free online conference

21 04 2009

jay cross is at it again.

he’s created a free online conference on innovations in organizational learning that will run for the next two days.  conversations about learning and organizations features conversations amongst and with leading names from around the world.  sessions are running around the clock today and tomorrow.  drop in on a few of the discussions or brew a pot of coffee and try to take all of the sessions in.

knowing jay and many of the moderators, it will be a tremendously stimulating conference.  check it out!

what’s first? mentor or mentee?

9 03 2009

so you’ve decided that you want to create a mentoring program to enhance organizational learning and leadership development across the organization.  you know that social learning is the real driver to creating a culture that values learning and change.  social networking tools are being implemented so teams can communicate more readily.  you have employees contributing to a knowledge base to capture organizational knowledge.  now you feel a mentoring program where leaders help new employees and prospective leaders to expand their knowledge of the organization and their leadership skills.

But where do you start?  How do you matchmake mentors to mentees?  or mentees to mentors?

chick-eggwhich comes first?  the chicken or the egg?

do you first identify the employees who the organization wishes to groom for advancement?  Once you know who you wish to involve as mentees you could then determine the needs these people have and then search through your executive and management ranks for people who have what the mentees need.  you could then recruit them to match the needs of the mentees.

Or do you determine who amongst your leaders best exemplify the needs of the organization and establish them as mentors?  you could then either determine the employees who you wish to be mentored and match them to your team of mentors or you could let employees self-select by marketing the mentoring program and letting them apply to the program or to individual mentors.

How much control around participation in the program should you maintain?  How many mentees per mentor?  Should all managers at or above a certain level be required to be mentors?  Should all employees have a mentor?

What do you think?  Who comes first, the mentor or the mentee?

tinker, teacher, learner, why?

26 02 2009

christopher sessums links to this very interesting video on you tube in which john seeley brown discussed the idea of learners as tinkers and drawing concepts from the old one-room schoolhouse paradigm as a means for “kids learning from kids.”  the video is wonderfully provocative, as brown always is so I’ve linked to it in case you’d find it interesting.

my interest though has to do with sessums’ commentary that if you change “kids” to “teachers” in brown’s video we’ll be closer to the real solution.  while i totally agree that teachers also need to be tinkerers, i am troubled by the demarcation between teachers and learners that is inherent in both brown’s comments and sessums’ reaction.  i firmly believe that as long as we continue to believe that there are those who teach and those who learn from those who teach, we’ll never achieve networked learning that is driven by learner desire.

brown even makes the mistake of tying teaching and learning roles to age.  he argues that he can learn from someone a year older than him and they in turn can learn from someone older than them.  knowledge and learning are not subject to social stratifications of age, race, wealth, gender, etc.  if you know something i’d like to know, i can ask you to share it with me and learn from you whether you have a ph.d. from harvard, an mba from university of phoenix, or are in the 6th grade in thibodaux, louisiana.

in the workplace this becomes more and more evident.  the key is finding who knows what you need to know, learning it to the degree that you need to achieve your goals and then moving on.  how do we get beyond the hierarchies and organizations which may have helped move learning forward 100 years ago but seem more and more a restraint in the 21st century?

against training

2 09 2007

Every once in a while I bump into an article or piece of research that I’ve read before, but have allowed to drift into the dark recesses of my long-term memory. fortunately, such an occasion is always an opportunity to revisit the ideas presented in the article – usually with a new mind set. today it happened with john taylor gatto’s against school – a powerful and damning condemnation of modern american schooling that was published in harper’s magazine in september 2003. if you haven’t ever read against school, click on the link above and do so.

in the article, gatto discusses the historical ties of modern education to the social control policies of the Prussian empire which desired to create a semi-illiterate, docile populous which would not question authority and would efficiently be swayed by governmentally driven propaganda. this dominant approach to education in germanic culture fit very snuggly with the emergence of Ford’s assembly line production model and corporate america’s need for workers who could function more as replaceable cogs in the machinery of the industrial revolution than independent thinkers who might not follow orders willingly.

his article and subsequently published book, The underground history of american education, were clearly focused on public education and have been key support for home schooling initiatives and school voucher programs. even supporters of public education are now using a similar argument that the system is totally wrong rather than broken. hillary clinton is making great use of mentioning that today’s classrooms are identical to the classrooms where she was schooled as a child.

but the new twist on gatto’s article for me is that, while not mentioned, it clearly has a similar call to alarm regarding workplace learning. apathy runs rampant. facilitators “just try to cover everything in the materials.” butts-in-seats is still a major metric out muscling actual learning or transfer of knowledge to the job. senior management views training as a “fix-it” for problems rather than a means to develop and educated and creative workforce. to paraphrase gatto, “clearly people learn what they need to know about doing their jobs. but knowledgeable is an entirely separate issue from ‘well trained.'”

his last statement could easily become a meme for supporters of informal learning and the free-range learner:

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

gatto finishes his article by saying that children can still be educated to become knowledgeable, productive adults – but don’t count on schools to do it. is it too late to avoid the same being said of workplace learning?

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Related News:
Schools boss Joel Klein talks education reform with News – New York Daily News
Edwards describes stands on health care, energy, Iraq – San Jose Mercury News
Presidential Candidates Challenged to Rock Education by New Hampshire – Associated Content
Cargill says merit pay for teaches will improve state’s education … – Norman Transcript

Some of my related posts: and my folksonomy
Top Ten learning tools
exemplary elearning solutions
embedding learning into the workflow

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exemplary elearning solutions

12 06 2007

The Big Question logoover on learning circuits blog, the big question for june is: “where are the examples of elearning?” in my last post, what is a “good example”, i outlined a set of criteria that outline what an exemplar of good elearning would meet. in this post i’ll introduce three elearning examples using those criteria.


I wrote about xblogs in my post entitled xblogs: the road less traveled. kim and jason kotecki created a pedagogical scaffolding to be used with a blog or blogs to help deliver learning in various content realms. you can read my previous post for the details. what makes xblogs special in my mind is that they’ve taken a very rich, but very amorphous technology – blogs – molded them to the specific goals for learning – particularly complex learning – yet kept all the essence of blogging.



solves a common problem

aiding the learning of ambiguous, higher order skills and behaviors
applicable to multiple specific situations new employee orientation, leading vs. managing

how and why must be transparent

the tasked-based nature of the activities scaffolds the learning and design, its exploratory nature draws upon existent organizational knowledge

learners must feel they have a choice

the learner chooses how they execute the task

no learning curve for the technology

blogs in general has a low usage-threshold: basic data entry, copy and paste, wysiwyg interfaces

clearly visible, multiple means of support

facilitators (called sherpas) are available, previous learners’ content is available as example work, subject participants in tasks provide guidance

appropriate use of the technology

presentation-reflect-react are core blog characteristics

results in the desired learning

dialogue enables building of higher-order skills via negotiation of meaning


this free site is absolutely the primer for learning anything related to building and managing websites. from html to webservices, rss to .net asp w3schools provide contentw3c school logo in logical chunks that are digestible by anyone who has a general understanding of how to use their computer. there are thousands of examples – most of which can be altered as practice allowing for hypothesis creation and testing and trial and error. they also provide immediate and real opportunities to practice the principles being presented in each section. all of this content is available 24/7 as a reference and refresher to anyone who needs it. if you are just looking for a few solutions to tidy up a website or if you are seeking certification in one or more categories, w3 schools is a solid foundation for your learning.



solves a common problem

learning the terminology, systems, and standards required for the proper execution of a role or skill.
applicable to multiple specific situations 1) coding, programming and designing a website.
2) learning of pharmaceutical terminology, medical benefits/side effects, and regulation regarding products by pharmaceutical sales representatives.
3) learning terminology, taxonomies, and legal processes by insurance coders.

how and why must be transparent

highly structured segments of content presented, prioritized, reviewed, quizzed, practiced, and shared.database of content is cross referenced to demonstrate connections, relationships, and dependence between the chunks of content.

learners must feel they have a choice

what and how the learner choosed to go through the content is total up to them. the learner has complete control over how deep they go on a topic.

no learning curve for the technology

content is called and presented to learner who uses point and click on an outline, index, and/or search.

clearly visible, multiple means of support

highly structured organization provides a scaffolding of the content for the learner.user forumsexample code providedfull source documents onlinecontext like history of xml and web usage statistics

appropriate use of the technology

well designed relational database allows user guided selections, potential pathways, and meta-organzers amongst the chunks of content.examples and their manipulations require the ability to enter text.quizzes are simple and formative in nature.

results in the desired learning

besides having over 2 million page impressions a day as a sign of success. Here are a few customer quotes as evidence:

In just under an hour I learned more than I did in a five day class.

Finally it all becomes clear! XML- nothing to it after reading the tutorial on your site!

Thanks very much for the lessons – am about to change my whole website by using style sheets.


trailfire fits in a class of web 2.0 applications that allow a person to place notations directly “on” a web page. trailfire not only allows you to share your notes with others, but it also allows others to make comments on your notes. in effect, a microblog post each time you leave a note. notes, called trail marks, can be strung together in a trail which can then be linked to as a guide through the trail marks. see my review of trailfire on eelearning wiki for more details.



solves a common problem

sharing content found on the web with others you are working with and/or learning with.
applicable to multiple specific situations sharing foundational resources with colleaguesframing options and concepts to create common ground for group decision making.present pre-requisite knowledge for new group members.

how and why must be transparent

The basis of the solution is the blog structure of post-comment.the content is attached directly to the content being discussed providing full context.the trail structure provides summary capacities to tie trailmarks together.

learners must feel they have a choice

learner has full control over which trailmarks to read, how much of the related content to explore, and if and how they respond.

no learning curve for the technology

creating a trailmark is a simple process with embedded guides.skills required are basic browswer navigation, basic data entry, point-and-click.

clearly visible, multiple means of support

in-solution forum guide use through creation of trails and trailmarks. learner clicks reads clicks writes.

appropriate use of the technology

utilizes rendering technologies to present easy to use forums.the share-reflect-respond format of a blog is translated well in to a micro-blog format.

results in the desired learning

the solution supports collaborative construction of knowledge at multiple levelsit immerses the learner in context an approach well supported for increased retention of target knowledge.

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what is a “good example”

12 06 2007

over on learning circuits blog, the big question for june is: “where are the examples of elearning?” thus far we’ve had some grThe Big Question logoeat posts with wonderful examples that demonstrate the variety
of solutions available through the use of digital media, the internet, organizational intranets, and the web 2.0 paradigm of participatory and communal content creation.

but as i sat down to type my response to this month’s question i realized i disagreed with tony’s assessment in the home post of the big question that good examples of elearning are difficult to find. my experience is that there are examples everywhere i turn. as i thought about why tony and i might have very different thoughts on this, it came to me that perhaps part of it is a matter of definitions. i think the problem may be that, in general, tony may be looking for “good examples” in the same old way we’ve always conceived of “good examples.” the old way is to look for that one seminal best-practice or the definitive exemplar. what is the answer?

the new reality is that there is no such thing as a definitive answer anymore. quality is situational. what might be a tremendous success for one organization could well turn out to lead another organization to insolvency and shutting down. an approach that enables one learner to internalize a process or remember information will leave another learner totally baffled.

but to be a “good example” it is also, by definition, necessary that the solution be applicable to other situations. otherwise, it’s a unique solution, not a good example.

so what is a “good example”? here’s a list of criteria i propose for determining quality of elearning tools today. on one level, these are criteria of solid instructional design. but i think they are a bit more specific to both elearning and to the role of web 2.0 – both in the nature of the applications now available and to the new pedagogical posibilities they enable. i’d love some feedback on these ideas.

  • solves a common problem – it should be applicable to many contexts. examples: new employee orientation, programming a website, learning a new language.
  • applicable to multiple specific situations – it should be transferable to situations that share similar functional and/or learning obstacles, processes, or goals. the nature of the content is likely to be similar while the context varies. examples: learning profession-based terminology, building active listening skills, acclimating to a new culture.
  • the how and why of the solution must be transparent – from the learner’s perspective, this means it shouldn’t “feel like learning.” it should be fun, enlightening. something that is done, not studied. from the instructor/manager’s perspective, (if there is a need for one) their role should be clear and simple. it should enable their completion of their strategic needs. from the instructional designer’s perspective, the structure and purpose should be visible and duplicable. whether these three roles occur in one person (jay cross’ free-range learner) or multiple people (traditional corporate ilt), all three components are necessary.
  • the learner must feel they have a choice – it must provide the learner with control over some, if not all, the variables of what to learn, when, how, with whom, etc. examples: providing optional learning paths, same content in multiple formats, allowing choice of roles in activities, deciding what to learn in any given moment, collaborative learning spaces, content databases, expertise profiles, etc.
  • no learning curve for the use of the technology – the solution should be programmed in a way that the learner will be focused on the target content of the activity, not the application used to deliver the solution. for basic, non-technical content, this may mean point-click, drag-drop, simple data entry. the very basic skills in computing. the same goes for professional content. for advanced level learning, appropriate combinations of technical and professional knowledge and skills may be included yet still meet this criterion.
  • clearly visible, multiple means of support – it will provide the learner with various ways to ask meta-learning questions about the activities. examples: faq, demonstration videos, glossary of terms, user forums, mouse-over hints, previous learner feedback/solutions, online tutors, email support, etc.
  • appropriate use of the technology it must deploy technology in a way that fits with the functionality and general use of the technology. because of their structure and their reputation for authentic sharing and feedback, blogs are powerful tools for openly sharing new ideas, but are less effective for presenting policies and procedures. it must also fit with the environment in which it is being implemented. implementing a social networking solution for learning in an environment that is anti-collaboration will be seen as alien and limit the crucial transfer of learning to the work situation. examples: post-training blog communities, customer forums, best-practices wikis, rss feeds of related new content, expertise portfolio databases etc.
  • it results in the desired learning – it should either have demonstrated success in achieving the desired learning results or the argument for why it should be successful is obvious and compelling. Obviously, demonstrated success is the preference. however, since the new applications are enabling new learning experiences, we need to apply what is known about learning in crafting these new experiences. example: learning simulations which place potential leaders in ambiguous situations, software that helps call center operators adaptively deal with emotional callers.

in my next post i’ll describe some of my favorite examples of good elearning.

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am i a blogger?

15 02 2007

once again tom haskins has a post that just sends my brain a spinnin’ (fyi, that’s a good thing in my book). beware of blogging is inspiring at times and a bit depressing at times. tom grasps the way blogging is effecting him and i think many of us as we learn a new way of learning. he says that bloggers are shaking the foundations of what we’ve come to expect in regards to ourselves and the way we interact with the world.

one aspect of what he has to say that has really hit me at home is that if you are posting to a blog and no one is responding then you’re really not participating in the blogosphere and thus not truly a blogger. he feels that a blogger makes a difference when he/she creates reaction and change in those who they are in dialogue with. without commentors, it’s not blogging.

while early on I worried about counting the number of comments I got, realized that I probably would never be one of those bloggers who got 10 comments on every post. heck, take a look and you’ll see that I’m probably lucky if I get 1 every ten posts.

but i’ve come to judge whether my blogging is worthwhile by two other means.

first and foremost, i’m learning. in the three years that i’ve maintained eelearning and the two i’ve served as the blogmeister of learning circuits blog, i’ve learned more than i’d ever image i could, my writing has improved (it still needs work), and i’ve connected with some great people i would have never met if it weren’t for blogging.

second, if i use other statistical guidelines like traffic statistics, technorati rankings and link information, or feedburner stats, i know that i have a growing collection of readers and feed monitors. i wouldn’t be in your feeds and blogrolls if you didn’t value at least part of what I have to offer.

i’m sure tom overstated his case and didn’t mean to exclude me or similar bloggers from his definition of what it means to be a blogger. but his post did make me think about what is important and what makes me consider myself a blogger. to quote martha, “and that’s a good thing.”

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