Monday, November 25, 2013

The Paradox of Choice - implications for learning


Barry Schwartz's TED talk on the paradox of choice is a good few years old now. It's a very succinct summary of his book of the same name. You can also read a pdf summary of the book here. Choice in learning is something that many instructional designers love to hate and hate to love. Often associated with control, increasingly learners in all contexts are demanding more control and more choice over their learning - both how and what.

So does Schwartz's argument have any implications for handing over control to the learner in the design of solutions? I would argue firstly the argument for decreasing or incresing choice needs to be balanced. Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, argues against Schwartz's ideas, like most good economists. His main point is that there needs to be a distinction between choice and complexity. And therein I believe the value lies for instructional design. Designing for sophisticated simplicity, allowing choice to remain while shaving away unnecessary complexity is the real value of the learning design process. Doing that with finesse I don't believe will ever be automated. Even with the fantastic gains we're seeing in intelligent algorithms for data processing, it will remain extremely hard to remove the human aspect of excellence. So even though the role of the instructional designer is definitely changing, and the needs of the audience are changing too, there should always be a place for great learning design, and the humans to help make that happen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Learning Strategy for the Workplace


Increasingly my time is not spent facilitating, or designing content, but shepherding people and content so that others can gain access and do the learning for themselves. This is of course a smart use of my time, as I am only one person, employed to assist up to 500 employees’ learning experience. However, a tension exists between doing the ‘action’ of facilitating and designing, and doing the strategic things. Why? Because of my unrealistic expectation that I should be doing all the things.

Strategy is not a dirty word. Neither is delegating, planning or prioritising. I am much more comfortable being strategic about my content development, using those terms in relation to developing actual sessions that will be delivered to staff, however when it comes to dealing with the whole gamut of activities that a Learning and Development Consultant needs to do, all of a sudden the pressure rises and I feel guilty. Why the guilt? Other roles have strategies, other business functions are recognised for the full suite of their activities. By not being deliberate, clear and confident in my use of time, I give credence to the incorrect assumption by others that anyone in a learning team should be training all the time. This is simply not the case.


So how to develop a learning strategy? These things have been written about extensively and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Deb Gallo even presented on elearning strategies at the elNet event a couple of months ago. There are models galore to base a strategy on: ADDIE, agile, design thinking, systems, VSE. A fairly good summary of the main learning design methodologies is available here. These don’t necessarily address how a strategy involving those activities should be developed. A good initial place of reference should be the organisation in which you’re operating. Does the company already have a business strategy? If so, what model have they used? It would be an easy step for stakeholders to adopt a learning strategy if it were in the same framework they’re used to. Allison Rossett put it well when she posted: “It’s [success in workplace learning practice] not any one thing. It’s many things, aligned, in systems”. It involves personal learning networks, evidence, blended delivery, choices, devolved control, transparency, a grounding in common vision which is in turn supported by need which should be clarified by specific objective targets.

So, a new resolution for us learning and development professionals in the brave new world of businesses with increasingly more and varied needs for learning solutions: be comfortable with non-delivery activity and be prepared to back it up to your sponsors and stakeholders. Just like any other productive business unit.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Workplace Trainer PD: presenting, facilitating, influencing

I've been asked more than a couple of times in the last few weeks about presenting, confidence and influence. Sometimes it's been asked by trainers, other times I'm deferred to because people assume I have all of this down pat 100% simply because I've presented in the past and regularly facilitate group sessions. It led me to start looking for resources that reflect what I have observed, picked up and been coached to do over the years. Of course everyone will develop their own presenting and facilitation style once they increase in confidence. But how do we get to the confident stage in the first place? Amy Cuddy's TED talk pretty well hits the nail on the head. I have never had anyone articulate these behaviours as explicitly as Amy does, but simply by turning on your critical observer eye while watching seasoned confident presenters will take you a long way to identifying most of what she outlines.

I've had so many people rush at me with a link to this clip that I almost assume everyone has seen it. It really is a great reminder for professional facilitators if we have a particularly challenging session or group of participants ahead of us. Realistically, how much time do we devote to such an essential skill in the workplace learning professional toolbox? But stopping at power posing does ourselves (and those we're trying to help) a disservice.

I mentioned at the beginning influence. For some reason, many professionals looking for a helping hand in this area, assume influence is inextricably linked to excellent presentation or facilitation skills. Not always so. In some cases influence is simply another tool in the negotiators kit, or a handy thing to be keeping in the back of your mind at a high stakes social event (cocktail networking anyone??). If you want to start somewhere relatively removed from 'influencing for success at work' or 'influencing for better learning', Nicholas Christakis' talk on the power of influence in social networks is a pretty good choice. Take those concepts of the social network at work and add in conscious effort or some explicit goal, such as a project or KPI, and people start looking for things like Goleman's Emotional Intelligence to get the upper hand. And then if you keep going down that path, looking for more and more explicit sets of instructions you'll eventually come across something like Deborah H. Gruenfeld's Lean In presentation on power and influence. Whether or not you agree with Gruenfeld, Goleman or Christakis, it's pretty clear there is a lot to be said for these topics to be separated from one another.

So why do we allow businesses to group presenting, confidence and influence into the same professional development needs, categories, solutions? Surely we can utilise some of our (now excellent) influencing skills to help our stakeholders see our side of things. Oh, the irony.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Technology and 21st Century Learning

And I quote:

"21st century learning: A transformation from learning 'what' to learning 'how'. - Elliot Soloway

"I think one of the breakthrough ideas is to change the concept of the learner into someone who becomes a contributor by doing their work, which means we have to redefine the work. That represents a shift of control. From the teacher who is at the very centre...to the network of children who are helping one another learn." - Alan November

Elliot Soloway and Alan November are both talking about the future of learning and technology in this century. Their focus is on children (just like Stephen Heppell's from the other day).

I challenge you to read the above in the context of today's workplace.

Learning and work being redefined as the same activity in an organisation sounds pretty risky. Isn't that exactly what is expected of employees when they're asked to have on-the-job experience though?

Shifting control from the expert to a network of employees within an organisation, helping one another get the job done, that sounds both risky and not. Knowledge management types have long decried the 'key man risk' that the expert represents. But releasing control within an organisation still sounds pretty darn radical.

What about learning at work anyway? If we have to acknowledge the loosening of control around knowledge, expertise and how learning happens, how does your garden variety workplace learning professional bring home the bacon? That's definitely another conversation for another day. But I do believe it's high time it became a lot more frequently discussed. The more fear is associated with acknowledging a changing role in learning, the more painful that change is likely become. There are a lot of strengths learning types offer companies. If the way learning happens is changing, that doesn't mean those strengths are any less valid, unless they're no longer being used because the practitioner has withdrawn out of fear of the change in the first place.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Empowering Learners

I recently stumbled on this great short film featuring Stephen Heppell, on empowering young learners. So much content exists out there that focuses on young learners - there are so many people, groups, papers agitating for change in education.

I challenge you to watch this and think about adult learners.
Think about professionals (who are also learners by the way).
Think about how work gets done at work.
Think about how change happens at work.
About how people deal with change at work.
About how new things are taken on, absorbed, adapted to fit.

The ideas Heppell talks about are supposedly a reaction to the way education has been managed as a system and institution up to now. If that's the case, and education (or learning) for adults is still happening inside institutions (the companies we all work for), what should the response of the adult education professional be? How do we create engaging, learner-centred, authentic learning experiences? How do we remove the standards and expectations placed on 'learning interventions' while still serving a business objective? Is that even possible?



I was lucky enough to speak on the same program with Stephen Heppell a few years ago at Teaching and Learning with Vision conference (as an aside, I'm so disappointed there was no conference this year!). I would never compare myself to Heppell, but until we met at the opening night drinks I had no idea how lucky I was to be hearing him speak, let alone be on the same program as him! Stephen's work is very focused on young learners (read: children) and schools, however I highly recommend going to the trouble to hear him speak if you get the chance. His natural style, ground-breaking research and funny asides are worth it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What are MOOCs? Are they here to stay?



A great panel discussion at WISE in Doha addressed MOOCs. If you've been too ashamed to ask (or google) what that means, this is a deep end definition, but a great one. So often definitions over-simplify and trivialise the potential impact of emerging ways of doing learning. This panel looks at what a MOOC is, whether they're a good thing and what the future of MOOCs could look like.

George Siemens jumps in a few minutes into the discussion about whether or not MOOCs are disruptive to the current system and provides a great definition that supports his view that the disruption was inevitable:

"They're part of a shadow learning economy. They're a supply-side solution to a demand-side problem around knowledge that's been building for decades."

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Innovation of Loneliness

There's been a great short clip floating around, putting forth the case for reducing the amount of time spent on digitial social channels, and replacing it with face to face interaction.



Naturally I started thinking about the potential impact of these ideas on social learning in the workplace and learning design using technology. Ultimately, the appropriate response is to encourage authenticity in participants and create a blended solution that takes advantage of the benefits of social media as well as face to face interactions for learners. This is already implicitly addressed in the flipped classroom.

I'm keen to see how this emerging knowledge of behaviour impacts on learning design, social learning solutions and even informal social learning. Perhaps this pervasive image curation is a part of the reason why lurkers exist in online learning contexts?

Friday, November 8, 2013

10 time management tips i wish someone told me

What's the use of knowledge and experience unless it benefits you and those around you? Every time I'm swamped with work I'm pretty quick to recognise stress levels rising. It's then that I get serious about time management. Sure, I am usually pretty good with this anyway, but when it comes to pressured situations, I think we all sink to the baseline of what we know, we don't normally rise up to a higher level of functioning. So the 10 most useful things I remind myself about time management are:


  1. Be honest with yourself. This is just basic self-care. Be real about the sheer size of the work to do, and be honest that it's stressful. It won't seem so much like a monster when the thing is acknowledged.
  2. Be honest with others - manage the heck out of those expectations. Clarify with everyone and once you're on the same page, even though the work hasn't disappeared, a lot of the pressure usually has.
  3. Days always fill up. So it's essential that we prioritise. Prioritisation is an actionable value statement. It's a way of demonstrating what you think is the most valuable thing at that point.
  4. Flow isn't always immediately available. There will always be times when you really hit that sweet spot and things just flow. There will also be times when the exact opposite is true. High workload, stressful times don't have any consideration for either state. Having strategies in place for both situations is important. This means planning and knowing yourself really well.
  5. Time to plan is not wasted time.
  6. Procrastination is the enemy. Just. get. it. done.
  7. Burnout times happen. Just make sure they don't happen often.
  8. Connectivity can be a hindrance. Sure, it's great to have IM open so you can quickly access those SMEs, but the opposite is also equally helpful.Social media, IM, phones, open work spaces - disconnect from that stuff for periods.
  9. Multitasking is a fallacy. There, I said it. If you can get a 'passive' task done at the same time, go for it. very few to-do list items fall into that category though.
  10. Time is valuable. Respect it and make it respected. Are all those items on your list really that vital and urgent? Are the definitely only doable by you? What value is being placed on *your* time by doing all that stuff?
If all else fails, just go with this: