Monday, 2 January 2012

The future of learning IS visual, Steve ...

At the beginning of 2011 I saw Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) presenting his vision for the future of learning at Learning Technologies 2011.  One of the statements he made that had real resonance with me was that he predicted that “the future of learning is visual”.  I really strongly agreed with this.  I was about to embark on running a large training programme for over 200 trainers.  The programme delivery included face to face, lots of online sessions and a social learning environment that would become the hub of the programme.  I felt that I needed to respond to Steve’s call to arms to help the trainers attending really understand why it was so important to make learning visual.

I contacted a professional artist and photographer that I knew Caroline Chouler Tissier and asked her if she would be prepared to be the “artist in residence” for the training programme.  Caroline uses art as a conduit for learning for adults with learning difficulties, but also works with organisations using art projects to forge better teams and improve co-worker cooperation as well as doing community art projects and working in schools giving children the opportunity to learn about working with ceramics and improve their artistic skills. That’s when she’s not producing her own amazing ceramics of course!

Caroline agreed to give it a go and accompanied me to most of the face to face sessions.  She took hundreds of photos  and video snippets of what the learners were doing as well as lots of artistic shots of where we went and odd things that caught her eye.  She took part in the webinars, and contributed to the programme website.  She contributed massively by giving a completely different perspective on the visuals and graphics that the learners produced, blogging about her experiences of using more IT in her work (prior to the programme Caroline had not explored any of the graphic tools on the Internet as her main focus is ceramics and she had never done any online learning) and she gave her views on the visuals that I used too!

The outputs from the programme mean that not only was it enormously useful to have someone subjectively feedback on what I was doing from a visual point of view, but she had created a unique record of the programme in photos and video.  Having her as an independent adviser was valued highly by the learners as they could ask for help with design, colour, text styles etc whilst in return they were able to help her with the technology that was new to her.

Mixing my skills with Caroline’s gave a unique aspect to the programme.  Everyone (including Caroline and I) learnt new skills and gained new perspectives that we have all put into practice.  Caroline is now combining word clouds generated from the internet with her ceramics, whilst the artwork produced by the programme participants has been really inspirational and of course because they have been sharing what they have been doing online with each other, the shared experience of improving our visual designs alone has been just as worthwhile to many participants as the other formal modules of the programme. 

So as we start 2012, I wanted to say “Thanks” to Steve Wheeler.  Without knowing it Steve, you inspired me to do something different and it paid off.  Partnering with a teacher from another discipline is definitely something I'll be doing again and I’ll be building even more visuals into the way I teach from now on. The future of effective learning IS massively assisted by good use of visuals.  Caroline, I and 223 trainers are all confidently making learning visual, much more visual than we ever were before and the responses from our learners has been overwhelmingly positive!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Who inspires me?

Yesterday, I was asked which learning professionals inspire me. Oddly enough I didn't hesitate to answer the question, but many people might be surprised by the person I named. I aspire to be as good as the likes of Jane Hart, Nigel Paine, Colin Steed to name a few, but the person who really inspires me to keep going and keep trying new things is a man who is sadly no longer with us.

Randy Pausch was a Professor at Carnegie Mellon. He was a professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction and Design. He was also an award-winning teacher and researcher and worked with Adobe, Google and with Walt Disney Imagineering and pioneered the ALICE Project for schoolchildren around the world.

When Randy discovered he was dying of Cancer he gave a farewell "Last Lecture" to Carnegie Mellon. I already knew of him and of his work when I saw the lecture but I had no idea that he had always wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. The amazing thing was he got his wish and he told the story about becoming an Imagineer and others from his life in his "Last Lecture".

On my desk is a small quote:

"Around here, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we are curious ... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

This quote comes from Mr Walt Disney and embodies my views on how I approach learning and keeping myself motivated to try new things. I won't settle for what I know and what is comfortable, I want to be trying new things to see if I can make the learning I deliver better, more effective, more interactive, more engaging, more inclusive ....

When I saw the "Last Lecture" I was really inspired by what Randy had to say about dreams, brick walls, enabling the dreams of others and learning lessons from life. So I thought maybe if some people had missed this when it first came out they might want to be inspired by the person who has most inspired me to be the L&D professional that I am today.


(Warning: This video runs for 1 hour 16 minutes so you need to set the time aside.)

There is also a book by the same name if you would prefer to read the "Last Lecture".

I recommend it.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Finding time to concentrate in an interrupt driven world

This week I’ve been trying to move forward on a complex piece of work that had an immovable deadline.  In the early part of the week I just couldn’t seem to get the level of concentration that I needed to really get into the work, I couldn’t concentrate properly.

But why?  I was in a quiet office, I was comfortable, I had everything I needed to get going but I just couldn’t.  The lure of tweets, emails, text messages, phone calls and other minor issues were far more appealing than getting on with this job.  The subject of the job is one I know well and have considerable experience of but for some reason it just was not engaging me.  The deadline was looming but still I kept on putting off getting into it.  When I did start the research I found myself looking at a slow moving clock, almost as if I was waiting for the hands to tell me to take a lunch break to escape the subject. 

I suppose in a way I was suffering from a form of writers block.  So what to do?  Well first I logged off from all the social sites, closed my emails (so those distracting alert messages stopped appearing), put my phone to voicemail and diverted my mobile to my phone.  I closed the office door, cleared my desk of other distractions and then got all the paperwork out for the project and wrote an action plan.  There I thought, I’ve started.  Now I’ll just check my emails quickly …

And that was my downfall.  I diverted myself away from the task and happily got embroiled in something else.  I was knowingly interrupting myself, knowing that this would add to my anxiety about meeting the project deadline, knowing that I still had to get back to it, but happy for my time to be frittered away dealing with other stuff that was not really a priority.

So on Wednesday morning, I again logged off from everything and got the project work out again.  I put iTunes on a long classical music playlist, filling the silence of my quiet office with music and dug out my action plan.  When I next looked at the clock it was 3.45pm!  WOW!  I had been totally absorbed concentrating on the subject and now felt exhilarated to have got so far with it.  That sense of being able to really concentrate for a long period of time is such a pleasure but increasingly difficult to really get unless you take action to switch communication channels off so that level of concentration, that Flow* state, can be achieved.

Taking a conscious break from “staying in the SoMe loop” I think is probably healthy.  How you do it is up to you.  But if you find me absent from Twitter, Skype, my phone etc for periods of time during the working day it’s highly likely that I am deep in concentration and happy not to be interrupted or disrupted by SoMe – just for a while! 

*For more information about Flow go to: )

Friday, 24 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 5 of 5 – the results so far)

This journey into the use of content curation as a performance support tool has only just begun, but the core culture of the internal business communication does appear to be changing.  Both organisations have recognised that our approach has:

·         Reduced staff information overload

·         Significantly reduced internal emails

·         Reduced repetition of information

·         Reduced data storage

·         Captured the “now” knowledge in the business, for the business to share

They have also understood that:

·         Sharing is learning

·         Staff learn well “on the job”

·         Time to learn can be found

·         Bite-sized content works best

And the L&D teams?  Well they are now seen as an “effective resource” and are very glad they decided to come with me on this journey away from formal learning into a more informal approach where performance support is central to the learning strategy.  They now see content curation as part of facilitating learning in the workplace, keeping the learning content fresh, relevant and up to date - constantly.

I don’t know if content curation is going to work in every organisation or if it is really an answer to ambient information overload.  But what I do know is that it has begun to make a significant different to these two organisations learning and communication culture and early evidence is showing it to be an effective performance support tool. 

I have no doubt that it will be superseded by something else in the not too distant future, but for now I will continue to include it in my performance support toolkit.

It would appear that Clay Shirky has since found that content curation is a useful tool too:

“Curation comes up when search stops working.
 But it’s more than a human-powered filter.
Curation comes up when people realize that
it isn’t just about information seeking,
it’s also about synchronizing a community.”

I so agree. JW

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 4 of 5 – creating the framework)

The framework is actually very simple:

Categorise – We tag the content using the language of the business.  Tags are useful if staff search the learning sites for content but we also wanted to construct the curated content so that staff could access content by category too. The learning site has category “pages” that staff can access directly as well as searching for content we’ve tagged.

Relevance – We work out which staff will find the information of use.  We don’t do this strictly by job role, we do this more by the skills we expect the individual to have and, most importantly, to be using.

Review Time – We specify (with an icon) how long it will take to review the information.  This has proved to be a hugely valuable thing to do as we promoted this along with a Find 15 campaign (see previous blog post).  So staff can quickly skim over the new content and work out how long it will take them to review the pieces that interest them. 

Shelf life – The information is often very transient so we make it clear (with an icon) when the data will expire.  This makes sure that we keep the content bang up to date, but we don’t delete the data that has expired, we are now moving it to an archive.  How long it will remain archived is not clear yet!

Snippet – many of the staff we are supporting are very pragmatic, so if the curated content link description does not make the value of the content immediately obvious we add on a “What’s in it for me?” snippet to encourage them to click the link.

Communicating the content
The curated content is communicated to the staff on what we call “roundups” which are just a list of links and we issue the roundups on the microblogging services and also via email (although staff can opt out of the email).  A roundup is a bit like a Twitter daily digest that links back to the content on the site, it does not duplicate it.  We don’t send them out unless there is content to share so they are issued when the assigned curator judges the time is right.

When user generated content includes a download from an external site, we download that content and store it on our site.  The staff very quickly realised that we were doing that and it saved them having to do it.  From our overload research, we knew that they would often download stuff and then either forget to read/review it or not be able to find it!  Now they had the comfort of knowing we’d captured it for them – Result!

In one of the organisations we asked a particularly active staff group to work with us and set up a weekly posting called My Learning Week.  On this posting we profile a particular member of staff and they share the user generated content they have found useful in that week.  This really helped to promote the learning site and other staff groups are now doing the same although monthly or quarterly.

We also share learning stories to demonstrate how the performance support tools that we have put in place have worked in practice.  Sharing the successes that the performance support tools have contributed to has really helped us get the message across to the stakeholders as to just how valuable the move to informal learning has been.

Other departments within the organisations have also joined in curating content.  Our curation partners were the sorts of departments who would issues 20-30 emails a day, most of which would be ignored by the staff. When we showed them that there were conversations and information sharing going on on the learning sites (through microblogging and forums in particular) they agreed to try curating their content and issue roundups to relevant staff instead.  The staff are happy because the daily deluge of emails has reduced and the content is part of the learning site which means they have one source of relevant information.  These departments also use our content framework which seems to work for their data too.

Next Blog:  (Part 5 of 5 –  the results so far)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 3 of 5 – Finding a solution)

So how to you help staff suffering with ambient overload?  I referred to Jane Hart’s most recent book the “Social Learning Handbook” (January 2011 edition) and on page 99 found two nuggets of information:

1)  That L&D could “build a collaborative library of links to useful resources together with others in the organisation, which might also be rated by workers , for usefulness”.

2)  That “L&D professionals will have a big part to play in helping some workers acquire the new skills and literacies for effective working in the modern workplace, eg … to set up appropriate filters to deal with information overload.”

I work quite a bit with the marketing industry and content curation is trending in marketing at the moment so I saw a correlation between what Jane was recommending and what I had been seeing marketers do.  I found this definition of what a content curator does:

“A content curator is someone who continually
finds, groups, organizes and shares
the best and most relevant content
on a specific issue online.”  (Rohit Bhargava)

I wondered what would happen if we started to curate the user generated content from the learning sites, categorising it, directing it at relevant staff groups, collecting it together for the staff, so that they knew it was being captured for them in a way that would allow them to catch up easily and “stay in the loop” even if they weren’t able to do it in real time, all the time.  In addition, I realised that by doing this we could link the user generated content to the business by aligning it with the business goals, initiatives and current focus as well as fold it into the formal training programmes that L&D were delivering.

The first thing I did was set up a “Listening Service”.  In marketing, companies “listen” to social media to find out what people are saying about their brand.  We “listened” to identify content that others could learn from and core business themes as well as identify which staff groups the content was relevant to.

Next we assigned members of the L&D team to curate different themes based on their particular focus and expertise. 

Once we got going we realised that we needed some sort of framework to put the content into so that it was easy to use, search and communicate.  We wanted to curate the content to make it attract the staff back to the learning sites and to help with their overload. 

Next Blog:  (Part 4 of 5 – creating the framework)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 2 of 5 – making it worse!)

To try and understand how we could help the staff suffering from Information Overload we did some research and came across Clay Shirky (author of “Here comes everybody”) who states “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”.  When we looked at the ways in which the staff were interacting with the digital content we realised they were not great at using RSS, tags or even search engines to filter content. To help, we ran webinars, produced quick reference guides and did face to face coaching sessions to try and improve their personal searching for, and filtering of, the information they were attempting to stay on top of.

The result of these activities to increase staff skills with searching and filtering caused more of them to complain of information overload and increased the disengagement with the learning sites.  Argh!

I decided I strongly disagreed with Clay Shirky!  But I found Nicolas Carr the author of the book “What the internet is doing to our brains”.  Carr states that good filtering makes a significant contribution to people’s sense of information overload: “It’s not information overload, it’s filter success”. This made sense to me – I certainly had the evidence for that statement!

Carr identifies two types of information overload:

Situation overload:  “searching for needle in a haystack of information”.  In other words, trying to find a particular piece of information as quickly as possible from a lot of other information.   Imagine going into a library full of books and finding no shelves, no Dewey Decimal system, no librarian, just a pile of books on the floor.  Where do you start to find the information you want?  That’s how finding information on the internet can be if you don’t have good searching and filtering skills.   As Carr points out, search engines and filters help us find web-based information in this situation as do the human powered filters such as Twitter and email if we are connected to the right people.   

But we’d improved the searching and filtering skills of the staff so this was not the overload problem they were suffering from.  It was:

Ambient overload: “a haystack-sized pile of needles (information)”.   What Carr is trying to say here is that we can become surrounded by so much information that is of interest to us that we can feel overwhelmed by the never ending pressure to keep up with it all, take it all in, make sense of it, and harness it.  Carr points out that when our filters work well we get more of the stuff we LIKE and we WANT. 

So the staff were now getting more information that they wanted.  The problem was that the information wasn’t necessarily coming through when the staff wanted it or when they had time for it, so they worried that if they were not in the loop they might miss something vital. 
Next blog:  (Part 3 of 5 - Finding a solution)