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September 2008

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Create a Web 2.0 "Icebreaker" Activity


Starting in September, I'll be working as lead instructor for the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington's Future Executive Directors' Fellowship program. We'll meet once a month for some intensive face-to-face sessions, but we'll be facilitating our learning in between classes through a special Ning network we've set up. This has me thinking about online icebreakers, so I thought that would make a great Web 2.0 Wednesday activity for the week.  Here it is:

Come up with an online icebreaker that uses one or more Web 2.0 tools.

I'm thinking, for example, that I could have people upload a picture to the Ning network that they think best represents them. This is also something that could be uploaded to a group in Flickr.

Or I could have the group write a blog post about themselves (also through Ning), but if you weren't using Ning, you could have people post an intro to your blog through comments or through Posterous. You could also have people respond to one of these icebreaker questions. In my case, I could do this through a Ning forum, but it could also be done through a blog or wiki. 

Icebreakers are something we can use for a class, as I'll be doing, but also to build community through our blogs. I could see, for example, adapting one or more of the online icebreaker activities here as periodic blog posts or as memes.

Lots of ways to use icebreakers, so let's see what you come up with. Feel free to leave a link to your activity here in comments.  Also remember to save it to Delicious with "web2.0wednesday" tag so it will show up in our feed.

A couple of additional updates. . . .

Winner of the Web 2.0 Wednesday Logo Contest
As you can see, it looks like reader Dan Callahan won the Web 2.0 Wednesday logo contest. Congratulations, Dan, and thanks to everyone who contributed a logo to the contest!

More on Polls from Sue Waters
Last week's activity invited you to play around with polls. Sue Waters did a couple of great follow-up posts you may want to check out, including this one on why and how bloggers use polls and this one on dealing with polls in RSS feeds.

Can Social Media for Learning Co-Exist with Command and Control Work Environments?

Control In response to yesterday's post on supporting learning to performance, Dave Ferguson left me an interesting comment:

I think you have a good suggestion in terms of applying social media, though I'm not convinced it's always and everywhere necessary.

You say, for example, "when workers are sharing and discussing via 'closed' systems such as email and face-to-face conversations," information about thinks like lack of understanding or need for new skills "is less accessble."

That's true to some extent, but a person could also read that as saying social media is preferable to face-to-face conversation, which is just silly. (I realize you don't mean it that way, but I'm always leery of the manager in search of Magic Beans.)

Not every interaction between people needs to take place in the open -- as the mindless use of cellphones demonstrates. Not every individual responds well to public criticism, even if it's dressed as "constructive feedback."

I'm not saying never to use these tools.  What I am saying is they are no more The Answer than any other tool-as-bandwagon.

Speaking for myself, I'd rather have root canal work without anesthesia than have all my on-the-job coaching occur through blogs, wikis, or (saints preserve us) tweets.

Perhaps before the "learning professionals" plunge in and provide additional support and job aids, they ought to deal directly with an individual to confirm that he or she does "need" these things.

Otherwise, you end up with management-imposed requirements that, for example, everyone in the organization has to have a blog. Next, you have to post at least four times a week. Next, you have to have two posts a month on My Personal Learning Reflections. (It's not all that far down the road to "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?")

This mindset is what's made performance appraisal such a roaring success throughout the workplace.

I couldn't agree more with Dave that social media isn't the answer to everything. His comment got me thinking, though, about the whole issue of how to use social media to support learning.

To me, when you start mandating that people have to write two blog posts a week on specific topics, you are violating the very spirit of Web 2.0, which is built upon the idea of voluntary contributions to the network. Web 2.0 is about choice, it's about user-generated content built out of a passion for the topic, it's about the kinds of conversations that happen in pubs, not the mandatory appearance in front of your boss. It's this approach, as much as the tools themselves, that creates the value you get from using social media for learning.

I personally don't believe that Web 2.0 and command and control can truly exist together. It goes back to what Harold Jarche posted earlier this week on the new nature of the firm:

For enterprise 2.0 to work, it needs to embrace democracy in the workplace, something that rarely exists in industrial, command and control, organisations - which account for almost all of our businesses. Businesses run as monarchies or oligarchies but very few operate as democracies. . .

I think that enterprise 2.0 will not fulfill its potential unless its foundation is more than just web technologies or networked businesses. We need to integrate this democratic organising principle into our discussions on enterprise 2.0 and I am sure that many captains of industry will loudly disagree. Without an architectural organising principle, the enterprise 2.0 ship will not sail very far.

From a learning perspective, this means to me that we have to understand that to get the full benefit of Web 2.0 tools, we have to honor their nature. We have to not try to shoehorn old ways of doing things on top of tools that are fundamentally different in spirit. Mandating social media in the heavy-handed way that Dave fears is about as effective as requiring people to attend an organizational event and "network." There's a much more organic process at work here that we have to think about supporting--it's about creating an environment and options, not about mandating that people post on a blog three times a week.

But that's me. What do you think? Is it possible for social media to co-exist with a command and control work environment? If so, how does that work? And do we truly get the benefits of using Web 2.0 in that kind of situation?

Photo via Face It

Supporting Learning-to-Performance in Organizations

Learningperformancelandscapemodel_2 Will Thalheimer has posted an excellent diagram that describes the flow of activities that take place from learning to performance in organizations. Go here for a larger version.

What strikes me is how many of the activities that Will describes for both learning professionals and management can be supported by social media. For example, in the pre-learning phase, learning professionals need to identify organizational learning needs. In an organization that's powered by social media, the transparency of people blogging, interacting on social networks, etc. can provide a means for identifying where people may not be "getting it" or where new skill needs are beginning to emerge. When workers are sharing and discussing via "closed" systems such as email and face-to-face conversations, this information is less accessible. But when social media is being used, it becomes clearer where the needs may be.

In the "Learning Situation" phase, learners need to be engaged, encouraged to practice and apply learning, and their understanding must be evaluated. Again, social media provides great opportunities for this to happen. Blogs can be used for reflection and demonstrations of learning. Through commenting, peers, managers and learning professionals can engage learners in discussions that deepen learning and offer opportunities to practice new skills. Wikis, social bookmarking and social networks can also be used to engage learners in a community of practice where knowledge is shared and discussed and competence is demonstrated.

I think that social media is particularly effective in the "On-the-Job Performance" phase. This is an ongoing aspect of learning that can continue for weeks and months following any "learning event" and in most cases is the crucial link between the learning event and actually changing workplace behavior. Blogs, podcasts, screencasts, etc. can provide learners with ongoing reminders and performance tools to further shore up learning points. Imagine, for example, a post-training blog that provides daily or weekly updates and reminders, including an RSS feed of additional materials and resources appropriately tagged in a social bookmarking tool like Delicious. This also provides a forum for learners to ask ongoing questions and to further discuss issues raised in a learning event or as they apply new skills on the job. Through social networks, learners can find knowledgeable experts to answer their questions and provide additional online "coaching." All of this occurs in a more transparent, open environment where managers and learning professionals can monitor ongoing understanding and application of learning and provide additional support and job aides when it appears that learners may need them.

Social media also makes it easier for the organization to see impacts, both on an individual and an organizational level. Again, social media makes learning more transparent and it becomes easier to determine if individuals are "getting it." If actual workplace behavior doesn't change, yet learners are demonstrating their competence through these tools, then clearly other factors are at play. These may also become more visible as learners discuss how to apply learning on the job.

I like Will's framework and can see how it would be useful for both learning professionals and management to understand key tasks and think through strategies for supporting these activities. My only issue is that learners are not represented on this chart, thus reinforcing the idea that other people are responsible for organizational learning, not the learners themselves. I think I'd add a third column that outlines learner activities in each category that would look something like this:


  • Identify personal learning needs as they relate to the current job and organizational needs, as well as to future career needs.
  • Create personal learning plan
  • Create evaluation plan

Learning Situation

  • Create understanding, including identifying questions and gaps in knowledge during the learning event
  • Enable remembering for self (i.e., developing strategies to support remembering of materials and key learning points)
  • Practice new skills
  • Identify opportunities to apply learning
  • Develop plan for applying learning on-the-job

On-the-Job Performance

  • Apply learning
  • Evaluate performance in applying learning
  • Identify new questions and gaps in knowledge that arise from application
  • Identify and connect with "experts" to answer questions/get feedback
  • Provide peer support to colleagues (which deepens personal learning)
  • Develop personal learning environment/network to provide framework for ongoing feedback and updating of skills
  • Seek and utilize feedback to improve performance
  • Identify barriers to application of new skills and communicate to resolve these


  • Objectively evaluate personal results
  • Honestly discuss outcomes with managers, peers
  • Convey results of personal learning to stakeholders
  • Plan for personal performance and learning improvements

What do you think? Do we need to add a learner column here? If so, have I missed anything? And how do you think social media can support all of this?

What Does the Voice of the Learner Tell Us?

The Masie Center has just published the results of their most recent survey on how employees learn in 2008 and it's an interesting read.

  • More people are learning independently in ad hoc, asynchronous fashion. "In a six-month period of time, 70% turned to reading, 58% searched the web and 58% participated in on-line e-Learning to gain new skills or information for their jobs." I'm not sure if this a good or a bad sign. Are people doing this because they're taking charge of their own learning and it's an effective strategy? Or are they doing this because organizations aren't investing in their staff?
  • "Employees appear satisfied with their ability to learn for work using technology (80%), but are generally less satisfied with the amount of time they have available to learn (48%).  It seems that as options for learning have expanded, perceptions about the availability of time to learn have decreased.  Employees have more learning methods available to them than ever, but have less time to pursue learning and/or feel overwhelmed with their options." This is where I think we need to do a better job of facilitating people in developing learning plans that work for them. That includes assisting them in figuring out ways to embed learning into their daily lives.
  • Let Us Stretch: Job Rotation/Stretch Assignments are among the least frequently used learning methods selected only by 11% of employees, predominantly because the opportunities were not available to them.  Half of employees that had not participated in a job rotation/stretch assignment indicated that those opportunities were either not available or not used by their organizations; yet, supporting data suggests that employees overwhelmingly want more of their time dedicated to those kinds of experiences. As Rosetta Thurman has pointed out, stretch assignments are one of the best ways to build real skills, so in some ways it's surprising that they don't happen more often. I suspect that it's because they take more time to craft and because they feel a lot less manageable to people.

The standout finding for me is that employees seem to want a combination of high touch and high tech learning. That is, they value technology for its ability to help them engage in ad hoc, asynchronous learning activities. At the same time, they want more "high touch" experiences like coaching, one-on-one mentoring and individualized learning. I think that it's possible to combine these in a lot of ways--virtual mentoring comes to mind--although I think the challenge is to find the best intersection between high touch and high tech, using the best features and attributes of both.

So if we're doing learner-centered design, what do these findings tell us about how we should be crafting professional development activities?

In a Panic

Panic I have a confession to make. I can spend a lot of time in panic mode. In most cases I manage to downgrade my panic to more of a low-level anxiety, but whenever I embark on new projects or know that something major is on the line, panic can be a close companion of mine.

My first inclination when I feel the panic rise is to stuff it back down, like an inappropriate relative who pops up at a gathering to say embarrassing things in front of the guests. I keep smiling and nodding and speaking over my panic, as though by pretending that it's not there, it will decide to go away. Sometimes it does. Usually, though, it's simply biding it's time, waiting for the moment when my attention is turned elsewhere.

Panic particularly likes to visit me at night. It waits until I'm asleep and then when the cat jumps on the bed and wakes me a little, or my husband elbows me in the side and I start to emerge from dreams, Panic is waiting there, ready to pounce.

Lately, instead of trying to send the panic away, I've been trying to make friends with it. I will say to myself, "Ah-this is a GOOD thing. When panic visits, this means I'm going outside of my comfort zone." Then I will try to talk to it, to learn more about where the panic is coming from. Is it because I haven't prepared enough for something? Or maybe it's because I'm allowing a project to evolve in a way that isn't going to work well and I need to revisit what I'm doing?

Sometimes the arrival of panic is merely a reminder that I'm a perfectionist and a control freak and that I need to let go of both of those aspects of my personality if I want something really great and creative to evolve. The clutch in my chest and the frisson of anxiety that courses through my body aren't really indicative of any problems with what I'm doing. Instead, they are remnants of self-doubt and worry that need to be dealt with firmly, as you would an unruly child who insists on interrupting the party.

I think we all deal with panic in its various guises and each of us has to find our own way. Panic seems particularly prone to arrive when we're learning new things or when the stakes seem really high (notice I say "seem"--our brains have a way of making everything seem "high-stake"). The challenge is to find ways to channel and use our anxiety.

How do you deal with panic? How do you use it for good in your life?

Photo via Phoney Nickle

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Poll Madness!

For this week's Web 2.0 Wednesday, we're going to have a little fun with polls, which thanks to the joys of advanced technology, can be embedded in just about anything. You're actually going to have two opportunities to play with polls--first by participating in one and second, by creating one of your own. Of course, as always, what you choose to do is up to you.

Participate in a Poll!
Last week I asked for you to play with some online graphic and logo generator options to create a Web 2.0 Wednesday logo. We had several entries, so I set up a wiki page that includes all of them, along with a poll for you to vote for your favorite. So your first task is to go to the wiki and place your vote:


Vote for your favorite Web 2.0 Wednesday logo

As Web 2.0 Wednesday activities go, it doesn't get much easier than this, so please be sure to cast your vote!

Create Your Own Poll
If you're feeling like you want to delve into something a little more advanced, why not create your own poll? Two tools I've used are Poll Daddy (which I used for the logo contest) and Vizu. Both work well for simple polls and are easy to embed into a blog or wiki. If you have other suggestions, feel free to post them in comments.

As for what you want to ask in your poll-that's up to you. I've found that people tend to respond better to fun kinds of questions or to topical issues that seem to be making the rounds. And if you're looking for some general how-to's on online polling, this tip sheet (PDF) has some decent info.

That's it for this week. Don't forget to vote for your favorite logo and if you end up creating a poll, leave me a link in comments for it.

e-Learning 2.0: Coming to an Enterprise Near You--Or is It?

Over at The eLearning Guild Research blog, Steve Wexler has been sharing some of the research we've been looking at to prepare the Guild's e-Learning 2.0 report, due out in late September. I've had a chance to see all of it because I'm co-authoring an essay that will be included in the report and there's some very interesting stuff there. These are some nuggets that Steve's shared so far that are worth a closer look:

  • Many people cannot access social networking sites at work--an even bigger problem at large organizations .Not surprisingly, the sites that tend to be blocked are YouTube and social networks like Facebook and MySpace. But when you consider the experiences of companies like Serena, you have to wonder what these organizations are thinking. I suspect that they're worried that people will be wasting time at work, but I can do that without YouTube or Facebook. Is anyone blocking Solitaire or the many pointless conversations that are held in cubicles everywhere?
  • Some interesting differences between Millenials and 30+ workers in terms of using social media. Blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and RSS are definitely bigger sellers with the younger crew, than with those over 30. Interestingly, though, these are the more "passive" activities of Web 2.0. People are READING blogs and wikis pretty regularly, but they arent commenting on or editing them. We still have a way to go with the interactive aspects of social media, which to my mind are the primary reasons for using these tools for learning.
  • Some different ideas on how e-Learning 2.0 is entering organizations. There's some debate among the team members about whether training professionals are driving the change or if social media has already entered the building in a big way and training professionals just don't realize it. The cynical side of me thinks it's probably the latter. My experience in organizations has been that often the training folks are the last people to know what's going on in terms of how people are doing their work unless there's a specific need to deliver a training event. I could be wrong, though, as the majority of e-Learning professionals who responded to the Guild survey indicated that they thought they'd be driving the e-Learning 2.0 train.

Moving Forward, Bird by Bird

Birds As I work on my Artist's Way project, I'm coming across various ideas that, although not new, still strike a chord in me. Here's one that I think is important:

We get further doing something small and do-able daily in the life we already have.

When we make changes, we're inclined to try to "go big." We look at starting a blog, for example, and our minds turn to setting up a platform, writing posts, getting readers--a large scale project develops in our minds before we're even out of the gate.  It can be exhilarating, but more often than not, that thought process becomes a stumbling block. The more we think about the grandness of our new enterprise, the more intimidating and, frankly, exhausting, the idea becomes.

Our grand expectations also invite in our greatest doubts. The greater the plan, the more likely it is that we'll talk ourselves out of it. It seems like "too much," or somehow we aren't good enough or we have nothing to say. Then we do nothing, our plan sabotaged before we go anyplace with it.

The easiest and best way to move forward on anything is not to do so in a grand gesture. Rather than re-inventing ourselves in one fell swoop, we are better suited to the evolutionary process of change. What is the small, do-able task that we can easily incorporate into our lives? How can we do one thing each day that brings us closer to the change we're seeking? It's the one foot in front of the other process of moving through life.

One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott. In her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she talks about how her brother put off for weeks a major report on birds he had to do for school and on the night before it was due, he was completely overwhelmed by the task ahead. As he sat at the kitchen table, crying about how to get it done, his father said to him that the only way to do such a major thing would be to "go through it, bird by bird."

It's the same thing with anything we want to accomplish. We can only do it bird by bird. To attempt any other way is to invite not doing it at all.

How do you make change in your life?

Photo via Fort Photo

52 Ways to Change the World

52_ways Here's a nice way to end the week. At 52 Ways to Change the World, 17 year-old Julie Zauzmer posts weekly podcasts on:

quick and easy way to make a difference and change the world! From bowling to birthday parties to just searching the web, charity and community service can become a fun, easy, and rewarding part of your everyday life! Listen for a few minutes every week and help make the world a better place!

Check it out--lots of great ideas. Not to mention a really creative way to use the Web for charity.

Four Practices for Bringing Artistry to Your Work

Artists_way A few years ago, as part of my recovery from depression and divorce, I began to explore my artistic side. As things got better and I became more engulfed in work, my creativity dried up. I miss it because not only was it personally satisfying, art also fed my creativity in other facets of my life.

As an antidote to my current dried up state, I'm now working with a friend on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, a sort of 12-step recovery program for finding your creative center. Interestingly, I'm seeing how some of the practices can be applied to our professional lives.

Morning Pages--I've written about these before, but the idea bears repeating. Morning Pages work like this. Every morning when you get up, you write--in long hand--3 pages of whatever comes to mind. The goal is to empty your head of all of your concerns, what's on your mind, etc. It's a practice that can clear the space for more creative thinking. It's really a sort of writing meditation.

I've been doing Morning Pages off and on for several years. When I stick with them, they help. When I don't, I start to dry up. Note to self--keep it up. If you want to try out the idea,  check out this link for tips on how to start your own practice. Also check out this video of a discussion with Tom Tierney of The Bridgespan Group where he discusses how he's used a personal journal to drive his own professional practice. 

An Artist's Date--Julia describes it this way:

"An artist's date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a., your inner child."

You will be tempted to put off or re-schedule or to bring a companion. You should resist these temptations and give your Artist's Date the same respect you would give to a business appointment--maybe more.

A Week of Reading Deprivation--As someone who can finish a few books in a week and who is constantly online reading blog posts, articles, etc. this one scares the crap out of me. A week without reading will, for me, be like a week without food. But Julia's premise is that depriving ourselves of reading "casts us into our inner silence." She argues that for most blocked people, reading is an addiction. "We gobble the words of others," she says, "rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own." I suspect this is true and I also suspect that this will be one of the worst weeks of my life. At least at the beginning.But I can also see how listening to our own voice could be a great key to re-claiming our own creativity. It helps us get clearer about what we want and need so we can return refreshed.

Take a Risk a Day--It's easy to get locked into our comfort zones. I know that if I'm not vigilant with myself, I lapse back into routine and focusing on what I know I can do well. But as we've discussed before, risk-taking is a form of learning. It's also something we have to get in the habit of doing. Thinking each day "Where did I take a risk" could be a small but powerful practice.

One of the most important things I'm finding in going through this process (which is just starting, by the way) is that what we resist is what we most need. That is, I'm reading some of these exercises and thinking "that sounds stupid" or "I don't have time for that." But then I realize that the fact of my resistance is actually a clue that this is the activity I most need to do. My resistance is simply my brain's way of trying to keep me locked in my comfort zone. So when I hear that little voice saying "You don't need that," I know that it means that I DO need that. Which means, friends, that in a few weeks I will be going without reading for 7 days. It's a good thing you don't live with me, because I suspect that I'll be extremely crabby then.