Pinterest: It took a while, but I get it. Finally.

Pinterest LogoIn many respects (for those who subscribe to such things), I am a typical Taurus, and stubborn as hell. I admit that there are times when I will resist trying new things until I know I can see the benefits for me. Once I “get it”, however, I’m unstoppable.

That paragraph accurately sums up my experience with Twitter. While initially skeptical, I have now – as most of you know – embraced the tool enthusiastically because I see the value from a personal and professional point of view. A secondary benefit is, of course, the entertainment value.

And then came Pinterest…

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Tweeting as a personal backchannel

I tried something “new” this past week and I’m surprised I didn’t think of doing it sooner.

I sat in on one of the many workshops we run for our Instructor cadre. Because I have an interest in the coaching function I decided it might prove interesting.

Because I already had Twitter open, instead of using something like Evernote directly, i thought, ‘why not make use of Twitter?’ I could jot down a few notes and add a hashtag and keep going.

While not a quantum shift, it is a potentially disruptive innovation in note-taking. In the same way that conference note-taking has become a public-facing backchannel, my approach opened up a generic topic to outside query or sharing. I liked the fact that I was immediately forced into a concise summary mode with 140 characters and because I have the RSS feed for my Twitter account saving to my Google Reader, the tweets are auto-archived. If I had also added the @myEN tag, I could have also saved critical tweets to Evernote (something I do when I save critical Tweets in my regular feed)

The one challenge with using Twitter is, of course, the hashtags. Because they are unregulated, you have to take come care with selecting one for your own use. One risk you also run is the relatively new technique of hashtag spamming. Some popular tags (e.g. #lrnchat) are now flooded with spam, rendering them largely unusable.

The final consideration in this technique is the material being discussed. A personal backchannel is good but consider whether or not you’re potentially disclosing information that should remain behind company doors. If that’s the case, tools like Yammer may be more appropriate than Twitter.

As with any other backchannel, it’s only worthwhile if you actually do something with the information. In my case Ie put together an internal summary for my colleague who was facilitating.

I’d be interested to hear of anyone else has tried this approach and what they thought.

Bagels = Maslow?

Ok, I want to throw out a thought that’s been bugging me in the online Adult Ed class I’m wrapping up. I took over pre-defined courseware and don’t have a lot of room for rapid re-writes.

We spend some time discussing major theorists, including the venerable Maslow. One of the trends that shows up in the first assignment on theories is that providing food & drink during formal trg sessions or pointing out locations of fire escapes, etc. satisfies the one of the basic Maslow needs at the bottom of the pyramid.

I disagree. Mostly.

In situations where a learner is under the direct care of an organization or institution , then I think an argument could be made to support that premise. However…

Adult learners who are pursuing education and development are largely responsible for fulfilling their own basic needs. Granted, someone who is having difficulty making ends meet and has their residence and meals at risk may have some challenges keeping focused on their studies, but I submit that the education provider’s primary role is to help manage and meet esteem needs in support of educational goals.

My other argument against the Bagels for Maslow is during online, distance, or informal learning scenarios. Again, the learner should bear the responsibility for fulfilling the basic needs so that they can keep moving up the pyramid.

I’m definitely interested in your thoughts.

The Politics and "Business" of learning, Part 2

>Here’s the second installment of some posts to my Assessment & Evaluation learners.

Small-p politics is a always such a meaty subject and one that can sometimes become polarizing. So, I’m relieved on two fronts: first, that there’s a real richness of commentary here; and, two, that the polarization seems to be almost non-existent. However, there are some additional things I’d like you to consider before this phase of the discussion wraps up.

[name]’s article from the Ottawa Citizen does illustrate one potentially disturbing trend in some sectors of the public education system, and that is ‘entitlement’. While one is entitled to an education (by law, in most cases) one is not entitled to a false assessment of one’s success. (In simpler terms, “if you want it, you gotta work for it”.) Indeed, I’m rather disturbed by the implication of an education system that seems to feel that a “negotiated” pass is more effective in the long run than learning from one’s failure. I see parallels in some youth sports where the philosophy is “we don’t keep score, and there’s no winner or loser.”

So consider this as you continue this discussion: What’s the impact on the learner when the assessment and evaluation framework can be rendered null through negotiation and false entitlement? What happens to them when the “really” fail at something? Or…in more practical terms, would you want your heart surgeon to be someone who had Mom & Dad go to bat for him/her when they didn’t get a pass score in Anatomy 101 and thus scraped through Med School? Or would you want the confidence of knowing there’s some real rigour behind their lengthy training?

Now, let’s extend this discussion to workplace learning and we can consider formal and informal situations. What happens to the learner or the organization where compliance is an issue, and pass rates are forced upon the educator or assessor? Or, what happens when a peer coach doesn’t like telling someone they’re wrong about an interpretation of a key skill? Can you think of situations where this could have longer-term consequences?

While the learning content provided for your major project doesn’t have immediate life-or-death implications, consider the impact of the failure to meet outcomes. How do you support someone to “get there” and feel they have succeeded?

So, you’ve all hit on the nastiness of “politics” in learning. The question is: what are you going to do about it?

The Politics and "Business" of learning, Part 1

>I posted the bulk of this entry to the forum for one of the two courses I’m currently teaching.  The learners were sharing their observations and frustrations about politics and undue influence in supposedly objective evaluation frameworks.

So, mostly unedited, here is the first part for your perusal.

I must say that I am enjoying the discussions going on here and I wanted to add a few thoughts based on some of the recent comments. These thoughts are based on my own experiences working in a number of different learning environments. I offer these thoughts with the caveat that they’re somewhat of a blanket indictment; while I’m sure there are organizations who operate differently than those discussed here, what follows are my observations of a perceived norm across general corporate technical training vendors.

Both [name] and [name] spoke of the idea of wanting to be “liked” as a teacher/educator/instructor, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that there’s a small element of “ego” at work when you’re given the responsibility to train others. However, what one cannot lose sight of is the organizational interest in just how much learners “like” you. In organizations where training is provided ‘for profit’, customer satisfaction is huge, and rightfully so. However, it has been my experience that because many of these organizations are inserted as an “event fulfillment” provider rather than a strategic partner and stakeholder in someone’s learning process, the commitment to learning is somewhat less than it would be if the learning were facilitated through an in-house resource. Training vendors, therefore, are mostly concerned with “bums in seats”, preferably repeat ones. So, high satisfaction scores on the end-of-course smiley sheet become the almighty metric for vendor, buyer, and trainer/educator.

This leaves the educator in a bit of a dilemma: Do you do everything but stand on your head to chase a perfect evaluation score that tells you nothing about what you should be improving, or do you risk the wrath of those monitoring your scores by asking your learners to be genuine? Also consider whether or not the educator can really say whether or not the participant actually “learned” enough from you to put new skills and ideas into practice?

(As a sidebar, consider a different environment like military training. Based on my own experiences on both sides of the equation, I know there were very few instructors that I “liked”, in fact, there were a number of them that I cordially detested…but I learned something from each of them. As an instructor and later an instructor coach/monitor, I knew that my role was not to be “liked”, but to be an effective trainer/coach, and to be a positive role model, and to inspire the people I was responsible for. In that environment, instructor “likes” aren’t the metric of the day. Successful performance of the trainee definitely is.)

So when we look at the “business” of training, and what it means in terms of evaluation practice is that evaluation and assessment really tend not to happen through a full cycle of any kind. Most of these folks are living at Level 1 of the venerable Kirkpatrick model for evaluation and are either unable to proceed deeper or unwilling because of the business model. Ultimately, the learners are the ones who lose. Because there’s such a limited awareness of other frameworks, the Linus-blanket of the smiley sheet prevails to the detriment of all.

One of the aims of this course is to show people that there’s more to evaluation and assessment than just sticking a survey form under a learner’s nose and asking for their opinion, or giving them some multiple choice test that doesn’t really reflect what they need to know. This discussion should really help to hammer home the fact that putting an effective framework in place AND following through with it is what will really give you the full picture on learner success and the direct impact on the organization.

For some additional reading, if you can get your hands on it, I would draw your attention to Mann & Robertson (1996) for a thought-provoking discussion on evaluation of training initiatives. For example, the survey cited in this article says that over half of the US companies surveyed (52%) used trainee satisfaction as the key metric, 17% assessed transfer of knowledge to the job, 13% examined organizational change, and 13% didn’t evaluate any element of their training initiatives.


Mann, S. & Robertson, I. (1996). What should training evaluations evaluate? Journal of European Industrial Training, 20(9), 14-20.