What Does an Innovation Manager for Learning Technologies Do?

Magazine interview

Magazine interview

A couple of weeks back I was interviewed by Amir Elion who was a guest editor for an Israeli magazine on Human Resources. The interview has now been published (if you can read Hebrew it is available online for free). The publisher has kindly given me permission to publish the English version of the interview on my blog. It might give people a better idea of what I do every day.

Please tell us about yourself, what you do, and how you got there?
Basically I studied to be a philosopher and a physical education teacher. I taught high school children in a difficult neighborhood in Amsterdam. I got very interested in educational technology that I could use personally to support my teaching. This was for project based work, where children had to do real assignments for an external party. I needed educational technology to support the process. That’s when I got to know Moodle, an online course management system. I was one of the first people to use Moodle in the world, and the first one to use it in the Netherlands, for sure. I translated it into Dutch, and started consulting around Moodle. I got picked up by the Dutch Moodle Partner to work as a consultant. Shell was one of our clients, and I made a switch to Shell, to become a blended learning advisor. Blended learning is one of the core strategies of Shell HR. I did a lot of “evangelising” about the strategy, trying to give people a nuanced view of what blended learning really means, and that it’s not just a move from the classroom to an online system but slightly more complex than that. Following this, I moved to a new job as Innovation Manager in Shell’s Learning Technologies team.

And what does that mean?
I am actually not a part of the HR function, but of the global IT function. In the IT function that is responsible for HR applications, I work for what we call a Business Systems Manager (BSM). We have one for Learning, one for Talent, and one for Payments and Remuneration. And each of these BSMs has an Application Portfolio Manager, somebody who is aware of all the applications in their landscape and tries to manage these sensibly – usually by reducing the amount of applications, to rationalize. And learning is the only BSM that has an innovation role. Actually it makes sense, because in learning the tools that you use actually affect the process. My example is always Payments – the fact that we use a particular tool to process our payroll, doesn’t affect when and how much salary I receive, and how I get it. So what the systems do is protect the integrity, and the correctness, make sure things are automated and that costs a relatively low. But with learning – the applications that you have in your portfolio change the outcome of the learning. So they actually change the learning process, the learning events. The more the tools are on the delivery side of things, the more this is the case (less so for administrative things). That is why I have to keep abreast of new learning technologies, because they are so entwined with what you can do with the learning function itself and how you deliver your learning.

What is it I really do? – I manage an innovation funnel. We have an innovation process which takes ideas and develops them. This crosses each part of the business and includes innovation around drilling, refining and retailing, for example. It’s kind of a classic funnel idea, where on the one end of the funnel you have a lot of ideas that you investigate minimally, that other people can give to you. Then there are certain stage gates, with documentation and more research that you need to do for each opportunity to progress through the stages. It’s quite a structured way of doing things. A lot of stages in the funnel have to do with doing small Proofs of Concepts, pilots, in kind of “micro-ecologies” of the real situations. So you would always try something out before you do a global rollout. By doing it this way, when you are ready to implement in a larger fashion, you should have already answered the most difficult questions around implementation.

So you take this global innovation structure, with its stage gates, and apply it to learning technologies?
Correct. And my direct partner in doing this is the Learning Strategy and Innovation Manager. In the HR Learning function there is somebody who tries to do innovation from a learning perspective, more than from a technology perspective – and we share our funnel together. Of course, most learning innovations have a technology component, but there are innovations in there that are purely process innovations around learning that are also managed with the same process.

So looking at the structured Innovation processes at Shell, how do you encourage employees to support these efforts – to submit ideas, to participate in the pilots or gate reviews, to be positive towards change?
First of all, I have noticed personally that “Innovation” seems to be the current Buzzword in the business world. It’s all about innovation now – how to do it, how not to do it or whatever.

I have read a book a little while back, I think it was Innovation to The Core, that argued that with innovation we should reach a similar point which we reached with Quality management about 20-25 years ago. It started with the car manufacturers in Japan, that made quality management an integrated part of the company – and not something that you have a Quality Manager to do – but you make everybody’s responsibility. I agree with the sentiment that companies should be innovative, and should keep innovating, and like we as people should keep learning – companies should do the same. In that sense Learning and Innovating could become synonyms. It should be a lens that you put on everything. The fact that I have “Innovation Manager” in my title is actually not a good sign of how mature we are with innovating. If we were more mature it wouldn’t be the case. It is a good sign because it is better than what we had – we are moving in the right direction.

If you look in what is happening our company – first of all our CEO is driving a couple of behaviors very strongly, expecting everybody to take those behaviors on board – all his senior managers, etc. And one of those is innovation. Whenever we have a speech by the CEO, there are three things that he will always talk about – the first has always been for Shell – Safety (especially of course now – after the BP oil spill – but it didn’t really change because it was already a big part of the culture), and he nearly always talks about having an external focus and about innovation.

So that would be a top-down approach to innovation?
Yes – that is a top down approach to the innovation effort. At the same time, there are been some processes that have existed for a long time in Shell. One of them is called “Game Changer”. Anybody who has an idea which they think can change our business, can hand it in, in Game Changer. There is a committee who looks into these things and writes back to people. The committee has the authority to hand out an initial set of money to good ideas. These ideas can be developed further with that money, and perhaps make the next step. So that can be a grass-roots approach to innovation.

And what does the person who suggested the idea get from it?
Usually that person is very involved in the implementation. Often that person would be made free from their regular work and be able to work as a project lead or in developing these ideas. I don’t think there is any real monetary reward – it’s more that you can go in a direction that you’d like to go.

That’s interesting. And does it really happen?
Oh, it really happens. Because there is quite a significant budget, ands some really good ideas have come from it in the past. A lot of them are on the technical side of our business – around engineering, sustainable energies, etc. It gives people the chance to experiment in a sanctioned way

The other drivers are people like me – there are a lot more people like me dispersed throughout the business in different locations. I try to do two things – I try to first look outside – so I see what technologies are out there, in the learning technology world. I try to translate those into what would work for Shell. I noticed that there are lots of Web technologies out there that aren’t even developed with learning in mind, but if you “translate” them in a smart way, they can be very beneficial for learning. For example – the way that new companies do their customer support, or what universities are doing around their teaching – and try to adapt that into the business world. That’s the external focus of what I try to do. When I find something that I think has potential then my job is to find some stakeholder inside Shell who’s willing to experiment with it. I can’t experiment by myself because I don’t have the customers and I don’t have the resources. I need to find a partner somewhere in the business who’s willing to work with me.

A recent example is something relatively simple – the idea of capturing lectures. We still have a lot of face-to-face education, and we will continue you to have it. But none of it is captured (by video). So we’ve brought in this system which is widely used by universities to capture both the speaker with a camera, and their presentation – this allows you to playback both synchronized and skip to different slides. A thing like that – you find a customer inside Shell – in one learning center, who has a need for this kind of stuff. The other way around happens as well, where there are people inside the company that have technology related problems that they cannot solve with our current offerings of learning g landscape, and you try to find a solution that could help them. It goes both ways. You are in a kind of a broker role, and at the same time really look ahead. There is a bit of tension because I am supposed to look 3-5 years ahead of time, but my appraisal is annual.

So you have to find the mix of short term and long term things?
Yes. You have to be creative in how you deliver. You have to be creative in where you find budgets, in that sense quite challenging.

So this would be the other channel – innovation brokers throughout the organization each in their field (as you are in Learning Technologies), that drive innovation – connected of course with business needs, and with an outlook they see a few years ahead?
Yes.

Do you have links with other innovation people in other fields in Shell?
I work with the general Information Technology innovation people as well. We have a new business. We used to have a downstream business and an upstream business, and a Gas business. What we’ve done is put the Gas into Upstream and we’ve created a new business that’s called “Projects and Technology” – that does our big projects. This allows our upstream and downstream businesses to leverage each others strong points. The head of Innovation of Shell is at this new business, and they have an innovation team. They have a larger budget so I am in touch with them to make sure we are aligned, and occasionally there are things that have a learning aspect but are bigger than just learning. One example would be the Serious Gaming where if we create 3D models of our plants, we can create learning scenarios in them using a gaming engine. But you can also imagine that a lot of other processes in the business could benefit from having this kind of information. For example – we’ve done some research into decommissioning plants using 3D models to see how to do it quickly and efficiently. That’s when we find them and ask them to co-sponsor some ideas or maybe even drive it a bit more than we drive it ourselves.

This is a general HR magazine. Your examples are related to Learning due to your role, but perhaps you can share some other HR stories of innovation – i.e. in recruiting, performance management, etc.
The one thing in which Shell is different perhaps from other global companies is in how global the rollout of our performance management is. I don’t know to what level that’s the case at Motorola, but in Shell literally everybody has the same goals and performance appraisal. The goals for your year are in a central system. From the top down you can see a complete overview. And it really flows down from the top. The first person every year to write their goals for the year is the CEO. Then the next level of management writes theirs. Then their people write something that reflects those. It gets more and more specified rolling down from the top. I think that’s quite an interesting way of doing it. I haven’t seen it globalized to that extent anywhere else (but maybe I haven’t looked a lot).

Another thing I like is that everybody has an individual development plan. This is really part of the manager’s responsibility that people fulfill their individual development plan. It goes even so far that you can use it like a leverage point with your manager to do the things that you want to do as an employee.

I think we also have some innovative things in the way that we set up our HR practices and services, but I am not sure how that is done.

Of course we have global competence profiles, and jobs match these competence profiles. In fact all learning should be geared towards filling competence gaps. Our learning framework is really based on a competence framework.

In my understanding, what you describe could be called an application of best practices in performance management, in learning management, in employee development, which is of course very difficult to achieve. It’s good to let others know that it does work if you really do it. Can you think of stories of going “beyond the best practices”? I mean – you have the organizational structures and the way you do things – but do you “shake” them a bit and make things work not only according to paradigms – when it is called for and it’s worthwhile?
If I am very honest – I think that’s a difficult point for a company like Shell. Because exactly as you are saying – we completely focus on best practice. So that means that in everything we do we look at external benchmarks, and we try to be top quartile – the best 25% in those categories. What that means is that it’s relatively hard to do something “out of the box” at a global level. Because whenever you want to do anything, the first questions will be – “What other companies have already done it?”, “Can we prove that’s it effective?”. In the learning technologies and knowledge management fields there have been certain practices that were innovative when they started but are now best practices. Shell is one of the first companies to have a truly global Wiki implementation. We have an internal Wikipedia, using the same software as Wikipedia – it has about 70,000 users and 30,000 articles – it’s a real big and incredibly useful Wiki that has a lot of business value into it.

The one thing that I think that Shell is innovative about is in its complete focus of alignment of learning and work. We focus more and more on On the Job Training, on learning events that are completely relevant to somebody’ s work. The way that learning events are designed – they always have work-related assignments to them, and most of the require supervisor involvement. You need to agree with your supervisor on what you need to do. Learning is often integrated with knowledge management – through the Wiki for example.

It’s not just a course. You have to think about application and about follow-up…
Yes. And it’s part of the standard knowledge management process. Not a course that stands in itself. A part of it is alive with the business.

That’s sound very good. Could you compare how things were 3 years ago, to something that’s happening today and how you see it in 3 years’ time? (Possibly in learning or learning technologies because that’s where your focus is).
If you look at learning 3 years ago, and is still the case a bit (but less so)…there are different ways of delivering learning. It could be face to face, fully virtual learning, a-synchronous, synchronous. We have email based courses where you automatically get a weekly email with an assignment and some reading to do, etc.

There’s really a broad spectrum in the delivery of learning, but everything is still delivered from a course paradigm and from the idea of competence profiles. What you are starting to see is the course paradigm is starting to crumble a bit. So it’s called informal learning or on the job learning. I think you will see (and we are starting to see it here in the way we are architecting our next steps in our learning landscape), is smaller, modular content pieces; A different perspective of what we consider to be a learning event, what things can be seen as a learning event. More of a “Pull” idea – learning when you need it, than a “Push” approach. Specific learning event interventions around very current direct business problems – instead of through competencies. Because competency based learning for me has two abstractions. First you have to make sure that your competence framework is a very good reflection of your business, the skills it requires, and their translation into competencies. You hope you’ve done that correctly. Then there’s another abstraction when you create learning that has to match these skills and competencies, and you hope that the learning that you create can produce these competencies. If one of those steps goes wrong so the learning is pointless. What you are seeing more and more is a very direct, shorter event interventions. They will also have a shorter lifespan. This has to translate into your development methodology. So I am really starting to see an increase in how fast the learning function is expected to deliver for less cost – so it has to be cheaper and faster! Those requirements are starting to drive change in the way things are done.

If we are moving away from the competency based model, can you predict or imagine what model we are heading towards?
Yes. I think we will go to a simplified competence model. Because a competence model with the amount of functions like Shell has is an incredibly complicated structure that offers room to be simplified. What we are really working on in the next years is a high quality learning typology. The different business-related things where learning interventions could be a good solution. And they are very different, because on the one end there is a big need for “Certified Knowledge” (for instance – airplane pilots that are assessed yearly, and have to prove that they have the right skills and knowledge). That kind of certification levels will be seen more and more in our business. I am sure there will be legislation after the BP oil disaster that will push us even more towards having certified geo-engineers. That’s an aspect learning will have to cover, and it requires a very different solution than helping people implement change in the business as quickly as possible. I think a lot of learning will be related to projects – and that’s a different part of the learning typology. If the learning function can help get a factory online in 4 years instead of in 5 years – that’s a massive cost savings and business results improvement for a company like us. I think there will be a lot of focus on that.

Thank you very much for this interview. It was really interesting to hear these things.

Notes and Reflections on Day 1 of I-KNOW 2010

I-KNOW 2010

I-KNOW 2010

From September 1-3, 2010, I will attend the 10th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Knowledge Technologies (I-KNOW 2010) in beautiful Graz, Austria. I will use my blog to do a daily report on my captured notes and ideas.

And now for something completely different
In the last few years I have put a lot of effort into becoming a participating member in the global learning technology community. This means that when I visit a “learning” conference I know a lot of the people who are there. At this conference I know absolutely nobody. Not a single person in my online professional network seems to know let alone go to this conference.

One of my favourite competencies in the leadership competency framework of Shell is the ability to value differences. People who master this competency actively seek out the opinion of people who have a different opinion than theirs. There are good reasons for this (see for example Page’s The Difference), and it is one of the things that I would like to work on myself: I am naturally inclined to seek out people who think very much like me and this conference should help me in overcoming that preference.

After the first day I already realise that the world I live and work in is very “corporate” and very Anglo-Saxon. In a sense this conference feels like I have entered into a world that is normally hidden from me. I would also like to compliment the organizers of the conference: everything is flawless (there even is an iPhone app: soon to be standard for all for conferences I think, I loved how FOSDEM did this: publishing the program in a structured format and then letting developers make the apps for multiple mobile platforms).

Future Trends in Search User Interfaces
Marti Hearst has just finished writing her book Search User Interfaces which is available online for free here and she was therefore asked to keynote about the future of these interfaces.

Current search engines are primarily search text based, have a fast response time, are tailored to keyword queries (that support a search paradigm where there is iteration based on these keywords), sometimes have faceted metadata that delivers navigation/organization support, support related queries and in some cases are starting to show context-sensitive results.

Hearst sees a couple of things happening in technology and in how society interacts with that technology that could help us imagine what the search interface will look like in the future. Examples are the wide adoption of touch-activated devices with excellent UI design, the wide adoption of social media and user-generated content, the wide adoption of mobile devices with data service, improvements in Natural Language Processing (NLP), a preference for audio and video and the increasing availability of rich, integrated data sources.

All of these trends point to more natural interfaces. She thinks this means the following for search user interfaces:

  • Longer more natural queries. Queries are getting longer all the time. Naive computer users use longer queries, only shortening them when they learn that they don’t get good results that way. Search engines are getting better at handling longer queries. Sites like Yahoo Answers and Stack Overflow (a project by one of my heroes Joel Spolsky) are only possible because we now have much more user-generated content.
  • “Sloppy commands” are now slowly starting to be supported by certain interfaces. These allow flexibility in expression and are sometimes combined with visual feedback. See the video below for a nice example.

  • Search is becoming as social as possible. This is a difficult problem because you are not one person, you are different people at different times. There are explicit social search tools like Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious and there are implicit social search tools and methods like “People who bought x, also bought…” and Yahoo’s My Web (now defunct). Two good examples (not given by Hearst) of how important the social aspects of search are becoming are this Mashable article on a related Facebook patent and this Techcrunch article on a personalized search engine for the cloud.
  • There will be a deep integration of audio and video into search. This seemed to be a controversial part of her talk. Hearst is predicting the decline of text (not among academics and lawyers). There are enough examples around: the culture of video responses on YouTube apparently arose spontaneously and newspaper websites are starting to look more and more like TV. It is very easy to create videos, but the way that we can edit videos still needs improvement.
  • A final prediction is that the search interface will be more like a dialogue, or conversational. This reality is a bit further away, but we are starting to see what it might look like with apps like Siri.

Enterprise 2.0 and the Social Web

Murinsel Bridge in Graz, photo by Flickr user theowl84, CC-licensed

Murinsel Bridge in Graz, photo by Flickr user theowl84, CC-licensed

This track consisted of three presentations. The first one was titled “A Corporate Tagging Framework as Integration Service for Knowledge Workers”. Walter Christian Kammergruber, a PhD student from Munich, told us that there are two problems with tagging: one is how to orchestrate the tags in such a way that they work for the complete application landscape, another is the semantic challenge of getting rid of ambiguity, multiple spellings, etc. His tagging framework (called STAG) attempts to solve this problem. It is a piece of middleware that sits on the Siemens network and provides tagging functionality through web services to Siemens’ blogging platform, wiki, discussion forums and Sharepoint sites. These tags can then be displayed using simple widgets. The semantic problem is solved by having a thesaurus editor allowing people define synonyms for tags and make relationships between related tags.

I strongly believe that any large corporation would be very much helped with a centralised tagging facility which can be utilised by decentralised applications. This kind of methodology should actually not only be used for tagging but could also be used for something like user profiles. How come I don’t have a profile widget that I can include on our corporate intranet pages?

The second talk, by Dada Lin, was titled “A Knowledge Management Scheme for Enterprise 2.0”. He presented a framework that should be able to bridge the gap between Knowledge Management and Enterprise 2.0. It is called the IDEA framework in which knowledge is seen as a process, not as an object. The framework consists of the following elements (also called “moments”):

  • Interaction
  • Documentation
  • Evolution
  • Adoption

He then puts these moments into three dimensions: Human, Technology and Organisation. Finally he did some research around a Confluence installation at T-Systems. None of this was really enlightening to me, I was however intrigued to notice that the audience focused more on the research methodologies than on the outcomes of the research.

The final talk, “Enterprise Microblogging at Siemens Building Technologies Division: A Descriptive Case Study” by Johannes Müller a senior Knowledge Management manager at Siemens was quite entertaining. He talked about References@BT, a community at Siemens that consists of many discussion forums, a knowledge reference and since March 2009 a microblogging tool. It has 7000 members in 73 countries.

The microblogging platform is build by himself and thus has exactly the features it needed to have. One of the features he mentioned was that it showed a picture of every user in every view on the microblog posts. This is now a standard feature in lots of tools (e.g. Twitter or Facebook) and it made me realise that Moodle was actually one of the first applications that I know that this consistently: another example of how forward thinking Martin Dougiamas really was!.

Müller’s microblogging platform does allow posts of more than 140 characters, but does not allow any formatting (no line-breaks or bullet points for example). This seems to be an effective way of keeping the posts short.

He shared a couple of strategies that he uses to get people to adopt the new service. Two things that were important were the provision of widgets that can be included in more traditional pages on the intranet and the ability to import postings from other microblogging sites like Twitter using a special hash tag. He has also sent out personalised email to users with follow suggestions. These were hugely effective in bootstrapping the network.

Finally he told us about the research he has done to get some quantitative and qualitative data about the usefulness of microblogging. His respondents thought it was an easy way of sharing information, an additional channel for promoting events, a new means of networking with others, a suitable tool to improve writing skills and a tool that allowed for the possibility to follow experts.

Know-Center Graz
During lunch (and during the Bacardi sponsored welcome reception) I had the pleasant opportunity to sit with Michael Granitzer, Stefanie Lindstaedt and Wolfgang Kienreich from the Know-Center, Austria’s Competence Center for Knowledge Management.

They have done some work for Shell in the past around semantic similarity checking and have delivered a working proof of concept in our Mediawiki installation. They demonstrated some of their new projects and we had a good discussion about corporate search and how to do technological innovation in large corporations.

The first project that they showed me is called the Advanced Process- Oriented Self- Directed Learning Environment (APOSDLE). It is a research project that aims to develop tools that help people learn at work. To rephrase it in learning terms: it is a very smart way of doing performance support. The video below gives you a good impression of what it can do:

After APOSDLE they showed me some outcomes from the Mature IP project. From the project abstract:

Failures of organisation-driven approaches to technology-enhanced learning and the success of community-driven approaches in the spirit of Web 2.0 have shown that for that agility we need to leverage the intrinsic motivation of employees to engage in collaborative learning activities, and combine it with a new form of organisational guidance. For that purpose, MATURE conceives individual learning processes to be interlinked (the output of a learning process is input to others) in a knowledge-maturing process in which knowledge changes in nature. This knowledge can take the form of classical content in varying degrees of maturity, but also involves tasks & processes or semantic structures. The goal of MATURE is to understand this maturing process better, based on empirical studies, and to build tools and services to reduce maturing barriers.

Mature

Mature

I was shown a widget-based approach that allowed people to tag resources, put them in collections and share these resources and collections with others (more information here). One thing really struck me about the demo I got: they used a simple browser plugin as a first point of contact for users with the system. I suddenly realised that this would be the fastest way to add a semantic layer over our complete intranet (it would work for the extranet too). With our desktop architecture it is relatively trivial to roll out a plugin to all users. This plugin would allow users to annotate webpages on the net creating a network of meta-information about resources. This is becoming increasingly viable as more and more of the resources in a company are accessed from a browser and are URL addressable. I would love to explore this pragmatic direction further.

Knowledge Sharing
Martin J. Eppler from the University of St. Gallen seems to be a leading researcher in the field of knowledge management: when he speaks people listen. He presented a talk titled “Challenges and Solutions for Knowledge Sharing in Inter-Organizational Teams: First Experimental Results on the Positive Impact of Visualization”. He is interested in the question of how visualization (mapping text spatially) changes the way that people share knowledge. In this particular research project he focused on inter-organizational teams. He tries to make his experiments as realistic as possible, so he used senior managers and reallife scenarios, put them in three experimental groups and set them out to do a particular task. There was a group that was supported with special computer based visualization software, another group used posters with templates and a final (control) group used plain flipcharts. After analysing his results he was able to conclude that visual support leads to significant greater productivity.

This talk highlights one of the problems I have with science applied in this way. What do we now know? The results are very narrow and specific. What happens if you change the software? Is this the case for all kinds of tasks? The problem is: I don’t know how scientists could do a better job. I guess we have to wait till our knowledge-working lives can really be measured consistently and in realtime and then for smart algorythms to find out what really works for increased productivity.

The next talk in this talk was from Felix Mödritscher who works at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. His potentially fascinating topic “Using Pattern Repositories for Capturing and Sharing PLE Practices in Networked Communities” was hampered by the difficulty of explaining the complexities of the project he is working on.

He used the following definition for Personal Learning Environments (PLEs): a set of tools, services, and artefacts gathered from various contexts and to be used by learners. Mödritscher has created a methodology that allows people to share good practices in PLEs. First you record PLE interactions, then you allow people to depersonalise these interactions and share them as an “activity pattern” (distilled and archetypical), where people can then pick these up and repersonalise them. He has created a Pattern repository, with a pattern store. It has a client side component implemented as a Firefox extension: PAcMan (Personal Activity Manager). It is still early days, but these patterns appear to be really valuable: they not only help with professional competency development, but also with what he calls transcompentences.

I love the idea of using design patterns (see here), but thought it was a pity that Mödritscher did not show any very concrete examples of shared PLE patterns.

My last talk of the day was on “Clarity in Knowledge Communication” by Nicole Bischof, one of Eppler’s PhD students in the University of St. Gallen. She used a fantastic quote by Wittgenstein early in her presentation:

Everything that can be said, can be said clearly

According to her, clarity can help with knowledge creation, knowledge sharing, knowledge retention and knowledge application. She used the Hamburger Verständlichkeitskonzept as a basis to distill five distinct aspects to clarity: Concise content, Logical structure, Explicit content, Ambiguity low and Ready to use (the first letters conveniently spell “CLEAR”). She then did an empirical study about the clarity of Powerpoint presentations. Her presentation turned tricky at that point as she was presenting in Powerpoint herself. The conclusion was a bit obvious: knowledge communication can be designed to be more user-centred and thus more effective, clarity helps in translating innovation and potential of knowledge and can help with a clear presentation of complex and knowledge content.

Bischof did an extensive literature review and clarity is an underresearched topic. After just having read Tufte’s anti-Powerpoint manifesto I am convinced that there is a world to gain for businesses like Shell’s. So much of our decision making is based on Powerpoint slidepacks, that it becomes incredibly urgent to let this be optimal.

Never walk alone
I am at this conference all by myself and have come to realise that this is not the optimal situation. I want to be able to discuss the things that I have just seen and collaboratively translate them to my personal work situation. It would have been great to have a sparring partner here who shares a large part of my context. Maybe next time?!

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 2008: Wrap up of day 1

I have already written two posts about the Learning 2008 conference. This last post about day one will just be some random things that I noticed and want to highlight:

  • The session on Mobile learning with industry leaders from Chrysler, Accenture, Microsoft and Merril Lynch was surprising to me. Mobile learning was mostly used by these companies to make their learning more efficient and thus drive down costs without losing effectiveness. Basically a matter of ROI. Existing learning materials and courses are converted into on- or offline materials for the Blackberry or Windows mobile. Their employees can then do some of the required business curriculum while they are on a plane, on the way to their car or while playing with their child (yep, that last example was actually used). They were after the holy grail of learning designers: design once and deploy everywhere. The problem with this is that they do not take the affordances of the mobile device into account. The fact that this is a cell phone which could be used for audio, that it is a communication tool that has rich possibilities (e.g. location awareness through GPS) was not taken into account. To me that is a shame.
  • Richard Culatta works for the CIA and gave a presentation titled: “Two Brains are better than one: Leveraging social networks for learning”.  He talked about a whole bunch of free tools which can be used for social learning. The CIA uses these tools in different ways (e.g. the Intellipedia, a Mediawiki implementation). What I liked about Richard’s presentation was his enthusiasm and his energy: he covered a lot of ground in a short time and was very interactive with the audience. Maybe because he is well aware of the concept of the attention economy. I wish all presenters would take the cost of my attention into account!
  • Wayne Hodgins is working with Erik Duval on a book about the Snowflake effect. His job title is “Strategic Futurist” and works from his sailing boat in which he sails around the world. He talked about how everybody is a snowflake, a metaphor for the uniqueness of everybody. Different music services (e.g. Pandora and Last.fm) already take this uniqueness into account. Why don’t we apply these principles to learning activities? Finally he talked about mashups as a generic concept. Why don’t we use the unique qualities of humans and mash them up when we create a project team?
  • Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, talked about the Wikipedia in general, which is currently the number four website in the world. Masie asked her about how neutrality is ensured. Her idea is that transparency is the answer to everything. By being clear that someone thinks A, but somebody else thinks B, you actually add to knowledge and make things clear. The foundation will be working on improving the interface for editing articles which can be quite difficult for complex pages. They might also try to look at what they can do with video and audio, although we have to realise that they are not as easily collaborated with as with text. Masie wondered about students using information from the Wikipedia for their assignments. Is that something we should encourage while the information might not be correct? Sue answered by talking about the most accepting country for Wikipedia: Germany. Professors in Germany are starting to see it as their duty to make sure that Wikipedia is correct and updated.
  • Finally an interesting link: Learning for International NGO’s (Lingos).

On to day two!