The Power of Blogging ISN'T Just in Reading Them

Picture_1_2 (RANT ALERT!) In a few weeks we're going to be looking at blogs in the Work Literacy course. As we think about that module and the fact that for most people, their primary interaction with blogs is to read them, I'm growing impatient with this idea from a learning perspective.  In fact, I have to go on record right now as saying that reading blogs is only a small part of what makes blogs powerful for learning. Yes, there's a lot of great stuff available out there, but honestly, if you think that reading blog posts is the key to learning with blogs, then I think you're missing the boat.

A few things that have led me to this place. First was my experience last week in talking with people about blogging and learning. Most organizations still see blogs as a way to push their content to learners, which to my mind makes blogs simply a multimedia e-newsletter. OK as far as it goes, but so NOT getting to the real opportunities.Blogs are a conversation between the blogger and him/herself (a form of reflection) and between the blogger and his/her readers. THAT'S where the real learning takes place. Not just in the passive absorption of someone's post.

Then I read this this article (cited by Stephen Downes) about the so-called decline in literacy that is happening from people doing their reading online. Somehow the fact that people tend to scan when they read online leads to a diatribe on how we've wasted our money by trying to get schools to come into the technological 21st century by bringing laptops into schools.  Well if you regard laptops as simply a combo TV and book, then yeah, I guess it's been a waste. But again, we can do so much more than that.

Last week I  liveblogging several conference sessions at Brandon Hall. This is the first time I've done this and it added a depth and dimension to my workshop learning that I simply have not experienced before. Liveblogging forced me to listen more carefully to the presenters and the conversations that took place. I found myself paying even more attention to the temperature in the room--were people engaging with the presenters, did the presentations seem to resonate, what  were their questions?

Taking notes online also made my notes more multi-dimensional. For every website a presenter mentioned, I was able to grab the link and supporting materials to fill out my notes immediately, something I wouldn't have been able to do if I took notes with my traditional paper and pen. Instead of having scribbled thoughts on a scrap of paper I'd likely never look at again, the posts I developed became rich with resources and links. Further, because I posted them on my blog, they were available not only to me, but to anyone who wanted them.

There's huge learning power in that. Sending one person to a conference can potentially educate your entire organization. The same thing can happen in meetings and as part of daily work. When people are actively engaging with and reflecting on their professional experiences, which blogging encourages us to do, that's where ongoing learning really takes place.

I think my frustration right now is that I've realized how firmly entrenched people are in a sort of passive, one-way view of the web. There still doesn't seem to be a full recognition of the power of co-creation and the idea that Web 2.0 tools give all of us an opportunity to participate in and manage our own learning. If you see social media as primarily a more simple and efficient way for the usual experts to be able to share their opinions and content, then you're missing the point of the revolution.

Web 2.0 isn't about the fact that learning professionals can now publish learning content without going to a webmaster or needing highly sophisticated tools. It's about the fact that EVERYONE can participate in co-creating learning. Our jobs as learning professionals shift from being primarily content producers to facilitating others in creating their own content, showing them how they can actively engage with information and learning materials, teaching them how to be self-directed learners. We have to get past this idea of the Web as simply a more efficient mechanism for dumping information. 

As long as we persist in seeing Web 2.0 through the lens of Web 1.0, we're never going to appreciate the true power and opportunity here. (END RANT)

Flickr photo via Nesster

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Find an Expert

Web20wednesday300x79_2 Over on the Work Literacy: Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals Ning where we're on day three of the course, one of the more active forum discussions has been on getting value out of LinkedIn.

Fortunately for us, Tony Karrer is a whiz at using LinkedIn to find expertise and he's recorded a couple of excellent screencasts to show the rest of us how it's done.

For this week's Web 2.0 Wednesday activity, we're going to use what Tony's been showing us to search for expertise. All of us have something we need or want to learn more about and Tony's strategies offer some great ways to do this.

  • Think of a topic or area you want to know more about. Maybe it's expertise in using a specific tool or more knowledge about a particular process or theory. It could be that you have a particular problem you need help solving--whatever.
  • Think of some associated keywords.Start broad, but also consider words that can help you refine your search. In Tony's screencast example (below), "Moodle" and "WizIQ" are the two search terms he's using. Obviously Moodle alone would return one set of options, while adding WiZIQ considerably narrows the search. For more on search, try this page.
  • Watch Tony's screencast and then follow his advice to see if you can find a subject matter expert in the area(s) that interest you.
  • Make contact--Tony also has some suggestions on that, based on how closely you may be linked to the person.

If you do the exercise, please let me know, either in comments or by blogging about it and tagging it with "web2.0wednesday" and "workliteracy." This is one of those knowledge worker skills we all need to develop, so I'll be curious to see how it goes.

Comprehensive or Comprehendible? The "Best" Choice or the "Good Enough" Option?

Confused Massive list posts ("50+ Ways to Use Flickr,"  "100 Social Media Resources", etc.) seem to be a really popular format. I know that I myself am attracted to them, bookmarking almost every one I see because the sheer quantity of items seems to indicate that it must be useful. But this morning I was thinking that these kinds of posts, while attractive, are not necessarily very helpful, particularly for newbies. It's just TOO MUCH information to absorb, even for someone like me who prides herself on her information management skills.

What's attractive about massive lists is that they seem to somehow be comprehensive. We see "100 Resources" and we think, "Great--I can bookmark this one post and it will take me to 100 other things." And that's true. But realistically, will I ever explore even a small portion of these links? If I go to 10, that's probably a great post.  And again, I'm an information glutton.

The more I work with people who are new to social media, the more I believe that simplicity is the key. No massive lists of resources or tools. No long, multi-step posts on how to accomplish a particular task. This stuff needs to be broken down into smaller chunks that are easily digestible. Choices need to be limited and instructions need to be simple and concrete.  Don't show me 10 possible wiki tools. Show me one and then give me the simple steps for making it do what I need it to do. If for some reason that particular tool doesn't work for me, then we can talk about other options.

Of course, you could argue that authors of list posts aren't writing for newbies. That may be true. But like many things, these resource kinds of posts can be subconsciously absorbed into our culture of how things are done, making us forget that less is more when it comes to working with most people.

We may be information omnivores (something I think might be indigenous to the culture of early adoption), but the next wave of social media users (the early majority) are less adventurous in their information-gathering strategies and more pragmatic about what they consume.

Something else with this group--they are not looking for the BEST tool or process as much as the "good enough" solution. They want something that does it better than they have in the past, even if it isn't necessarily the "ultimate" option. And ironically, these good enough solutions may actually turn out to be revolutionary in their impact, as indicated by the model of disruptive innovation.

I find that periodically I need to remind myself that while I may exist in a particular culture that wants more, more, more--more tools, more ways to apply them, etc.--this isn't where most people are at right now. I need to focus less on comprehensiveness and more on comprehensibility. I need to help people find not "the best" but the "good enough" options.

Flickr photo via BTal.

Professional Development Practice: The One Sentence Journal

One Regular readers know that I'm a big fan of reflective practice--one of the greatest values of blogging for me has been that it's created a forum for me to regularly think about what I do and how I do it. But most people aren't ready to make that kind of time commitment so here's something that I think might be a perfect way to encourage reflection in the shortest time possible: the one sentence journal, a great idea from blogger Gretchen Rubin.

Says Gretchen:

Two years ago, I started keeping a one-sentence journal because I knew I would never be able to keep a proper journal with lengthy entries. I just don't have the time or energy to write a long entry - even two or three times a week. . .

I like keeping a one-sentence journal because it's a manageable task, so it doesn't make me feel burdened; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress, the atmosphere of growth so important to happiness; it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I'm much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events), which boosts my happiness; and it gives me a reason to pause thinking lovingly about the members of my family.

One thing is true: we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term, if we do a little bit at a time. Writing one sentence a day sounds fairly easy, and it is; at the end of the year, it adds up to a marvelous record.

Gretchen's journal is more personal, part of her larger Happiness Project, but picture one sentence journals reflecting on:

  • Your career and professional growth
  • What you learned today
  • The progress of a particular project
  • Your progress in achieving a specific goal
  • Advice you've received from other people
  • Questions you have about . . . anything!

Each of these topics lends itself to this one-sentence concept and building the daily habit of thinking about what you do and what is happening in various aspects of your life.

Technology is a perfect tool for supporting this process, too. You could:

  • Post your one sentence journal reflection on your blog if you already have one. Be sure to create a tag for "one sentence journal" reflections so that you can easily look at them later.
  • Set up a Tumblr microblog specifically for your one sentence entries. Tumblr's group capabilities mean that you could also set this up as a team blog where each member of a team was posting his/her one-sentence reflection or idea for others to see. If you go the team route, you could also set up a wiki to gather everyone's reflections.
  • Twitter your one sentence. It's another way to share with a group and also ensure that you keep your entries short--no more than 140 characters.
  • Email your daily entries to yourself and store them in a special folder where you can review them regularly--weekly, monthly, quarterly.
  • Use it as your Facebook status update.

If these ideas are too boring for you, try getting all multimedia with it by recording a 1-sentence video that you upload to Youtube. You could even go crazy and make it a 1-minute journal entry! Or write your one sentence, take a picture and upload to Flickr where you could use the tagging feature to create a 1-sentence library. Or take a picture of something that summarizes your one-sentence and use Flickr's captions to write your sentence. The possibilities with something like this are pretty endless and within there must be something that appeals.

This is one of those relatively quick and easy things that anyone can do to start 1) playing with technology and 2) getting in the reflection habit. Who knows where it could take you?

You Say "Tomato," I Say "Tomahto"

Organic_tomatoes_2 I'm working with the folks over at the e-Learning Guild on a project and had the opportunity yesterday to get a guided tour through their incredibly rich data. One of the practice searches we ran was to look at which online conferencing tools were being adopted in different sectors. What was interesting was that the tools being used by most businesses were NOT the same as the tools being used by education and government. It was like every sector from aerospace to retail was on the same page and then there were the two outliers--the educational community and government agencies.

This got me speculating on not only why this occurs, but, more importantly (to me) how this illustrates a gaping chasm between what happens in business and what's happening in education and government. Now I'm not suggesting that businesses, education and government should all be using the same tools. I recognize that different sectors have different needs and, therefore, might be more likely to use different tools. But what I wonder is if this doesn't contribute to a communication gap? Using the same technology tools tends to give us a common frame of reference. When we don't have that, it becomes more difficult for us to communicate. Might this kind of thing be both a symptom and a cause of communication difficulties between business, education and government?

I suspect that this is on my mind because I've been doing some thinking about something I noticed during the Comment Challenge. Several of the Challenge activities provoked some surprisingly (to me) negative reactions from participants, which, upon further investigation, seemed to indicate that we were having some issues with the language I used.

The first time I noticed this was in the activity where I suggested that people create a comment "policy" for their blogs. Several participants indicated that they didn't like the idea of a "policy" governing comments--they wanted people to be free to say whatever. This caught me off-guard. I personally hate policies (when used in the sense of rules) and I was thinking more along the lines of guidelines when I came up with the activity. But since most people call it a "comment policy" and I knew what I meant, I didn't think twice--just used the commonly referred to concept. That clearly didn't go over well, though.

This happened a few other times, too--on the activity where I asked people to consider how commenting impacting their personal "brand (another word people hated) and the next day when I suggested developing a commenting "strategy."

What I observed in this process was that the people who didn't care for these words tended to come from education, where "policy," "branding" and "strategy" may have some more negative connotations than I intended. It got me to thinking about the issue of culture and communication and how when we don't share a common framework of understanding--when discussions are framed using words that carry powerful positive or negative emotional weight--they can seriously impact communication and trust. (Read George Lakoff's article on framing and politics to see what I'm talking about).

One of the benefits of homophily, of course is that it creates this common cultural language. If I say "brand" to a group of marketers, that's a really positive word--everyone understands and supports the concept. As soon as we start trying to expand beyond our usual circles, though, (like using the word "brand" with educators), issues of language begin to loom larger, even when we think that we all mean the same thing.

All of this has me wondering what we can do to encourage cross-community conversations by being more purposeful in our discussions about language. I can see, for example, that I should have explained in more detail what I meant by some of the words I used during the Challenge activities. This might have prevented some misunderstandings and helped me be clearer myself about what I meant. It also, presumably, would have improved the learning experience for Challenge participants.

It also has me realizing that one of the key work literacy skills we need to cultivate is cultural competence, and not just in the traditional sense of being able to work with people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or with people from different countries. There are cultures all over the place--in different professions, organizations, and communities. They may or may not give the same emotional weight to certain words that we do. It becomes critical for us to be able to recognize when language is impeding our communications and find other ways to operate within the same frames of reference.

What do you think? How can we address these kinds of issues to improve the quality of our communications with others who may not share our same frames of reference? How can we nurture these skills in cultural competence to improve both our personal learning as well as our interactions and work?

How I Got Started with Social Media

California_dreamin0 Karyn Romeis is wondering how people got started with social media and what it's meant to their professional practice. This is part of her dissertation, which she is actually writing on a wiki--a strategy I think is pretty interesting. So here's my story. . .

I've been online since 1995, participating initially in email listservs and forums. I also dabbled in teaching classes with what we, at the time, called a "virtual office"--a website we set up where people could download class documents, listen to "podcasts" (although they weren't called that then) and discuss issues in forums.

  In October 2004, I became deeply immersed in creating art. (The illustrations here are mine--you can see I was a little angsty then).  I spent a lot of time online looking for techniques and resources and in that process, stumbled upon several artists' blogs. These intrigued me, so I got myself a Blogger blog and started sharing my own art online.

Through that process I got comfortable with the conventions of posting, commenting on other blogs, etc. It was a "no-risk" environment because I blogged anonymously and I was blogging in an area of personal interest, not in the professional realm. I felt little pressure to "produce" daily posts, in part because my posts were based on whether or not I had art to post, which tended to happen in spurts.

Interestingly, I was not at all intimidated by the technology. I had glitches and frustrations, but they were problems to solve, not barriers, and in some ways they drew me in more deeply. I also didn't do a lot of reading about blogging, so what I was learning was through trial and error, without measuring myself against some yardstick of how to run a blog or how it should perform. This was probably a good thing because I felt no pressure and could see each thing I learned about what to do on my blog as a little personal triumph that I'd figured out myself. 

As I continued to blog, my posts began to evolve. I went from simple uploads of art with a commentary on what media I used and the circumstances under which I produced a piece into more contemplative posts on the nature of creativity and how to handle dry spells (which should sound familiar to readers of The Bamboo Project). Blogging became not only a way to share art, but also to reflect on the artistic process.Driven_3 

Fast forward to Summer 2006 when I started The Bamboo Project. Initially I ran the blog with a friend, but eventually I took it over myself. I think one of the first places I landed when I started blogging professionally was at Beth Kanter's blog. This immersed me immediately into a whole new world of Web 2.0 technologies. Within a few weeks, I was into RSS, tagging and all things social media. Within a few months, I had started my first wiki and was blogging almost daily.

I think the next evolution in social media and my professional practice occurred when I wrote about my PLE in April 2007 and began exploring the whole issue of personal learning environments. That's when I first started to get more deliberate about using social media for learning.

Things went to the next level with my participation in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge. This was my first major learning experiment. It also connected me to a world-wide community of bloggers from a variety of niches that I've continued to build upon and learn from in ways I never imagined when I first started blogging in 2004. Part of what has happened is that their comments and posts have pushed me to continue to examine my own professional development and practice on a regular basis. When I run out of questions to ask or things to think about, I can always count on my network to push me along.

How0_2I can't even begin to describe how this process has transformed my professional practice. Through it I've met amazing people who have wonderful ideas. But in some ways even more importantly, social media has made me far more reflective and deliberate about ongoing learning. Having a blog has encouraged me to write daily. To do that, I've had to read and research more and interact with the ideas that I'm encountering in order to write my posts. I've become more aware of what I do and why I do it and better at articulating those things for myself and for others.

Social media has made me more experimental, too. I make up projects for myself or join what's going on with other people. I play around with new tools and processes to see how they might work in a number of different settings. I've always been a learner, but I think that social media has made me be a more deliberate learner. Instead of just reading a book or magazine article, I actually interact with what I'm reading and seeing--writing posts, commenting on other people's posts, and creating various projects that allow me to further explore aspects of my profession and various ideas that emerge.

At this point, I can't imagine NOT using social media. Although I burn out from time to time, the benefits far outweigh the problems. Social media has become an integral part of how I do my work and has made me a far better practitioner and thinker in the process.

So that's my story. . . what's yours?

Combating "Birds of a Feather" Syndrome

Marbles For the past few days I've been deep into thinking and learning about homophily, our tendency to connect to people who share similar backgrounds, experiences, interests and values. I've been excited to see a conversation beginning to occur both here in comments and at other blogs. It's interesting to see the conversations evolve and new pieces being added to the puzzle.

As I continue my reading, discussions and thinking, I've delved into some concepts I haven't visited for awhile, most particularly the nature of networks and two types of behaviors that occur to build them--bonding and bridging activities. I think that these offer additional ways to think about the issue of homophily and give us some strategies for creating a better balance for healthier network growth.

Adaptive Networks and the Role of Bonding and Bridging Activities
If you believe in the value of networked learning, it's because you've observed that there's value in the social capital that we develop through our participation in networks. In other words, we benefit from our connections to the people in our network.

However, as Lenore Newman and Ann Dale observe in their paper on Network Structure, Diversity and Proactive Resilience Building, not all social networks are created equal:

". . . networks composed of "bridging" links to a diverse web of resources strengthen a community's ability to adapt to change, but networks composed only of local "bonding" links which compose constraining social norms and foster group homophily can reduce resilience."

This paper raises a couple of issues for me--the idea of bonding and bridging activities and the notion that we need a healthy balance of both to create resilient networks.

Clearly it's the bonding opportunities that attract most of us to social media and the development of our personal networks. How excited we become by finding legions of like-minded people who finally "get us." It's the many instances of "me too" and "I've had that experience" that seem to most draw us together. They are a big part of what makes learning through social media so rewarding--we feel part of a large learning family.

These bonding activities help us build strong networks, but how resilient are those networks in adapting to change? Again from Newman and Dale:

"A densely developed social capital network can, for example, lead to the exclusion of outsiders, make excess claims on group members, and restrict individual freedom (Portes, 1998). Bonding capital has the potential to hinder social innovation by 1) cutting off actors from needed information and, 2) imposing social norms that discourage innovation.

My interest in homophily developed as part of my consideration of why edubloggers and bloggers involved in workplace learning were not having more dialogue on 21st century literacy skills. I realize now that what I was observing was that the bonding behaviors for both groups have been very strong, creating internal cohesion, and a great sense of community. However there have been fewer bridging behaviors connecting the two communities, effectively cutting each group off from learning more from the other. This, in turn, may seriously impact both groups' abilities to adapt to the changes they are currently experiencing.

Bridging behaviors, argue Newman and Dale are what help us create resilient networks:

Bridging social capital allows actors to access outside information and overcome social norms with support from outside the local network, in addition to increasing access to diverse forms of other capital. Because bridging capital brings in new and potentially novel information, it is here that bonding capital provides the group resilience needed to absorb the benefits of bridging capital; the two capitals are complementary. The sheer amount of social capital is not likely to be a good indicator of how well a community will be able to engage problems. It is a dynamic balance of bonding and bridging social capital that builds resilience and makes the difference between a small community “getting by” or “getting ahead” (Dale and Onyx 2005).

What strikes me here is this quote: "The sheer amount of social capital is not likely to be a good indicator of how well a community will be able to engage problems." 

Right now, we have a huge quantity of social capital that is being developed every day. If I look at the communities I'm dealing with, for example, new bloggers come online constantly, adding their voices to the conversation. But the issue isn't the quantity, of course. It's the mix of bonding vs. bridging that goes on that truly is the measure of the effectiveness of the network, both on a large scale, as well as in individual personal learning networks. If my personal learning network consists of people who largely think as I do, then I'm focusing too much on bonding and not enough on bridging and need to find a way to develop greater bridging social capital. It's why sometimes I feel like I'm stagnating ("getting by") rather than growing ("getting ahead.").

Bridge Developing More Bridging Social Capital
The question becomes then, how to engage in more bridging? I actually think it begins with diagnosing my tendencies toward homophily--a homophily self-assessment if you will. This is something I've started to do here and, through comments, discovered that Tom Hamilton is doing on his own blog. The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have it.

I can also start building bridges myself between the various communities I belong to, something that Meryn Stol suggested I do.

But these are relatively simple steps that don't get at some of my deeper concerns. What I'm wondering now are things like:

  • How do I find and connect to more diverse voices online? As I said the other day, I don't know that this is an issue of me being more interdisciplinary--I already read a fairly diverse set of materials. This is more about finding the voices that don't echo what I already believe. I'm honestly not sure how to do that? How do I do a search on "the opposite of The Bamboo Project"?
  • What do I do about not having access to a lot of other perspectives? How do you connect to groups of people who are not online and who may not be part of your physical network either?
  • What are the best ways to build bridges between communities? I can do as Meryn suggested, visit various blogs and leave comments and links to pull the two groups together, but does that work? And if only a few people do it, can you really achieve the critical mass necessary to build the bridges?
  • How do you get homophilous communities to be more open? One of my ongoing frustrations with building bridges between academic and workplace learning communities (both on and off-line) is that both seem to be closed to the perspectives of the other. The work world is dismissive of education as being too "academic" and not getting the real world, while educators feel that businesses don't understand the pressures and issues that they live with. Each may be speaking some truths, but I also think that these are symptoms of the closed networks that each group has created. Homophily breeds intolerance and polarization.
  • How can we get technology to help? The current state of social media is that it tends to build strong bonds, but it doesn't necessarily contribute to building bridges. Nat Torkington has some ideas here on how to mix things up. I'd like to actually see these at work in social software.

This is obviously an ongoing issue for me, something I'm trying to understand as I honestly believe that we will not get the full benefit of social media until we can figure out how to build more resilient networks through bridging social capital.

What ideas do you have for how we could build more bridging behaviors and opportunities into our online activities? How can we find more diverse voices and create connections between different communities so we could learn from each other?

Photos via Michelle Brea and WisDoc

21st Century Workplace Literacy: What Does that Mean and How Do We Engage More People in the Discussion?

Literacy_2 I find that when it comes to learning and instruction, I tend to run in two different circles, as evidenced by the "Learning" tab in my feed reader. Here, I'm following both bloggers from the world of workplace learning (i.e. corporate and organizational trainers and instructional designers) and edubloggers--people who are working in the k-12 and university systems. I do this in part because I tend to be working with both constituencies, so I need to keep an eye on developments in each area. I also do this because it's interesting to see the cross-over (or lack of cross-over) that occurs.

One of the areas that is generates a fair amount of discussion in the edublogosphere is how to define 21st century literacy. What are the skills that students will need in order to be successful in a constantly changing work world? David Warlick, for example, has some ideas here.  Last year, Stephen Downes had some some thoughts on what you really need to learn here.

In a global economy, these are conversations all nations should be having if they hope to remain competitive, and you would think that this would be an area where there would be considerable discussion going on between workplace learning professionals and edubloggers. Interestingly, this does not seem to be the case.  

From what I've observed, edubloggers are weighing in with their ideas about the key skills young people will need to be successful in the world of work, but it's educators talking to other educators without a lot of input from people who are operating in the work world for which students are supposedly being prepared.

This is nothing new of course--education and the so-called "real world" have long been disconnected (at least according to most businesses). However, given our new-found ability to connect the two groups through technology and the high stakes involved, it's unfortunate that we aren't doing more to have joint discussions. And I mean on the ground floor, practitioner to practitioner--not these high level "partnerships" that supposedly bring together business and education but never seem to really mean anything at work or in the classroom.

I see a few issues and implications with this . . .

First, if educators are basically talking to other educators, attending conferences together, running in the same blogging circles, etc., how do they truly get an appreciation for the needs of the workplace? Certainly they can make certain inferences about what constitutes "workplace literacy," but it seems to me that if you're talking about skills that people need to be successful in a particular environment, it would be more productive to reach outside of your educator circle and connect to the people who will be hiring the workers you're preparing.  Shouldn't there be more discussions happening between the two groups?

I don't say this as a criticism as much as an observation. I suspect it has to do with the fact that online we still tend to connect to the people we know and feel comfortable with, but then are we getting the most from the technology if we end up having the same conversations with the same kinds of people? (Amy Gahran has an excellent blog post on this tendency, by the way, and some suggestions for how to reach out to people who are outside of our normal circles).Literacy_2_2

I'm also wondering why workplace learning professionals aren't talking more about the issue of changing workplace literacy and 21st century foundational success skills. We know, for example, that people need to have what we've always called "basic literacy," (reading, writing, math skills) and it's understood that for people to be successful at work they need some minimal level of skills in these areas. They are the scaffolding that allow people to develop more technical skills.

It seems to me that technology and dramatically different ways of doing business (virtual teams, etc.) are drastically impacting our definitions of basic workplace literacy. If we haven't really re-defined workplace literacy, how can we be sure that staff have those underlying skills? I think, for example, that being able to learn new materials and skills quickly is a fundamental workplace literacy. Yet what has been done or is being done to ensure that people who are in the workplace now have those skills? And if they don't, how can they realistically operate in such a fast-paced economy?

Personally what I'd like to see is more conversations happening between edubloggers and workplace learning professionals on the issue of 21s century workplace literacy. The same technology that is impacting our definitions also provides us with the means to have the discussions, although it will mean we have to step outside of our silos.   I know it's too much to hope that we'd start attending each other's conferences (limited dollars, limited time), but at a minimum, it would be nice if we did something virtual to share ideas and generate discussion. I think we'd actually have a lot to learn from each other.

How could we start better connecting the two worlds to further the conversations and define how we could all proceed together to ensure that people have the foundational workplace skills they need to be successful? Is this even an issue?

Photo via Julie Lindsay

A Primer on Pecha Kucha for Learning

Janet Clarey and I are preparing for a session at the Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning conference where we intend to use the pecha kucha presentation style to share several social media tools. This got me to thinking about how pecha kucha is an excellent (and fun) tool for learning, so in this post I'm pulling together a quick little primer on pecha kucha for learning.

What is Pecha Kucha?
Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) is a presentation format originally devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein-Dytham Architecture. Think of it as presentation haiku--a highly structured environment for expressing ideas concisely and clearly.

A pecha kucha presentation consists of 20 PowerPoint slides, 20 seconds per slide, for a total presentation time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. In a live pecha kucha event, you give the tech person your 20 slides, already pre-timed to transition every 20 seconds, so you're forced to keep moving whether you're ready or not. If you do a pecha kucha screencast, it's a little less nerve-wracking.

Probably the most frequently-seen example of pecha kucha in action is Dan Pink's presentation, Get to the PowerPoint in 20 Slides:


Ways to Learn with Pecha Kucha
The most obvious way to use pecha kucha for learning is as an instructional technique. A trainer can use it to present learning content, either in a live session, or through a screencast delivered as an e-learning module. But that's leaving out a big part of what makes pecha kucha fun--having multiple presenters and the energy that comes from that. I also think that one of the benefits of pecha kucha from a learner perspective is that it forces people to get at the essence of a topic or problem. Although it can be a decent instructional tool, I think there's even greater value in having learners use it themselves.

Some of the ways pecha kucha could be used for learning:

  • For learning assessment--At the conclusion of a training session, have each learner present a pecha kucha-style summary of what they learned. This could be done either in a live setting or even in an online course. Learners could  record their pecha kuchas as screencasts or deliver them live via webinar. Most online conferencing systems allow you to change presenters, so you could just switch between the different participants. Could be a lot more fun and interesting than a test or other assessment format.
  • To support reflective practice--As part of creating the culture of reflective practice, consider setting up regular pecha kucha events (lunch time, a Friday morning meeting) where staff are encouraged to share something they've learned related to a particular theme or to share a problem they're experiencing. This could also be used to de-construct a completed project or to reflect on an experience the team has shared.
  • As a form of virtual teambuilding--If you have team members working in various locations, do an online pecha kucha session. This could either be done in real time (through a webinar) or you could have people record their sessions and put them into a wiki. Staff could use the format to introduce themselves to their teammates or to discuss what their department does and how it fits into the larger organization. They can then learn more about the organization and the people they're working with. This could also be a fun way to do Employee Orientation sessions.
  • For an online conference--Invite people to submit pecha-kucha style pieces related to a conference theme or covering a specific tool or topic. These could be embedded into a blog or wiki during the conference, available for viewing once the conference is over. The comments section could be used to invite further discussion and feedback.
  • To share conference learnings--Previously I suggested that the price of admission to a conference should be to share what was learned. Pecha kucha would be a perfect format for this, as in this example on Learning at Learning 2007

If you use pecha kucha for learning, you may want to consider interspersing Q&A sessions in between the presentations. This allows people to dig a little deeper into the topic if necessary.

The advantage of pecha kucha as a learning technique is that it's fun and fast-paced. It's very visual and lends itself well to a multitude of learning situations and audiences--it can be appealing to both the geeks and the salespeople.  It also forces learners to get to the heart of a topic--the "need to know," rather than the "nice to know." And it limits the "talkers," while taking the pressure off the more quiet people in your organization.

Creating a Basic Pecha Kucha Presentation
Pecha kucha is one of those deceptively simple formats that on the surface seems incredibly easy--20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, how hard is that? The challenge lies in taking your topic and making it tell a story within those parameters.

Start by firing up PowerPoint, going to Slide Sorter view and inserting 20 slides. That way you have immediately set up your constraints--you have exactly these 20 slides to use.

Then begin plotting out your "story line." What do you want to say and in what order do you want to say it?  Think of your slides  as a sort of story-board. Put a few words or concepts on each slide to help you set up the "plot." Consider the order in which you're presenting them, too--are they telling the story the way you want them to?

Once you have your basic outline, it's time to start making it look good. Pecha kucha is very visual. Lots of words and bullets are severely frowned upon. You need photos and pictures that will support your points, so try checking out some of these sites to get the visuals you need.

You'll probably want to use PowerPoint's Notes view to write a script for your pecha kucha presentation, particularly if this is your first time doing one or if you plan to record your presentation. At a minimum, you'll need some way to script things out so that you can stay within your 20 second per slide parameter.

Once you have your slides in the order you want them and your script is written, be sure to practice. Out loud. Pecha kucha is about timing, so you need to be sure that your delivery is going to match your slides. Remember, it's 20 seconds per slide. That can either feel like no time at all or an eternity. You want it to feel just right.

Delivering a Pecha Kucha Presentation
Here are some basic guidelines for delivery.

  • Limit the introduction. Having a  30 minute introduction before you start your pecha kucha presentation is kind of cheating isn't it?
  • Create an environment that's conducive to the format. Pecha kucha is more informal and dynamic, so try to create a space and learning atmosphere that supports that. Think karaoke, not classroom.
  • Keep things moving--Ideally you have several people presenting, so keep things flowing and don't get bogged down in the transitions. If possible, have people get their presentations in ahead of time so that they can all be loaded onto a laptop and ready to roll.
  • Consider having Q&A--Again, if you're using pecha kucha as a learning tool, time for questions and answers might be very appropriate, particularly if you're assessing learning.
  • Have fun!

Pecha Kucha Resources
If you want to learn more, here are some additional resources to check out:

  • Pecha Kucha Global--This is the main site for finding pecha kucha sessions around the world.

Pecha kucha may not be right for every organization, but I'd suggest that it's definitely an idea worth considering if you're looking for another way to make learning experiences creative, fun and dynamic.

Anyone using pecha kucha for learning? Drop me a note or a comment--I'd love to hear more about it.

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Reflective Practice: Most Significant Change Stories

Thinking_2 I'm currently leading a project where we are bringing together four nonprofits and 11 young people who have dropped out of high school and/or who are aging out of foster care. There's a lot of data about the bad outcomes for HS dropouts, but not a lot of political will in some areas to do something about it. Through our project we are working with our student teams to help them videotape interviews with their peers and pull together digital stories that make the numbers come alive for people. Our ultimate goal is to put faces with the numbers so that we can engage the entire community in addressing the needs and issues of these youth.

As this is a grant-funded project, one of the requirements, of course is evaluation. This is being conducted by an outside organization using a technique I haven't previously experienced in these kinds of projects--"most significant change stories." Each month our team is required to submit 1-3 stories about what we are learning and how this is impacting the structure and approach of our projects, as well as our outcomes. It's been an interesting experience that has forced us to reflect more carefully on what is happening with our work.

I've written previously about incorporating reflective practice into individual work and organizational culture. This "most significant change story" strategy would be an excellent addition to the process. It could be used to:

  • Regularly reflect on your individual growth or the growth of a department or organization.
  • Measure the progress of various projects, similar to how it's being used with my project.
  • Help you or your organization reflect on crucible experiences, those "trial by fire" times in our life when everything about us is tested.
  • As part of a leadership development or certification training program.

The structure of the process is that we respond to several questions:

  • At what level is the change--individual, organizational, system-wide or community-wide?
  • How was the story obtained? (did it come from personal experiences? Overheard in meetings? Told to you by someone else?)
  • What's the story?
  • Why is it significant?
  • Which project outcome is it impacting and how?

Obviously the specific reflection questions might change depending on the context in which the stories are being gathered.

In our case, we are submitting the stories to evaluators who are compiling them for a final report. If you used this process for reflective practice, however, I would see using social media tools. For example, individual reflections might be maintained in a blog or microblog, like Tumblr. If you were using this as a tool for organizational development, I would create a wiki where there would be a more collaborative opportunity to build upon and comment on the stories, maintaining them in a single repository. If your organization was particularly brave, I'd even open up these significant change stories to your customers, at a minimum so they could see how you reflect on your experiences as an organization. Ideally you'd allow customers to submit their own and/or comment on what you've shared.

To encourage reflective practices, you have to create the right kinds of structures for them to flourish. The most significant change story technique combined with social media might be a good place to start.

Photo via galo/*