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April 2009
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KeyHubs and Google Wave Are Looking Interesting

A few things that have popped up recently that have me excited to explore further:

KeyHubs for Mapping Informal Networks
Via a Delicious save from Beth Kanter, I found this article on mapping networks--an interesting read in itself. It led me to Keyhubs, which lets you map the informal networks that lie behind your formal org chart. The case studies show some interesting examples. It appears to evaluate networks based on who people trust, who they go to for advice and who they socialize with. 

I could see using this as a tool to help plan for social networks within your organization--finding out ahead of time, for example, who your key influencers might be so that you might work with them ahead of time to support the learning community. You could also use it to analyze your existing networks, see where there might be gaps in sharing and connection, then plan for and evaluate the success of some interventions to grow the network.

Google Wave
Although it won't be ready until later this year, Google Wave looks REALLY interesting. According to Mashable, Google Wave is

. . . a hybrid of email, web chat, IM, and project management software. It features the ability to replay conversations because it records the entire sequence of communication, character by character. Because of this, discussions are also live in Google Wave: you will see your friends type character-by-character.

The features don’t stop there, either. Google Wave also supports the ability to drag attachments from your desktop into Google Wave. It loads that file and sends it immediately to anyone in the conversation. It’s also embeddable, so you can embed Google Wave conversations on any blog.

. . . it looks very similar to a Gmail (Gmail reviews) inbox, except it’s more focused on your contacts, whose faces you can see in your contacts sidebar on the left. As for conversations, well, it’s a bit different than anything we’ve seen before. You can reply and add your thoughts anywhere within a message. Communication within Google Wave is completely shared.

The key to it all is the faster line of communication. Attaching documents, like you do in email, is unnecessary in Google Wave. Real-time conversations and collaboration make it an ideal tool for business teams as well. Imagine an entire office having Google Wave open to quickly share and receive files. It combines some of people’s favorite aspects of many different web communication tools.

Gwave1

It looks to me like this could be a really RICH way to develop a collaborative learning environment that combines the best parts of synchronous and asynchronous communication. What is also interesing is that you can record the evolution of the wave, so it looks like you'll be able to see how things develop over time. And the embedabble aspect also looks promising--I'm picturing a blog or a wiki  to pull together related waves.

Of course, we're relying on descriptions at this point, but I've signed up to be notified when they go live. I'm very curious to see where this goes.

UPDATE--Looks like Mashable has posted a Complete Guide to Google Wave.


Some Resources for Accessible Learning

In using social media tools for learning (or anything else), one thing I think we often forget is the issue of accessibility. And by that, I don't mean in terms of issues like having access to a computer or broadband, although those are issues as well.

Currently I'm working with two different clients who work with individuals with disabilities and one of the things we're grappling with is how accessible these tools are. For many of their consumers, web-based technologies have been a God-send that has helped them access information, resources and communities of support  they never would have dreamed possible a few years ago. Opportunities for teleworking, online learning and self-employment have also exploded.

But for some people, especially those with visual or cognitive impairments (including brain injury and learning disabilities), social media and the Web can be a mixed bag. One one project, for example, we've had problems with one of our team members, who is blind, being able to use our group wiki with JAWS, a tool that many people with visual impairments use to surf the web. I've also heard some individuals from the brain injury community complaining about use of Flash and how difficult it is to navigate through some sites. And let's not forget the large numbers of people who have learning disabilities.

This has all been a real eye-opener for me, so I've been doing some research into accessibility issues and wanted to share a few resources.

  • Accessify--News, tools, etc. related to accessibility. Shows you how to do things like easy closed-captioning for YouTube videos, as well as providing some useful tools for development.
  • TARGET Center Discovery Series--a whole series of webinars on issues such as making accessible PDF files and emails with file attachments. Also a bunch of webinars on ergonomics and the home office.

I'm still learning a lot myself, so if this is something you have experience in, I would love to get your feedback and links to the resources you use and find to be helpful.


Feeling Like Dirt

Dirt The past few months for me have been a sort of hodgepodge of deadlines and projects and weird personal things like realizing that my younger daughter is going to college next year (COLLEGE! My baby!) and that she doesn't need her mother so much anymore. Compounding the situation,we've had lots of rain and cloudy, cool days and my heart is crying out for 85 degrees and sunny so I can sit on my patio and listen to the birds.

I've also had several profound reminders recently that I've been doing what I always do when I start to get overwhelmed, which is is to retreat deep inside myself where I don't have to notice that I'm overwhelmed. I can just slog through things under the premise that I have my act together. Which in many ways I do, but in many more important ways I don't.

The problem with this mode of dealing with things is that I end up feeling really alone and isolated and my feelings of isolation only reinforce the sense that I should stay inside my little hermit cave. I am also less into blogging and commenting and online socializing because of course that means coming out of my cave. And then I miss that sense of community, which further reinforces the cycle. . . well, you can see the problem.

So this morning I have time to breathe a little after weeks of competing deadlines and I come across this post by Havi Brooks who talks about how she's feeling like dirt right now and giving herself permission to do so. And I realize that right now I'm feeling like dirt, but have been trying to talk myself out of that feeling, which honestly only makes things worse. If you're going to feel crappy, at least don't add to it by beating yourself up for feeling crappy.

Why am I writing about this? Because I think a lot of us can get stuck in feeling like dirt and we don't have enough compassion for ourselves to just let those feelings be there for a time.  The combination of feeling this way and trying to make yourself NOT feel this way is a powerful recipe for personal and professional dysfunction. I've seen it in action and it's not pretty.

I also know that for myself as a learner, it's just as important for me to acknowledge and explore the emotional undercurrents that pass through me as it is for me to look at using a new tool or developing a new process. I'm reading Brain Rules right now and I can see so clearly how emotions and stress are as important to learning as anything else, but you have to know where you're at in order to move forward. And if I'm going to blog about learning and development, then I need to also blog about when things are NOT working, which right now, they are definitely not.

So suffice it to say that I'm feeling like dirt, but I'm cool with that, because this too shall pass. Plus dirt can be what makes things grow as long as you give it the chance.

Flickr photo via Teeny!


Your Guide to Job Search and Personal Branding on Twitter

Twitter--the 140 character social networking site--is becoming increasingly useful for job seekers. It doesn't work for everyone, of course, but it can certainly turbo-charge your networking, a key strategy for successful job hunting. It can also be an effective part of your personal branding campaign.

Here, then, is a (somewhat) definitive link guide to getting a new job (or losing your current one) through Tweeting. (I put this together for a client, so thought it would be nice to share).

Getting Started on Twitter--If you're new to Twitter. . .

Twitter Skills & Culture--You'd think it would be easy to type 140 characters and go, but like all social networks, Twitter has a culture that requires some skill to navigate. Ignore this section at your own risk.

Pimp Your Profile--Think of your Twitter profile as your "digital interview suit." First impressions count.

Twitter for Job Search--The nitty gritty of job searching on Twitter.

People and Sites to Follow

Job Search Tips and Tools

Case Studies

Twitter Brand Building--The Twitter job search is also about building your online brand.

Twitter Fails--Twitter isn't rocket science. These mistakes can be avoided with a little forethought.


Reflections on an Open Space Conference

Last week I ran an Open Space conference for 50 service providers who work on connecting individuals with disabilities to employment. For the uninitiated, Open Space is a format that encourages dialogue and problem-solving around key topics, rather than pre-set presentations. Just wanted to capture a few thoughts/reflections while they're fresh:

  • I worked with a team of about 8 people to put the conference together. We did it entirely through teleconferencing, a project wiki and some emails--not a single face-to-face meeting. Logistically, the Forum went off without a hitch, proving to me once again that face-to-face for planning can be overrated.
  • We violated one of the tenets of Open Space by identifying the topics/issues to be discussed ahead of time. I did this because we felt like it might be too much to go from traditional conferencing to the wild frontier of a self-organizing conference with nothing in between. It worked well, as it gave people some focus for the discussions. Next time we may go totally Open Space. 
  • We ended up being a little more old-fashioned than I wanted when it came to note-taking. Ideally, we would have had people working directly in a wiki, projected onto a screen. Unfortunately we had last-minute tech issues that forced us to go with the old "flip chart" approach. I must admit that I'm spoiled at this point and was glad that someone else will be typing up those notes.
  • Several of the individuals attending the conference--and a few of our facilitators--have disabilities, including visual impairments and brain injury. A few were in wheelchairs. I was concerned about moving people around to different rooms, taking notes, etc., which forced me to be much more aware of the issues that people with disabilities face in the workplace. Interestingly, these challenges were not difficult to overcome--they just required us to think ahead a little and be prepared.
  • We got rave reviews from participants about the effectiveness of using the Open Space format. We had them focusing on ideas for addressing a number of different challenges, so they basically had an entire day to brainstorm and network with colleagues. Apparently this was a massive relief to people who are sick of attending "death by PowerPoint" conferences. They felt like their voices were heard and that some actionable ideas came out of the groups.
  • Our "next step" plan is to put everything on a wiki so that people can see the ideas that were developed. Interestingly, at the closing session when we were discussing this, a few people kept saying that "you" (meaning the group that organized the Forum) needed to follow up on the ideas the group generated. I pointed out that the power of both Open Space and a wiki is that ANYONE can take charge of an idea that interests them, so we were transferring the ownership back to them. Not sure this was totally appreciated, but at the same time, it's where we need to be.

What seemed to work well for us was providing people with Open Space guidelines prior to the Forum and then reviewing those guidelines again during the opening. We also identified facilitators ahead of time, but then asked for volunteer notetakers in each group. This seemed to get people engaged as  co-creators.

I'm not sure what I would change for the next time, other than diving deeper into Open Space. The group seemed like they could handle it and I think it would be an interesting experience for them. I'll also be sure that we have the technology to put our notes directly on the wiki so that we avoid having to re-type them.


Some Stuff

OMG (as my daughters would say), am I in the week from Hell! Running a Youth Leadership Academy, doing a State strategic plan for how they'll use the stimulus money coming from the Feds and then running an Open Space Forum for practitioners working with individuals with disabilities on issues related to disabilities and employment. And that's THIS week! At any rate, a few things floating around that I'd like to have more time to write/think about:

  • Social Strategy Hurdles--Tim Davies put together this wiki to begin collecting ideas on how to overcome the 50 hurdles to social media strategy that he identified in an earlier blog post. When I get time, I'd like to add to it. Maybe you can take a look and add your thoughts?
  • Two-Page Guide to Using a Blog--Sue Waters points to Kathleen McGeady's nice little 2-page guide for parents on using the classroom blog she's developed. I'm planning to do something similar for the readers of the blog I'm maintaining for one of my clients. They're having a conference in a few weeks where I plan to pass it out.
  • Big Screen E-Readers May Help Save Newspapers--When I read this, all I could think was "Why do we INSIST on trying to save dying models by dressing them up in fancy digital clothes?" Seriously. How much better might we do if we invested time, thought and energy into innovating for where things are going, rather than to where they've been?
1) twitter has always been comprised of older people, because they use it as an aggregator and news source (Side note--interesting, in light of this TechCrunch article).

2) people adopting facebook now are old people because young people ALREADY HAVE ONE. and we've had one forever at this point. of course , 5 years after facebook went mainstream, the biggest growth would be by old people

3) linkedin is the laughing stock of millennials. who wants a linkedin? just create a google profile. the fact that this guy doesn't know this shows that he is very out of touch w/ gen Y.

I have to say that I'm a little disturbed by her repeated use of the term "old people," although I think she makes good points.
 

On Directed and Flow Learning Goals

Tony Karrer has an interesting post on the issue of learning goals. He's noticed that there seem to be two types of goals:

  • Directed Learning Goals – specific focus
  • Flow Learning Goals – nonspecific, exploratory

He goes on to argue that 1) people tend to fall into one of these two camps in terms of how they approach their own learning and 2) formal learning seems to more effectively support people with directed learning goals, while informal learning seems more for those with flow learning goals.

Says Tony of informal learning:

Unlike formal learning, informal learning is generally not going to ensure that specific knowledge will be transferred. Instead, people will learn what they need in order to accomplish the ultimate objectives. We aren't sure what they will learn.

He suggests that for informal learning to be effective for those with a more directed learning goal approach, the instructional design process must take into account their need for more specificity about what will be learned.

Tony's take on this makes sense to me. He sees himself as a directed learning goal guy. I'm much more of a flow learning goal person. After working with Tony on the Work Literacy Ning learning event, I can see that some of our behind the scenes back and forth on how to structure the learning was based on us coming at this from these two different angles. I saw us designing a much more free-flowing, exploratory experience, while Tony had some very specific learning goals in mind.

You can actually see our two approaches in the unit we did on social networking and LinkedIn. I set it up as a sort of "here are some things to explore--check them out" kind of unit. Tony added a screencast on how to find an expert on LinkedIn. You can see that he had something very specific in mind about using LinkedIn, while I was coming at it from a very different point of view.

So the issue becomes, how do you define learning goals for social, informal learning in a way that provides context and makes sense for more concrete directed goal learners?

Tony suggests that defining a business outcome or purpose for the learning is a good start. There doesn't have to be agreement about the specific topics or process, but if directed learners understand that the purpose of the informal learning is to help them achieve a specific business outcome, then they have a higher level of comfort with the process.

In my experience, this may be true of a directed learner like Tony, but he seems to be an exception. The people in my work who are most uncomfortable with informal, social learning are those who are also uncomfortable with something as ill-defined as a "business outcome" for their learning goals. They want very specific, concrete, actionable learning objectives AND they want a step-by-step process for getting there. In fact, I find that these types of learners have no patience for informal learning. To them, it's not learning at all. It's too messy and ill-conceived (in their minds).

For me, some of the value in Tony's distinction is that it points to a larger learning issue I see around types of learners. In general, in my experience, those who have directed learning goals (with Tony as the exception, rather than the rule) are also the ones who see formal learning as the only route to achieving those goals. They have a more concrete, linear way of seeing the world that requires X to lead to Y to lead to Z.

Flow learning goal people tend to prefer more informal learning events, in part because formal learning feels too constricted and controlled. They seem to be less linear and more networked in their thinking, where X connects to A, which connects to G and gets us to Z. They want and need the freedom to explore those connections, rather than being forced down a linear learning path.

If I'm right, I'm not sure that it's possible to provide enough of a structured goal orientation to informal learning to totally satisfy most directed goal learners. You can get partway there by doing as Tony suggests--linking the learning to some specific business outcomes. You might also try to provide people with some guidance on how to set directed learning goals for themselves within the context of a specific informal learning activity--perhaps by providing them with some potential learning paths to follow that lead to a more specific skill or by suggesting questions they might ask to get what they want from the experience.

What's intriguing to me about informal learning is that it most closely mirrors the work environment, which is rarely (if ever) linear and structured, unless you're in a manufacturing facility. It forces us as learners to have to extract our own learning from the situation, which in turn forces us to have to be clear about establishing our own learning goals and strategies.

In designing informal learning activities, we may need to get better at helping directed and flow learning people forge a learning path for themselves to navigate the social learning space. But that's a good thing--because then we're also helping people develop the skills they need to learn from work itself.