Monthly Archives: February 2011

The reading list grows…

>Disillusioned with my shipping experiences with Clive Shepherd’s book from Lulu, I decided to take the (almost) revolutionary step of ordering Clark Quinn’s new book Designing mLearning in ebook format for the kindle reader on my PC.  Now I’ve had ebooks on my computer before, but mostly in the Microsoft .lit format -a holdover from my days as an iPaq user – and those were usually Project Gutenberg editions.

(Side note on Fiction titles:  I appreciate that people usually want to make money from their book sales, but I have to say that I really object to the extortionate prices that some people want for audiobooks or even for e-books.  At this rate, I’ll hold out for paperbacks.)

So within seconds of having my order processed, I had the pages of Clark’s shiny (shiny from my screen?) new book gracing my laptop screen.  So far, Kindle seems to be doing a reasonably good job of letting me make those ‘oh yeah, what about…’ notes inside the book.  Trying to figure out of I can sync it to the iPod as well, but that may need more exploration.

No review planned because I’m certainly not an expert, but I may provide some reflective commentary once I get through the book.

Really wish I had a tablet… đŸ˜¦

A wholly unqualified book review (WIP)

>It took a while (no thanks to Lulu’s dreadful low-cost shipping options), but I finally got my copy of Clive Shepherd’s The New Learning Architect.  Sadly, it’s taken me until now to be able to read more than one page of the damn thing (sick child, workloads, yadda, yadda).

So I’m going to keep this blog entry (started Feb 20) as my own mechanism for reviewing the book and making my own observations and comments along the way.  I also learned today, after setting up my new personal Twitter identity, that there’s an online “book club” chat happening as of March 7.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be more than 20 pages through the book by then (although at this rate, I wouldn’t put money on it).  Mark Britz is acting as the facilitator/guide for the chat and I’m really looking forward to it.

I had some initial thoughts as I forge into the first chapter. 
I will preface my comments by saying that I may be taking more of an academic view of the book out of habit.  One of the things I tend to look for is a list of references from which the book is drawn – unless the book’s content and approach is more fact based and where the approaches are not necessarily subjects of extensive research.  So, Clive, that’s the lens at which I initially looked at this book.

At first glance, the book reads like an Op-Ed piece, because there’s nary a citation to be found until page 18!  While there’s nothing wrong with that kind of approach for a beginner, I was gettinc concerned that the book was going to be too superficial for my needs when I finally saw some footnotes and then some of the User Profiles.  I breathed a small sigh of relief and if my little guy wasn’t in need of TLC I could have forged ahead with renewed interest.  Fear not, however, I’m reading and making notes as I go along.

If nothing else, Clive has given me significant food for thought as I  re-examine my career path and options down the road.

New Tweet Space Done

>…well, sort of.

I realized after my last post that I should probably separate my business and personal tweets and other activities.  So I’ve set up a new identity that will point followers here, but it will take me a while to replicate my list of those I follow to the new ID, and I can but hope that a good many business followers will make the trek over to this side of the house.

Also, thanks to my PLN, I learned how to establish Pages/Tabs at the top of the blog.  So I can have my lengthier profile attached as a page, rather than chewing up too much real estate on the sidebar.

Still much reading of posts to do for my College learners.  My Adult Learning group is a gregarious bunch and the activity has been astounding.  My Assessment & Eval learners are quieter, although I suspect the traffic will pick up today and tomorrow.

Design a Planet, or just my little piece of it?

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“The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied… Look at me: I design coastlines… I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
“And are you?”
“No, that’s where it all falls down, of course.”
“Pity, it sounded like quite a good lifestyle otherwise.”

Slartibartfast to Arthur Dent.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Book 1

As a small foreward to this (probably) disjointed post, congratulations to Harold Jarche for his 7 years of independent and thought-provoking blogging.  He gives me hope that maybe another ex-soldier can make good in the learning world.

As I was participating in the most recent #lrnchat, I commented to Jay Cross that I wanted to be able to participate in more things like MOOCs and other readings, etc. (for example, Clive Shepherd’s most recent book is still mostly unread) but scheduling was a challenge.  While he agreed he suggested prioritization, although I said to him that negotiating that kind of regular effort would likely require some coordination with those who sign my cheques.  He does, as he says, have the benefit of being his own paymaster and secretary.  Of course, as I pondered that exchange, I imagined Peter Block telling me that I just wasn’t committed enough. đŸ˜‰

For all the time I’m spending on what is (relatively speaking) a pretty aggressive and innovative front, I feel a tremendous dissatisfaction that my own development is taking a distant back seat.  Part of that, I think, is the post-Grad School hangover, where all of a sudden after 2 years you’re not scrambling to read a journal or write a paper or engage in a discussion of some kind.  The other part of it is perhaps being in a role where – for whatever reason – there’s no overt or explicit encouragement to keep skills sharp or even to participate in events, conferences, or the like.  Even my participation in #lrnchat feels slightly ilicit under what is nominally a vendor/reseller banner, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences there for anything (although I am considering a separate handle for more of my PLN/personal commentary and only using the main handle for work-specific purposes).

Now I know that part of the recent time issues are of my own making with my agreement to teach two online courses for the College.  With 35 learners in one course and 13 in the other, I definitely have my hands full, and – of course – having an active 2 year old does tend to have an impact on remaining time.

So the question is:  what to do if I want to keep current or ahead of some of the trend demands?  Do I just say, ‘screw it’ and book my own time to read books/articles/blogs and seek out the brains of my PLN and abandon more event-driven activities?  Or do I take a more forthright stand and seek more control over my allowance for T&D and seek out some better Dev opportunities? I genuinely envy some of the folks in my PLN who are in either the right career space or right geographical space to take advantage of conferences, but for us Canadian practitioners who are not self-employed in lucrative thought-leader practices, its a different logistical challenge. Since very few of these big events come to Toronto, one has to travel larger distances and frequently across borders to attend. As an employee in a smaller org., it’s also logistics and a certain amount of proposal and rationalizing to convince someone to agree to pay for a flight, accommodations AND conference fees, all the while being generally unavailable for paid work for the duration. While I know that self-employment does have its advantages in

Maybe have a plan?

Ah, there’s the rub.  Saint-Exupery – I think – said that a “dream without a plan is just a wish”.  For me, a plan needs to have a goal and some kind of practical outcome.  Can I really learn to plan my own T&D for its own sake?  I suppose the educational purist in me says, ‘well, Duh’, but the practical and pragmatic Me has to raise some doubts. “Life”, as they say, “is what happens when one is making plans”.

But as time goes on, this T&D issue is going to hit critical mass and I can’t risk getting left behind in my career.  I’ve put way too much into it over the past few years to put it at excessive risk.  I’d much sooner be an in-demand resource than “just another training generalist”.  Selfish so-and-so that I am, I think I want to be right AND happy.

So, let’s see….Social Media, Informal Learning, mLearning….wow.  Looks like I have my work cut out for me.  Now, where did I put Clive’s book…?

Shameless self-promotion

>I just had my blog commentary on the excellent video-based rapid e-learning approach article posted by the good folks at OpenSesame!

Nothing like a little additional exposure to motivate you!

(I’ll offer a small w00t!)

N00b Management 101

>While I kept telling myself that my new online courses were College-level and not Graduate level, I realize now that I had confined my assumptions to the level of language used in assignment instructions and forum introductions. I hadn’t really counted on people entirely new to e-learning or even people who were not very familiar with computers at all.

(Okay, so I now have some ideas on an e-learning 101 asset, or series of assets, but I digress)

I think that part of the battle will be won by sticking with Salmon’s best practices for “weaving” and “summarizing” threaded discussions (but I will need to go back and explore different examples), but the other part of the battle is just getting people to realize how to work through an online course so that it’s not a “finish all 14 weeks’ content in a few days” event.  I will definitely need to take things slowly, use smaller words, and try not to leave anyone behind.  I am also going to have to be very careful with showing people the requirement for group work in an online course….I have a feeling that’s going to be a rough road for some at the outset.

A challenge for sure, but one I definitely signed up for.

LRNCHAT Reflections from Feb 10.

>Tonight’s #lrnchat posed an interesting and completly hypothetical ‘what if’ scenario: What if you could wipe the slate clean for corporate learning and do it all over again?

Well, I can say that this one definitely sparked some serious interest among the participants, especially those who decided to join #lrnchat for the first time.  The transcript of the chat doesn’t really show what a number of us were likely thinking: something a long the lines of, “ooh, so many ideas, and so little time”, but then some of the neat ideas really came through….of course these are all the ideas that we L&D professionals keep in our personal wish lists, but it’s nice to let them our for some fresh air once in a while.


Harold Jarche (@hjarche) was probably the lone voice of dissent and asking why we would wipe the slate clean, equating some of the theoretical concepts of the chat to, as he said, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, and that we might work more effectively on changing behaviours and other similar efforts.

It really was a neat thought, even though it was counter to the intent of the discussion (of course, that’s really the point of these things.  If we all agree, then we’ll never see the counter-arguments that are likely to smack us in the face like the handle of a stepped-on rake. While I didn’t actively pursue Harold’s line of inquiry (I was having too much fun thinking up new ideas in the fantasy land we’d created) but I had cause to think of it later.  Although, upon relfection, I didn’t really see anyone step up and say “hey, wait, we already do this stuff!”

Maybe the sum total of what Harold and the rest of us were saying is this: we really do need to do things differently if we’re going to drag mainstream corporate learning out of the weeds and make it more efficient.  So perhaps we stipulate to the status quo and make the commitment to changing how learning is perceived, created, managed, and delivered.  While there was a good focus on the processes and the approaches that need to change, there was also – not surprisingly – a lot of interest in the technology components. What I found interesting about that was, it wasn’t a “this tool sucks” kind of polarization (and I studiously avoided any “Death to PPT” slogans) but it was more conceptual.  We need tools that are accessible and easier to manage both in terms of generating content (note I didn’t say “course”) and also in terms of hosting, distribution, and access.  Clark Quinn suggested that you should pilot small, then “leverage the hell out of the results”, but I think this is where the @Quinnovator and I may differ on approach. While pilots are a good idea, the risk you run by limiting the pilot by business unit (or “silo”) is that while you may have convinced one set of stakeholders of the wisdom of your approach, but then you may have to start the whole process over again to get the rest of the organization on board.  So, limit the scope of content, but I’d suggest not limiting the reach.

I could see shades of Tony Bates in some of the commentary about openness and lack of barriers.  Learning should, I think, be something that people don’t have to fight for and has to be embedded at all levels.  We also threw ideas around about creating networks and communities, and gaining access to experts “at the moment of need”.  We also recognized a need to ditch the concept of a “course” and just replace it with regularly available informational and instructional assets that are easy to keep up to date.

On that note, @LandDDave posted a good picture that reflects what he thinks e-learning should look like…and I can’t really disagree conceptually.  For your own version, go to google.com, and do a print screen.  Save it, and think about it.

So maybe the path to success involves a little bit of revolution.  A key member of my PLN, Holly Macdonald (@sparkandco) posted a neat little blog entry asking whether you want to be a victim or an activist.  If you ignore some of the G20/WTO-type imagery and think more along the lines of Ghandi, you might just be onto something.  It may take a slightly subversive approach to makign the kinds of changes we really want to see….without wiping the slate clean and having to build it all over again.

All in all, another inspiring and thought-provoking #lrnchat.

Thoughts on a “controversial” approach to rapid e-learning development.

>One of the things that popped up in the Thursday #lrnchat was a note from the folks at @OpenSesame about a blog post talking about using video as a rapid content development method.  I chimed in because I’ve had some success creating some quick & dirty assets to support our own rapid ID/Dev ecosystem.  So with their permission and encouragement I am recording a few thoughts on the post and what it could mean to organizations and individuals.

The author, Tom Carter, is a senior Insructional Designer in the UK and – like my own employer – his has a genuine interest in rapid e-learning, so as I read through the post, I actually wasn’t surprised by what I read, in spite of the caveat that his opinions might be “controversial”.  In fact, I didn’t find it controversial at all.  Of course, that makes me wonder whether or not I’m as much of a “disruptive” innovator and experimenter as Tom is, or perhaps his ideas really aren’t as controversial on this side of the pond.

An emerging trend in workplace learning (not a new one by any means) is making use of the tools at your immediate disposal to create quick, low-cost, or no-cost learning assets & resources, and Tom uses a great example in YouTube.  The sense that I get is that he’s really not pushing people to start broadcasting Jackass-type videos into the workplace, but more about using it as a delivery and hosting mechanism.  In the same way Terrence Wing has been promoting the use of Facebook and Twitter as a delivery mechanism, Tom promotes this easy and accessible community portal and content in a similar fashion.  As he notes, one of the benefits of this approach is that you can really stop thinking about learning as an event-driven and exclusive or restrictive phenomenon, and start enabling continuous, regular access to knowledge assets for your learners.  Done correctly, you can also take advantage of the social aspects of this approach to engage and stimulate your learner community.

I shared a similar experience when looking for solutions to the platform certification we were putting together.  While we had a number of quite handy reference guides, we wanted to try something faster.  Tom’s comments about storyboarding and process remaining relevant but less intrusive certainly ring true in this case.  As the resident platform expert I knew it was going to be my expertise captured and published for new platform learners.

Through a fortunate happenstance, I came across Jing: a very simple screencast tool that would incorporate voiceovers.  The other nice piece of that equation was the ability to host through screencast.com for a ridiculously low annual license fee.  And so, a screencast star was born.  The process was kept pretty simple.  I had already created the standards and exercises for the various certification tasks, so my next step was to create a very simple script to use as my voiceover.  The challenge with the free version of Jing is that you have to keep it to less than 5 minutes of recording.  While I thought that might be really tough at first, it’s amazing just how much you can get through in that time and still make it effective.  It also satisfies what I consider to be a basic requirement of e-learning for the modern knowledge worker: it has to be short, focused, and concise.  The learners who have been participating in our certification program have indeed made good use of these video demonstrations and are capable of producing some really high quality e-learning content.  We also use them for general learner support issues (the certification elements are really the exercises and the coached feedback provided).

So there are some drawbacks to this kind of method and where I think Tom’s post may fall a little short for an in-house implementation, and that is how we tie metrics and achievement back to business objectives, or even how we make use of relevant data from the platform(s). We may be able to get some raw, basic data on views, comments, etc., but there’s no direct interchange (that I know of) between YouTube and people management systems.  So while metrics exist, it’s hard to make sense of the data when you’re doing it all manually.  

We also have some limitations with respect to the video format because they are not as flexible for editing purposes.  Now, with a 5-min limit in the tool I use I suppose it’s not that ponderous to re-record, but if you had a lot of assets that required editing to reflect a process change, interface update, or something similar, you may have a lot of work on your hands.

This isn’t a criticism of Tom, but more of an observation as I ponder the topic: the other acknowledged weakness of this approach as a sole source of instruction is that it’s demonstrative only.  Learners will still need an environment where they can “fail” and still learn something.  The screencasts and videos are great for showing “the right way” to do something, but it is still up to the learner to roll up their sleeves and try it out.  So unless that kind of environment exists in concert with the informative or instructional assets, it may lose some of its effectiveness; particularly if you’re trying to use this method to support business-critical applications, systems, and practices.

With all that said, Tom is to be applauded for sharing what may be – to some – a radical idea.  But if you strip it of the brand and any associated criticisms, the approach and process are sound.  When you need to get some knowledge and skill demonstrated to your learner community, you could do far worse than to engage in this form of digital storytelling.  If the social and “connective” aspects are in place, then you may have the foundation necessary to break the cycle of “death by PPT” or overly expensive solutions to simpler problems. Just be mindful that it’s only one tool at your disposal and that the other supporting elements need to be present in some fashion so you can truly make on-demand assets a reality.

Power to the PLN!

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“When it comes down to it, there are really only two fundamental human activities. Learning is the other one.”

PLN, you ask?  What the heck is a PLN?

Well, according to those in the know, it is a “Personal Learning Network”.  Yeah, it’s a nice term and all, but let’s put this into perspective.

For those of you of a similar generation as me, think back to the people in high school that you might study with, or lean on for help in Calculus, Chemistry, or Physics.  Or maybe you were one of the bright ones who had people coming to you to explain things that made no sense when coming from your so close to retirement they could taste it teacher?  Well, that’s a simple Personal Learning Network.

Fast-forward to this century and the idea of the PLN has regained some traction.  We live in an astoundingly connected world and we have access to more information than we could possibly process in a lifetime, but we can create and nurture a Personal Learning Network and take one more essential step towards becoming lifelong learners. Okay, so that might be an idealized state, but I’m not talking about being a permanent student and out-living your professors.  I’m talking about keeping your grey matter engaged and working for the long haul because – let’s face it – when you decide to stop learning, you might as well drop yourself off at the service entrance of the nearest mortuary because you’re done.  Like, “stick a fork in you, you’re done.”

In simple terms, a PLN is a network of individuals (friends, colleagues, thought leaders, etc.) who are in a position to be actively or passively sharing ideas, thoughts, solutions, or sometimes acting as avocatus diaboli and swimming against a particular currrent.  Some PLNs are more formalized, and others tend to be stealthy and organic.  If you’re one of those rare birds who isn’t on Facebook, you probably have a group of “friends” from whom you might learn a few things on the fly or upon whom you could lean on.  Savvy business types have been using LinkedIn for similar purposes.  So why not expand that circle to people

So the next time someone says to you, “figure it out for yourself” you’re not necessarily alone for that task. If you’re smart, you will already know who to go to and ask some intelligent questions.

Taking (Online) College Instruction by Storm!

>Well, I admit that I never thought it might happen, but as of today I am officially a College-level instructor because my two courses started today.

I found myself in this position by the purest of chance.  The backstory is that I live in a relatively major center with a nearby Community College.  As a product of the College system I have a certain amount of affection of the methods and approaches used therein.  This College runs a number of continuing education courses, including a certificate in adult learning (similar to the one I did years ago).  So, I figured I’d send out a general inquiry to say, “ya know, if you ever want/need part-time instructors for this gig I’d be, you know, interested.”.  Based on my history with unsolicited resume submissions and the like, I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for what I usually consider to be a pretty closed system.

Fate decided to keep me on my toes and I actually got a response to my query and eventually got an offer to teach not one, but two of the online editions of said certificate program.  That was back in October and I wasn’t slated to teach until Feb., so it didn’t seem quite real.

But, that was then, and this is now.  I’ve completed the edits to my course, and when I checked in last night I was pleasantly surprised to see that I even had learners enrolled!  So, things kicked off today. In my Adult Learning course I have 32 (!) learners, and in the Assessment & Evaluation course I have 12.  Of course, these numbers are likely to change as the course goes on, but I’m thrilled.  Lots of eager (and maybe not-so-eager) learners to mould, mentor, and guide.

I dug back through my online communities course from grad school and re-read Gilly Salmon’s fine book, e-Moderating.  I tapped into some of my recent expertise and inspiration and I filled in what I thought were some of the gaps in one course, and worked with another new instructor to re-purpose and re-format another one because neither one of us could make head-nor-tail of the original approach (we also had learner feedback from a previous iteration to support our efforts).

So, I gave them a video introduction and I plan to do some of Salmon’s “weaving and summarizing” as the content discussions progress.  I may even tap into some other activities through the 14 week run of the course, just to give the learners some other kinds of engagement.

While I find the thought of having to mark that many assignments a little daunting, I’m still excited about this new side activity.  I’ll blog more as the courses progress.