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March 2009
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Lying for Learning

Over the weekend I Stumbled this post on an interesting learning strategy--lying:

One of my favorite professors in college was a self-confessed liar.

I guess that statement requires a bit of explanation.

The topic of Corporate Finance/Capital Markets is, even within the world of the Dismal Science, (Economics) an exceptionally dry and boring subject matter, encumbered by complex mathematic models and obscure economic theory.

What made Dr. K memorable was a gimmick he employed that began with his introduction at the beginning of his first class:

“Now I know some of you have already heard of me, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, let me explain how I teach. Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures … one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day.”

And thus began our ten-week course.

This was an insidiously brilliant technique to focus our attention - by offering an open invitation for students to challenge his statements, he transmitted lessons that lasted far beyond the immediate subject matter and taught us to constantly check new statements and claims with what we already accept as fact.

I love this! Not only does it focus attention, it also teaches people to challenge what they hear from "experts" and to begin thinking for themselves. It also forces them to dig deeply into the meat of the learning.

Although this was a strategy used for a semester-long course, I think it could be adapted for shorter time-frames, even down to several lies in a single day-long workshop. I may be trying this in my next training session. . .

Evaluating Contributions to a Social Network

As we incorporate social networking tools into learning, I know that some of us are thinking about how to encourage and evaluate meaningful contributions to and participation in those networks.  Dave Duarte's list of 20 Ways to Evaluate Contributions to a Social Network seems like a good start. Many of these items are open to further discussion (i.e., what's a "well-structured argument" look like?), but in those conversations, you can arrive at additional insights and ideas for thinking about how people are contributing.

You could also easily set up a Social Network Challenge (along the lines of the Comment Challenge), using some of these ideas. I could see, for example, doing a week-long challenge that involved the following tasks.

  • Pose a question to the group
  • Build on the ideas of another in the network.
  • Tell a story
  • Make a recommendation
  • Post a "Top 10" list
  • Offer help or answer a question for another person in the network
  • Use a graphic to illustrate an idea

This would encourage the most valuable social networking behaviors in a way that's more fun than simply posting a list of "Guidelines for Participation." It also makes more sense to teach and encourage these behaviors before plunging into evaluating them.

What do you think of this list? Have you been evaluating contributions to social networks? How have you been doing it? What have the results been?

Working with the Many Little Hurdles to Social Media Adoption

Tim Davies has written an excellent post listing 50 hurdles to open government that, from what I've seen, applies to both the public and private sector. What's helpful is that he's breaking down a large problem into a series of smaller issues. He divides the hurdles into 7 types:

  • Internet Access
  • Office Technology
  • Systems and Procedures
  • Policy and Guidance
  • Organizational Culture
  • Basic Technical Skills
  • Leadership and Management

He's now asking for strategies to overcome each hurdle.

Like Tim, I've been doing a lot of work lately with State and local governments and at every turn, have been stymied by many of these barriers to social media adoption. Many of these issues are interrelated and an impact on one or two could have profound implications for several others. For example, Tim's section on Internet Access lists the different ways in which sites are blocked and filtered at work sites. If management saw access to social media as a priority and indicated to the IT department that access should not be blocked, most of the items on this list would go away.

Most of these hurdles are really a result of management attitudes and priorities. In my experience, in organizations where social media isn't catching on it's a result of one of two issues. Either management does not understand the possibilities and benefits of social media or they are actively hostile toward social media (usually due to ignorance). The hostile types can be further divided into those who see social media as a "time waster" and those who've allowed IT to convince them that the entire system will be brought down if you let people access access YouTube. In both cases, these are people who are operating out of fear.

Recognizing that we are dealing with two different states of mind--ignorance and fear--can help us better explore the best strategies for overcoming the hurdles.

If management simply does not understand what is possible and how to get there, then this is a simple issue of education. On one current project, I've had the pleasure of working with a manager who is open to social media but doesn't yet understand all that it can do for her. My task here has been to listen to the issues and problems that she's facing in accomplishing her work and then to suggest how social media could help her. I make her aware of the possibilities and then she can look at what she needs to do to address existing barriers (such as Internet access, etc.). In this circumstance, Tim's list actually gives me a good checklist to use for making sure that she's covered all her bases in terms of the challenges her staff may be facing in implementing social media.

Those who are acting out of fear are a little more difficult to deal with. In fact, I started to write more about this and realized that it really requires a separate post. So for now,  take a look at Tim's list and drop him a comment on your ideas about how to address some of these hurdles. In my next post, I'll talk more about how I've been working with fearful management.

Your Favorite Leadership Articles?

I'm working with a youth leadership program that will bring together HS sophomores with leaders from government, business, nonprofits and the media to explore the concepts of leadership in these different areas. We'd like to share a few articles with the participants---stuff that gets them thinking. I have a few ideas but would love to get your feedback.

What are your favorite articles on leadership? Drop me a note in comments. Depending on what I get back, I'll do a follow-up link post.

Random Thoughts

Trying to get back into blogging more regularly, but today is not a day for a thoughtful post. Instead, a few random thoughts.

Vocabulary Words--Some new vocab words that I've encountered in the past week or so:

  • Mindcasting--Jay Rosen's replacement for lifecasting, mindcasting is the idea of using services like Twitter to share ideas and resources, rather than what you had for breakfast or where you're going after work.

Is the Kindle a Reading Game Changer? --Interesting article in WSJ on how ebooks will change our reading habits. I'm not sure  if I agree that its ebooks that are changing the reading experience, though. One of the suggestions was that reading a book will become a more social experience where you can see people's comments and annotations on the pages of your book and that is a big change. Interestingly, when I was reading this article at the WSJ site, I was already having a social experience as I could read the Diigo comments left by others who'd been there before me. From what I can see, tools like the Kindle are bringing experiences I already have on my computer to another device and making them more mobile.  It seems to me that we've already changed our reading habits to accommodate the idea of people commenting, annotating, etc., especially since many people do most of their reading online to begin with. Or maybe it's just me.

The Real Reason Companies Are Terrified of Social Media--Agreed that many companies are afraid that employees will be able to build their personal brands, potentially at the expense of the company brand. Also agreed that smart companies will focus on keeping shining stars rather than on tightening up on the use of social media.

But I think the deeper fear issue is a fear of loss of control of everything, not just of the company brand. In my experience, organizations most resistant to social media are those organizations with the biggest control issues. They're the ones that need everything vetted from the top down, that don't want employees talking to anyone without explicit permission to release information. Social media messes with traditional mechanisms of control and power on all levels and unless and until organizations get more comfortable with new kinds of "control" and "power," they will resist. 

Visualizing Social Bookmarking--For some reason, the concept of social bookmarking continues to escape many people I talk to, including my 21 year old who "hates" Delicious, despite her love affair with Twitter and blogging. This visualization is one of the best explanations of it I've seen, so I think I'll use it the next time I try to describe the concept.

Will Everyone Have Twitter by August 22?--If this is true, I'm going to need to revist my attitudes toward Twitter. It's beginning to sound like not using Twitter would be like not having a phone.

Monitoring Your Social Media Presence

I've written before about the importance of monitoring your online reputation. In today's economy this is even more important, both for individuals and organizations. Here's a nice article on strategies for monitoring your social media presence in 10 minutes a day. (There's some argument as to whether or not 10 minutes is a realistic timeframe, but still this is a do-able daily list).

The comments offer a few additional ideas, such as setting up RSS feeds to monitor blogs in your industry or occupation where you can go to observe, interact, comment, etc. As we discussed during last year's Comment Challenge, online interactions are another important aspect of brand building.

Another comment:

I'd love to see a follow up post on the analytics and reporting on the other end. That is, once you've finished these 10-20 min of daily monitoring, what tools do you use to compile, track, analyze and share the social media results? How do you take those Google alerts from your inbox to a well-organized report? Or compile and rank tweets, LI answers, etc.? 

This is a great question--anyone have suggestions for how they do this?

Deconstructing "How to Nail an Interview"

The other day I found How to Nail an Interview, a one-page website set up to describe the 22 Tips on Interviewing Steinar Skipsness learned as a result of a hidden camera experiment he set up:

What is it that certain people say or do during a job interview that makes them stand out? Why do some people struggle to find work, while others land a job in no time? I wanted to know, and the only way to find out was to experience the interview from the other side of the table. If I could be the one asking the interview questions, not answering, I could see first hand what made candidates stand out. I could then take that knowledge and cater my behavior in any future interview to give myself the best chance of getting hired.

First, I needed to create a "corporate presence." I found a company that rented office space by the hour. It was in a downtown Seattle high-rise, had a killer view, and came with a secretary, who'd call me once an interviewee arrived. It was perfect.

Next, I posted a job on craigslist for a marketing coordinator at a "soon to launch" web company. Literally minutes after the posting, resumes poured in, 142 on the first day, 356 in the first week.

Finally, giving the interview wasn't enough. I wanted to be able to go back, review the footage, and dissect answers, body language, everything, to really see what makes someone look good or bad. So before scheduling any interviews, I got online, bought a couple of small cameras, picked up a couple lamps and lamp shades, and with a drill, some super glue, a little bit of cardboard, and electric tape, I constructed 2 hidden camera lamps.

Of course to make sure everything was legally kosher, everyone was required to sign and fax back an appearance release waiver before an interview was scheduled. The reason, "some company meetings will be filmed and we needed proof you'd be comfortable appearing on a video blog if hired."

While the legality of Steinar's hidden camera approach may be in question, certainly the results are interesting and helpful in a cringe-inducing sort of way.

What caught my eye with this (besides the content) was the simple, streamlined set-up here--a single web page, brief lessons learned from the video-taped interviews and very brief video excerpts to illustrate several of the tips.This is something that could easily be done with a blog platform (Blogger comes to mind as a down-and-dirty choice) or on a wiki.

Although clearly this took time to pull together (28 interviews to cull through), something less elaborate could easily be done to support workplace learning, using videos, screencasts, etc. that have already been developed, either for other purposes within your organization or that are freely available online. You could also use your Flip video camera for quick, informal video that can be uploaded in a few clicks and then embedded into a blog or wiki, along with the tips.This format would also lend itself to an easy online Orientation session.

Taking off the designer hat and putting on the learner hat, I also see something like this as a culminating project for a training to both demonstrate learning and provide job aids or tips to other employees following the training.  Picture, for example, some kind of customer service training. Learners could do brief Flip videos of themselves illustrating various do's and don'ts and then embed those into a wiki or blog with their text tips.

On an individual level, this is the kind of format that might also work well with an online portfolio--maybe "10 Reasons to Hire Michele" or to illustrate a particular skill set you possess.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but the simple format really got me thinking about some different possibilities.

Guerrilla Learning

Guerrilla art A few weeks ago I bought Kerri Smith's Guerilla Art Kit. Kerri defines guerrilla art as "any anonymous work, including but not limited to graffiti, signage, performance, additions and decorations) installed, performed or attached in public spaces, with the distinct purpose of affecting the world in a creative or thought-provoking way."

Reading through it got me thinking about how some of the exercises could be adapted to support learning. It seems to me that we're often too serious and structured and Kerri's guerrilla techniques add an element of fun and subversiveness that could make learning more appealing. Many of these would lend themselves well to pre and post-training activities or as ongoing reinforcement of various initiatives.

  • Public Chalkboard--Install a chalkboard and chalk in a public space and invite comments or ideas. For learning, I'd post a provocative question related to the learning and then invite responses. You could also do this with a notebook that was passed from person to person or with a poster in a public place that has a pen attached.
  • Slogan Stickers--Come up with a series of slogans or quotes that support the learning topic and put them on stickers around the workplace. Alternatively, invite learners to create their own slogan stickers.
  • Guerrilla Mail--Start an anonymous postcard chain by putting the following message on the back of a postcard (I'd adapt the text and postcard to reflect the learning you're trying to encourage)
Dear Friend, You are invited to take this postcard and alter/add to it in some way. Use whatever method you would like; it is up to you. Do not worry about covering up the existing artwork. Do not obscure this note. When you are finished, mail to postcard to someone else.
  • Installations--Use Post-It notes in a central location to create a trail of words, quotes or drawings. This could be a semi-permanent, ongoing project for a lunchroom, hallway, etc.
  • Hidden Fortunes--Cut slips of paper approximately 1 by 3 inches and write an idea or affirmation on each. Fold the "fortunes" and drop them randomly throughout the office (lunchroom, on desks, file cabinets or chairs, etc.)

Kerri has a ton of other interesting ideas. I highly recommend checking out both the book and her blog.

To Polish Those 140 Characters to Perfection

"You care about your Twitter don't you? Sure you do. Because you're a thinker, a tastemaker and a very important business person."

This little iPhone app is for recording your Twitter thoughts, saving them for later and then publishing (or unpublishing). As the video says, it makes them easy to remove later "in case they're still too stupid." 

Not sure if it will work with Fluttr though.

Enhancing What Social Media Does Right and Reducing What it Does Wrong

Via Workplace Learning Today comes this article on the distractions of tagging. Apparently, according to Erica Naone,  research indicates that tagging an article (as in Delicious) actually reduces our ability to remember what we've read:

Raluca Budiu, a user-experience specialist for the Nielsen Norman Group, asked the audience whether typing in tags for articles would help them remember key concepts. The answer, according to her research, is no. Users remembered less after typing in tags than after simply reading an article online.

On the surface, it seems like tags should be helpful, Budiu said, since they increase a user's engagement with an article. In addition to reading, the user considers what tags to give it and enters them. It sounds similar to highlighting key passages of a textbook, or making notes in the margin. So why should they reduce recall?

Budiu found that adding tags cut into the time that each user spent actually reading an article in the first place. In other words, paying attention to tags came at the cost of paying attention to the text.

Erica concludes:

For social media to truly work for us, we need to enhance what it does right and reduce what it does wrong.

This is a really important issue for learning that I think can get lost in the distraction of these shiny objects we call social media. Take Erica's tagging example. I love tagging. I do it all the time. But if I really think about it, I have tons of articles queued up in my Delicious account that I have either not read carefully or that I never return to again. In fact, I have a full list of articles in my Netvibes tagged "toread" that have never been read. Yet I somehow believe that the mere act of tagging has added to my knowledge base. Sadly the research makes me acknowledge that this is not so. 

Back to Erica's point that we need to enhance what social media does right and reduce what it does wrong. In the case of tagging, she points us to, which supports "easy keyword tagging directly over web content being browsed." This reduces the amount of time we spend tagging outside of the context of the article, thus increasing the amount of time we are actively engaging with it. An elegant solution to an insidious little problem.

But what of other social media distractions and issues?  I've written before about the dangers of homophily on the web and how social media tools actually promote "birds of a feather" syndrome. In part this is because the characteristics of social software draw together like-minded groups. Social media does a great job of helping us develop connections to people like us, but is less effective in promoting the diversity so necessary to innovation and creative thought. How do we address this, both in terms of actual tools that encourage exploration of diverse ideas and thought processes, as well as in terms of HOW we use existing social media tools?

Another issue is the noise to signal ratio. Many social media tools are inherently good at bringing in information, but you have to go looking for tools and strategies to then help you extract the most useful or interesting bits. One of the biggest complaints I hear from new users of social media is that the content quickly becomes overwhelming. It takes work and thought to manage this onslaught. Interestingly, the tools necessary to manage information overload are often separate from the tools that brought you the overload in the first place. I think of Twitter, for example, which seems to require users to go looking for third-party apps that allow them to use it most effectively. Why aren't these built in in the first place?

I also worry about the extent to which we integrate too many social media options into our learning. It's now possible to participate in a live learning event supported by liveblogging, a Twitter backchannel, text and IM discussions with colleagues in other locations, research and bookmarking on Delicious, electronic voting and the development of a wiki for resources--all at the same time. At what point does "active engagement" with the learning activity simply become "incredibly distracted"? And if some tool is to be excluded, which one should it be? Don't get me wrong. I fully support integration of social media into the learning experience, but also have reached a point where I think "at what cost?"

These are a couple of examples that come quickly to mind, but this is an issue that deserves further exploration.

Where do you see places we need to enhance what social media does right or reduce what it does wrong, particularly in regard to learning and professional development?