My Top 10 Tools for Learning 2010

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user yoppy

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user yoppy

For this year’s edition of the Top 100 Tools for Learning (a continuing series started, hosted and curated by JaneDuracell BunnyHart of the Internet Time Alliance) I decided to really reflect on my own Learning Process. I am a knowledge worker and need to learn every single day to be effective in my job. I have agreed with my manager to only do very company-specific formal training. Things like our Leadership development programs or the courses around our project delivery framework are so deeply embedded in our company’s discourse that you miss out if you don’t allow yourself to learn the same vocabulary. All other organised training is unnecessary: I can manage myself and that is the only way in which I can make sure that what I learn is actually relevant for my job.

So what tools do I use to learn?

1. Goodreads in combination with Book Depository
The number one way for me personally to learn is by reading a book. When I started as an Innovation Manager in January I wanted to learn more about innovation as a topic and how you could manage an innovation funnel. I embarked on a mission to find relevant books. Nowadays I usually start at Goodreads, a social network for readers. I like the reviews there more than the ones on Amazon and I love the fact that I can get real recommendations from my friends. Goodreads has an excellent iPhone app making it very easy to keep a tab on your reading habits. I found a bunch of excellent books on innovation (they will get a separate post in a couple of weeks).
My favourite book store to buy these books is Book Depository (please note that this is an affiliate link). They have worldwide free shipping, are about half the price of the book stores in the Netherlands and ship out single books very rapidly.

2. Twitter and its “local” version Yammer
Ever since I got an iPhone I have been a much keener Twitter user (see here and guess when I got the iPhone). I have come to realise that it is a great knowledge management tool. In recent months I have used it to ask direct questions to my followers, I have used it to follow live news events as they unfold, I have searched to get an idea of the Zeitgeist, I have used it to have a dialogue around a book, and I have used it as a note taking tool (e.g. see my notes on the Business-IT fusion book, still available thanks to Twapperkeeper).
Yammer is an enterprise version of Twitter that is slowly taking off in my company. The most compelling thing about it is how it cuts across all organizational boundaries and connects people that can help each other.

3. Google
Google does not need any introduction. It is still my favourite search tool and still many searches start at Google. I have to admit that those searches are often very general (i.e. focused on buying something or on finding a review or a location). If I need structured information I usually default to Wikipedia or Youtube.

4. Google Reader
I have about 300 feeds in Google Reader of which about 50 are in my “first read” category, meaning I follow them religiously. This is the way I keep up with (educational) technology news. What I love about Google Reader is how Google has made a very mature API available allowing people to write their own front-end for it. This means I can access my feeds from a native iPhone app or from the web or from my desktop while keeping the read counts synchronised. Another wonderful thing is that Google indexes and keeps all the feed items once you have added the feeds. This means that you can use it to archive all the tweets with a particular hash tag (Twitter only finds hash tags from the last two weeks or so when you use their search engine). Finally, I have also used Google Reader as a feed aggregator. This Feedburner feed, for example, was created by putting three different feeds in a single Google Reader folder (more about how to do that in a later post).

5. Wikipedia (and Mediawiki)
The scale of Wikipedia is stupefying and the project still does not seem to run out of steam. The Wikimedia organization has just rolled out some enhancements to their Mediawiki software allowing for easier editing. The openness of the project allows for people to build interesting services on top of the project. I love Wikipanion on my iPhone and I have enthusiastically used Pediapress a couple of times to create books from Wikipedia articles. I find Wikipedia very often (not always!) offers a very solid first introduction to a topic and usually has good links to the original articles or official websites.

6. Firefox
Even though I have written earlier that I was a Google Chrome user, I have now switched back and let Mozilla’s Firefox be the “window” through which I access the web. This is mainly due to two reasons. The first being that I am incredibly impressed with the ambitions of Mozilla as an organization. Their strategy for making the web a better place really resonates with me. The other reason is Firefox Sync, allowing me to use my aliased bookmarks and my passwords on multiple computers. I love Sync for its functionality but also for its philosophy: you can also run your own Sync server and do not need to use Mozilla’s and all the sync data is encrypted on the server side, needing a passphrase on the client to get to it.

7. LinkedIn
It took a while before I started to see the true benefits of LinkedIn. A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of questions to ask to people who have experience with implementing SAP Enterprise Learning in large organizations. LinkedIn allowed me to search for and then contact people who have SAP Enterprise Learning in their profile in some way. The very first person that I contacted forwarded me on to a SAP Enterprise Learning discussion group on LinkedIn. I asked a few questions in that forum and had some very good public and private answers to those questions within days. In the past I would only have access to that kind of market information if SAP would have been the broker of this dialogue or if I would buy from analysts like Bersin. LinkedIn creates a lot of transparency in the market place and transparency is a good thing (especially for customers).

8. WordPress (including the WordPress.com network) and FocusWriter
Writing is probably one of the best learning processes out there and writing for other people is even better. WordPress is used to publish this post, while I use a simple cross-platform tool called FocusWriter to give me a completely uncluttered screen with just the words (no menus, window edges or status bars!). WordPress is completely free to use. You can either opt for a free (as in beer) hosted version that you can set up within seconds on http://www.wordpress.com or you can go the free (as in speech) version where you download the application, modify it to your needs and host it where you want. If I was still a teacher now, this would be the one tool that I would let all of my students use as much as possible.

9. Youtube
The quantity of videos posted on Youtube is not comprehensible. It was Rob Hubbard who first showed me how you could use the large amount of great tutorials to great effect. He rightfully thought: Why would I put a lot of effort into developing a course on how to shoot a great video if I can just link to a couple of excellent, well produced, short, free videos that explain all the most important concepts? The most obvious topics to learn about are music (listening to music and learning how to play music) and games (walkthroughs and cheat codes) , but there are already lots of great videos on other topics too.

10. Moodle and the community on Moodle.org
Moodle is slowly slipping to the bottom of my list. In the last few years a lot of my professional development was centred around Moodle and I still owe many of the things I know about educational technology, open source and programming/systems administration to my interactions in the forums at Moodle.org. Two things are the cause for Moodle being less important to my own learning:
1. I now have a job in which I am tasked to try and look ahead and see what is coming in the world of enterprise learning technology. That is a broad field to survey and I have been forced to generalise my knowledge on the topic.
2. I have become increasingly frustrated with the teacher led pedagogical model that all Virtual Learning Environments use. I do believe that VLEs “are dead”: they don’t fully leverage the potential of the net as a connection machine, instead they are usually silos that see themselves as the centre of the learning technology experience and lack capabilities to support a more distributed experience.

Previous versions of my Top 10 list can be found here for 2008 and here for 2009. A big thank you again to Jane for aggregating and freely sharing this hugely valuable resource!

Learning in 3D: Please Join My Reading Group

Learning in 3D

Learning in 3D

My company is piloting serious gaming in the learning domain using an immersive 3D environment based on the Unreal engine. We are on the cusp of developing a game around hazard recognition scenarios that are based on real life experiences. Because of this I am reading up on serious gaming and game design in general. After finishing the brilliant The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell (more about that book in a later post), I now want to tackle Learning in 3D, Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration by Kapp and O’Driscoll.

I have decided to start a reading group which will read the ten chapters of the book in ten weeks (there is a preview of the chapters here). We will use blogs, Twitter, Delicious and a weekly teleconference to communicate around the book.

So how will this work?

Goal
The book provides principles for architecting 3D learning experiences (including a maturity model for immersive technologies) and has lessons on and examples of implementations in enterprise situations. The goal of the reading group is to actively internalise these lessons and see how they can be applied in our own organisation(s).

Participants
As I want this reading group to impact the learning function in my own organisation I intend for about 50% of the participants to work for Shell and for the rest to come from my network outside of Shell. The minimum number of participants is 5 (doing two chapters each) and the maximum is 40 (four people per chapter and incidentally the limit of our teleconferencing solution). Everybody will have to acquire their own copy of the book. (I used the Book Depository to buy this book, as they have free shipping, note that I will earn a small referral fee if you click this link and then buy the book).

Process
The reading group will have a weekly rhythm with a particular chapter of the book as the focus of attention. The following activities will happen every week:

  • One or more people will be assigned to write a summary of the chapter on their blog (if they don’t have a blog, they email me the summary and I will publish it on this blog). The summary ends with at least one multiple choice poll and a discussion question/proposition, both used as input for the teleconference.
  • All reading group participants will be tweeting questions and comments about the book (using a designated hashtag, see below).
  • Each participant will try to add at least one interesting link to Delicious (again with a hashtag) that relates to the chapter of that week.
  • At the end of the week (actually on a Monday), there is a teleconference where the summarisers for that week lead a discussion about the chapter, using the poll and the discussion question/proposition as input.

Hashtag and aggregation
All Delicious URLs, blogposts and Tweets should be tagged with the #Lin3DRG hash tag (stands for: Learning in 3D Reading Group). This will allow me to try some smart ways of aggregating and displaying the data using things like Yahoo Pipes or Downes’ gRSShopper. I promise to write another post on my aggregation strategies.

When and where?
It is going to be a virtual affair, co-creating on the web. We will start reading on April 19th, will have our first weekly 30 minute teleconference on Monday April 26th at 15:30 Amsterdam time and will close out on June 28th (so we will have 10 telcons on ten consecutive Mondays at the same time, it is not a problem if you miss one, we will record them).

Do  you want to join the reading group? Then please fill out a comment with your name, email address, blog URL (not required) and any comments or questions you might have at the bottom of this post. I will get back to you with your assigned chapter(s), some more information on the process and the call in details for the teleconference. You can put your name down until Monday April 19th.

I am really looking forward to it!

Why Isn’t There a Wealth of Business Transparency Literature?

The Naked Corporation

The Naked Corporation

In March 2007 I read an article in Wired magazine titled The See -Through CEO. It introduced me to the concept of radical transparency. Ever since then, I have seen transparency as a business value that should be able to provide significant competitive advantages in this digital world. Wired obviously thinks along similar lines. Quite recently, for example, they wrote about how transparency could have prevented and might solve some of the problems that we are encountering in our financial systems: Road Map for Financial Recovery: Radical Transparency Now!

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try and find some books that might explore these concepts further. To my surprise I couldn’t really find much. The most interesting book that I could find was The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business. Tapscott and Ticoll’s wrote this book in 2003. They tried to create a conceptual framework for transparency in the corporate world. In the book they build a rationale for companies to embrace transparency as the basis for a couple of new business integrity values.

To build trusting relationships and succeed in a transparent economy, growing numbers of firms in all parts of the globe now behave more responsibly than ever. Disgraced firms represent the old model – a dying breed. Business integrity is on the rise, not just for legal or purely ethical reasons but because it makes economic sense. Firms that exhibit ethical values, openness, and candor have discovered that they can better compete and profit. […] Today’s winners increasingly undress for success.

[…]

Today’s economy depends on knowledge, human intelligence, agility and relationships inside and outside the firm. The fuel is information, and the lubricant is trust. The revolution in information and communication technologies is at the heart of these changes. The Internet and other technologies enable thinking, communication, and collaboration like never before.

They define transparency as the accessibility of information to stakeholders of institutions, regarding matters that affect their interests. The book is chock full of examples of how companies can be successful by being open and transparent. It will help you attract the best employees for example, or can take inefficiencies out of the supply chain preventing overstocking. My employer, Shell, is mentioned in complimentary terms many times in this book (I didn’t realise this when I bought the book…):

Shell’s brand has always stood for reliability […] and consideration […]. Today, Shell places integrity at the center of its brand. Shell is now asking consumers to trust it not only to provide good gas but also to steward the environment and be socially responsible. It positions itself as an honest, transparent corporate citizen. Some critics allege that this is pure window dressing and that Shell’s commitment to advertising how well it behaves is greater than its commitment to behaving well. But there is no comparison between the genuine shift in thinking and behavior at Shell and the thinking at other companies such as Exxon that have just begun to make the turn.

(Look here for a slightly more neutral point of view on Shell’s corporate responsibility. Also check Shell’s values, especially the General Business Principles are an inspiring read.)

The book could have used some heavy editing (honestly: typos??), but still the authors manage to build a convincing case for more transparency and integrity in the corporate world. In short form: a firm should always try to do the decent thing. Doing the decent thing is not always easy and means you have to weigh options and make choices. Only by being clear about why certain choices are made can a company win the trust of all stakeholders: employees, business partners, customers, communities and shareholders/owners.

So back to the title of this post: Why Isn’t There a Wealth of Business Transparency Literature? I think this thinking is still ahead of the curve. Tapscott seems to have a talent for catching on very early (he wrote The Digital Economy in 1996, Growing Up Digital in 1998 and Who Knows: Safeguarding Your Privacy in a Networked World in 1996). When will we get a clear discourse on this topic? I predict it won’t take much longer: expect to hear more!

I would be very happy with any good reading tips on this topic in the comments.

Some transparency from my side: If you click the link to the book you will be taken to The Book Depository. If you then decide to buy something there, I will receive a 5% commission through their affiliate programme.

The Book Depository is a great online book store that has free shipping worldwide and a giant selection (bigger than Amazon as it will allow you to buy Amazon’s collection through its site). Try it…