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EduTECH Conference Reflection

I recently had the chance to attend EduTECH in Brisbane as a panelist and speaker on their Workplace Learning track. For those not familiar with this event, it is the largest learning congress in Australia and draws 5000-8000 delegates annually. While most of the participants are in the K-12 and Higher Ed sectors, there is a modest-but-dedicated segment from Workplace Learning and Vocational Training providers and practitioners.

From a professional point of view it was a wonderful experience to be part of, and I was truly humbled to have been invited to share some stories with the delegates and to make connections with genuinely inspired practitioners in another part of the world.

After 2 days of talks and workshops and conversations I have reached a few conclusions about the state of the discipline of L&D, as well as the nature of conferences.

Shared Misery

Most notably, the problems we talk about in the North American sphere are present here in Australasia and also in some parts of Europe. These problems include getting support from orgs, trying new ideas, and strategic engagement. I find the implications of these common problems a little alarming. In that respect, at least, I suppose we are in good company. There is a part of me that wonders whether the global reach of some organizations or their management cultures are the root cause of these shared challenges.

Recurring Messages

Even more alarming is the fact that these problems (breaking down/working across silos, sharing, collaboration, L&D’s role in the business, subvert hierarchies) are ones we see frequently in conferences and even across our social/learning networks. We have also been seeing these problems and the proposed solutions for years. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this conclusion. On one hand, shared problems should lead to shared solutions. On the other hand, the fact that so many of us continue to experience these issues is rather unsettling.

For example, the conversation about ensuring L&D is aligned with the business isn’t a new one. Not by any stretch. Misalignment is arguably the most worrisome of the problems/challenges listed above and likely contributes to business’ perceptions of the relative value of L&D to the organization. Also consider that we still have to make the argument to support and sustain social learning practices within organizations. Sure, there’s agreement among our peers acknowledging the need, but what are we actually doing about it?

Harold Jarche – in his keynote – continues to share the message about the changing nature of work, how automation of tasks will eliminate roles familiar to us today, and he warns of the increasingly complex environments in which we will find ourselves.  I remain unconvinced that we have collectively prepared ourselves for this “brave new world” when we are continually trying to satisfy performance needs with knowledge-based solutions.  (Okay, I know, that’s a bit of a blanket indictment but until we can get past living in an IMI 1/IMI 2 world and get past a love of tools that lock us into these kinds of solutions we are going to have a hell of a time moving forward).

Conference meets TEDx

I appreciate the nature of this event for the way in which they approached the sessions.  Unlike most conferences I have attended, there were very few workshops or concurrent sessions. Our stream, at least, was in the same room for the duration of the conference (with the exception of the final plenary keynote). They assign a “chair” to each stream ours was Simon Terry) who handles speaker introductions. More than that, they take the time to weave together some of the stories and themes emerging from the talks. That stands in contrast to the usual scene at conferences with attendees scurrying from room to room where there is little time to weave things together. I like to think that the shared space for the duration of the conference helped to create some connections among the delegates because the attendance was less transient.

The speakers abided by the widely-circulated TED principles for their talks. This approach pushes speakers into relating their experience in a story fashion and to think differently than the usual canned presentation. It was also nice that the vendor influence on the talks was very, very minimal.  There is nothing more frustrating than to give up your time at a PD event only to have concurrent sessions filled with vendor case studies and talks that are little removed from sales pitches. For me, that kind of thing should reside on the expo floor. There were only 2 sponsor/vendor talks that happened in our stream, but they were mercifully confined to 5 minutes. For what it’s worth, the first of the two was so skilfully done that it did not come across as a vendor talk.

While the format may be somewhat passive consumption, I think the format change for the talks and the approach to the event itself more than compensate for any lack of activity. Personally, I would like to see conference organizers take a very hard look at breaking with the status quo.

Familiar friends in Strange Lands

The best part of any conference is the people. I always appreciate the opportunity to meet new colleagues and other people in my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  I got to reconnect with Harold as well as with Shannon Tipton in her new guise as a Learning Rebel. The global nature of networks also means that you will wind up meeting local people in far-off places, like fellow Canadians George & Alec Couros. At long last, I met Steve Wheeler from the UK and the influential K-12 blogger and tweeter, Shelly Sanchez Tyrell. Also great to meet Amy Rouse from AT&T U, who isn’t terribly active on Twitter but does some amazing stuff with in-house MOOCs. Of course our hosts were a fantastic crew of Australians. I appreciated the opportunity to meet Ryan Tracey, Joyce Seitzinger, Michelle Ockers, Con Ongarezos, and many, many others.  

EduTECH Workplace Learning Track Speakers

EduTECH 2015 Workplace Learning Speakers L-R: Simon G. Terry (moderator), Amy Rouse (AT&T U), Harold Jarche (ITA), Me, Joyce Seitzinger (adademictribe), Shannon Tipton (Learning Rebels), Ryan Tracey (AMP), Michelle Ockers (Coca-Cola Amatil). Not pictured: Alec Couros, David Price, Peter Baines, Con Ongarezos. (photo credit Mairi Thomson @OpenAccessLearn)

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of talk about breaking with the status quo and working to improve our influence and reaching within our organizations. The best way those things will happen is from within. Organizations like mine are rare where empowerment and autonomy are core principles. Not everyone is lucky enough to work for a Zappos, or a Virgin Group, or a Northern Lights where these principles are on display. To that end, our own professional development and critical thinking should take on greater importance. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chat, or a MOOC or forming an alliance with trusted practitioners. If you’re talking, you’re sharing. If your listening, you’re learning.

…and if you’re learning, you’re on your way to keeping us all relevant and cementing your own role in a new world for L&D.

I’ve been depressed. You? | Internet Time Blog

I’ve been depressed.

Telling you this will blow my chances of running for president, but what the hell: I have been clinically depressed for the last two years. It’s a form of going crazy. I lost interest in my work, stopped blogging and taking photos. I became a near-hermit.

I want to share my experiences with you so that if the black dog visits you or one of your friends, you’ll recognize it for what it is and take appropriate action.

via I’ve been depressed. You? | Internet Time Blog.

My take: As a depression sufferer, I urge you to speak out. If you need an ear, you call me…message me…Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Skype, whatever.. I promise that I’ll listen. 

Depression took a crippling toll on my life until I finally acknowledged it and sought treatment. Since then, I have slowly regained control of my life.

It’s an empowering thing when one of the most respected people in your network comes forth with something like this.  Jay Cross just took another step up the ladder of esteem in my book.

Educational Ennui

With my wife tackling her B.Ed. (and hoping to transfer to my alma mater for Grad School) and one of my colleagues also starting the MA program I did, I’ve been tripping down educational memory lane of late.

That came to a head a little while ago as I participated in a FB message exchange with some of my former classmates as we responded to a query from one of our number about an instructional design challenge.  My friend Peter summed it up well:

As an aside, you have no idea how much I miss this kind of dialogue with you guys. This thread made my day.

With that, I got a pang of sadness.  Read the rest of this entry

My experience with Snapguide: Thoughts, implications, and a wishlist

It was one of those “Just in Time” moments for learning. I had been sharing some photos of a trip into Toronto through Instagr.am and cross-posting them to Facebook. A grad school classmate asked me how I achieved the effects. After listing the tools I used, she jokingly asked when I’d have the e-learning course ready for her to teach her how to do it all. Undaunted, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out Snapguide. Read the rest of this entry

Instructional Designer, Project Manager, or Both?

One of the topics of debate in my workplace is the concept of having the instructional designer also serve as the project manager for their own projects.  The rationale is that they are intimately involved in the project from design through implementation and are conveying information over to any project-level resources and establishing the deliverables.

This proposal raises some interesting issues.; PMs are normally positions of some level of authority and can request and assign resources, etc. So, if the PM did not have the authority PMs are also experts in the management and administration of projects, and all the mysterious things that go into them.  They are also not necessarily resources for the project, but they have a degree of responsibility to the project sponsor and the customer for the outcomes.

I’m going to try not to salt the waters too much, but I wonder what people think.  If you are an ID are you also your own project manager?

A gate, a speed bump, or just a roadside distraction??

Ah, there’s nothing like writer’s block to stifle the winds of creativity on a blog.  I have a potentially great post about The Instructor, Learning, & Memory that I can’t seem to get out of low gear. Strangely enough, it’s serving as a catalyst for this missive.

It’s not just writer’s block, although that does enter into it.  It’s also about the energies of the day.  You can mentally psych yourself up for certain things based on your calendar, but simple postponements can easily put paid to those plans.  I’ve had meetings rescheduled over the last 2 days (including one already postponed from Friday) that managed to sap a lot of the energy away.

Some of that seems to extend into my writing.  I really am trying to write for me and to get things out of my head and into some kind of recorded form, but competing thoughts, changes in momentum, and other distractions make it tough to write with any degree of focus.

Is it discipline? Habit? Dedication? Or is it my style that needs work? (am I too wordy for my own good?)  I dunno.  Too many questions and no easy answers.

I wonder what my more prolific writing and blogging colleagues will say about this?

e-Learning Project Autopsies – What Quincy M.E. can teach us about e-Learning Projects

Photo credit: http://sharetv.org/shows/quincy_meAfter five straight days dissecting and evaluating a select group of e-learning projects developed by external vendors, I felt a little bit like I was playing Quincy, M.E.  That’s honestly what the last week has felt like, because it was long, invasive, messy, and clinical. Yes, I know I’m dating myself somewhat, but CSI didn’t really work as a comparison because there’s so much “gee whiz” science involved there. Quincy, on the other hand, relied on instinct, experience, intuition, and good, old-fashioned detective work.

I’ll preface my comments by saying that this is not an indictment of the process or the players involved, rather, it’s a reflective summary of some things I wanted to share about how these kinds of projects can work more effectively down the road.

Every so often, we have to go outside the organization to get some development work done, and we’re always asked to do some kind of review.  Well, with three particularly challenging projects, our review turned into a real post-mortem, and my old TV memories from the formative years came to mind.

In no particular order, here are the things that I learned from this process, thanks to ol’ Quince.

1. If we’re doing an autopsy we have more questions than answers.

If you’re finding that the review process is turning into an autopsy, you’ve likely missed a few key indicators on “cause of death” of your project. To my way of thinking, there’s no such thing as “death from natural causes” on an e-learning project.  What is surprising is that “foul play” could be a contributor. What’s more likely in many cases is a bit of a blanket crime I’ll call “educational malpractice” The line between that and “foul play” is that there’s usually no malice in “malpractice”.

What does this mean for the L&D professional?  You really need to have the proverbial ducks in a row when embarking on a project. While just as important for in-house efforts, you’d better make sure you have a very clear vision communicated to your external developer and you need to know what the project plan is actually going to look like.  In Air Force terms, we like to avoid trying to fly the airplane while it’s still being built.  For corporate folks, it may mean having to answer some very uncomfortable questions about the project, its aims, and the amount of money thrown at it…especially if you wind up either pulling the plug or getting something that doesn’t work for you, the learners, and the organization.  As Nick Laycock recently pointed out (rightly), a post-mortem is likely a self-fulfilling prophecy and has a negative connotation.

2. Simple detective work is never easy

Quincy was portrayed as someone who relied as much on deductive reasoning as he did on his microscope and scalpel. More importantly, he also spent time outside the lab asking questions and putting a big picture together.

You will likely spend a lot of time checking and re-checking decisions and outcomes. As much as you’ll rely on the “physical” evidence (I guess we can include email trails there).  Don’t be pushed into completing findings by a certain date if you don’t have all the facts.  In short, don’t give up on a review (or fail to conduct one) because there’s always something to learn.

On a more positive note, humans are notorious for failing to acknowledge what they have done correctly (with the exception of those possessing an overabundance of hubris), so why not take a look at the things that went well and strive to repeat them?

3. Some wounds are self-inflicted

Try as some might to make a murder look like a suicide, there are some tell-tale signs that a good Examiner can always determine (not all of  them physical).

The L&D professional has to rely on their instincts as well as the evidence, and they have to look at a lot of contributing factors in the project; everything from project methodology, through communications, and even a critical evaluation of their own efforts. For all you know, a decision made at your end that seemed innocuous at the time might have been the proverbial butterfly that triggered the hurricane later.  Other things that get in the way are repeated time and again from project management professionals: lack of sponsorship, “scope creep”, lack of flexibility, poor risk assessment, poor communications, and so on. I have been witness to (and occasionally a contributor to) some of the previous issues on projects.

4. Not all wounds are fatal

One of Quincy’s skills was his ability to sort through multiple traumas and figure out which one was fatal. This distinction was critical when more than one wound presented itself.

Similarly, I cannot think of a project that has been error-free. In fact, there are times when I think Murphy was a project manager. Errors, on their own, aren’t necessarily bad things.  They become bad when they are covered up, unrecognized, or dismissed. So, what do we do? First, let’s acknowledge that errors happen. A well-run project will probably have some Risk Analysis done in the planning stage and can serve as a guide for dealing with contingencies. Next, if errors happen, don’t hide them.  Acknowledge them. Be transparent.  Examine them and take a good look at the potential impact, and adjust as needed.  Embrace them as chances to learn.  Radical?  Sure it is!  But think about the gains received through honesty versus the costs of deceit? I know I’d have greater respect for a vendor who openly acknowledges and error AND has a plan to address it, as opposed to the one who has been providing sunshine & roses updates when they really don’t reflect what’s going on in the background.

5. Build a library and share findings

Can you imagine if every piece of evidence gathered for a case had to stand on its own with no linkage to similar happenings, or other revelations?  Unthinkable in police work or medicine, but seems to be a fact of life for organizations who have multiple projects on the go.

Part of your project plan should include a trek through your own archive of projects, findings, and lessons learned.  By starting out with this “let’s repeat success” mindset, you’re more likely to work out a stronger plan and set of goals than you would if you ignored the potential learning from previous projects. With the ubiquitous nature of social media technologies and the growth of Personal Learning and Personal Performance networks (thanks Mark Britz) we can pose questions, share lessons learned, and collectively improve our learning projects from concept through implementation.

Besides…we’re L&D professionals.  It’s in our nature to learn.  We spend a lot of time and energy promoting learning’s virtues but every so often (and I know I’m not immune to this) we’re blinded to our own need to acknowledge certain lessons.  To borrow and re-purpose a phrase, “Educator, teach thyself“.

Reflections on a “Magical” #lrnchat – Early Edition 03 Feb

The early edition of #lrnchat this week had a very special topic: Magic.

I get a real charge out of these innovative approaches to the chats. Sadly, I had a scheduling overlap so I’m combining my observations from the early part of the chat with a review of the transcript, along with a few of my own thoughts.

Everyone has their own impressions about the idea of Magic. Whether they consider it from the viewpoint of illusionists or seeing something happening in their lives that fills them with wonder, many believe there is Magic all around us.

Read the rest of this entry

CSTD Opening Keynote

This entry is the first of several that i am adding from my participation at the 2011 CSTD Conference & Trade Show in Toronto. While I have been actively tweeting from the conference, I want to provide some curated and reflective summaries based on the offline notes.

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