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!

How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It

How Wikipedia Works

How Wikipedia Works

Kevin Kelly has written:

The Wikipedia is impossible, but here it is. It is one of those things impossible in theory, but possible in practice.

I couldn’t agree more: the scope of Wikipedia’s success is stupefying to me. The project can teach us many things about how we can utilise small inputs from many to create something grand.

Ayers, Matthews and Yates have written How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It and made it a free cultural work by licensing it under the GNU Free Documentation License. The complete book is freely available online at http://howwikipediaworks.com/.

They have managed to truly deliver on both meanings of the title. The book gives an in-depth explanation of how Wikipedia literally works (i.e. the syntax, the software, categories, templates and more) and how it can work as a community based collaborative effort (through philosophies, guidelines, processes and policies).

After reading it, I now have a much better understanding of the project as a whole, including the other Wikimedia projects, while also understanding that there is much more to learn about the five pillars of Wikipedia which summarise Wikipedia as a website, a mission and a community:

The book is very valuable for educators. One of the best chapters outlines how to evaluate the quality of an article. By using different techniques, including looking at the history of a page, checking the backlinks to an article, taking account of the warning messages and verifying the sources, you can quickly judge the value of the information (for more on this see Researching with Wikipedia). Teaching students how to do this could push the discussion about allowing students to use Wikipedia as a source for research to another level. Even more interesting is make working on Wikipedia an assignment for your students. If I was teaching in tertiary education right now, I would be sure to do this. It will teach students more valuable skills than an essay only written for the professor’s eyes could ever do. There is group of Wikipedians happy to help and set up these kind of projects.

In short: read this book!

Finally two random (but Wikipedia related) links that I enjoyed and want to share with you:

  • Pediapress. A print on demand service for selections of Wikipedia articles. Create your own books by picking the articles you like to have in it and have it shipped to you for a very reasonable price. Selections by others are available through their catalogue. Try Educational Technology for example.
  • An interesting essay, found through the book, about avoiding instructional creep:

    The fundamental fallacy of instruction creep is thinking that people read extremely long, detailed instructions. What’s more, many bureaucracies also arise with the deliberate intent to be alternatives to regulations; this is almost always noticed by the other side, and tends to antagonize.

    Something to always stay aware of!

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!