make a change?

Two steps forward, one step back

 Josh and Footprints by Vu Bui

Josh and Footprints by Vu Bui

I have a sign that hangs by my desk. It is simply black print on a white piece of paper. It says: The Prime Directive: Improve outcome performance measurably. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. In my opinion, it sums up my job quite nicely. The problem is that I can’t tell when I am successful and when I am not successful. Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever worked for a company and been unable to tell if you were successful or not in executing the mission statement?

My goal with each and every elearning course or training tool that I develop is make a positive impact on the user and to improve their performance. Sounds easy. Unfortunately, there are so many factors involved that it is difficult to pinpoint changes in performance that are directly related to the course. I have tried pretests and posttests. I have tried focus groups. I have tried coaching sessions, all in an effort to zero in on the true impact of the learning interaction. So far, I have not found a satisfactory was to track the impact of the training interventions that I have designed.

To date, the most rewarding feedback is simply annecdotal – the people in my Leadership Development Program (LDP) say that the courses and discussions are helping them with their daily management tasks. They have changed the way that do certain things based on the material that they learned in the program. Maybe this is enough. Maybe I am just being too picky in looking for a “scientific” way to measure this impact. Obviously this measure of performance change is all the more important in today’s economy in which the learning and development folks must show results.

How about the rest of you? Have you experienced this challenge as well? How did you measure performance change? Do you have any ideas to share that might help other L&D folks out? Let’s hear them everyone!

Goodbye 2008…Hello 2009

Farewell 2008

Farewell 2008

How was your 2008? Did you make it everything it could be? What about your 2009? What are your expectations and dreams for the upcoming year?

The end of the year always seems to automatically lead to two activities:

  1. Reviewing the year gone by
  2. Making predictions for the upcoming year

In keeping with tradition, this post will do a little bit of both.

Reviewing 2008 – 5 Observations

  1. Twitteriffic – Twitter went from a trickle to a firehose in 2008. Early adopters were joined by more mainstream users and even those that were not initially convinced of its usefulness eventually climbed on board for the ride. From an individual perspective, I found Twitter to be extremely useful as an informal learning tool. Every day I found great tips, tricks and links from my network of experts. What about you? Did you join Twitter in 2008? What are your impressions to date? Has Twitter been a useful learning tool for you?
  2. PLEs! – Puuuuulease! PLEs also gained currency, particularly in the blogosphere during the first half of the year. Nearly every blog that I follow at some time or another posted on this topic. People had a host of different tools and technologies to organize their learning, but one thing was clear in 2008 – a PLE is an indispensable part of career development and performance improvement. I organize my PLE around igoogle since it has so many different widgets and plugins. 2008 may go down as the point in time when training/learning in corporations shifted from top-down to bottom up with the arrival of the PLE. What do you think? Are PLEs here to stay? Are they impacting the traditional function of the training/learning department in companies?
  3. Mmmm – Social bookmarking took off in 2008 as well, although at a less feverish pace than Twitter or PLEs. I am not sure why, but Delicious seems to still be largely an individual endeavor. Even though bookmarks can be shared and your network helps to aggregate interesting and informative sites, my experience with this tool was that my bookmarking remained largely a personal activity. What about your experience with Delicious in 2008? Did you find social bookmarking to be more helpful than traditional bookmarking? What changes do we need to see in 2009 to improve its usefulness?
  4. Just do it – Learning by doing emerged as one of the mantra’s for 2008. Many elearning professionals sought to focus more on performance improvement through simulation. As design tools continue to become more user friendly, elearning professionals are attempting to creating more realistic and engaging training products. Problem-based learning and new methods for combining visuals and voice have led to changes in the approach from course-based learning to just-in-time problem-based techniques. This will be an interesting trend to watch in 2009. What about your training efforts? Did you move beyond the course? Are you incorporating more problem-based and activity-based learn by doing approaches in your efforts? Is this simply the latest fad or do you think these new approaches are here to stay?
  5. Visually appealing – Finally, the explosion of visual learning theories and books in 2008 was certainly a noticeable trend. From Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen to Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin and even John Medina’s Brain Rules, new research seems to confirm that we are visually-based creatures. Incorporating visual tools into our presentations, training and problem solving strategies seems to make sense and 2008 was a year in which this message went out loud and clear. What impact has this research and these new approaches had on your training and teaching? Are you incorporating more visually based materials into your learning interventions? What about your presentations? Do you see this trend continuing in 2009?

Predicting 2009 – What’s around the corner

Looking ahead to 2009 – what trends do you see continuing with respect to training, teaching, elearning and social media? Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Twitter will continue to expand and become more integrated with other online applications so that Tweets will become a click and Tweet phenomenon.
  2. Facebook will become a more prominent organizing tool in 2009. More people will become members of Facebook, but it will stay largely a personal tool rather than a work tool. (Which might not be a bad thing!).
  3. PLEs will become more mainstream as corporate training organizations work to support the transfer of the learning function from the Training Department to the individual.
  4. Corporate training departments will continue to move away from courses in an LMS or in person as the central organizing unit of training. Just in time products will become more prominent and the Training function will turn more toward helping employees build PLEs and to integrate them both within the organization and with the world at large.

These are just a few of the thoughts that I have in mind as 2008 comes to a close. I am interested in hearing what all of you have to add as well. What do you see as the important changes in 2008? What trends do you see emerging in 2009? Please post your comments below so that we can start up and interesting conversation.

And on a final note, have a Happy and Healthy 2009! Happy New Year!

Attributed to Pieter Musterd on Flickr. Taken on December 14, 2008, uploaded December 31, 2008

The Big Question for December: What did I learn about learning in 2008?

Big Question Logo

Attributed to Tony Karrer: Big Question Logo

This is my first time answering Tony Karrer’s Big Question. The question for December 2008 is: What did I learn about learning in 2008?

Wow! What a question. I have definitely learned a lot this year, both obvious and not so obvious. Here are some of my highlights:

1. Learning to Blog: I started this blog in August. I am still VERY new to blogging, but my posts are starting to become more frequent. I definitely fell into the new blogger’s trap of posting my initial post or two and then simply falling off the map for several months. I am getting better now at blogging as a way to clarify my own thoughts and to initiate conversations. Tony Karrer has some great advice for new bloggers; namely to write for your own learning – a sort of conversation in your head. I have taken Tony’s advice to heart and it has made all the difference.

2. Expanding Twitter Use: As with many other learning professionals, I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon this year and really tried to grow my network. Jane Hart’s Directory of Learning Professionals on Twitter was very helpful in this respect. Only by building up my network of those that I follow was I able to tap into their conversations. …And what conversations these often turned out to be! I enjoyed “attending” conferences and talks on Twitter through the help of tweets from DevLearn and other events that I was not able to attend in person. I cannot tell you the number of ideas that I have been able to use in my daily work as an elearning specialist. Links and TinyURLs fly around the Twitterverse with abandon. Interestingly enough – a very large number of them are useful or lead to useful ideas. It is one of the biggest conversations I have ever been involved in! I remember the BEST times in grad school were conversations over a beer or sitting on a wall on a spring day with all my colleagues tossing around ideas. Twitter puts me in a perpetual “grad school” mode of learning and sharing.

3. Creating a PLN: As part of my work this year, I presented a number of Lunch & Learn topics to our employees. These talks introduced our employees to the ideas of a Personal Learning Network as well as social bookmarking, Twitter, Delicious, RSS feeds and many other social tools. In order to teach these topics, I had to be using them. I learned a GREAT deal the past 12 months by creating and refining my PLN. My expanded use of social bookmarking has led to a number of great finds that I have used to learn new skills and to improve how I do my job each and every week. My RSS feeds are indispensable (more on that below). My Twitter conversations engaging and enlivening. Without my PLN, I would simply be lost.

4. RSS – My lifeblood: The only more important tool in my PLN than Twitter are my RSS feeds. I absolutely love my igoogle page and the embedded Google Reader. My RSS feeds of blogposts, news stories and even Twitter feeds are my lifeblood. I cannot survive without my RSS feeds. I have learned so much from the blogs that I read on a daily basis. I am constantly picking up new tips and tricks from experts in elearning as well as social media and even the presentation masters. What has been most satisfying is how important nuggets often come from the most unexpected places. My new mission for 2009 is to get EVERYONE in the company using igoogle with the embedded Google Reader widget!

In summary, I feel that I have learned a LOT about learning this year. Our world is definitely changing with respect to how information, ideas and learning are now shared in the social space. I am convinced that these tools can help unleash the creative power of our entire company. My own personal experiences and revelations this year are evidence enough for me to keep pushing to create a culture of curiosity in my organization that is enabled and enhanced by social tools that connect people and open the doors to easy and widespread sharing and collaboration.

The fun thing is that I am looking forward to an even bigger 2009!