Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Putting Action into Words (Hunh?)

I have been spending the last weeks at my desk developing a shared “curriculum” for a trio of sustainability leadership development programmes in different parts of Africa. I find myself writing about activities that help people make impact in their contexts and communities, and about how to take ideas from rhetoric to behaviour change.

That's what I'm writing about, but what I'm doing is actually the opposite. I'm taking action and putting it into words. And I realise as I write this shared curriculum, ostensibly from existing materials, for a global programme that has already existed for some 15+ years, how useful and unusual it is for practitioners to take this extra step in their capacity development and facilitation work. That is, to actually write their “curriculum” down, or record it in some way - to capture more than just the content, but the learning process used (the learning objectives, the frames, the questions, the activities, the timing, etc.) Here are a few reasons why I think this is useful and important in this day and age.

Finding efficiencies and economies of scale

This curriculum development exercise was initiated because of a consolidation of three existing programmes who want to create efficiencies and economies of scale from sharing past and future learning investments and practice. These programmes are located in the same “region”, but that region is Africa, and we all know how big that is. So frequent face-to-face work and oral exchange becomes less viable, and flying the one person around who knows how to do X-by-heart is also more problematic. It needs to be documented some way so that everyone can use it.

Democratising the learning process and creating on-demand resources

Writing the process learning down, or recording it in some way, helps move the learning from the expert model, where the knowledge is kept in one or a few people, and makes it available to a wider community of other facilitators (or would-be facilitators). Although distance knowledge sharing is aided by conference calls and video skype, (although still somewhat limited by accessibility), it is still rather impossible to download days (or years) of process this way, and unless you record the exchange, it is not available later when you might need it as an on-demand resource. And even if it is recorded, it is probably not tagged so not searchable later (and who will wade through 40 hours of hand-held workshop video?) I know change is coming in this area because I participated in a demo webinar of Quindi, which is a software package that aims to capture all aspects of meetings including video recording, which then is organized through tagging and bookmarking, but I have only just heard of this recently and not seen it in practice yet.

Promoting knowledge retention and exchange

When each programme team started their own training work many years ago, they probably did not anticipate that they would be in the position one day where they needed to share everything. In this global programme there were initiatives to report on curriculum, outlines were shared, presentations made, but not a lot of learning content was shared across the network and used by other programmes. As a result, I am not finding as much of the curriculum and learning process documented as I would like for this exercise I'm undertaking. It exists in the heads of the facilitators and faculty, but without a great deal of investment, that is very hard to use. Putting action into words can help document the learning process into reusable learning objects which then can be shared and really used.

I wouldn’t mind how this was done - practice and learning materials could be taped and YouTubed and well-titled, recorded into how-to podcasts, blogged, or simply written up (well-labelled -not pdfed please, what a pain to reuse!) and stored on a hard drive somewhere ready for emailing, even better on the cloud. Not only would it be useful for me, but it would be useful for anyone new (and in this time of high turnover, new colleagues are not unusual.) We would all benefit from this tacit knowledge of how things work, whether it is to build it into a new learning process, or share good practice with other parts of the larger leadership development network.

Creating Social Learning Opportunities

Writing things down or recording them in any way takes time, and it is certainly easier for a facilitator to simply have a learning framework in your head, to put together your materials and make it happen. And this immediacy can be very good for learners (but not so good for your peers - in fact, the better you are at facilitating learning activities, with your stock of tried-and-true games and activities, the less likely you are to record your process I find.) However, I think you can do both. If you want to contribute to social learning, and in turn benefit from the conversation that happens when someone can see and query your practice, then find some way to record it and make it useful to others who can then benefit from your work and grow the practice overall.

People who work in leadership for sustainable development need to help leaders make transformational change, and put their words into action, but in order to help this leadership learning community to strengthen its own practice, we also need to put this action, somehow, into words.

Friday, December 18, 2009

BBC's Holiday Video: Wish I Had Home for Christmas

Thanks to the BBC for a slightly odd, but very environmentally-message friendly holiday video!

PS: And just to make more of a learning object out of this (e.g. more than learning that squirrels can play the saxophone), this is the first time I have embedded a video into blog post, much easier than I thought to copy in the code. OK, maybe the squirrels are more interesting - Happy Holidays from me!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Follow the Leaders: Sharing Jay Cross' Collected Wisdom

The recent Online Educa International Conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training featured a stream of fascinating workshops in and around informal learning that was organized and facilitated by Jay Cross (author of Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance.)

I attended a number of the workshops in this stream, that started with a session called "The Great Training Robbery" and included others such as "The New Era of Corporate Learning Unconference" and a Pecha Kucha Mini-Master Class (my first exposure to this cool presentation technique). (Note for conference organizers: Titles are everything when you have 10 parallel sessions to choose from, plus the ongoing pull of the cafe or bar for networking; this stream had some of the most provocative titles and they lived up to their promise.)

Today, Jay kindly sent around to participants of his workshop stream a wonderful set of links to all the rich content and out-front thinkers who contributed to his sessions and said, "Feel free to pass it to others." So here it is, a veritable cornucopia of fantastic stuff about learning, well worth exploring for new ideas and to get a feeling for where some of the leaders in this field are heading:

Session: Informal Learning + Web 2.0 = Social Learning Breakthroughs

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto, the important book for understanding web culture;

  • Jerry Michalski's video interviews with Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman (who challenged transport planners to look again at the way people and technology relate to each other);

  • Enterprise 2.0, important new book by Andy McAfee;

  • CIA Blog & Wiki Vision by CLO Carl Andrus;

  • Toolwire, David Clarke IV's company;

  • Jerry's online Brain and tweetstream

  • Jay's Research Page and Articles

  • Jane Hart's eLearning Pick of the Day

  • Jane's Social Media in Learning

  • Pecha Kucha Mini-Master Class:
    Recordings of our first four Pecha Kucha sessions on YouTube.

    Session: The New Era of Corporate Learning

  • Internet Time Alliance, the folks running the workshops

  • Charles Jennings' blog

  • Jay's blog

  • Kevin Wheeler's Global Learning Resources and blog, Over The Seas

  • Kevin's Corporate University site

  • Jane's Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies

  • Jay's notes on Unmeetings and Open Space Technology

  • Jay's Research Page

  • Online Educa Learning Video Festival
    The video listing is at

    Faculty (Gillian: I added the links here)
    All of these experts make multiple resources available for other's to use, whether its a daily reviews of learning tools and news on their blogs, Delicious pages, Flikr accounts, Podcasts, YouTube videos, and Twitter feeds - all are focused on social learning, walking their talk, and making it easy for others to follow some of the leading thinkers exploring this growing field.

    Sunday, December 06, 2009

    The Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion: Using Twitter for Social Learning

    Many people do not see the point of Twitter. I know this because I counted myself as a proud member of this large, non-plussed group until a few days ago. We had followed the hype and set up an account, followed some people (quickly stopped following some people), Tweeted a few times to see how it worked, and then thought, "so what?" Nobody tweeted back to me, most of my "followers" didn't know me, and it felt a little silly to be sending these cheeps out alone.

    Using Twitter in a conference setting however completely changed my mind about its utility and possible applications for learning.

    The Online Educa Conference was full of Tweeters. I know that because I spent a lot of time looking at the hashtag that was set up by the conference organizers (smart, they printed it in the front of the Conference Programme Catalogue in "Important Practical Information".) A hash tag – like #oeb2009 – is a tag that people include in their 140 character Tweets that is searchable on Twitter. If you put the hash tag in the search box on your home page, any post that includes it will come up in an aggregator window on Twitter. So you can keep track of the whole conversation happening in real time, even if you are not following the individual people Tweeting (yet).

    Believe it or not, a big conference was a great place to be totally immersed in Twitter as it had so many useful applications at the event. Here is what I was noticing about how people were using Twitter for social learning in this setting (remember there were some 2000+ people attending).

    • At any time, there were up to 10 sessions going on in parallel and obviously you could only attend one, but you could count on the fact that a dozen or so people in each session were Tweeting the main points, and if one of those sessions sounded better than yours you could always split and go find it. Twitter helped make more purposeful the Law of Two Feet.
    • Speakers were using Twitter to publicise their sessions in advance (plenty of healthy competition with participants spoiled for choice). They also used Twitter to share their websites and papers. They even used them to announce changes to rooms, speakers line ups etc.
    • Being active and thoughtful on Twitter helped people gain visibility in a large conference. In vast plenary halls, no one could really stand out, and very few got to make their points publically, but on Twitter anyone could jump in with good ideas, and be rewarded with comments and engagement.
    • Participants were using Twitter to gather people together – for example plenty of Tweets announced snacks and discussion at a certain time at some stand in the Exhibition Hall, or at the bar. As one Tweeter lamented, "Shoot!!!.... i see i missed the Tweet meetup at the oeb bar yesterday...always good to meet tweeps in RL."
    • In each session, there were assistants handing out paper feedback forms, but I noticed that not too many people were filling them in. I think they didn’t need to, people were giving real feedback to speakers and organizers on Twitter on everything from the quality of the presentations to lunch. One Tweeter wrote, "maybe we need an online course for silently closing the door!" (obviously sitting too close to some conference room exit).
    • Panel Chairs could use Twitter to gather questions from the audience. At least one Chair monitored Twitter for questions, that she then used to launch discussion when the panelists were done with their formal presentations. One Tweeter even asked his "followers" (not at the conference), "going to mobile learning session- mates of mine, any questions I should ask?"
    • People were using Twitter to be a part of the larger conversation and interact with many more interesting people. We noticed that we could talk to about 20 people face-to-face in the breaks during the two-day conference. However, we heard from and engaged in conversations with hundreds on Twitter.
    • Now, after the conference, Twitter acts as an archive of content through Tweets, with their links, ideas, and connections to a previously unknown group of like-minded people.
    Overall, I was impressed by how much Twitter added to my conference-going experience. It took me a while to get into it. I needed to install Tweetdeck on my I-phone before it got really easy to use it for all the things above. It took me some time to find my "voice", make some personal policies about what, when and how I would engage with the community through Twitter. And suddenly, I wasn't learning alone anymore.

    Saturday, December 05, 2009

    Ahead of the Curve: This Year’s Learning Trends at Online Educa

    I just spent the last two days at Online Educa, one of the largest global conferences for technology-supported learning and training, held annually in Berlin. It is my third time attending and every time I return full of new ideas and a glimpse at the future learning trends through the eyes of some of the top thinkers, academics and techno-geeks. This year was no different.

    Each year there is some tool or topic that is capturing the excitement and imagination of the 2000+ participants. When I first attended in 2006 it was blogs and wikis, with many people enthusing about their experiences with these young tools. At that time we had just started this blog, so were eager to hear how people were experimenting with theirs for learning. Informal learning was also a topic with Jay Cross’ original book on this published.

    In 2007, the buzz was around real learning applications in virtual worlds, like Second Life (SL), which most people had discarded as playgrounds for slackers. Many formal and informal learning experts were exploring and exploiting their potential for all kinds of learning. Podcasting was also a hot topic, and mobile learning was a beginning topic of conversation then, but was being drowned out by SL avatars and a much bigger conversation about the quality and quantity of user-generated content. (I'll never forget plenary speaker Andrew Keen -author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture- who was boo-ed for proclaiming to the audience of thousands of otherwise very polite internet enthusiasts that wikipedia and the internet was being written by monkeys, or something to that extent.)

    Trending this year were a few things: Tools like Twitter were not only mentioned in practically every session, but also was being actively used to extend the learning beyond the seminar rooms throughout the conference. All kinds of video application was also a trend, from having school kids use the video clips they took with their phone for show and tell, to the question of whether YouTube and its mega supply of how-to, just-in-time learning content might ever replace formal training. Mobile learning was also very big this year, with everyone doing it on their I-phones (or other, although I saw lots of them) as well as discussing the future of learning as being “hand held”. This was linked to an ongoing discussion about the coming of cloud computing, having everything in the "cloud" with ubiquitous access, where any user can access any content, anytime with their phone, PDA or even a TV. One plenary speaker heralded the end of "bulky" laptops, while holding up one of the smallest I've seen.

    I myself found it fascinating that I only turned on my own PC once the whole two days (and that was for a skype call to Sweden). Not that I was taking notes and talking instead, no, I was on my phone the whole time. I used it to Twitter the conference, used it to give feedback in sessions on, to ask questions of other participants, to meet and interact with many people, and more. Instead of sitting down to write my blog posts, I micro-blogged the whole time (I would have never found the hour it takes me to write a proper blog post during that fast-paced conference.) And in doing got some experiential learning in "going mobile", learning alot about this new handheld future, from many who do it so expertly.

    In fact, my last Tweet from the Conference was: "#oeb2009 Difference @ OEB for me this yr: Didn't use my laptop at all- all interaction with mobile & found it great- Next yr no pc 4 me!"