Monthly Archives: November 2010

CSTD Reflections – Mentoring/Coaching and Appreciative Inquiry

>If anyone asks me what one thing I took away from this session, I’m almost embarassed to admit that I’d say, “Damn, it was hot in that room.”

Fortunately, that wasn’t the only thing I took away, but it wasn’t the most comfortable setting, nor was it really conducive to the kinds of learning that Ann Naymie & Maureen Hannah were trying to get across.  (According to them, Peter Block was in the room before them and wreaked a little havoc on the dreadful theatre style seating that the MTCC seems to think is a good idea for conferences.

(Sidebar:  Is there not anyone willing to stand up to MTCC and tell them that this sort of thing is just not acceptable? At over a grand a head for admission, you’d think the organizers would have a little pull.  But, I digress)

The focus of this session was on mentoring/coaching and the concept of appreciative inquiry.  One of my immediate thoughts (echoed by my exercise partner Jackie) was that mentoring and coaching are two separate disciplines and one should not try to confuse or blend the one with the other.  If you take this site as an example, that belief seems to stand up.

During the opening few minutes of the session as I began to schvitz from the press of bodies, I was a little non-plussed by the positioning of the session and I thought it might turn out to be a little too superficial.  But once we got past the few slides, we had the chance to do some role-play and inquiry practice with a partner or two.  As we got through the exercises, I began to see more uses for this kind of inquiry and I was also seeing more reinforcements of the mentoring/coaching differences.  It was also good – albeit in a personal/practical kind of way – to practice active listening along with the inquiry and questions.  I also tried to take a small page from Peter Block’s book and change the nature and shape of the questions I was asking, so that was a small benefit in and of itself.

So, the session had some interesting possibilities for me, even though it started a little weakly, and I’m glad I stayed.  I can see ways in which I can change the nature of my inquiries when making those initial contacts with potential clients.  I can also see how I’d like to be able to build on my coaching strengths to help (PB) “share my gift” with other people.  But I honestly don’t know that I’d want to be a mentor for someone.  I’d significantly critical of my own shortcomings and painfully aware that my career path that I wouldn’t want someone to try to emulate me along either path. Besides, I wouldn’t want to take away from someone experiencing the joys of forging their own path.

Lesson learned;  stick around…things might just get better.

CSTD Reflections – Saul Carliner and “Staying Relevant”

>One of my laments about things like CSTD is that when you get a speaker whose content hits you right *there* you’re so engrossed that you find yourself not taking notes and having to reflect on the experience from memory.  That’s not to imply that if you’re taking notes then the speaker must be bad.  I enjoyed other sessions and still managed to take notes. For whatever reason, I was listening to Saul Carliner and didn’t want to divide my attention/distribute my intelligence.

His talk was about how we go about remaining relevant as Training & Development professionals. iThere’s a certain degree of showmanship and panache in his presentations that I appreciate.  He opened with one of those Paul Harvey-type stories about how the biggest challenge for him as a T&D professional was not about education, or technology, or changing philosophies, but it was about finding the right luggage when he travelled.  I won’t try to replicate the whole tale here because I don’t want to diminish the magic of that particular metaphor, but I want to jot down the things that I were most profound for me.

He spoke of 10 key things we can do to stay relevant (and I’m really hoping to get access to his deck so I can remember them all) but there were a few tidbits that caught my attention along the way.

First, he echoed some of my suspicions about the decrease of instructor-led training and spoke of the increase in SME-developed content and SME-delivered training.  I think both of those things are critical, particulary because of the nature of what I’m doing day-to-day.  SMEs have lots and lots knowledge that just doesn’t always make it to a new hire or a someone in a new role, or even to other colleagues in the same department.  So the question(s) for me become(s):  how do we create a culture of SME knowledge sharing, how do we equip them with the right “tools” to share that knowledge, and how can we measure the effectiveness of that knowledge transfer?  I definitely think there are opportunities for us to start looking at our SMEs and ask:  if they all retired tomorrow, would we still have enough corporate “intelligence” to be able to function?

Second, he spoke about informal learning.  I was sad to have missed Bob Mosher’s session on Informal Learning, although one kind soul (thank you @mellissalast for the RT and @cammybean for the liveblog on Performance) kindly sent me notes from a different session of Bob’s.  But Saul said that informal learning shouldn’t have to be teaching the things that should have taken place during formal learning.  So, loosely translated, informal learning is (to me) more about knowledge transfer while you’re on the job, learner support, and some of the self-directed learning efforts that (should) take place on the job.

Marcia Conner’s graphic simplifies things, somewhat. 😉

So I think there’s a huge opportunity for us – as Learning & Development or Training or Education professionals to be doing a couple of things that will contribute to relevance.

First, I think we need to find ways to educate SMEs on things like storytelling, sharing, guiding and coaching.  We also need to spend some time with these SMEs doing some targeted ‘downloads’ of their expertise.  I think we also need to develop the right kinds of processes and systems to regulary gather this expertise and identify new SMEs.  Of course, part of this challenge will be identifying the owners of this new process and discipline.  The first instinct is OD, but what about organizations with a distributed HR function?  Is this now part of the skill set of a line manager?  (assuming, of course, that we’re not all immediately jumping on the Peter Block bandwagon and taking the sovereignty/patriarchy out of our organizations…)

Second, organizations need to develop the strategies and expertise necessary to influence organizations to put more emphasis on (and resources toward supporting) informal learning.  I really think this is a hugely untapped market for consulting organizations, but only those that can see beyond just pumping out questionable and mind-numblingly expensive and inflexible e-learning content.  In a lot of cases, informal learning represents as much of a state of mind as it does a strategic imperative for organizational effectiveness.

Okay, I’d better tone it down a bit.

The other thing that Saul mentioned had to do with how we manage our careers.  It paralleled some of Peter Block’s comments about not necessarily worrying too much about climbing any corporate ladder, but he said that someone told him years ago that nobody will care as much about his career as he does; and he’s right.  He also said some really interesting things about how sometimes people can outgrow a “job” without necessarily outgrowing a “role”.  I really felt a kinship with that comment because I’ve been in that situation before and I remember the conflict I felt in those moments…even thought I didn’t really have a way to decribe it until I hear how Saul phrased it.  To quote him, “…and maybe that’s OK.”

OK, indeed.

Anyway, Saul’s relevance story about Luggage, Hong Kong Airport shopping and Samsonite reinventing itself was a very effective wrapper for his story.  It tells me that it’s always worth reflecting upon and regularly examining your career directions and choices, rather than waiting to be considered passé by the industry and the consumers you’re trying to reach.

Kind of a nice way to head to the end keynote on Day 2, knowing that the world can still be your oyster if you’re willing to work at it.

CSTD Afterglow

>I know I still need to compile the remainder of the Day 2 summary and the entirety of the Day 3 Summary, but I just wanted to have this moment to reflect on the concept of the conference and that wonderful Afterglow.

It’s been so long since I was at an event like this that I’d forgotten what kind of a mental rush and high I get from this sort of thing.  I revel in the exchange of ideas and the challenging of assumptions and the bringing together of peers, colleagues, and gurus.

Words don’t really do it justice to this feeling I have, but as @mellissalast said, she was exhausted but still revitalized by the whole process and I think that says it almost as well as anything else I could compose using my few remaining cognitive circuits.

So, what struck me today?  I saw myriad possibilites for some of my day-to-day work from @RobinYap and @MarcelloBigotti and the Village Avatars and I had a moments of Wow with @saulcarliner and talking about how we need to re-examine our choices in managing our careers when trying to stay relevant.  He posited that it’s possible to outgrow a job but still not outgrow the role.  Heady, inspirational stuff, that.

However, for any of you who are choosing to peruse this diatribe, I thank you for letting me share the experience with you as a participant and as a blogger and tweeter and thanks for letting my words into your collective consciousnesses.  For those of you I got to meet in person, I thank you for (involuntarily) becoming part of my Personal Learning Network (yes, there is alwasy an opt-out *g*).

I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations.  It’s gonna be a fun ride.

CSTD Scheduling Thoughts

>Apart from my previously discussed crying jag comments about lack of WiFi, today I really felt like a prisoner of the schedule overlaps.

I know it’s tough to try and cram everything into a short duration, but I’m struggling to grasp why we had to deal with the overlap between the core sessions and the Thought Leader tracks?  For example, @robsof and I were both in the A7 Session on Design Thinking (Valerie Hickey & David Brown), but the session with Karl Kapp started 15 mins before the end of that session AND ran through a significant portion of the lunch hour.

Maybe its just me, but I’m not a fan of feeling like I’m short-changed on any part of the conference experience (yeah, even when someone else is paying for it), because – darnit – that’s MY experience.  So I found myself rushing through lunch just so I wouldn’t be late for the first session after lunch.  Even then, if I wanted to make Bob Mosher’s session on informal learning, I get my break cut short.

No, I don’t know what the solution is, but I’ll take a page from Peter Block and hopefully start that conversation with someone.  How could we do this differently so we can distinguish between making choices and choosing to sacrifice?

CSTD Day 2 Keynote Summary

I’ll beg your indulgence now because I’m doing this largely from memory.  Fortunately, this is a good thing because I was pretty well engaged in my sessions and only had time for quick tweets and not for a lot of reflective note-taking.

Opening Keynote – Peter Block

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.

Peter gets some pretty significant kudos, but not necessarily for the reasons people might think.  First, no PowerPoint.  That’s right, the man just got up and talked.  HE was the presentation.  (And he didn’t have to go all Carrot Top to do it.)  He also had the seating arrangements changed so we could sit in groups and he spoke eloquently but simply about the power and meaning of the circle.  I love guys like Peter who really enjoy challenging the norms and – in essence – asking us to throw conventional hierarchical thinking out the window and do something different.  Like, instead of answering the WIIFM, maybe challenge people about their willingness to commit even if they got nothing for it.

He said that the circles we say in are symbols of community… and that conferences like these should really be “meaningful discussions interrupted by lectures and small group exercises”.  Oh, how I wish that were more the rule than the exception.

As educators, we are in the business of the restoration of humanity. (Nice!)  He also speaks of the dangers of automating our relationships.  While we can speak to people more easily, do we really have anything to say?  He wants to use our expertise and practices to help restore our humanity and to re-establish concepts of connectedness, because “humanity matters”.  He’s so right.  We’ve lost so much of that in our workplaces and we desparately need to bring it back.  For whatever it’s worth, I think that step would do more to make our workplaces healthy long before we headed into Graham Lowe’s territory.

Peter went on to speak about training & education as a profession and calmly said that we’ll likely not get rich, “if you joined this profession for power and wealth, you screwed up big-time.” (much laughter)

I liked his points he was making about the business case for our function, even though I really resent the fact that we have to continually justify “the second-most natural human function” (let me know if you think you know what the first one is.)

Any transformation that we are trying to effect should represent a shift in thinking but also a shift in narrative, e.g. change the conversation.

As a prime example, he says that the Annual Performance review is all about sovereignty and has nothing to do with training, aright.  He absolutely brought the house down by applying this conversation to an annual spousal performance review.  To me, it was shades of Festivus (Seinfeld) and how George’s father behaved; “let us know how you have disappointed the family over the past year.”  Ultimately, this kind of behaviour and its traction in the workplace is a product of colonial, hierarchical thinking.  (So that begs the question of whether no performance review is better than an annual one, if given the choice?)

Organizational hierarchies are Patriarchy covered in a patina of “love”, sadly HR is the vehicle for this behaviour. (Me: because they help prop-up the hierarchy? because their job is not about the people, but it’s about keeping is all in our places?)

I liked his assertion (paraphrased) that change happening from the top is basically a crock.  We need to let go of the concept that leaders are the important piece.  For one exercise, try pretending that employees create the bosses.    What would that look like?  (There was a sidebar funny about the relative effectiveness of government, but they really don’t have a deliverable or a bottom line, right?)

Before I forget, let’s not forget Time.  I love the concept of “not having time” represents a lack of commitment.  I admit I’m as guilty of that as the next person, but I’d love to really engage in some self-examinations on levels of commitment and what I might need to do to improve them.

I realize as I go through my notes that I could probably write a small book about this one keynote, but the upshot is that I think there’s a huge value in asking questions instead of telling stories, and avoiding likemindedness.  My program head at RRU said that I needed to develop a tolerance for ambiguity and I didn’t appreciate that she wasn’t just referring to what I could find or not find in my research, but also as a good guidepost for future situations  (must email her a thank you…again).

We need the humanity, we need the inversion in the conversation.  Yeah.  Wow.

The thing that still rings in my head was a small comment he made about moving up and getting promoted and that it’s really okay if you’re able to “share your gifts” and keep contributing.  I think that’s a conversation I need to have with myself sooner rather than later.

I know you were trying to keep yourself more like Stephen Wright than Steve Jobs, Peter, but you were definitely the hit of the Show so far.  Thanks for energizing my morning.

CSTD Conference – My Day 1 Summary


CSTD Day 1 Impressions and Thoughts
(Warning:  This is a long post…feel free to grab what you wish from it)
After years of not being able to attend the Annual Conference I finally got the chance to go, but I will admit that I entered Day 1 with a little trepidation.
With a lot of conferences, there;s usually an opening keynote, then participants head off to their various sessions afterward, but CSTD took a different approach; the first day was dedicated to a large audience setting with a number of speakers all focused on helping us understand the various ways in which academic research can eventually find its way into real practice.  As I looked around the room and thought of spending all day in a conference seat there was a little twinge of angst.  However, full kudos go to Saul Carliner for setting the stage for the day and for putting things in perspective.  I also took the opportunity to change seating locations a couple of times and that had some unexpected benefits, but more on those later.
One critical disappointment – shared by others I spoke to – was the lack of WiFi availability for participants.  The organizers were trying to promote and encourage the conference backchannel through Twitter, but for those folks who a) brought laptops in hopes of WiFi, or b) don’t know how to use their smartphones to tweet, or c) don’t have smartphones or phones with data plans, or d) don’t know how to use SMS to Tweet, it left them with no outlet to share observations and comments or to connect easily with other participants (or non-participants).  Some of us managed to “get the word out” but if we were stuck in somewhere like the South Hall or somewhere with lousy cell service, this conference would have been held in a relative vacuum.
To their considerable credit, CSTD acknowledged the issue and promised a better solution for 2011.  So, End rant. 😉
The speakers for the day were all recognized experts in their field and – as expected – brought stong academic credentials to the table, but they also had their feet pretty squarely planted in – what many of us refer to as – the real world.
I’ll take the opportunity here to put my own OpEd spin on the various speakers and the messages that resonated most with me.  The big disclaimer here, of course, is that this is what I observed and grasped from the sessions…your actual experience may vary. 😉
Saul Carliner – Research Journals
Saul was up first with his initial thoughts about the value of research and who really publishes research results.  it served as a good reminder that research is generally shared only with other researchers through the medium of peer-reviewed journals.  Access barriers to the majority of journals aside, I note that some of this research is easier to digest than others – something not specifically mentioned, but something I know I experienced in the early days of grad school.  The important take-away for me is the concept of research as proof.  In general terms, research published in these journals really serves as evidence, rather than inescapable proof. 
He also points out that researching journals on their own won’t necessarily lead to a transfer of knowledge to workplace situations, but…what it can do is to provide some avenues for experimentation in design and also to help you understand what other people already know.  I think that’s important because we shouldn’t be so completely convinced that what we’re doing is “new”.  Besides, there’s no small value in researching (even informally) the lessons learned from any situation, particularly if it helps you avoid a particular – and previously unforeseen – pitfall.
He also talked about the value of research for its potential to unlock different avenues for evaluation, although he does point out that very few of us in the industry get past the smiley sheet stage (sidebar thought:  what can we do to change that?  Is it just a predisposition to following Kirkpatrick or do we really need a new model that will let evaluations become more organic to the learning throughout the cycle?)
The final big take-away from Saul’s comments was that research tends to be looking more in the long-term (e.g. new models, new strategies) and isn’t as adept at providing short-term solutions.  I think I can see why.  the submission and review cycles for peer journals can be somewhat lengthy, so a shorter-term solution might wind up being obsolete by the time it hits the presses…if it gets approved at all.  Longer-term solutions are – by definition – more strategic, and thus probably have a longer shelf-life for adoption, assimilation, and discussion.  At least, that;s what my gut is telling me.  I’ll be interested to hear what others think.
Graham Lowe – Healthy Workplaces.

Graham started by getting us thinking about the elements of a “truly excellent workplace”.  In a quick audience survey there was lots of focus on the human factors in workplace “happiness”.  I find it interesting that there are fewer comments about appreciating the benefits of a viable business. That leads me to the question, “Could you still have a workplace that offers trust/respect/ownership that ultimately proves to be unviable as a business?  Is that still considered “healthy”?”
He also offered a really simple yet effective matrix on Low/High decision latitude and Low/High Psychological demands. 
Low Strain           Active
Passive                 High Strain
But I did find it interesting that he acknowledges that “Not all roles can fit in the upper quadrant”.  So that kind of begs the question for me about the differences between psyhcological demands and cognitive demans and the links to employee engagement in their tasks.  Can you have a low-cognitive job but still be in a healthy workplace?
His High Performance practices aren’t necesarily new – at least for me, thanks to my involvement with the Employee Engagement survey work at SSHA – but if there;s no culture of innovation (internally as well as externally), it’s tough for most orgs to make these workplaces a reality. T&D is, of course, critical, but I think we need to make the distinction between formal and informal learning, and educate learners about the relative merits.

Culture becomes a strategic advantage (I’d say, imperative) in supporting these initiatives.  He spoke briefly about healthy vs unhealth organizations and I wonder, “What’s the ratio of healthy-to-unhealthy?” 
I wonder if this concept is a long-term transformation similar to that of e-health, where it will take the generation of physicians raised with technology to be teaching student physicians for the transformation/adoption to be complete?  Will it take the generation of new workers – raised with an expectation of healthy workplaces – where these workers are now leading organizations – to drive the change and make them the rule rather than the exception.  Are we already on that path?  If so, how far do we still have to go.

He did make a point that I agreed with in principle: he suggests that we can research our organizations, because they should be treasure troves (my word) of information.  This is true.  But as I noted in a surprisingly popular tweet, “sure, you can mine for data, but sometimes you really need a pickaxe.”  As my friend Victor is fond of saying, “those that talk about Silos in the workplace deserve to be buried in one.”

Carolin Rekar Munro – RRU
Transformational Learning Experiences across Multigenerational Workplaces
(really wish she had used better quality graphics at the beginning of her presentation, but they got better)
Carolin offered us a really good recap of the various generational descriptors and attributes and a good reminder of things like attention spans for GenY for engagement and also employee retention.  She also reminded us to be cautious of stereotyping.  Probably a good practice for educators to understand some of these general guidelines but also to understand what makes each individual tick.

I really liked her excellent reminder of the polarities among learner/participant opinions and how you can often receive conflicting feedback which makes you question your whole plan.  (Sidebar note: I can see how things like “Unconference” can appeal to the right group of learners/participants but you really have to know your audience)
There was an -interesting and inspirational group dicussion about how we prime and prep participants to work and learn together in spite of divergent expectations and polarity of preference.  I don’t know that there was consensus among the ad-hoc group I was in, but there were some good points being raised by all.  One gentleman surprised my by offering the observation that (coincidental with some recent readings at my end) that Learning Styles – as absolutes – are really a crock.  More politely put, while they make instinctive sense, a) they don’t always apply to different situations, and b) they definitely don’t have a lot of rigorous research showing their efficacy in practice.

I love serendipity.

David Livingstone – Relationship between Worker Practical Knowledge and Job Requirements

Tough to have the spot just before lunch when stomach rumbles tend to diminish participant engagement, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of really awesome information and research from David’s work didn’t really make the leap to the audience.  I don’t want to appear to be too harsh and I’m certainly not critiquing his data because he gave us some interesting statistics, but I think some of the key messages got lost in the sheer volume of text he opened with and the slew of charts.  Sadly, it didn’t help matters that his data labels got bitten by the font monster.  In conversations with some participants at lunch, we seemed to agree that there was some really good stuff in his research findings and anecdotal comments, but they came so late in the presentation.  However, these comments and findings did leave a significant impression with me where we saw workers yearning for more autonomy in their roles and really desiring input into the various processes around them.  He also alluded to some of the challenges faced by Stelco and Dofasco and their lost generation of workers. 

What resonated with me in his presentation was teh fact that a lot of people feel like they have more education/skills than their jobs require.

My lingering questions are:  What does that say about our workplace when some employers complain that higher ed isn’t preparing people for the workforce? Also, what do we need to do to harness all the “unused” education so that we’re not stuck in “use it or lose it” mode?
Karl Kapp – Games and Learning
Q: what role can game splay in the learning cycle and what does the research say?  (Google “Kapp Notes” for more details)

Powerful statement for me that goes beyond gaming environments, “[an] extended commitment to self is (required for) the long haul.”  In his discussion on avatars and immersive simulations, he notes that human social models influence behaviour, beliefs & attitudes (Bandura, 1986)
So, if Bandura knew this 25 years ago, why have we been subjecting people to ‘death by [insert name of Presentation Graphics App here]’ for years?
I was interested to learn about the research finding of a strong influence from avatars on learners even when their functionality is limited.  So, an avatar doesn’t have to be CGI movie quality for it to resonate with the learner in a simulation.  
Even more interesting was this:  more than one avatar can work better than a single avatar.  e.g. multiple channels for providing the same information.  So how could we plan those channels within a simulation.  Are they concurrent?  Dependent on content or outcomes?  Lots of fodder for the research mill, there.
I was struck by my own experiences using Wii Fit:  avatars and their influence on exercise. He showed an example of avatars in a gym/fitness setting.  The research showed that if it looks like you, you’re more apt to engage and exercise in the real world.  Might have to get back at it, I think. 

His research also showed, and I’m not really surprised, that there’s no requirement for entertainment in a simulation.  Helpful, yes, but not required and certainly not applicable for ann learning situations.  I mean, if you’re an airline pilot you don’t want a Don Rickles voiceover if you’re doing your Emergency Procedures refresher in the A340 simlulator, but you could probably inject some fun and humour into customer service simulations and scenarios because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there.

Another solid point made was that “simulations aren’t good just because they are simulations” – e.g. simulations with no interactivity.  Design elements  be(presumably instructional design?) can’t leave the simulation and the sims need to be embedded into the instructional content to be truly effective.  We also have to consider how learners can be embedded in the context of the story.  (does this lead back to the concept of “digital storytelling”?)
Simulations have a strong influence on types of knowledge (Declarative 11%, Procedural 14%, Retention 9%)  There wasn’t a lot of content on this so I think it’s worth exploring more.
He quoted a figure of $100K to develop a game-type simulation.  (my take: only if you use the wrong tools!)

My take-away thought: “If you become the avatar, you can realize some real changes to life perceptions.”  Neat!

Thomas Michael Power – Implementing Technology-based Learning

Given that this is more or less what I do on a regular basis (and what I did in grad school), I was tempted to this one a miss, but I’m really glad I didn’t because I think this was the hidden gem for the day.

This talk was a lot less about just the basics of implementation but really about a transformative experience getting Educators to understand and leverage the power of technology as a means to support their learning efforts. So, yes, you could say “it’s just about implementing it” but the title really undersold the value of the content included and if we get access to the slide decks, you can see why.

He opened by sharing some of his training experiences in some exotic parts of the world and talked about the challenges of trying to front-load a lot of the design process.  What really surprised me was the result of the quick poll on the relative effectiveness of ADDIE as a model for developing technology-based learning.  A shocking majority of people think it is!  Could it be because they haven’t been exposed to other models and frameworks?  Personally, I couldn’t go back to ADDIE for the work that I do simply because I’m now so spoiled by being able to move from concept to production that much faster.  ADDIE is so ideally suited to ISD and instructor-led settings, but that methodical, gated process just doesn’t scale up for e-learning development…unless you really want to wait 4 months to develop 20 minutes of Level 2 e-learning.

What I liked about his presentation was that his research coincided with my own experiences in changing processes, tools, and approaches to dealing with our customers.  Sure, we’ve still got some learning to do at my place of work, but that’s really half the fun when you think about it.  If nothing else, I felt a little validation for what we discovered largely by accident.

The day ended with a panel discussion with all presenters.  I won’t get into the details of that because I was busy tweeting and chatting with some clients suffice it to say there were some good, relevant questions raised by the participants and we got to see a little more of the panelist expertise in action.

So…a good day.  One that realized more promise than its superficial description might have warranted.  I’m hopeful for similar inspirations and happy findings on Day 2.

>A flood of #backchannel, but in a good way.

>I’m a relatively recent presence on Twitter and I admit that I only got onto it for work purposes, but I now cheerfully admit I should have been on it for more selfish educational reasons long ago.

Case in point…

Given the nature of what I do, I gravitated to (and actively follow) the #elearning hashtag on my TweetDeck.  The connected nature of things in the interwebz, I soon found this thing called the #lrnchat – a regular chat among L&D professionals and Educators, where 5 questions get posted for participants to ponder and respond to.

Tonight’s discussion was on the nature of the backchannel discussions at Conferences.  I got to see this in action by following all the #dl10 tags, and I thought back to my own experience blogging the E-LEARN conference (and sharing that experience with Wes Fryer at one point) and I realize how far we’ve come in such a short time.  At the time I could draft little blog updates, or more often, I would compile my own daily summary of the things that meant the most to me at the time….because this was before grad school, I was doing my own reflective learning without even knowing it.  But of course, guys like Wes and the other early adopters were the trail-blazers on this path of JiT information and conference backchannel.

Flash ahead to what I’ve seen in 2010 and I’m in awe of the power of this backchannel.  When you think about it, we’ve all been doing this for years….in fact, I’m pretty sure Aristotle and other early pedagogues had students passing notes back and forth when the old man wasn’t looking, or when Roman rhetoric students weren’t really enthralled with color and descripto.  The challenge then was likely not getting caught, but today the challenge (on the face of it) seems to be simply ‘keeping up’.

We can wind up absolutely awash in information and we really need some finely-tuned personal filters to be able to make sense of this massively distributed intelligence, and I think there was a general agreement by all that some conferences could generate a LOT of backchannel, and there were some pretty sage pieces of advice not only on how to manage it, but how to bridge the gap between attendees and non-attendees…and that might naturally raise the question of whether we need face-to-face conferences at all, if a speaker was simply running something via a free conference system and participants were managing all the backchannel from wherever they happened to be seated.  That also raises the very interesting question of whether or not we realize the same value from a virtual conference as we do from a face-to-face one?  Do we still need that tactile, psychological affirmation that “presence” is better than “presence by absence”?

Some other questions came out of that discussion as the tweets came in at a veritable clip.  What do we potentially “lose” if we decide to tweet something “right this second”?  Is that “divided attention” really contributing to the “distributed intelligence”?  (Jacobs & McFarlane, 2005) Do we wind up killing the flow if we ask the presenter, “sorry, I was busy tweeting…can you repeat that last thing?”  (My gut tells me there can’t help but be an an immediate impact, but there would have to be some kind of mitigation). Could some presenters feel like people aren’t paying attention if they’re busy sharing the really cool thing they just learned?  What tools and practices might presenters need to help proactively manage and embrace the backchannel?

I also wonder what kinds of practices the attendee (or non-attendee) needs to adopt to weave this backchannel information into their own personal knowledge frameworks?  Do conferences need to start really treating attendees as learners and help them build their own learning paths?  What would a post-conference roadmap look like for someone from DevLearn?  And what might it look like for a non-attendee?

So…lots of questions and I think I might lean on my PLN for answers and clarity, but I think I know this much:  The backchannel really unlocks a lot of information for attendees, presenters, and non-attendees alike.  It makes the information and content in these events more “open”…and I think freedom of access to this kind of knowledge is an excellent thing.  For the presenter, it can – as some observed – provide a window into what things people pick up on, but it can also function as a virtual parking lot for questions and thoughts along the way. The attendee or virtual lurker also gets a lot of information to filter through, but their challenge is still going to be panning through the (relative) info-mud to find that little nugget…you know, the one that makes you go “A-hah!” and fires up that little inspirational engine that made you love what you do in the first place.

Jacobs, N. & McFarlane, A. (2005). Conferences as learning communities: some early lessons in using ‘back-channel’ technologies at an academic conference – distributed intelligence or divided attention? Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning, 21(5), 317-329.

Conference Bound!

>Ok, so it’s a local conference, but it’s a milestone of sorts.

I’m headed to the CSTD Conference and Tradeshow next week.  It’s been a shocking 5 yrs since I’ve been able to attend a big conference like this, my last one being E-LEARN 2005 in Vancouver.  No, it hasn’t been 5 years since I’ve done any kind of professional development…I did have that whole grad school thing in there, too…but at long last the magical trifecta of availability, workload and all-important employer approval managed to present itself and I’m off, as they say, to see the Wizard.

Having watched – with no small envy – the backchannel from DevLearn, I’ll be interested to see what kind of Twitter/Blog backchannel will come from CSTD ’10  I had a quick (re)glance at the conference sessions to get some basic picks in (because time was running out to get registered) and there seems to be some interesting stuff on the go.  Granted, not as much on the leading edge side of things as DevLearn, but the audience is somewhat different..because it’s a bit more of a generalist training & development constituency.  However, given that not all in the world is based on rapid e-learning (sadly), I’ll be looking at the sessions that help keep my horizons broad and keep me reminded of all the other things out there in the corporate training & development world.

>A small toot of the personal horn

>I learned on Friday that a course I designed and developed took first place in the New Employee Orientation category at DevLearn2010.  I think I can honestly say that this is the first education package I put together that ever won an award for anything.

Can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but, “W00T!!”

>Networking by a non-Networker

>I know people who would happy become wall-flowers at a face-to-face Meet & Greet.  Sometimes, I’m one of them.  Sometimes it’s like that old phrase, “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

But it’s interesting to see how the dynamic changes when we add a technology layer like a blog or some kind of Social Networking tool (like Facebook or Twitter) to the mix.  All of a sudden we have myriad tendrils of communication;  some more tenuous, some more essential, some humourous, and some time-limited.  I know I’m not saying anything new here about the power of Social Media, but I think it’s an observation worth repeating. 

After listening to Harold Jarche in today’s PLENK session,
I think that I can start taking the steps on the road to personal learning management or personal knowlege management by building out my own “Personal Learning Network”.  He said, and he’s quite right, that it comes down to the people out there.  There are some wise people like Jane Bozarth and Marcia Connor who speak volumes about the power of SoMe, but sometimes you really just need to experience it all for it to really make sense.

Today is a case in point.  Harold spoke about making use of the tools and resources, so today as I was monitoring TweetDeck, I took a more serious look at some of the connections I had and could eventually make, either through hashtags, blogs, Massive Open Courses or other networks.

I’m still left with questions about how to manage all these connections and how to manage the connections and all the information/knowledge associated with them, but maybe that’s part of the journey unto itself.  The meaning I make for me is exactly that:  mine, and probably wouldn’t work for anyone else.  But then again, there has to be some shred of common strategy and approach that could be replicated for someone else.

Never a bad thing to have more questions than answers.  It’s always a source of inspiration.