Deconstructing the Work Literacy Learning Event

The Work Literacy online learning event is over and Harold Jarche has posted some of what he learned from our facilitation of the course. Time for me to share some of my thoughts. .  

Using Ning for the Course

Our first big decision was what platform to use. We ended up going with Ning because it integrated several different tools (blogs, forums, video and photo-sharing, social networking profiles, groups) at the right price (free). We also wanted to use something that would give people a true flavor of Web 2.0 learning. While Moodle would have been a potential choice, it's still a CMS and we wanted to see what would happen with a tool that was set up for social networking rather than for course management. We also considered using a blog platform (like Wordpress) and having people participate via comments and their own blogs, but decided that Ning might give us a fuller experience of using social media tools in a more integrated way.

From my perspective, Ning seemed to work well. It was more chaotic than if we'd used a structured tool like Moodle, and I know that some people struggled a little with feeling that they couldn't quite connect with what was going on. There was less of a step-by-step feel and more of a networked approach that, at first, was disconcerting.  But I also think with Ning we did a better job of helping people to form more social connections. The profile pages gave a good sense of who people were and I felt like I had more of a handle on having specific people involved in the course, rather than a list of names.

One thing that I think was a MAJOR asset of using Ning was the fact that it made it very easy for people to assume responsibility for different aspects of the course. We saw several people start up smaller study and interest groups and various forum threads that really added to the overall learning. Many people seemed to take ownership of the course in a way that wouldn't have happened with a CMS. That was one of the most positive benefits from my perspective of using a social networking platform--it really did a much better job of creating a community of practice/peer-to-peer learning environment. 

Facilitating the Course

In setting up the course, we focused on a topic per week, with different levels of involvement in the assignments--Spectators, Joiners/Collectors and Creators.  One thing we heard repeatedly was that people really liked the idea that they had permission to be spectators, dipping in and out of readings and forums as they wanted to. This kind of "lurking" behavior is the hallmark of any online course, but I think that participants were happy that being a spectator was a more "official" and sanctioned way of participating in the course, rather than a cop-out.

As Harold pointed out, the Ning platform did require us to act as synthesizers and information connectors  because great nuggets of conversation started in various locations (in individual blog posts, on forums, etc.) and they could easily be lost in the discussions. We tried to stay on top of that, though, and to pull those nuggets to the forefront by posting them on the main page, adding them to assignment pages and/or sending out blast emails to the entire group to let them know what was happening.

What was interesting for me as a facilitator was that I found myself paying much more attention to creating a particular kind of environment and trying to facilitate dialogue in ways that it's harder for me to do in a face-to-face setting. When I'm doing stand-up sessions, it's easier for me to fall into the "sage on the stage" kind of behavior, even when I'm actively trying to avoid it. But in an asynchronous, social environment like we had with the Work Literacy course, I couldn't be everywhere at once and I found that many other people stepped up to "teach" to others. I also found myself paying more attention to how I framed questions and assignments so that they encouraged thinking and dialogue. Not that I don't do this in face-to-face, but there was a different quality to my thinking in this setting.

Another interesting aspect was finding the balance between being an "instructor" and being a community facilitator. As an "instructor," I think that there's a tendency to want to comment on every blog and forum post. But in doing that, I'm reinforcing this idea of me as "expert" or "teacher," that I wanted to avoid. I really wanted to try to move out of that more traditional role and into a facilitator/community-builder role. I will say that in a lot of ways it was harder to do than I'd thought. There's a certain level of backing off that's necessary, but overall I think the community is better for it. 

Was the Course a Success?

I wondered before the course ended if we'd been "successful" and this was one of the questions we asked in the final week. We got some excellent feedback from participants on this issue that primarily indicated that people had defined for themselves what success would be and then participated in activities accordingly.

One big aspect of thinking about this was the level of participation. We saw a drop-off in the number of people contributing to forums, blog posts, etc. as the weeks went by, so we naturally had to wonder what this meant. I'm still not sure (Harold wonders if the course lasted too long, something I've asked too), but I'm not sure that participation is really the true measure of success anyway. Or at least it's not the only measure we could use.

What I do think we managed to do was create and foster a community of practice that, for a period of time, brought together a large group of people who wanted to work together on learning about using Web 2.0 tools for learning. Through this network of connections and discussion, we also created an excellent resource that will be available to other people who may want to explore these tools on their own, at their leisure.

I know that for myself, I "met" and had an opportunity to engage with the thinking and ideas of some really smart, interesting people--and even had an outstanding lunch with one of the participants, Catherine Lombardozzi, who happens to live in the Philadelphia area. So for me, at least, this was definitely a successful and enriching experience.

What Would I Do Next Time?

  • I say this every time I do an online learning event, but I think that I'd shorten the course. If you're doing activities every day (like we did for the Comment Challenge), I think it needs to last only a week, maybe two. If we're doing one topic a week, I'm thinking that it shouldn't go longer than a month. More chunking and some breathing time in between might keep energy levels up.
  • I would definitely do the three levels of activities again, at least in circumstances where that's possible. I think that explicit permission and encouragement for lurking really helps people. At the same time, I have to then be prepared for the fact that they WILL lurk.
  • I will be more consistent with some of the structural aspects of the course. One strategy we used was to set up a forum to ask people what they wanted to learn about the next week's topic, but we didn't do that every week. I was trying to fit in the course around work stuff and some weeks were better than others for keeping up with different components. I need to be a little more planful on some of these pieces the next time around. There's only so much "building the plane while you're flying it" that I should do.
  • I would definitely use Ning again for a project like this. Overall there was a lot of flexibilty and functionality that we were able to access and I do think that it encouraged more group ownership than we might have had using a blog or CMS platform.
  • Related to the group ownership idea, I will be more explicit next time about inviting group ownership and suggesting that people feel free to take the learning in directions where they'd like. Paul Lowe volunteered to run a webinar (which was excellent), but he volunteered on his own. Next time I'd have explicit invitations for people from the outset and provide ideas and instructions to encouraget that thinking. (Although is there an advantage to waiting for things to evolve organically?) 

Overall, this was an excellent experience. I will say that I'm ready for a break though. :-)

Implementing Social Media: A Tale of Two Case Studies

A couple of interesting posts from Nathan Wallace on his organization's experiences in implementing a wiki and then a year later, a customized microblogging platform called Jitter. You need to read both, but here are some key points:

The organizational wiki seems to have been adopted more quickly and used more extensively than the Jitter solution. This is in part, Nathan says, because the wiki was responding to a need, while Jitter was trying to create demand:

Open collaboration and idea sharing are common organisational goals, but that doesn’t mean there is latent demand among the people of the business for the tools that enable it. With any new organisational capability, always stay focused on end users and helping them to solve a problem.

While Jitter is a highly flexible tool that people are already using for a wide range of purposes, we didn’t do enough to position this new communication medium or to demonstrate the business value. People didn’t know how to use this new tool. Some feedback was negative, but overwhelmingly people asked “What do I post to it?”, “What’s the business value?”. Without clear answers, people just waited to see what others would do.

Related to the idea of launching a social media solution in response to a particular need, the organization's wiki was piloted as an information source related to the moving of the company's head office. As Nathan points out, "Nothing drives traffic like a seating plan for a new office."

He also has some great advice on dealing with people's concerns about people making "improper" changes to a wiki:

Predictably, the main argument against this system was fear of improper changes to content, particularly for information subject to regulatory control. I would counter this argument in two ways:
  1. There are two ways to control people's behaviour: social forces and technical forces. Currently, we successfully rely on social forces to control a wide range of things like who calls or emails the CEO with their latest crazy idea. Technical forces are powerful, but with each technical feature we increase training and raise the bar against collaboration. Surely, we can see if social forces will be enough for all but the most critical of content?
  2. Anyone can choose to monitor any content that they are concerned about (e.g. automatic email alert with changes). So, they can quickly jump in and correct any mistakes.
  3. For exceptional cases, we may choose to lock down critical content and define clear ownership and responsibility for its maintenance.

It also seems that there are real challenges to implementing microblogging in the enterprise:

Microblogging is particularly difficult to position as a business tool since it’s so hard to say anything worthwhile in so few characters. For an organisation starting the journey of sharing ideas and thoughts, blogging may be an easier starting point. Posts can be more serious and business like. Blogs are better known, and at worst look more like normal web pages. Authors can craft and position their entries to meet the political challenges and communication realities of the enterprise. Even if your organisation is ready for fast thoughts and short posts, authors can evolve towards really short blog entries.

Note that this doesn't say that microblogging shouldn't be used in the enterprise. Nathan suggests that it might not be a great starting point though.

Finally, check out this excellent article on implementing Web 2.0 in a 1.0 Culture. In it Nathan discusses the two cultural barriers to collaborative tools in the organization--sharing knowledge adds more work and sharing knowledge increases personal risk. Then he outlines some strategies for minimizing these barriers. He also proposes four values for building Enterprise 2.0:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  2. Ease of use over comprehensive training.
  3. Flexible tools over completeness.
  4. Responding to needs over creating demand.

Really great stuff, well worth your time. 

Has the Work Literacy Course Been "Successful"? How Do We Know?

I'm on my way out the door, but wanted to post this question. . .

Ken Anderson has been participating in the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08) course and on Friday asked if the course was failing:

I wonder how many are left actively participating and/or monitoring the CCK08 course.  Some 2100+ allegedly originally registered, with 18 seeking credit. The Moodle forums have been drying up over the last 3 weeks, and the reported blogs trickle to a few postings during the week and some repetitious posting of the same in the Daily.  Elluminate sessions run at less than 30 participants, down to the teens on one occasion.  I don’t know the status of the 2nd Life group nor whether there is participation in any other areas.

As we're ending the Work Literacy course this week (don't worry--all the resources will be online for the forseeable future), the issue of defining "success" in an open, social media-enhanced course like this is definitely on my mind.

Should we define it by the number of people actively posting to the site? As with the CCK08 course, we've also seen a drop in activity in the forums and blog postings, but since we specifically gave people the opportunity to participate only as spectators, it's hard to know if a lack of forum postings should be our measure of success--or failure. I will say that when you see fewer discussions happening, there's a tendency to think that something's happening, but what that is, I can't say for certain.

Should we be looking at how many people visit the site? According to our Analytics, the visits each week to the site have been fairly steady, peaking early in the week and then falling down as we approach the weekend. This we expected, because we post each week's activities on Monday. There is also the option of following forum discussions via RSS, so we don't know how many people are participating that way.

Should "success" be defined by individual learners? That is, since this was an open course that allowed people to set their own levels of participation, should the measure of success really be a matter of individual opinion?

And none of this is getting at deeper levels of evaluation, like did people learn new skills and are they applying them to their personal work and their work with learners? We have some anecdotal evidence from participants that people were learning and trying out new things,  but this was a very informal course, so what "proof" we have is pretty informal too.

I guess my big question is, how do we know if this was something we should do again? What should we be thinking about and how should we be measuring what we accomplished over the past several weeks?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, either in comments here or, if you're a member of the Work Literacy course, in the forum I set up to discuss the issue.

Negative Online Behavior is a Product of Culture, Not Your Social Media Tools: What I'm Learning from the Work Literacy Course

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked when talking to people about using social media for learning in organizations is how do you "manage" comments and how do you deal with people "being negative." There's a general fear that once you open the floodgates to participation, you're going to be inundated with people acting inappropriately and unprofessionally.

Although I think this is a fair question I think that 1) it says more about the organization than its employees and 2) my experiences have not borne out the idea that using blogs, wikis, and social networks is an invitation to unrestrained nastiness or anarchy--unless that's the culture in which your employees are already operating. 

Now that we're winding down the Work Literacy course, I can see one more example that offers additional insight into this issue.

Over the past 5 weeks, we've had almost 3,000 unique visitors to the community.  As of today, 749 people from around the world created profiles, wrote on each others walls, "friended" each other and sent private messages.  Sixty forum threads have been started with hundreds of replies. Forty five blog posts have been posted to the network and countless others have been posted on people's personal blogs outside of the Ning. We've created a Work Literacy wiki and set up a Delicious tag where people were invited to contribute their links. Seventeen videos/presentations and 34 photos have been added to the site. Four groups have formed and they are having their own active discussions through forums and on wikis they've created outside the space. We've also held two "live" events online.

I've personally read through just about every forum and blog post, except for those written in a language other than English. I've also visited many members' profiles and checked out the photos and videos. Despite all this activity, nowhere in any of this has there been an "inappropriate" or unprofessional exchange. That's right. I haven't received a single complaint from a participant about "bad behavior" nor have I seen anything myself.  That's saying something, especially when you consider that these people are essentially strangers to one another and could behave inappropriately with no real ramifications.

Now why this is the case. Is it because I just haven't seen anything? I doubt it. I think that with this many members, if there was some kind of problem, we'd know about it.

Is it because participation is voluntary? Maybe. That would certainly contribute to an overall sense of positive participation if you know you're doing this because you want to, not because someone told you you had to. But just because participation is voluntary doesn't mean that people won't break out into flame wars, etc. Look at TRDEV.

Is it something about how we've framed discussions and the fact that positive culture begets positive culture--that is, people are modeling for each other what is considered to be acceptable behavior in the community so anything different would be incredibly jarring? Is it because we're showing respect for each other as a community and not assuming that people will behave inappropriately?  Definitely. I don't think that there's the space for negative or unprofessional behavior at Work Literacy because everyone who is participating is a professional and is committed to creating a particular kind of learning environment. Further, as facilitators, Tony, Harold and I didn't expected anything different. We just assumed that we were all here to learn, so how could we find the best ways to do that?

Here's a story about the community  culture that has developed that further illustrates my point. One member of the community was clearly there to sell a product. To the extent that he participated, via a few forum discussions and sponsorship of a webinar,  it was to push his own agenda.

When I saw how this person was interacting, I was at first tempted to say something, especially when he posted an event to do a webinar on his product. But then I decided not to do anything about it. I wanted to see what would happen. Maybe people were OK with what he was doing and were interested in what he was selling. I figured that if someone complained about it to me, then we'd deal with it, but as an experiment, I was curious to see how things would play out.

What happened was this. People totally ignored him. No one signed up for the webinar. No one responded to his discussions. They simply didn't engage. And as a result, he became a non-entity on the site.

Now that may sound harsh, but I think it's a great example of the positive self-policing quality of these communities. When people behave in "inappropriate" ways, the community members often handle it themselves. In this case, a member "selling" something is relatively innocuous behavior, so ignoring it is the best approach, which is what they did. I suspect that if something more overt had happened, they would have shown equal wisdom in how to handle it. This kind of behavior is what I've seen repeatedly and the Work Literacy project is just one more example.

This is the conclusion I'm drawing from using social media for learning. If people have negative experiences with using social media in their organizations--if people are behaving unprofessionally or inappropriately--I think that there's something a lot deeper going on that social media is simply bringing to the surface.

I think you're right to question "will I get negative comments on a blog" or "what happens if people say bad things about our organization on our social network?" Those are good solid questions and you should have a plan for dealing with them.

However, unprofessional behavior does not arise in a vacuum. It's a product of organizational culture. Social media will make that culture visible, so when you ask "will people vandalize our wiki?" what you're really asking is something about the quality of your organization's culture.

Now, you could let your fear of negativity hold you back from implementing the tools,  or you could decide to dive in and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised (which is more often the case). Or you may unleash a storm of problems. If the storm is released, however, it might be the best thing that could have happened for you.  You've been fortunate enough to find out exactly where the pain is in your organization so that you can begin talking about how to address it. 

Saying "We won't do a blog because our employees will leave negative comments" is simply saying that you don't want to know what people are already saying. Because believe me, if they're going to be negative on a blog, which is a public forum, you can only imagine what they're saying behind your back. 

The other thing I'm realizing as I continue to participate in and manage these social media-enhanced learning events is that, if anything, social media brings out the best in people. There is an inherent sense of sharing, transparency and community that these tools can build that I've seen over and over again. Yes, in the wrong hands you can have some serious problems. But those problems existed before you started using the tools. If you really want to address what's happening in your organization, I'd suggest that you actually delve into the positive uses of social media because they may give you one of the best opportunities for ongoing dialogue and problem-solving that you'll ever see. 

Some LinkedIn Resources

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: linkedin kawasaki)

It must be LinkedIn day, because in addition to this great presentation I found from Guy Kawasaki, I also see that LinkedIn has launched a suite of Applications that you can add to your profile, including apps for:

  • Your Amazon Reading List
  • Slideshare
  • Linking your Wordpress or Typepad posts to your profile
  • so you can share documents via your profile
  • Google Presentation
  • Company Buzz so you can see what people are saying about you on Twitter

Chris Brogan has more about how you should be using LinkedIn Applications here. Still some bugs to be worked out, though. I've been trying to add my blog and it's been doing some funky things.

What to Say the Next Time Someone Asks Why They Should Blog

Picture 1 Although WIRED is now claiming that blogs are dead, I'm not buying that. Maybe they're dead to a minuscule group of people who are easily bored and only talk in 140 character spurts, but if learning is reduced to tweets, I think we're in big trouble. It's that kind of short-term, surface discussion of issues that in my opinion has contributed to the current world-wide financial crisis we're in. Life is becoming more complicated, not less so, and Twitter comments and writing on someone's Facebook wall will not get us out of this mess.  We need more sustained discussions and reflection, the kind that's supported by blogging.

This 1 1/2 minute video with Seth Godin and Tom Peters pretty much sums up my response for why blogging is important. Seth says that it's the meta-cognitive process of reflection on what you do and the humility of explaining yourself to an audience. Tom says that no single thing in the past 15 years has had such a profound impact on his professional development:

        "It has changed my life, it has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it has         changed my emotional outlook--and, parentheses, it's the best damn marketing tool I've ever seen."

Plus, as Seth points out a few times, it's free.

Blogging, Podcasting and Screencasting with ASTD Cascadia

I'm just back from a long week of training and Wii bowling with Christine Martell, which explains my unanticipated blogging break. I had intended to write, I swear, but somehow time changes and cross-country travel got in my way. And yes, the afore-mentioned Wii bowling didn't help either.

One of my stops was to Portland, where I did a day-long session on blogging, podcasting and screencasting with about 25 members of ASTD Cascadia.  I took care of the beginner track, while Christine, Kevin Jones and Dave Richards handled the advanced group. Really interesting experience. We had about a 50/50 split between public and private sector folks, although it seems that they're all struggling with similar concerns about access, privacy and control.

To start, I showed them the Work Literacy course and how we're using these online tools to facilitate the "class." We wanted them to get a sense of how all of these pieces can work together to support learning in a way that's different from their usual structured e-learning activities. We also discussed the Comment Challenge and SpanishPod and a few people shared some of their own experiments with social media and learning. Then we broke the larger group into beginners and advanced to explore the three different topic areas.

Although we started out with some level of structure (you can see the wiki we put together for the class here), we also wanted to leave things a little open to explore the questions people had about social media in general. We covered a lot of territory in a short period of time, but I think the most valuable thing for people was the chance to be hands-on. I had a few people tell me that they were surprised at how easy it was to use the tools--they had thought creating a blog was a much bigger deal.

We also pointed out that what we were doing in class is part of the nature of informal learning with social media where people are experimenting for their own purposes, helping each other when they run into trouble, etc. Learning is definitely a little messy compared to more structured activities.

One really interesting point that came up was around deployment. Most people seemed to be looking at larger-scale implementations ("We need to have blogs and wikis around here") where they would need to get permission from higher-ups. I could see the old LMS model in there where you have to get all this buy-in and support to implement things on a large scale. But as we discussed, the beauty of social media is that you can sneak it in and play around with it before you start looking at large-scale implementation. Use a blog for a few classes or within a department so you can start to gather information on how that might work. Manage your next project with a wiki or start using social bookmarking to work with a group of learners. It's the "beg forgiveness" school of design, where you have a chance to experiment before going into full-scale deployment. This also allows you to build a business case based on real-life experiences. 

Enough for now. Now let me close with a photo of Herman the Sturgeon taken by Christine from our visit to the fish hatchery in the Columbia Gorge. When you visit Christine, this is where she takes you.  


Week 4 on RSS and Aggregators is Up at Work Literacy

We're embarking on Week 4 of the Work Literacy learning project. This week it's RSS and feed readers.

Although the thrust of the module is primarily about how learning professionals can learn and manage information by subscribing to feeds, I find that I'm more interested in how we can use feeds as learning tools for the people with whom we're working. For example, I continue to be in awe of the way Spanish Pod leverages their feeds--they make it easy for you to create your own personalized feed of lessons based on your level of language proficiency or the types of situations (like food, greetings, travel, etc.) you want to develop.

I also think that we could be setting up a variety of themed feeds using Netvibes or Pageflakes that would make it easy for people to add pre-selected categories to their readers. Imagine, for example, pre-selected feed tabs for different occupational areas or for new hires or for industry trends. This is a service that learning professionals could easily take on as part of the performance support aspect of their work.

Diigo's Web Slides feature is another way to leverage feeds. It turns your feeds and bookmarks into an online slide show that includes Diigo's commenting features. You can put audio with the slides to give a guided tour or create a tutorial.

What other ways could we be getting creative with how we use feeds with learners?

Blogging for Learning--"Audio Blogging"

This is the last (for now) in my series of posts on using blogs for learning.

Earlier this week, Lee Kraus wrote a post on finding the time to blog. He mentioned that he has a two-hour drive every day, which leaves lots of time for thinking, but not for writing. Time is always a challenge for bloggers, but if you're in the car two hours a day, audio blogging (podcasting) might be something to consider.

A great option for this would be Gcast, which lets you record a podcast from your cell phone. You simply set up your free account and then when you're ready to record, you call a toll-free number and start blabbing into your cell (hands free, of course). You're also able to upload podcasts you've recorded from another source, but for easy, on the fly recording, the cell phone option is a good one, I think. Once you're done, it can be uploaded directly to your blog.

Some possible uses?

  • Record and share audio at meetings, conferences and workshops
  • Record and share interviews with SMEs or with speakers at conferences.
  • Create mini audio lessons that staff can download onto their computers or mp3 players and listen to at their convenience.
  • Document success stories and best practices--in their own words.
  • Have people introduce themselves for an audio employee directory.
  • Have learners create audio journal entries--maybe describe what they learned as the result of a training event or as an ongoing professional development activity.
  • Create learning channels--maybe a leadership learning channel where you create and share podcasts on leadership lessons and issues or a channel for different professions to share best practices and ideas.

Here's a quick guide to using Gcast. This guide is helpful too (PDF).

What do you think? Does podcasting have a place in the blogging for learning toolkit? How do you see something like Gcast working as a blog learning tool?

Blogging and "E-Flective" Practice

Over at Work Literacy this week, we hosted a great webinar on using blogs for reflective practice. It was run by Paul Lowe, who is a senior lecturer and course director at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. You can access the recorded session here. Just click on the link and then log in as a participant without a password and it should start playing.

Terry Carter posted a nice summary of the webinar here. Paul's own reflections on the experience are here and Harold Jarche added some additional thinking here. Unfortunately a client call intervened and I wasn't able to attend the live version, but I'm planning to go through the recording this week because by all accounts, it was a really engaging discussion.