Archive for December, 2006

Christmas rox.

Now that its here, I guess I’m not as disillusioned with Christmas as I thought I was.  That’s probably just because I’ve avoided all shopping since late October.  Thanksgiving is still #1 in my book, but this Christmas season is turning into a pretty good one!  If you haven’t left for the long weekend yet…  Go right now (I won’t tell, promise) 😀

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/4586353/view]

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Another try….

Thought I’d try ODEO just for funsies…

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/4469533/view]

 Now my shoes are full of digital sand, and my ears, and my hair, and my shorts.

Corporate U from scratch

I had a fun conversation with someone yesterday about what it would be like to build a business’ learning function (for lack of a better term not alread loaded with connotations) from scratch. 

Suppose you had a successful startup company that was starting to feel it’s growth from a couple dozen to now a couple hundred people and feels that it’s time to support a learning infrastructure for everyone.  What is your strategy?  What skills/skill areas do you go after at the start?  How would you structure what you offer?  What initiatives would you be sure to implement?  Do you care about the “informal” learning (see also: Cross, Jay) or just let it go on as it has since it’s already happening and always will anyway?

 Here’s what I was thinking – in what has become my typical “brain dump” fashion.  <sidebar>It takes so darn much work to organize my thoughts and I feel like the blogging format has become the greatest enabler of this vice since email 😦 .  Feel free to leave a comment/complaint if you’d like, otherwise I’ll continue to assume only, like, 2 people are reading this (Hi Mom and Dad!). </sidebar>

First, the mission of the learning function (LF) has to be to align all of the organization’s “learning” efforts to the company’s culture and the results they want.  Here, from the very start, the LF plays a vital role in questioning what the leaders of the organization really (I mean REALLY) want to accomplish.  Bake that in to everything you go after from there…  “How will the design of this course reinforce our company’s culture?  How does this experience make our people more able to get the results we’re after? (see also: The Oz Principle (with which I’ve become particularly enamoured))”

Before I get to Second, the LF will certainly play its traditional role of course-roller-outer to support those where needed, but, and I think more importantly, 

Second, what you build is an infrastructure/environment in which learning happens -but not always because The Fearless Training Leader (TFTL) put it out there – a [virtual?] common area where people come together and exchage ideas and things they know (yes, you definitely try to capture – but not formalize – the “informal” learning).  I have come to absolutely hate, haTE, HATE the idea of someone thinking “X is going wrong, call the training department and have them write us up a course”.  Great job security, terrible job. 

What the LF needs is the ability (and reputation) for offering a solution to X – definitely NOT by always writing up courses – and also to already have the infrastructure in place where X is being worked on way before it is even recognized as “a problem”.  I guarantee that by the time someone calls out X as a problem it has been bugging the people that it impacts for a long time (and if the environment is right, they’ve been working on solutions(!)).  A good LF (IMO) supports learners in ways that enable them to grow and learn on their own (outside of The Classroom) which is exactly what I believe the vast majority of employees want to do (and are doing).  Part of that is breaking the mind set of employees as well; from “I better sign up for that course so I can learn X” to “what resources do I have besides a course to learn about X?”  Again, the LF gets ahead of the curve by being in the environment as that strategic resource, not just a tactical reacter to the company’s needs.

Third, I think TFTL has to be in people’s faces spaces (Haha, I used the emotional connection of “in people’s faces” to solicit your attention but didn’t mean anything like that at all – nice literary device, Paul! – let me explain).  Let them know you are there to enable them.  Let them know that you are there to support them in any way – not just by forcing them to sit through another training session.  People love (need?) to put a face/warm body (here in UT we settle for ‘mostly warm’ this time of year) with the training.  That’s why Level 1 evals rock when the “training” stinks.  Let the LF’s face/warm body be TFTL’s – but not in the classroom.  If the only time people have contact with TFTL is when they’re sitting in a classroom, there is definitely something wrong.  As a matter of fact, I’d like to see TFTLs sponsoring playtime at lunch (or another “off” time – maybe it’s just a room; break room/lunch room becomes Play Room with games and puzzles strewn about) where everyone gets to learn something cool and [most likely] completely unrelated to “work”.  That would be fun!  That could be Learning!  And talk about a “cultural” impact!  Wow…  I just thought of this right while I was typing.  I’m gonna simmer on this one for a while….

 What would your Corporate U from scratch look like?

Training for Trainers

I liked this article in Trainging Day by Hap Cooper.  Maybe business trainers need to take more sales/marketing training rather than just ADDIE it. 

Aside from the standard ISD learning you should have before doing ISD, what other “non-conventional” subjects should every ISD professional study? 

What’s holding us back?

I was having a “getting back in touch” conversation with a friend I hand’t talked to in a couple of weeks this AM and part of what we talked about struck a chord with me this morning.  I felt strongly enough about it that I said “that’s something I want to write about on my blog”…

(scroll down to Skip to Here if you want the condensed version) (I’m too lazy to figure out how to do named anchors with wordpress) 

The situation that got me thinking
During our discussion we were talking about my friend’s recent conversation with a “name” in the corporate e-learning industry.  This person is doing some AWESOME stuff at the forefront of innovation and has been for a while. 
Me: …that is some great stuff, good for you to be involved with [that person]!  [That person] is always out there doing exciting stuff and must be a blast to work with.’ 
My Friend: Yeah, but a lot of people aren’t that impressed by [that person].  As a matter of fact, some people don’t like [that person] in the least”. 
Me: What the?!? I’ve met [that person] myself and [he/she/it] is a good person that seems genuinely intersted in building the industry.
My Friend: … yeah, I think so too, but, I was talking with [another “name” in the e-learning industry] and describing some of what I’m doing with [that person] and [another “name”] said ‘oh, more of [that person’s] same old bu!!sh@#’ and [another “name”] isn’t the only one I’ve heard that from. 

I feel like a teenager posting on MySpace right now, but stay with me, like, OK, ’cause were BFF.

That was it!  The whole reason we could come up with for the ‘anger’ (jealousy?) just seemed to be that [that person] is dreaming big dreams and always “out there on the edge”…  basically that some (or even most) of what [that person] puts in the public arena through [his/her/its] writing and presenting sticks and some (or even most) doesn’t.

I wish (but am too lazy to actually look it up) that I could give credit to whoever popularized the term ‘digital sandbox’ to describe the NEED for experimentation and failure to drive innovation, particularly in the digital world were the ‘cost’ of failure is soooo much lower than in the real world, because… 

Here’s what I was thinking
As much as our lack of willingness to give up power (see previous post), our FEAR OF FAILURE only holds us back.  The fear that we’ll stick up a wiki and no one will use it.  The fear that we’ll learn how to podcast and it will turn out to just be a fad.  The fear that we’ll start blogging and run out of things to say (not a problem for me 🙂 ).  And, as illustrated by the too lengthy story above… the fear that we’ll go out on a limb and others will think we’re not perfect; that we some times make mistakes; that people will think we’re really just full of bu!!sh@#.  I’ve got a secret to share…  I’ve failed.  Miserably in one or two instances. 

As a matter of fact, my most recent failure was when I put up a wiki at the end of a new tool training module required everyone to post something to the wiki to complete the training (once your in, your in, right?  WRONG)  The idea was that the wiki would become the tool support center/documentation where everyone could go for help on the new tool since it didn’t come with documentation of it’s own.  Failed miserably.  Everyone posted their “training conclusion” post and never looked at the wiki again.  I’m sure a couple of them even thought I was full of BS for making them use a stoopid wiki in the first place.  (Thankfully) I can only imagine if [another “name”] was my boss and I had to report back to [him/her/it] on the success of my training.  Innovation/will to try new stuff again = squooshed (skwoshed? squshed? skwushed?).

(Skip to Here) My point
I learned several key points about using wiki technology to support training from a glorious failure.  Things that I could not have learned any other way.  Now, instructional designers are sayingto themselves “well, DUH”.  No, not “DUH” because we only want people to fail when we want them to fail.  We aren’t willing to let them play in the digital sandbox.  Think about it, how often do you play there yourself?

Whither yon independence?

I read this article on Weblogg-ed about porting training content to cell-phones (nothing new) but it was written in a way that made me stop to think (definitely new 🙂 )…

My oldest son and I are currently going through the process of completing our state’s online Hunters Safety course (don’t get me started) with the intent of going out to do some, well, uh, hunting.  I have in my mind this idyllic vision of the two of us being alone, discussing life as can only be done in a gorgeous middle of nowhere place, Father and Son.  It’s just like a scene from a really good movie (no Lame Ending 😉 ) except for the background music.  In this vision, there is no music because we are experiencing being alive in it’s simplest form.  No soundtrack, no advertisements, no appointments, no ringing phones or to-do lists.  <sidebar>When you’re actually doing a to-do list, does it become a do-do list?</sidebar> 

I recognize that “nature” is not everyone’s cup o’ tea but I personally get a feeling of being alive and aware of myself when stripping away everything human-made (uh, except clothes.  Gotta’ keep the clothes.) that I just can’t get any other way.  The word that comes to mind is independence.   Just me (who am I?) alone with the world that God (who is that?) created.  Obviously, my personal value/moral/ethical/whatever system is at work here, but, as the world is [apparently] headed to ubiquitous computing I’m beginning to become a little paranoid.  I also wonder what we’re sacrificing as the connectedness of our lives increases.  When I read the Weblogg-ed article I saw a person in my mind wandering aimlessly without the slightest clue what to do when their devices ran out of power unexpectedly.

Now, I’m not going to buy 100 acres in North Dakota and go “off the grid” or anything but while I’m excited about how networked technology can enable Learning 2.0, I do think there is some real value in being un-networked too.  Plus it gets really, REALLY, cold in North Dakota.

How do you drive “connected learning” and “to survive in today’s economy you need to build knowledge/interpersonal networks” without loosing sight of the value of the indivuals that make up the network?  I guess it’s kind of like asking if the forest or the trees are more valuable… 

Stories with lame endings

Why are scenarios, role playing and games such powerful training tools?  While it’s true they are engaging and interactive (the good ones at least) in my [strong] opinion, it’s the story.  There are so many documented examples, and cognitive theories of, that I’m not going to try and extend those but I need to vent about the use of stories used to suck me in that I engage in and care about then get punched in the face at the end. 

A confession that I’m going to have to own up to…  I like to be be told happy stories.  It’s true.  Given the title for this post, you’re probably thinking that I’m about to go on about “predictability” or “lack of closure”, but those are just examples of bad story telling. 

What I’m talking about is a good story – or even a relatively innocuous one – that has a sad ending.  This is relevant just now because I’ve just seen the trailer for Bridge to Terabithia.  Ha! looks cute and fun and blah d blah d blah… nice little imaginitive fantasy…  I read the book… DON’T BELIEVE IT!!!  Two other examples jump to mind.

1) My Girl My Girl.  Here is a movie that was looking like the perfect date movie.  Tolerable story, relatively harmless humor and an enjoyable bit of nostalgia.  Mood rings!  Then it ends with her best friend dying… from bee stings (it’s been 15 years – if you haven’t seen it… DON’T)!!  Turns out to be a TERRIBLE date movie (you think anyone wants to make out after seeing that!?!).  I’m still torn up about it 15 years later!  I’m very happily married to her now so I’m not talking about the make out part.  What I am talking about is a story with a lame ending.

2) Sommersby Sommersby.  You had to swallow some pretty big Hollywoodisms in this one but I’m all for the story of people overcoming darkness an prejudice to make the world a better place, but, alas.  Another lame ending.  I still try to figure out in my mind how I would have written a different ending to that one.

 So, back to the power of stories.  Ok, it’s been more than a decade and these two stories still haunt me.  Maybe “haunt” is too strong a word but you get the idea.  I see the power of expectation failure and how the story that breaks the mould is the one that you remember but the emotional let down is too much.  In the design of instruction, do we have some kind of ethical responsibility to give learners a “happy” experience?  Obviously, when we are training someone on a life-or-death type of skill (CPR, firearm safety, etc.) there needs to be fatal consequences (patient dies, someone gets accidentally shot, ect.) so learners can see the implications of the skill we’re trying to give them, but, what about when the story could just as easily be happy and inspirational?  Why am I so hung up on this?  I know sad things happen and that “life” works out that way some times but – especially when I pay my $$ to be entertained – I want to be told happy stories.  There is plenty of the sad stuff on TV every night.

What other sad ending stories are there?  Am I the only one that feels this strongly about this?