(5) Integrating the Learning Flow in the Workflow

rafting-175601_640This is the fifth post in my series about Learning Flows.

In previous posts I have explained

Suitable platforms to host a learning flow are those where an activity stream lies at its heart, so include

  • (free) public activity streams like Twitter, Facebook  - which we use for our own daily learning news flow on Twitter and Facebook
  • open source social platforms like Buddypress , and
  • enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Yammer, Jive and Socialcast

In the latter case, the use of an ESN means that learning initiatives can be embedded in the very same platform that is being used to underpin work processes – rather than be hosted in a separate learning platform. It also means that L&D can use learning flows as one way of encouraging and supporting social learning, knowledge sharing and collaboration across the organisation.

Although a Learning Flow might be hosted in a separate group space on the ESN (perhaps as part of a blended learning initiative) the ideal scenario is for the learning flow to be integrated within an existing team flow. In this way it seamlessly becomes a part of the workflow, and continuous learning becomes a natural part of daily work.

Want to find out more about Learning Flows? An eBook will be available shortly.

#LearningFlow Saturday Survey No 3

During this week on The Learning Flow’s Twitter and Facebook feeds, there has been some discussion around curation tools and skills, so this week’s #learningflow survey is about preferred content curation tools.

50 ideas to change L & D

The smell of change is in the air!  Yesterday  I read a post on TeachThought  called 50 crazy ideas to change education and I tweeted it. Andrew Jacobs was on Twitter and he responded and the following conversation ensued:

Andrew set to work on it last night and scheduled a blog post for this morning: 50 big ideas to change L&D. He has done a very impressive job – which I think needs to be circulated widely.  So I am reposting the 50 ideas here:

  1. Make connectivity and sharing a catalyst for all learning.
  2. Stop claiming every person will be competent.
  3. Have people design their own quality criteria, and develop frameworks to help them understand how.
  4. Celebrate learning by celebrating performance.
  5. Don’t require people to come to a course.
  6. Stop using the words and phrases best practice, and learner engagement.
  7. Have a group of successful professionals in your workplace document the 10 most important things they know, and the 10 most important skills. Then compare and contrast them with your workplace standards.
  8. Let people use smartphones at any place in work.
  9. Mobilise learning by mobilising people in communities they care about.
  10. Make any space in the workplace into a learning space.
  11. Make learning resources entoirely visible – literally open all your content to everybody.
  12. Ditch L&D function “filters”; remove the hurdles like pre-qualification.
  13. Be honest when things suck, are boring, or are wastes of time. Stop rationalizing, making excuses, or using confirmation bias.
  14. Transform your learning function to a 21st century cultural centre with cutting edge experts, thinking, and support.
  15. Stop encouraging people to go on overpriced courses that fail to improve their performance, and that perpetuate a system that stifles innovation and equity.
  16. Make your learning function about creativity.
  17. Make learning at work about self-discovery, accountability, and how to find and evaluate information people care about.
  18. Make your formal support about participation in networks.
  19. Support your learning function as a business.
  20. Treat the people who learn best like rock stars: Give them reality shows, endorsement deals, and huge contracts.
  21. If people underperform, hold them accountable. Find a way to make support meaningful, social, and knowledge-based.
  22. Make people accountable to one another, not the L&D function.
  23. If we don’t celebrate performance in the the way we do level 1 evaluation sheets, let’s stop being surprised when businesses consider us to be superficial.
  24. Review your formal professional systems. Every L&D member is an expert in something. There’s your Personal Development team.
  25. L&D – Stop patronizing learning tech like brand fanatics.
  26. Don’t set benchmark tests that reward 15% error rates with a pass.
  27. Make learning budgets entirely transparent to everyone in your organisation.
  28. Throw out test scores forever. Test in the workplace with performance as your yardstick.
  29. Stop asking so much of trainers and instructional designers.
  30. Help your business understand what training, learning and development are for.
  31. Make sure anyone in a L&D function understands what it means manage commercially. 
  32. Promote learning through networks, not curriculum.
  33. Make performance support and the ability to ask the right question at the right time the criteria by which we measure a L&D function.
  34. Stop testing to count learning, and measure performance.
  35. Rebrand learning the same way Apple has done with computers, Starbucks has coffee, and Nike has jogging.
  36. Stop criticising managers for their lack of support for your formal learning interventions.
  37. Push the language of learning – learners, pedagogy, etc – out of learning spaces completely.
  38. Design complex mentorship and apprenticeship support.
  39. Use support based around thinking habits, and the ability to know what’s worth understanding rather than “content.”
  40. Create support based on the ability to self-direct and design their own learning pathways.
  41. Require Subject Matter Experts to design and deliver learning support.
  42. Stop training–this is a push-pull action; instead, promote learning.
  43. Use YouTube channels instead of handouts.
  44. Eliminate educational language in your learning function – you are not a school (unless you’re a school).
  45. Use social media and ESN instead of email.
  46. Make learning resources more like app stores with support that excites people –that they want to use.
  47. Create support that functions like a playlist, and that browses like Google search results; require people to document their own understanding.
  48. Allow people to decide what they do and don’t want to learn; insist only that the learn something to support their performance.
  49. Treat the goal of learning as performance.
  50. Design your learning function as a think tank to understand and address your business problems.

Andrew ends with these words

So what now.  Well, it’s likely that there are certain points on there that you agree with, you disagree with, don’t understand, wish to develop.

So please help Andrew out – pick a number, tell him what you think in a comment on his blog posts.

The Web is 25 years old today – so how has it changed the way we learn?

Updated: 15 April 2014

world-wide-web-146248_64025 years ago today, on 12 March 1989, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal to develop a distributed information system for CERN, and in doing so lay down the foundation for what was to become the World Wide Web. In the ensuing 25 years there can be few people whose lives haven’t been influenced by the Web in some way or other. But how has it changed the way we learn? 

My own research (particular involving my Top 100 Tools for Learning survey over the last 7 years) has shown that many us are now learning very differently, but the most striking thing is that we are taking control of our own learning in ways not possible before.

Although the Web has offered us the opportunity to participate in much wider open educational opportunities online, and in recent years the MOOC movement has meant that it is now very easy to sign up for an online course at a university or educational establishment anywhere in the world, the fact is, we now have easy access to all kinds of ways to help us to learn about almost anything. Many of these are not instructional courses but are resources in many different formats – videos, screencasts, podcasts, etc – which have often been created by individuals and shared freely and willingly on the Web.

But more than this many of us are using social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to build a personal/professional  network of trusted friends and colleagues. These social networks have become an important part of our professional lives as they let us make global connections with other like-minded individuals. We often refer to our professional network as a Personal Learning Network (or PLN) because, in many cases, if we have a learning or performance problem we often turn first to our professional network for help. However, it is clear that we interact with our professional networks in a number of significant ways: to ask and answer questions; to exchange ideas, resources and experiences; and to learn from one another in many different ways – sometimes even without even realising it!

Ken Perlman writing in Forbes magazine believes a new era is emerging: the era of the knowledgeable networker – people who learn, think and work very differently. He says.

“Knowledgeable networkers are very good at what they do, and at the same time, do not pretend to know it all. They consider the entire puzzle, not just their own area of expertise. They’re integrative thinkers with broad interests and connections. They see how puzzles fit together without needing to know everything about each piece – instead, they KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE and HAVE A LOT OF INFORMATION SOURCES ….”

And as Rob Cross and Andrew Parker explain in their book The Hidden Power of Social Networks

“We learned that individual expertise did not distinguish people as high performers. What distinguished high performers were larger and more diversified personal networks.

I talk a lot about the importance of professional social networking and usually mention how I couldn’t do my own work nowadays without Twitter, but there is usually someone who points out that you can’t learn to become a doctor using Twitter.  And of course this is true – but it’s actually missing the point. It’s not about using Twitter to learn how to become a doctor, but about using Twitter to become a better doctor – or certainly a better-informed doctor, and keep up to date with what’s new in the medical profession. In fact back in September 2012, The Journal of Medical Internet Research reported that ..

“25% of doctors use social media daily to scan or explore new medical information. Social media never will replace traditional means of research and learning … it’s an additional — and valuable — channel that can add to a physician’s knowledge base.”

And of course this is how those working in other professions are using the Social Web. I usually describe this as  “learning the new” since it is as much about finding out about stuff that is new to the world as new to the individual, i.e. new ideas, new concepts, new thinking, new skills, new resources, etc. – things that have yet to become codified within existing or new bodies of knowledge. So learning the new is not about going to an annual conference or reading a few industry magazines, in addition to social networks, it includes using a variety of social tools and services to keep up to date – on a continuous basis – with what is happening in one’s industry or profession.

Many professionals recognise how vital it is to stay on top of all the new knowledge and skills relevant to today’s employment market place, for as John Seely Brown puts it  “in a world of increasingly rapid change, the half life of a given stock/skill is constantly shrinking“ – at around 5 years.

Learning the new is, however, a very different learning experience from learning in a traditional training (or e-learning) event – where the content has been organised, structured, and “packaged” up for delivery in a very prescribed way. Learning the new involves being in the flow of new ideas and “joining the dots” between unstructured pieces of knowledge that are encountered. So for those who have been using the Web – and particularly the Social Web for many years – learning will never be the same again.

Learning in the workplace

But when we consider what effect the Web has had on workplace learning, things have changed very little over the last 25 years. For sure there has been a move from face-to-face training to e-learning, but individuals still  have very little autonomy in how to make use of a course. For example in a lot of online courses users are required to work through every action on a screen because it is assumed this means that learning has taken place. In addition, social activities are frequently “bolted on” and used as a means to enforce or reinforce learning, rather than offer a genuine opportunity to have an open discussion around a topic. And although there is growing interest in the current MOOC phenomenon for corporates, this is precisely because it perpetuates the same traditional training model – rather than changes things in any significant way.  Even recent talk of a move from “courses to resources” is still about designing and pushing-down content-centric materials.

Personal or professional learning is still too often seen as something of no relevance to the organisation. Professional networking is generally not viewed as important; in fact, in some organizations, access to the very networks that support professional networking is banned for purported “security” reasons or to “stop time-wasting” – although this is usually due to a desire to retain control of information, and be the gatekeeper to knowledge and learning. Having said that, many people just use their own devices to access these sites, so it is a pretty irrelevant practice nowadays.

But it’s  abundantly clear that organisations can’t possibly create everything their people will need to keep themselves up to date, so it is obvious that organisations need to encourage and support personal and professional learning – rather than obstruct it.  In fact in order to become an effective member of a work team individuals will need to be constantly “learning the new” so that they can feed what they learn into their teams; but more than this, for any organisation to remain competitive in their markets, it absolutely depends upon individual workers doing so.

Helping others to learn the new

For sure not everyone is a proficient user of the Social Web, so many will need help to develop the new skills to become “knowledgeable workers” (as Ken Perlman called them) and “learn the new” – these include

  • Building a professional resource base - A knowledge worker makes use of a lot of information resources. S/he knows where s/he can quickly find resources of value, how to search effectively for others, as well as receive a constant drip feed of information  from the Web.
  • Growing a professional learning network - A knowledge worker knows a lot of people. S/he is constantly growing his/her network of colleagues and other contacts (on diferent social networks and community platformats) and reviewing the value that the connections bring to him/her.
  • Knowledge mining (aka Extracting Learning) - A knowledge worker applies a range of new skills to deal with the immense amount of information s/he will encounter, to filter out the signal from the noise, evaluate the resources s/he finds, and “join the dots” between random pieces of information in order to extract the learning.
  • Curation and storage - A knowledge worker uses a range of tools to organise and store what s/he finds – either temporarily or long term, either privately or publically. 
  • Recording and evidencing learning - A knowledge worker records what s/he has learned not only as a personal (reflective) activity but also as a way of evidencing his/her learning and his new credentials.
  • Building a professional brand - A knowledge worker builds his/her personal/professional brand in order to market and promote himself to prospective employers.
  • Learning out Loud (Sharing the New) - A knowledge worker shares what s/he learns with the appropriate people in the appropriate network. S/he doesn’t recycle stuff but adds value to what s/he has found, and avoids over-sharing.

Helping others to learn from one another in the workplace

The ability to share in organisations becoming especially important as we see the emergence of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), like Socialcast, Yammer, Smartforce Chatter, Socialtext and Jive, that are designed to foster collaboration, communication and knowledge sharing among employees. Many of the features of ESNs are very similar to public social networking tools, as at their core lies an activity stream that supports a constant stream or flow of real-time, threaded conversations through user updates and replies. In fact, the activity stream has now replaced the old-school discussion forum as the way in which people have conversations, and some believe that ESNs will ultimately replace email as the primary vehicle for employee communications.

Although many will be familiar with these new social technologies, others will need help to develop a range of new social workplace skills in order to make effective and productive use of them. In fact without taking time to build, encourage and support these new skills, organizations are likely to find their social initiatives less than successful.  So it is in the area of workforce collaboration where there are plenty of new opportunities for L&D to support work teams and groups. But since people learn from one another as a consequence of working together, it will be about helping teams work collaboratively and enable continuous learning to take place as part of that process, – rather than training them in the old ways.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 16.06.30For many in L&D it will be quite a big leap to work with teams, groups and individuals to help them learn continuously, autonomously, and  socially - as they carry out their daily work, so there is probably a place for new “connected learning” practices that bridge the gap between the directed, structured knowledge transfer (aka training or e-learning) that has been the way that L&D has traditionally operated and the unstructured, self-directed knowledge sharing that happens in work teams and groups in the flow of work as well on the Social Web.

The ESN is actually an ideal technological environment to host these new connected learning activities – things like backchannel learning, online social workshops, learning flows, etc – and it also means that individuals can learn with and from one another in the very the same way (and platform) that they do for collaborative working. The ESN also offers a big new opportunity for L&D, because by integrating their own learning initiatives in the very same platform that is being used to underpin work processes, they can now play a major part in inspiring, encouraging, supporting and embedding social learning, knowledge sharing and collaboration throughout the organisation. In fact if L&D are looking to support learning in wider, more relevant and more ways, an ESN offers a significant opportunity to have a bigger impact on organisational learning than ever before.

Maybe after 25 years, the Web is finally beginning to influence workplace learning.

This article has been adapted from content in Chapter 1 of my Social Learning Handbook 2014, where you can find out more about next generation workplace learning practices

#LearningFlow Saturday Survey No 2

Here is the 2nd Saturday Survey from @TheLearningFlow. Follow this Twitter account for a daily social micro-learning activity based on learning-related news from the Web.


(4) The role of the Guide in a Learning Flow

rafting-168007_640This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about the Learning Flow. In the first post I discussed the concept of a Learning Flow – as a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities, in the second I talked about the user experience and in the third I considered three types of Learning Flow. Today I want to look at the role of the Guide in a Learning Flow.

“From sage on the stage to guide on the side.”

This is a well-known phrase that recommends that in the 21st century a teacher should move from delivery (instructor mode) to supporting learning.  Using the analogy from my second post, the role of the Guide in a Learning Flow is therefore someone who steers participants on their daily journey through the fast-flowing stream of learning.  This requires a number of skills.

  • S/he needs to be a knowledgeable expert in the relevant domain.
  • S/he needs to be a curator – but more than a curator.
  • S/he needs to able to pick out key resources and materials from the mass of material shared online. In other words s/he needs to be able to extract the “signal from the noise”.
  • S/he needs to be able to “join the dots” between resources – and show how one relates to the other.
  • S/he needs to be able to contextualize resources and make them relevant to the participants – drawing out the salient point(s) of the resources s/he shares.
  • S/he needs to be able to model good knowledge sharing skills.
  • S/he needs to “think small” – and create short manageable micro-learning activities.
  • S/he needs to “think social”- and inspire and encourage short social learning experiences.
  • S/he needs to “think flexible”  – and how to support autonomy and choice in users’ participation.

If you are interested in becoming a Learning Flow Guide, you might like our eBook which will be available shortly.

 

My February bookmarks

twitter-245459_640The links to resources and articles I tweeted during February 2014 are in my 2014 Reading List.

My February Bookmarks

Here are the links to resources and articles I tweeted during February  2014 – in my 2014 Reading List.

(3) Three Types of Learning Flow

kali-river-173169_640In previous posts in this series I talked about the concept of a Learning Flow, as a continuous stream of social micro-learning activities, and explained how the user experience differs from being on a course or learning from the unstructured knowledge sharing in activity streams.

In this post I want to take a look at three types of Learning Flow and provide some examples of Learning Flows hosted on different activity stream platforms. Remember, a Learning Flow is not just about delivering bite-sized nuggets of content, but encouraging short social learning experiences.

(1) THE NEWS FLOW provides a daily social-micro learning activity based on current news and resources from the Social Web. This is a useful way of encouraging a group of people to reflect on and discuss up-to-the-minute news. This type of Learning Flow is closest to the unstructured learning that takes place in activity streams, but it has the advantage that the participants are only subjected to one piece of news daily  - so that the “signal has been separated from the noise” by the Learning Flow Guide.

Example: Our free, open Twitter-based Learning Flow offers a daily social micro-learning activity based on some learning-related news from the Social Web. Easily accessible on Web via all mobile devices.

  • Users can follow the Twitter account @TheLearningFlow
  • They can respond to the daily micro-learning activity by tweeting a comment and/or link including the activity number and the hashtag #learningflow
  • Users can use a tool like Tweetchat (or a column in Tweetdeck) to read the constantly evolving #learningflow Twitter stream.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 16.45.15

(Note: the use of Twitter to host a Learning Flow is not without challenges, but it is, of course, an ideal platform to help to build web navigation and collaboration skills.)

(2) THE THEMED FLOW provides daily social micro-learning activities organized within weekly themes around a specific topic. This is a useful way for bringing together related activities in some logical sequence during the week, so that the Learning Guide can  help the participants to “join the dots”  between new ideas and resources.  Using a private social platform means yare not restricted to 140 character updates and comments.

(3) THE CIRCULAR FLOW is a rotating flow of a set of weekly themes (although activities within them may change). This Learning Flow is closest to the traditional course since it deals with a well defined body of knowledge, but it differs from a course in that

  • content is used to support the social learning experience – rather than social interaction being added to content (as happens in many courses)
  • there is a Guide rather than an Instructor, and
  • there is more autonomy and choice for the user (as described in part two of this series of blog posts).

In my next post I want to talk more about the role of the Guide in a Learning Flow.

(2) The Learning Flow and the User Experience

rapids-71594_640In my last post I described the concept of a Learning Flow as  a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities, and explained how this new learning framework lies between the instructionally designed course and the unstructured knowledge sharing of teams, groups and communities that takes place in public activity streams and enterprise social networks.

But what advantages does a Learning Flow bring to the individual? Let’s compare the user experience in the traditional online course (or e-learning) and in activity streams.

Traditional Course

ferry-boat-123059_640On a traditional course an individual is taken through a body of knowledge in a pre-defined, instructionally designed way. Users (or learners) are also usually required to undertake activities to reinforce or test understanding.  Often they have very little autonomy in how to make use of a course, so far example in a lot of online courses they are required to work through every action on a screen because it is assumed this means that learning has taken place!  Social activities are frequently “bolted on” and used as a means to enforce or reinforce learning, rather than offer a genuine opportunity to have an open discussion around a topic. So, whereas some people like the structure and prescription of a course for studying a body of knowledge – since it is familiar approach since childhood – others find the experience too constraining, as well as frustrating and annoying.

Activity Streams

At the other end of the learning spectrum we have the unstructured knowledge exchange that takes place freely in activity streams. For those who have been active on the Social Web for many years now, connecting with people and sharing ideas and resources  has become second nature. They love the free-flow of knowledge and how they can learn from one another sometimes without even realising it, as well the autonomy of being in control of what they are doing.

In fact, commentators like John Seely Brown believe that being in the flow of new ideas is the new way of learning. He uses the analogy of a whitewater kayaker to explain how it works. Rather than being like a ship with passengers where the captain sets its course and the ship keeps going for a long time (having picked up a set of fixed assets that have been “authoritatively, transferred in delivery models“) – ie the course model –  the whitewater kayaker participates in the ever-moving flows of activities and knowledge, “because in this new world of flows, participating in these knowledge flows is an active sport“.

JSB also points out the necessity of learning like this, because“in a world of increasingly rapid change, the half life of a given stock/skill is constantly shrinking“, at around 5 years, this is  becoming a vital skill to stay on top of all the new knowledge and skills relevant to today’s employment market place.

However, as social tools becomes mainstream and a new set of individuals begin to make use of them, it is clear they are finding the experience overwhelming and time-consuming, they are unable to separate the signal from the noise, and they find the learning experience too random, as they are unable to “join the dots” themselves between pieces of information. So this is where Learning Flows can help.

Learning Flows

river-rafting-50851_640For instead of being out in the turbulent waters of the fast flowing stream of (new) knowledge, kayaking, on their own, individuals can get support by jumping into a raft (steered by a guide) and experience the thrill of riding the stream together with their peers – who all have a part in helping to navigate the waters.

Using this analogy in the context of the Learning Flow, the guide steers a way through an (often emerging) body of knowledge, whilst the process of working and learning together can help to build individual confidence and competence in Web navigation skills as well as knowledge sharing.

Of course most analogies can only go so far, and another key element of a Learning Flow that is not obvious from this analogy is that a Learning Flow offers users more opportunities for control over their own learning than the traditional course. For example

  • the ability to jump in and out of the flow  as they wish – there should be no pressure to join/stay
  • the ability to interact as they want on a daily basis – just read or share thoughts or resources (constant participation is not expected)
  • the ability to be notified of new social micro-learning activities as suits them – e.g. as it happens or when they want to find them.
  • the ability to fit the daily micro-learning activity into their work as/when it suits thems.
  • the ability to use the most appropriate device to access it.

So for the user, the Learning Flow is not just about a flow of delivered knowledge nuggets, but a means to develop vital new social and collaboration skills.

Example Learning Flows

If you’re interested in experiencing a Learning Flow, we’ve already got a couple underway for L&D professionals, e.g. our free Daily Learning News Flow on Twitter or Facebook.

And if you are interested in offering your own, you might find our new eBook (coming shortly) of interest.

My next posts on this topic will be to look at the different types of Learning Flows and the role of the Guide in the Learning Flow.