Gems from my PLN

A great pair of entries from Ryan Tracey (@ryantracey) on the nature of the SME. This discussion leads us into the territory of “Unconscious Competence” as pioneered by Gordon Training International. Thanks to Ryan for sharing these gems.

E-Learning Provocateur

In my previous blog post, Everyone is an SME, I argued that all the employees in your organisation have knowledge and skills to share, because everyone is an SME in something.

Sometimes this “something” is obvious because it’s a part of their job. For example, Sam the superannuation administrator is obviously an SME in unit switching, because he processes dozens of unit switches every day.

But sometimes the something isn’t so obvious, because we’re either too blind to see it, or – Heaven forbid – our colleagues have lives outside of the workplace.

Martha the tea lady

Consider Martha, the tea lady. Obviously she’s an SME in the dispensation of hot beverages. That’s her job.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that she’s also an SME in customer service and relationship management. That’s her job, too.

Oh, and she speaks fluent Polish and Russian.

Gavin the IT grad

May I also introduce you to…

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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…

Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

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.

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 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!


“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.