Learning from the Outside, How External Focus Can Help Learning and Development

This presentation delivered on April 19 for the Irish Centre for Business Excellence Network tries to address why things are not changing fast enough in the (corporate) learning world by pointing out that we often fail to look to the outside. We rely on benchmarking without realising that this will never get us ahead of the game. We try to implement best practices rather than focus on emergent practice. Changing this requires finding our edge and trying to see what you can learn from there. For corporations and organisations the edge can be found in things like the consumerisation of IT, open source, experimental academia and the startup world.

You can download the presentation as a PDF or watch in on SlideShare:

I’ve used many sources to create the presentation. Here are all the relevant links in context.

In the past I have thought a bit about seredendipity and have written a few blogposts about the topic.

Bert De Coutere describes how Learning and Development is stuck in his blog post Learning got stuck in itself…. Steve Wheeler writes about the differences between upstairs (where the Learning Technologies conference was held) and downstairs (where the learning vendors could tout their wares) in his post titled Upstairs downstairs.

If you are interested to learn more about Omphaloskepsis, check out this Wikipedia article.

The following three companies (among many others) offer benchmarking in the learning space: Corporate University Exchange, BrandonHall and Bersin (their benchmarking data for 2011 is available here).

Youngme Moon has written a book titled Different in which she explains why products in a category all become alike. Harold Jarche reviews the book in a blog post titled Different – Review. In that review he refers to Tim Kastelle who lifts stwo diagrams out of Moon’s book in Be Great at One Thing. I remade the diagrams using the excellent Inkscape.

The Wikipedia page about the Cynefin Framework isn’t bad. Dave Snowden’s Harvard Business Review article about his framework and how it can help with leadership is titled Leader’s Framework for Decision Making (and maybe I should credit Mary E. Boone for once).

Automattic is an amazing company. They create and host the wordpress.com platform (more information). The Automattic creed is available on Matt Mullenweg’s website. Matt gets interviewed here. This map shows where all the “Automatticians” are located. Check out this page if you want to know more about Automattic or are interested in working for them.

If you want to know more about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) you should start here and then quickly move on to what Stephen Downes writes in his piece What a MOOC Does. The MOOC example I decided to reference in the presentation is Digital Storytelling also known as DS106.

The term Edupunk was coined in Jim Groom’s post The Glass Bees and quickly got its own Wikipedia article. Stephen Downes tied together a few good posts about the topic here and this article on BlogHer could also be a good start.

The big open online courses that are now fashionable and are starting to get a commercial face (Coursera and Udacity) owe their debts to MOOCs and the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).

If you want to be kept up to date about learning technology “on the edge” then your best bet is likely to pay close attention to Audrey Watters’ blog Hack Education (not mentioned in my presentation).

Mozilla‘s mission page is here and it is worthwile reading their whole manifesto. Their Open Badges program is getting a lot of deserved attention and could always use more participants. You can read about all their learning plans on their Learning Wiki, this is also the place to go to if you want to get involved.

If you are interested in becoming more entrepreneurial and innovative, regardless of whether you have your own business or are working in a company/organisation, you can’t do better than read The Lean Startup.

Lak11 Week 3 and 4 (and 5): Semantic Web, Tools and Corporate Use of Analytics

Two weeks ago I visited Learning Technologies 2011 in London (blog post forthcoming). This meant I had less time to write down some thoughts on Lak11. I did manage to read most of the reading materials from the syllabus and did some experimenting with the different tools that are out there. Here are my reflections on week 3 and 4 (and a little bit of 5) of the course.

The Semantic Web and Linked Data

This was the main topic of week three of the course. Basically the semantic web has a couple of characteristics. It tries to separate the presentation of the data and the data itself. It does this by structuring the data which then allows linking up all the data. The technical way that this is done is through so-called RDF-triples: a subject, a predicate and an object.

Although he is a better writer than speaker, I still enjoyed this video of Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the web) explaining the concept of linked data. His point about the fact that we cannot predict what we are going to make with this technology is well taken: “If we end up only building the things I can imagine, we would have failed“.

The benefits of this are easy to see. In the forums there was a lot of discussion around whether the semantic web is feasible and whether it is actually necessary to put effort into it. People seemed to think that putting in a lot of human effort to make something easier to read for machines is turning the world upside down. I actually don’t think that is strictly true. I don’t believe we need strict ontologies, but I do think we could define more simple machine readable formats and create great interfaces for inputting data into these formats.

Use cases for analytics in corporate learning

Weeks ago Bert De Coutere started creating a set of use cases for analytics in corporate learning. I have been wanting to add some of my own ideas, but wasn’t able to create enough “thinking time” earlier. This week I finally managed to take part in the discussion. Thinking about the problem I noticed that I often found it difficult to make a distinction between learning and improving performance. In the end I decided not to worry about it. I also did not stick to the format: it should be pretty obvious what kind of analytics could deliver these use cases. These are the ideas that I added:

  • Portfolio management through monitoring search terms
    You are responsible for the project management portfolio learning portfolio. In the past you mostly worried about “closing skill gaps” through making sure there were enough courses on the topic. In recent years you have switched to making sure the community is healthy and you have switched from developing “just in case” learning intervention towards “just in time” learning interventions. One thing that really helps you in doing your work is the weekly trending questions/topics/problems list you get in your mailbox. It is an ever-changing list of things that have been discussed and searched for recently in the project management space. It wasn’t until you saw this dashboard that you noticed a sharp increase in demand for information about privacy laws in China. Because of it you were able to create a document with some relevant links that you now show as a recommended result when people search for privacy and China.
  • Social Contextualization of Content
    Whenever you look at any piece of content in your company (e.g. a video on the internal YouTube, an office document from a SharePoint site or news article on the intranet), you will not only see the content itself, but you will also see which other people in the company have seen that content, what tags they gave it, which passages they highlighted or annotated and what rating they gave the piece of content. There are easy ways for you to manage which “social context” you want to see. You can limit it to the people in your direct team, in your personal network or to the experts (either as defined by you or by an algorithm). You love the “aggregated highlights view” where you can see a heat map overlay of the important passages of a document. Another great feature is how you can play back chronologically who looked at each URL (seeing how it spread through the organization).
  • Data enabled meetings
    Just before you go into a meeting you open the invite. Below the title of the meeting and the location you see the list of participants of the meeting. Next to each participant you see which other people in your network they have met with before and which people in your network they have emailed with and how recent those engagements have been. This gives you more context for the meeting. You don’t have to ask the vendor anymore whether your company is already using their product in some other part of the business. The list also jogs your memory: often you vaguely remember speaking to somebody but cannot seem to remember when you spoke and what you spoke about. This tools also gives you easy access to notes on and recordings of past conversations.
  • Automatic “getting-to-know-yous”
    About once a week you get an invite created by “The Connector”. It invites you to get to know a person that you haven’t met before and always picks a convenient time to do it. Each time you and the other invitee accept one of these invites you are both surprised that you have never met before as you operate with similar stakeholders, work in similar topics or have similar challenges. In your settings you have given your preference for face to face meetings, so “The Connector” does not bother you with those video-conferencing sessions that other people seem to like so much.
  • “Train me now!”
    You are in the lobby of the head office waiting for your appointment to arrive. She has just texted you that she will be 10 minutes late as she has been delayed by the traffic. You open the “Train me now!” app and tell it you have 8 minutes to spare. The app looks at the required training that is coming up for you, at the expiration dates of your certificates and at your current projects and interests. It also looks at the most popular pieces of learning content in the company and checks to see if any of your peers have recommended something to you (actually it also sees if they have recommended it to somebody else, because the algorithm has learned that this is a useful signal too), it eliminates anything that is longer than 8 minutes, anything that you have looked at before (and haven’t marked as something that could be shown again to you) and anything from a content provider that is on your blacklist. This all happens in a fraction of a second after which it presents you with a shortlist of videos for you to watch. The fact that you chose the second pick instead of the first is of course something that will get fed back into the system to make an even better recommendation next time.
  • Using micro formats for CVs
    The way that a simple structured data format has been used to capture all CVs in the central HR management system in combination with the API that was put on top of it has allowed a wealth of applications for this structured data.

There are three more titles that I wanted to do, but did not have the chance to do yet.

  • Using external information inside the company
  • Suggested learning groups to self-organize
  • Linking performance data to learning excellence

Book: Head First Data Analytics

I have always been intrigued by O’Reilly’s Head First series of books. I don’t know any other publisher who is that explicit about how their books try to implement research based good practices like an informal style, repetition and the use of visuals. So when I encountered Data Analysis in the series I decided to give it a go. I wrote the following review on Goodreads:

The “Head First” series has a refreshing ambition: to create books that help people learn. They try to do this by following a set of evidence-based learning principles. Things like repetition, visual information and practice are all incorporated into the book. This good introduction to data analysis, in the end only scratches the surface and was a bit too simplistic for my taste. I liked the refreshers around hypothesis testing, solver optimisation in Excel, simple linear regression, cleaning up data and visualisation. The best thing about the book is how it introduced me to the open source multi-platform statistical package “R”.

Learning impact measurement and Knowledge Advisers

The day before Learning Technologies, Bersin and KnowledgeAdvisors organized a seminar about measuring the impact of learning. David Mallon, analyst at Bersin, presented their High-Impact Measurement framework.

Bersin High-Impact Measurement Framework

Bersin High-Impact Measurement Framework

The thing that I thought was interesting was how the maturity of your measurement strategy is basically a function of how much your learning organization has moved towards performance consulting. How can you measure business impact if your planning and gap analysis isn’t close to the business?

Jeffrey Berk from KnowledgeAdvisors then tried to show how their Metrics that Matter product allows measurement and then dashboarding around all the parts of the Bersin framework. They basically do this by asking participants to fill in surveys after they have attended any kind of learning event. Their name for these surveys is “smart sheets” (an much improved iteration of the familiar “happy sheets”). KnowledgeAdvisors has a complete software as a service based infrastructure for sending out these digital surveys and collating the results. Because they have all this data they can benchmark your scores against yourself or against their other customers (in aggregate of course). They have done all the sensible statistics for you, so you don’t have to filter out the bias on self-reporting or think about cultural differences in the way people respond to these surveys. Another thing you can do is pull in real business data (think things like sales volumes). By doing some fancy regression analysis it is then possible to see what part of the improvement can be attributed with some level of confidence to the learning intervention, allowing you to calculate return on investment (ROI) for the learning programs.

All in all I was quite impressed with the toolset that they can provide and I do think they will probably serve a genuine need for many businesses.

The best question of the day came from Charles Jennings who pointed out to David Mallon that his talk had referred to the increasing importance of learning on the job and informal learning, but that the learning measurement framework only addresses measurement strategies for top-down and formal learning. Why was that the case? Unfortunately I cannot remember Mallon’s answer (which probably does say something about the quality or relevance of it!)

Experimenting with Needlebase, R, Google charts, Gephi and ManyEyes

The first tool that I tried out this week was Needlebase. This tool allows you to create a data model by defining the nodes in the model and their relations. Then you can train it on a web page of your choice to teach it how to scrape the information from the page. Once you have done that Needlebase will go out to collect all the information and will display it in a way that allows you to sort and graph the information. Watch this video to get a better idea of how this works:

I decided to see if I could use Needlebase to get some insights into resources on Delicious that are tagged with the “lak11” tag. Once you understands how it works, it only takes about 10 minutes to create the model and start scraping the page.

I wanted to get answers to the following questions:

  • Which five users have added the most links and what is the distribution of links over users?
  • Which twenty links were added the most with a “lak11” tag?
  • Which twenty links with a “lak11” tag are the most popular on Delicious?
  • Can the tags be put into a tag cloud based on the frequency of their use?
  • In which week were the Delicious users the most active when it came to bookmarking “lak11” resources?
  • Imagine that the answers to the questions above would be all somebody were able to see about this Knowledge and Learning Analytics course. Would they get a relatively balanced idea about the key topics, resources and people related to the course? What are some of the key things that would they would miss?

Unfortunately after I had done all the machine learning (and had written the above) I learned that Delicious explicitly blocks Needlebase from accessing the site. I therefore had to switch plans.

The Twapperkeeper service keeps a copy of all the tweets with a particular tag (Twitter itself only gives access to the last two weeks of messages through its search interface). I manage to train Needlebase to scrape all the tweets, the username, URL to user picture and userid of the person adding the tweet, who the tweet was a reply to, the unique ID of the tweet, the longitude and latitude, the client that was used and the date of the tweet.

I had to change my questions too:

Another great resource that I re-encountered in these weeks of the course was the Rosling’s Gapminder project:

Google has acquired some part of that technology and thus allows a similar kind of visualization with their spreadsheet data. What makes the data smart is the way that it shows three variables (x-axis, y-axis and size of the bubble and how they change over time. I thought hard about how I could use the Twitter data in this way, but couldn’t find anything sensible. I still wanted to play with the visualization. So at the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative I could download data about population size, investment in education and unemployment figures for a set of countries per year (they have a nice iPhone app too). When I loaded that data I got the following result:

Click to be able to play the motion graph

Click to be able to play the motion graph

The last tool I installed and took a look at was Gephi. I first used SNAPP on the forums of week and exported that data into an XML based format. I then loaded that in Gephi and could play around a bit:

Week 1 forum relations in Gephi

Week 1 forum relations in Gephi

My participation in numbers

I will have to add up my participation for the two (to three) weeks, so in week 3 and week 4 of the course I did 6 Moodle posts, tweeted 3 times about Lak11, wrote 1 blogpost and saved 49 bookmarks to Diigo.

The hours that I have played with all the different tools mentioned above are not mentioned in my self-measurement. However, I did really enjoy playing with these tools and learned a lot of new things.

Lak11 Week 1: Introduction to Learning and Knowledge Analytics

Every week I will try and write down some reflections on the Open Online Course: Learning and Knowledge Analytics. These will by written for myself as much as for anybody else, so I have to apologise in advance about the fact that there will be nearly no narrative and a mix between thoughts on the contents of the course and on the process of the course.

So what do I have to write about this week?

My tooling for the course

There is a lot of stuff happening in these distributed courses and keeping up with the course required some setup and preparation on my side (I like to call that my “tooling”). So what tools do I use?

A lot of new materials to read are created every day: Tweets with the #lak11 hashtag, posts in all the different Moodle forums, Google groups and Learninganalytics.net messages from George Siemens and Diigo/Delicious bookmarks. Thankfully all of these information resources create RSS feeds and I have been able to add them all to special-made Lak11 folder in my Google Reader (RSS feed). That folder sorts its messages based on time (oldest first) allowing me some understanding of the temporal aspects of the course and making sure I read a reply after the original message. A couple of times a day I use the excellent MobileRSS reader on my iPad to read through all the messages.

There is quite a lot of reading to do. At the beginning of the week I read through the syllabus and make sure that I download all the PDF files to GoodReader on the iPad. All web articles are stored for later reading using the Instapaper service. I have given both GoodReader and Instapaper Lak11 folders. I do most of the reading of these articles on the train. GoodReader allows me to highlight passages and store bookmarks in the PDF file itself. With Instapaper thus is a bit more difficult: when I read a very interesting paragraph I have to highlight it and email it to myself for later processing.

Each and every resource that I touch for the course gets its own bookmark on Diigo. Next to the relevant tags for the resource I also tag them with lak11 and weekx (where x is the number of the week) and share them to the Learning Analytics group on Diigo. These will provide me with a history of the interesting things I have seen during the course and should help me in writing a weekly reflective post.

So far the “consumer” side of things. As a “producer” I participate in the Moodle forums. I can easily find back all my own posts through my Moodle profile and I hope to use some form of screen-scraper at the end of the course to pull a copy of everything that I have written. I use this Worpress.com hosted blog to write and reflect on the course materials and tag my course-related post with “lak11” so that show up on their own page (and have their own feed in case you are interested). On Twitter I occasionally tweet with #lak11, mostly to refer to a Moodle- or blog post that I have written or to try and ask the group a direct question.

What is missing? The one thing that I don’t use yet is something like a mind mapping or a concept mapping tool. The syllabus recommends VUE and CMAP and one of the assignments each week is to keep updating a map for the course. These tools don’t seem to have an iPad equivalent. There is some good mind mapping tools for the iPad (my favourite is probably iThoughtsHD, watch this space for a mind mapping comparison of iPad apps), but I don’t seem to be able to add using it into my workflow for the course. Maybe I should just try a little harder.

My inability to “skim and dive”

This week I reconfirmed my inability to “skim and dive”. For these things I seem to be an all or nothing guy. There are magazines that I read completely from the first page to the last page (e.g. Wired). This course seems to be one of these things too. I read every single thing. It is a bit much currently, but I expect the volume of Moodle and Twitter messages to go down quite significantly as the course progresses. So if I can just about manage now, it should become relatively easy later on.

The readings of this week

There were quite a few academic papers in the readings of this week. Most of them provided an overview of education datamining or academic/learning analytics. Many of the discussions in these papers seemed quite nominal to me. They probably are good references to keep and have a wealth of bibliographical materials that I could look at at some point in the future. For now, they lacked any true new insights for me and appeared to be pretty basic.

Live sessions

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend any of the Elluminate sessions and I haven’t listened to them yet either. I hope to catch up this week with the recordings and maybe even attend the guest speaker live tomorrow evening.

Marginalia

It has been a while since I last actively participated in a Moodle facilitated course. Moodle has again proven to be a very effective host for forum based discussions. One interesting Moodle add-on that I had not seen before is Marginalia a way to annotate forum posts in Moodle itself which can be private or public. Look at the following Youtube video to see it in action.

I wonder if I will use it extensively in the next few weeks.

Hunch

One thing that we were asked to try out as an activity was Hunch. For me it was interesting to see all the different interpretations that people in the course had about how to pick up this task and what the question (What are the educational uses of a Hunch-like tool for learning?) actually meant. A distributed course like this creates a lot of redundancy in the answers. I also noted that people kept repeating a falsehood (needing to use Twitter/Facebook to log in). My explanation of how Hunch could be used by the weary was not really picked up. It is good to be reminded at times that most people in the world do not share my perspective on computers and my literacy with the medium. Thinking otherwise is a hard to escape consequence of living in a techno-bubble with the other “digerati”.

I wrote the following on the topic (in the Moodle forum for week 1):

Indeed the complete US-centricness of the service was the first thing that I noticed. I believe it asked me at some point on what continent I am living. How come it still asks me questions to which I would never have an answer? Are these questions crowdsourced too? Do we get them randomly or do we get certain questions based on our answers? It feels like the former to me.

The recommendations that it gave me seemed to be pretty random too. The occasional hit and then a lot of misses. I had the ambition to try out the top 5 music albums it would recommend me, but couldn’t bear the thought of listening to all that rock. This did sneak a little thought into my head: could it be that I am very special? Am I so eclectic that I can defeat all data mining effort. Am I the Napoleon Dynamite of people? Of course I am not, but the question remains: does this work better for some people than for others.

One other thing that I noticed how the site seemed to use some of the tricks of an astrologer: who wouldn’t like “Insalata Caprese”, seems like a safe recommendation to me.

In the learning domain I could see an application as an Electronic Performance Support System. It would know what I need in my work and could recommend the right website to order business cards (when it sees I go to a conference) or an interesting resource relating to the work that I am doing. Kind of like a new version of Clippy, but one that works.

BTW, In an earlier blogpost I have written about how recommendation systems could turn us all into mussels (although I don’t really believe that).

Corporate represent!

Because of a very good intervention by George Siemens, the main facilitator of the course, we are now starting to have a good discussion about analytics in corporate situations here. The corporate world has learning as a secondary process (very much as a means to a goal) and that creates a slightly different viewpoint. I assume the corporate people will form their own subgroup in some way in this course. Before the end of next week I will attempt to flesh out some more use cases following Bert De Coutere’s examples here.

Bersin/KnowledgeAdvisors Lunch and Learn

At the end of January I will be attending a free Bersin/KnowledgeAdvisors lunch and learn titled Innovation in Learning Measurement – High Impact Measurement Framework in London (this is one day before the Learning Technologies 2011 exhibit/conference). I would love to meet other Lak11 participants there. Will that happen?

My participation in numbers

Every week I will try and give a numerical update about my course participation. This week I bookmarked 33 items on Diigo, wrote 10 Lak11 related tweets, wrote 25 Moodle forums post and 2 blog posts.

Towards a Reflective and Collaborative Learning Culture

Last week I wrote a small teaser on learning for the team that I work in (mostly consisting of IT professionals, rather than learning professionals). I realized that some of the things I wrote could be interesting for this blog’s readers too. So here goes…

Learning culture has high business impact
Bersin & Associates have recently written an interesting report on the business impact of having a good learning culture. They define a learning culture as

The collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that influence and encourage both individuals and the collective organization to continuously increase knowledge, competence and performance.

Using a solid research methodology they identified key best practices that affect business outcomes. The most influential practices all center around empowering employees and demonstrating the value of learning. According to Bersin, it is management who has the biggest role to play as they have the most influence on these cultural practices. Their research showed

[..] that learning culture (represented by the 40 High-Impact Learning Culture practices) directly accounts for 46 percent of overall improved business performance as measured by the business outcomes examined [..]

Learning agility and innovation are the two business outcomes that benefit the most from a strong learning culture.

Many organizations have productive employees, but 98 percent of organizations with strong learning cultures have highly productive workforces.

That should be enough of a business case to try and strengthen the learning culture in any business.

Fast pace of change: activities and methodology over content
It is a cliché, but we really are working in an environment where the pace of change is ever increasing. Working with learning content that has taken months to produce will only be relevant for skills that do not change much. That content will not help in keeping knowledge workers up to date and will have little or no business impact.

An alternative is to focus on methodology and activities rather than on content. How can we change the things we do, our behavior, to create a culture of learning and more reflective way of collaborating? How can we truly embed learning? Trying to answer that question will require a very conscious design effort.

Leveraging the teaching paradox
There is a terrible paradox in teaching: by the very nature of the process it is the teacher who learns the most. Learning is most effective when creating something for others to experience  (see the explanation of constructionism here or this great article about the death of the digital dropbox). That is the reason why I love to present and also why I write this blog. If we want our employees to learn we have to put them into the role of teachers too.

Turning consumers into producers
You can overcome the teaching paradox by making sure that instead of asking people to consume content (i.e. going to a course from the SkillSoft catalogue or listening to a webcast by a senior learner) you ask them to produce content. Unfortunately for you, I have learned way more by writing this blog post, than you will ever learn by reading it. In fact, if I was allowed to give a single piece of advice to people designing a learning intervention, I would tell them to turn their participants from consumers into producers. They should ask themselves the following question: What am I asking them to make?

So how do we do all this? Here are four ideas that align with the above and that could be done immediately in any global organization with virtual teams.

Microteaching

Microteaching

Planning and creating collaborative one-pagers and microteaching events
Each week of the year a team of two could be made responsible for creating a one-pager about a particular topic. These one-pagers could give very factual information about the work we are doing (e.g. How are our three main learning systems integrated? Which five learning innovations have gotten the most traction in the past year and why?) or they could be more meta: talking about how we do our work (e.g. What is the best way to do a virtual meeting? Which 10 things should we stop doing today?).

Maybe one-pager is not the best word for this. It could also be a diagram, a video or a virtual role play, as long as it can be presented and understood within five minutes. Each month you could schedule an hour with the team in which the four or five one-pagers of that month would be presented by its creators to the rest of the team. The content itself is not important (you can let people choose their own topic and provide a list of suitable topics on a wiki for the less creative), but the methodology is. I would propose the following “rules”:

  • Each one-pager has a question as the title and is made collaboratively by two people. It is not allowed to do any work on it by yourself.
  • The two people are matched semi-randomly with a skewed bias to virtual collaborations and pairs that haven’t worked together before.
  • The presentation of the one-pagers is done virtually using a microteaching methodology with an active start (3 min.), an exercise (6 min.), a discussion (4 min.) and a look at how to continue (2 min.).

Narrating your work
In virtual teams it is hard to know what all the people in the team are doing. It is therefore also harder to learn from each other and find synergies in the work we do. A well-known way of battling this problem is through a concept called narrating your work. Each person in the team writes down what they have been doing in a couple of sentences. They should be asked to do in a regular interval (i.e. daily, three times a week, weekly) this three times a week. Microblogging technology is the ideal candidate to support this kind of process.

This will not only help the team in doing their work better and more efficiently, it should also help in making it a better team through the ambient intimacy that it creates.

Increasing the effectiveness of webcasts
Most teams in global organizations have a webcast with senior leaders every couple of weeks. These are usually not very interactive affairs: they are more about knowledge dissemination than about knowledge creation. Although there is sometimes space for questions at the end, it is often the case that the usual suspects speak up and discussion on topics barely scratch the surface.

One way to change this would be to have mini-jams (see here for IBM’s way of doing jams) before each webcast. It could work like this: 48 hours before the webcast the topics of the webcast are made available, any documents or presentations are shared and a couple of key questions are posed to the team. The team then spends the time until the start of the webcast discussing the questions. Each topic will have a moderator who is there to guide the discussion and tease out participation. It will be expected of each and every team member to participate and give their view. Microblogging tools, once again, would be good to facilitate this.

As a result it should be possible to make the webcasts shorter and spend the time in them addressing the issues that showed to be contentious or in need of clarification during the jam.

The power of video in interaction
The most powerful of our senses is vision. Technology has finally caught up with our innate ability and can now help us in using this sense in virtual teams. To facilitate working together as a virtual team, you should have the ambition to try and use video in all our your virtual meetings. This would mean the following:

  • Everybody in the virtual organisation needs to have a laptop with a built-in webcam. If they don’t have one now, we make sure that this gets changed as soon as possible.
  • The software to create video calls should be ubiquitous in the organization, it should be easy to use and be supported.

These are just examples…
There is a lot more that we can do: I would really like to have your input on how to really re-design the way we work and learn!

So what did I learn at Online Educa 2010?

Photo by David Ausserhofer (CC licensed)

Photo by David Ausserhofer (CC licensed)

For the third year in row I attended the Online EDUCA in Berlin. This learning technology event is attended by more than 2000 people from over a hundred countries. The timing and the location of the event are ideal: it is a sweet train journey away from Amsterdam and the end of the year is good time for reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next. This year’s snow definitely added to its charm!

This post has some of my chronological notes, reflections, vendor descriptions and random thoughts on the conference. My apologies for its length (check out my tweets about the event for a much shorter and more random summary).

STELLAR
My first stop of the conference was the STELLAR stand, among other things creators of the Teleurope website. Caroline Windrum wanted to get some input for her session later in the conference. She was looking for ideas on how to bridge the gap between academic research institutions and commercial businesses. What things could universities do and what could corporations do differently to make these partnerships more successful? I have written before on the gap that I perceive between the academic and the corporate world. One thing that I think universities could do is to “productize” more. Businesses want to buy finished products, they are not comfortable buying something that is still maturing. Many businesses do not want to be early adopter in areas that are not their core competence. If universities could make it easier for their young researchers (i.e. students) to start a business and start shipping products it would be helpful.

Opening plenary
The opening plenary session had three speakers. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, chairman of the UN Global Alliance, shared some of his thoughts on education (one of the eight Millenium Development Goals). He wanted us all to check out the MDG enabler, a “GPS” for development that will be launched halfway December. The GPS actually turned out to be an oft-used metaphor in the conference. Clark Quinn called the GPS an excellent example of mobile performance support and A New Spring prominently features a GPS in their marketing materials.

Next in line was Adrian Sannier from Pearson (a sponsored keynote). He is one of those speakers that shouts at his audience to try and convey his excitement. Luckily for us he did not cross the Steve Ballmer line. His opening question was whether we are disappointed in the future. Isn’t it shocking that after all these years of talking about it we still have not managed to fundamentally change education? According to Sannier, we now have three technological superpowers that should change the way we learn:

  • We are telepathic as we can instantly transmit our thoughts to other human beings at a distance,
  • we now all have photographic memories with perfect fidelity,
  • and we have total recall with access to all information everywhere.

These technologies will not change anything unless we have a corresponding change in culture. The “one instructor-one class paradigm” has not yet been broken. Sannier implored us to work toward three cultural changes (“the technology piece is over, it is all about the culture now”):

  • Turn education into a team sport. Can you imagine a television show being created by a single person? Why do we accept all these faculty members working completely individually?
  • Let’s start keeping score. Currently it is ok to look at the results of a student, but not of a faculty member.
  • Fix what is broken. We have been sensitive for many years, now it is time to get agressive.

Sannies speech ended with “Step forward and make the culture change, feel the love, thank you very much”. Although the message was quite simplistic in many ways, the emphasis on culture was something that came back again and again during the conference. More on that below (in the paragraph on Bersin).

The final speaker of the session was former Financial Times editor and consultant on innovation and strategy Charles Leadbeater. His talked was titled “Learning from the Extremes”. According to him the route to radical innovation is not starting at the best and then copying that. “Radical innovation usually comes from the margins: social entrepreneurs and the hardest to reach.” As your vantage point determines what you can see he decided to travel the world and go where the need is the greatest and the resources the least. There were three things he learned from his travels:

  • Everywhere he went people told him: education + technology = hope
  • Everywhere he went education was like a religion (there is global belief in education
  • All around the world everyone accepts that education is dysfunctional

So how can this be changed? There are two types of innovation (sustaining and disruptive) and two educational domains (formal and informal). They produce four ways forward:

Four ways to innovate

Four ways to innovate

It is relatively easy and essential to improve education, but it is not enough. We can also reinvent: there are many examples of new types of schools whose teaching philosophies can generally be summarised as “Learning with and by and not to and from”. One of the obstacles of this approach is that it is very important what happens outside of school too. This leads to a supplemental strategy where schools are working with communities and where social and emotional conditions for learning are also looked at. The most promising way to innovate is the transformation to entirely new ways (here Leadbeater mentions Mitra’s infamous hole in the wall experiment). The characteristics of these new ways are:

  • Pull not push
  • Motivation is key: extrinsic and intrinsic
  • Learning through… (not schools, but things like music)
  • Different people, technologies, places for learning

He then focused on the learning habitats of the future using another interesting conceptual model. The future can be high on systems or low on systems and these systems can have high empathy or low empathy. Some examples:

Empathy and systems

Empathy and systems

Highly systematic and higly empathetic are where we want to be, allowing us to finally deliver intimacy at scale.

Presentations 2Go
The lecture capturing outfit Presentations 2Go had a strong presence at the event. They demonstrated their next version of the software and provided a live-stream of the plenary sessions and many of the sessions in the business track. You can view the captured version of these talks here.

Tobbi eye tracking hard- and software
Tobii demo-ed their hard- and software solution for tracking people’s interactions with a screen through watching their eyes. In the past people had to have their face strapped into an immobile position for the hardware to determine where somebody was looking. Now this can be done completely dynamically. I sat in front of a screen which immediately picked up my eyes as two green dots. I closed my left eye and one dot was gone. After a calibration exercise I had to do a little test. Tobii’s software allows you to create tests with certain tasks (like looking at a webpage, or answering a question). The results of multiple test subjects can be aggregated to create heat map like overlays of where people looked at what microsecond.

This type of technology is hugely useful, but not often used in the educational world. Education is opinion-driven, not data-driven and that is a real shame. I would love for big IT projects to not only do “testing” against the business requirements, but also do UX testing with these types of technologies. The technology isn’t cheap: a simple 60Hz setup starts at around €25.000.

Social contextualization of content
Online EDUCA allows people to organize Special Interest Group (SIG) lunches. I was the host of one about the “Social Contextualisation of Content”. Recent developments like Facebook’s opening of the social graphs of their users and Amazon’s aggregated Kindle highlights have shown me very clearly that all our interactions with any type of content (books, magazines, videos and also learning content) will soon be augmented by a social layer. The first time I noticed the power of this idea was when I logged into Facebook while playing the Bejewelled iPhone game: suddenly I wasn’t trying to beat global highscores (how the hell can they score that 50 times as high as me), instead I was trying to beat my family and friends. In a world where Google will be gamed, what is more useful than knowing the thoughts of your friend and colleagues about products, ideas and information?

The lunch unfortunately did not really progress my ideas on this topic, but Olaf Dierker from the TeleLearn-Akademie did have some interesting examples of large US-based publishers who are creating social networks around course books. I’ll update this post with some URLs as soon as I get them from Olaf.

Improving business impact using mobile learning
This was a very full session. Mobile learning apparently is a topic that is on many people’s minds. First up was Erica Wadley from Microsoft. She was in a situation where there were endless amounts of 60-90 minute online courses that could only be accessed by turning on a corporate laptop, logging in, going to the Learning Management System, logging in again and searching for the course you need. Her audience was incredibly mobile and busy. They wanted access anywhere and anytime. She aligned her effort to go to a mobile solution with an internal effort to create a YouTube-like site for Microsoft. The videos from this site can be pushed to any mobile device.

Making this a successful change did require a big culture change (see, there it is again!). She branded her project strongly, did a lot of evangelising and educated people on how to create and use these materials. She created reward programs for usage of the system and found early adopters (“look for the bloggers”) who she equipped with a fourty dollar “podcasting in a box” kit. The results? 70% of the content is now built by the right people and she showed a very impressive graph with the uptake of mobile content consumption versus traditional elearning consumption. Proofing ROI therefore wasn’t a hard question.

One other idea I picked up from Erica was to have a newsletter that consists of nothing but pictures. A nice challenge that I might pick up whenever next I have send something out.

Adam Salkeld from Tinopolis talked about a mobile course his company had made teaching people some soft-skills around communication. They relied heavily on well produced and very funny videos (which ironically for a media production company didn’t play from his slides). He shared some of their lessons around the difficulties of trying to make it the same for every platform (in the end they dropped the Blackberry) and advised us to keep it simple when in doubt.

Clark Quinn, author of the forthcoming Designing mLearning book, gave a much more conceptual talk titled “Harnessing Magic, mLearning for Business Impact”. All mobile devices share the fact that they are a computing device that can have inputs, have output, are connected and have sensors. Mobile devices are accessed way more in a single day then traditional laptop or desktop computers, but have much shorter session times. When you pick up a device you are accessorizing your brain allowing the four C’s of mobile (content, compute, capture and communicate) to help you in your performance.

Battle of the bloggers
IBM’s Bert De Coutere, author of the fabulous Homo Competens book, kindly invited me as one of the three bloggers (Tom Wanbeke and John Traxler were the others) in this year’s “Battle of the Bloggers” session on the graveyard of learning. His goal was to answer the following question: What are the concepts, theories, best practices or trends in the land of the learning that we will declare dead and send to the heaven or hell they belong in? The voting technology of Shakespeak (a possible interesting alternative to PollEverywhere for interactive real-time audience voting and response) allowed the “Just don’t get the microphone near my face” OEB audience to participate in the discussion.

I think the session was more entertaining than insightful (the three bloggers were probably too like-minded), but we still got very positive responses afterwards. In about an hour we talked about Podcasting for Learning (alive), Mobile Learning Content (alive, with some provisos), Learning Styles (dead), Diplomas and Certification (very much alive) and ADDIE (most of the audience had never heard about this: dead).

Business plenary
Josh Bersin talked about what he calls a “High-Impact Learning Culture”, which according to him is the next “big thing” in corporate training.

First let me state that I have love-hate relationship with companies like Bersin. Many large corporations look to analysts like this for guidance in their decision making processes. They presumably to this to beat their competition. I have a common sense approach to this: if you want to do something better than other companies, you will have to do something different than other companies. By virtue of all companies listening to  the same analysts, the analysts have a homogenizing effect. Reading Bersin reports will therefore not drive your innovation. Bersin’s Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2011: Predictions for the Coming Year – Building the Borderless Workplace is a good example. The ten predictions in there (e.g. “Innovation, Empowerment and Learning Culture Will Become Common Themes for Talent Management and Business Growth”, “Informal and Contineous Learning Will Continue to Transform Corporate L&D, and Will Drive Further Adoption of Internal Social Networking” or “Companies Will Start to Unravel and Replace Their 20-Plus Years of Investment in HRMS Systems – And Evolve to SaaS and More Modern Systems for Core HR Management”) are all very likely to occur in the next year, but the predictions itself should not be underestimated as part of the cause for them becoming the truth. Analysis will show good practice and maybe best practice, but it will not show you next practice (thank you Jay Cross for that last one).

That said, Josh Bersin did deliver a very interesting and engaging talk. He started with the current big focus on innovation as a consequence of the downsizing of the last year or so (my current role is probably a consequence of that) and the real struggle to hire talent while most companies are suffering from the aging of their workforce. He used Chevron as an example: 40% of their workforce have been with the company for more than 25 years and senior production engineers take 5-7 years before they are fully skilled up. How do we bridge that gap?

According to Bersin skill specilization is now driving value. High performing organizations realize they have to have specialists. Accenture for example has a hard time to continue their expansive business model. It is not good enough anymore to train their relatively smart generalists with some business skills and put them to work at a client. Customers now expect to procure world class experts.

He then went on to share an insightful result from his research: development planning is one of the key indicators for good performance (using median revenue per employee as a performance indicator). Real learning and developing is informal. If you ask people how they learned to do their job their answer is always something informal. Bersin sees this as an opportunity for the renaissance of the learning and development profession.

Is it important for organizations to have a true learning culture. Learning culture is the collective set of organizational values, processes and practices that encourages individuals and the organization to contineously increase knowledge, competence and performance. The Bersin team brainstormed and got to 40 practices that are manifestions of culture and correlated these with eight business performance indicators to get some very interesting results. The 40 practices are divided into six “families” of cultural practice:

  • Building trust (it is important for people to be able to share what doesn’t work, “knowledge can be shared without political risk”)
  • Demonstrating value of learning (you will always find people that are passionate about developing themselves, you have to honour and value that)
  • Knowledge sharing (traditional instructional design is too slow for many things)
  • Empowering employees (people need to have control over their jobs, autonomy, Microsoft is suffering from these problems currently: people are really confused as to how decisions are made)
  • Learning as a process
  • Encouraging reflection (giving people time to think about what they have learned)

The five practices with the highest impact are:

  • Leaders are open to “bad news”.
  • Asking questions is encouraged.
  • Decision-making processes are clearly defined throughout the company.
  • Employees are frequently given tasks or projects beyond their current knowledge or skill level in order to stretch them developmentally.
  • Employees have influence over which job tasks are assigned to them.

The bottom line of the research is that innovation and business success depend heavily on a learning culture. This culture can be built taking the following into account:

  • New roles and skills for Learning & Development (content manager, community manager, connection manager, performance consultant)
  • New reward and policy systems (promoting and rewarding knowledge sharing)
  • Leadership is critical to success (of the 40 practices 33 are owned by line management and senior leadership, only 7 are in the hands of the L&D organization).

I would love to get my hands on this research and study the research methodology. If this is indeed solid, then it should be a huge driver for the ambition to change.

Balancing individual and organization learning
This session was a bit disappointing to me. It was very traditional in its form and the chair did his utmost best to turn it into an ELIG commercial. Some choice quotes:

Paul Hunter told us that individuals are members of various communities both in an out of “work”. Your organisation is a collection of communities. Learning happens in communities across boundaries. Learning happens through individuals bringing their outside community in.

Bersin spoke again about the impending retirement of older workers and senior executives and how this is still a really big problem for companies. He sees an opportunity for stronger alumni networks: allowing people to scale down while still being involved.

Martti Raevaara is Vice President of the Aalto University: where science and art meet technology and business. This is an innovation university built in 3 years. They don’t compete with their salaries, but with an inspiring environment. All curricula must be based on future scenarios and competencies with enough flexibility for new studies.

Carin Martell from Exact Learning Solutions was there “to increase the diversity aspect of the panel” (which I thought was an insensitive and unnecessary statement). Her talk was very much focused on the tool that she was there to promote, but she had one brilliant example that caught my eye: the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. This hospital has no waiting lists and treats over 500.000 “healthcare tourists” each year. They can only do this by staying at the forefront of medical science. Do yourself a favour and look at their pricelists to realise that we are doing something wrong somewhere.

Working smarter with learning networks
The Internet Time Alliance hosted this session in which they could share their ideas about “working smarter”. For me it is interesting to track the way that their thinking has evolved since last year. Jay Cross does not talk about “learnscapes” anymore, he now calls it “workscapes”. Charles Jennings talks about “real learning” to battle the “conspiracy of convenience”. Harold Jarche links where and how work will be done to the Cynefin framework: anything that is simple is being automated, if the work is complicated the work will be pushed to countries with low labour cost (remember the hospital?). Complex work requires creativity, passion, specialisation and is what we need to start focusing on (this aligns with what Josh Bersin was saying).

Jay Cross then made a very good point: we need to stop judging technology without giving it a try. You cannot have a sensible opinion about something that you haven’t experienced. As an innovation manager that is something that I am convinced of too.

Another interesting concept that I picked up in the session was the “social media cigarette break”. Many organizations don’t allow people access to tools like Facebook and Twitter, cutting people off from their valuable networks. This forces people to take a break from their corporate PC’s and use Twitter on their smartphone in the toilet if they want to find out something quick using their social network. An absurd situation.

At the end of the session I had an interesting chat with Clark Quinn who is a former student of Donald Norman (one of my heroes). We talked about the appaling state of design understanding in the learning function and I shared my feeling that we don’t do enough engineering of the environment of the employee to get the behaviours we want. When we want to change how somebody does their job, we always try to intervene at the level of the individual, rather than in their environment.

Winner of the best learning game
Through Twitter (I wasn’t in the session) I learned that the winner of the best learning game award was Enercities. I have put it on my list of things to look at and might report on it in the near future.

The importance of decent wifi
The Internet connection during the event wasn’t optimal. There were many moments where the wireless connection just wasn’t working for me. I really felt dismembered at those times. How was I to enhance and contexualize the information I was hearing? I cannot be the only one who expects a flawless connection when they come to a conference and I do hope that ICWE will manage to get this sorted next year.

Conclusion
All in all this event has shown that it is worthwile coming back year after year. There is no other way to get connected to as many new ideas and people in such a short time. Where else would one meet the former world champion in Pooh Sticks?