I miss you

I’m working on a project outside of the learning field right now. It’s a great opportunity and I feel like I’m learning a lot.But I miss learning. I never thought I would – I’ve never had that passionate feel for the learning field that some of my colleagues have. In fact for the last 2-3 years I’ve wanted to move out our beloved field to give myself a new challenge.

Now that I’m experiencing that challenge, I realize how much I miss learning. I guess you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.

Categories: career

Learning from mistakes

I love how some people can tie their regular daily lives back to learning … like “everything I know about learning design I learned from raising a puppy”. My work & personal lives have never been that synced up. I did however, have the following “AHA!” moment recently about how people learn more from mistakes than from doing things correctly.

I planted my first garden this year – I mean I did the whole thing… bough the seeds, planted them, talked to them every day, dug the rows, planted my new seedlings outside in perfectly straight rows, admired them, bragged about them… the whole thing.

And then a rabbit ate all but a row of peas. I’d been told to use chicken wire to keep the animals out. I’d been told to plant them in the backyard so I could keep an eye on them. And… I’d been told to plant them in pots so they could be covered more easily. Obviously I didn’t follow the instructions of the seasoned gardeners.

I made a mistake. I’m now starting over – I bought more seeds, I planted them, I talk to them every day, and next week I’ll dig my rows and cover them neatly in chicken wire.

If the worst case scenario hadn’t happened – I wouldn’t have learned how to properly garden in an urban area.

Instructions aren’t enough – people learn by their mistakes and the feedback they get as a result of those mistakes.

Categories: gardening, learning Tags: , ,

Life in a new role

November 9, 2009 2 comments

I’m a learning designer. Most days I’m creating a design doc, writing a storyboard, researching new learning approaches, reviewing developed courses, facilitating client meetings.

The projects are always different, but the work is fairly similar.

Until about six weeks ago.

I started on a new project as a project lead for the content management portion of a portal implementation/migration.

It’s not a huge stretch. As a learning designer I often have to manage content: sorting, reducing, generating, categorizing. Even the project management component wasn’t a big leap from my production management responsibilities on a project.

I was excited and nervous.. ok petrified.

The thing that was enormously different was the team I was on. Even working with clients the IBM team I work with (project manager, client execs, developers, editors, etc.) know me. They know what I can do and what I can’t do. Just like I know them. And we supplement each other in terms of skill. It’s a wonderfully symbiotic relationship and truly benefits the client. They get all the strengths and few of the weaknesses.

However, it makes it more challenging to grow. One has to be very agressive in one’s career development to push past the expectations.

This project was going to be different – I hadn’t worked with anyone in this division of IBM before. So, I’d have to rely on my own skills, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses to get me through.

I’m only 1/2 way through the project. There have been ups and downs. Mistakes and successes. Questions, research, answers, and exploration. And along the way I noticed that I’ve been able to pick out what MY strenghts are and what MY weaknesses are. With no team (that knows me) to compensate for the areas of project management that I struggle with, I’ve noticed where I need to build my skills are lacking and where I excel.

Experiential learning is always promoted as an excellent way to learn. We enable students to learn by making mistakes, trial and error, basically by experiencing the new skill or knowledge.

I’ve designed it, but I’ve never fully experienced this concept. Working through an experiential learning opportunity feels a little bit like working one of thos American Gladiator sets – I keep get whacked upside the head my a large foam bat. I keep going because I know that eventually I make it to the end of the gauntlet.

This experience has shed some light on a few things for me:

1. It’s hard and humbling to take advantage of the support systems in place. I think we need to make it easier and friendly for learners to take advantage of support. I have three mentors and I still feel like I have to apologize for taking their time, that is, when i actually take advantage of the relationship (I am getting better at this part).

2. Without reflection, it’s almost impossible to find the growth areas, although it’s very easy to see your strenghts.

3. It’s not enough to engineer obstables to promote learning by mistake. The learner has to be willing to accept the failure as a learning opportunity.

I’m struggling to finish this post – I think because I’m not finished the journey of this new role. I’ll be posting more on experiencing experiential learning first hand. Hopefully that will help to clarify my thoughts.

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Thinking online?

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about thinking…. and how/where I do my best thinking. I work online – I design eLearning on virtual teams for clients that are often in another country. I share, connect, collaborate, engage, and discuss online for my work everyday. And I like it.

But I think on paper. If I had my way, I’d think on a giant whiteboard the size of my cubicle, but I don’t think IBM will pay for it 🙂

That’s my dirty little secret. I think on paper. I use a blue (or black in a pinch) and a red pen and I draw lines, circles, words, etc. I underline for emphasis and I put a star next to points that are really important. It’s a simple system. It’s a flexible system. And I keep it a secret for the most part.

When my thought process is done I might write up the results in bullet points or in a presentation and post it online.

I’ve tried mindmaps. I’ve tried Visio. I’ve tried all the office suite products to document my ideas during a thinking session. But ultimately it comes down to my little black book and two pens.

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Categories: visual thinking Tags: , ,

Social Learning – a review of the review

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

One of this week’s social learning questions of the day (SLQOTD) on twitter was to post our thoughts on Richard Bacal’s controversial review of ASTD president, Tony Bingham’s article on social learning (Learning Gets Social).

When I initially read the question I was curious as to how controversial one could be when discussion social learning. We’ve been doing it for centuries after all.

Was I ever wrong.

In an effort to be fair, I attempted to read both the original article and the critique. However after about 15 minutes trying to access the ASTD article, and refusing to pay for the membership, I gave up. It could be user error, but I simply could not access the content without a membership (as an aside, I had already registered at ASTD.org and had a customer number, but that did not appear to be sufficient).

In the end I only read Bacal’s review of the article. I tend to agree with a two of his key points and disagree with a third.

The first point I agree with, we don’t define the terminology. Social learning, informal learning, formal learning, etc. are tossed about as though they are common language. The concept is old, but how we use them now is new. Quite frankly I agree, define your terminology up front or in an appendix so both you and your readers are on a level playing field. This applies to everyone, not just Bingham.

To drink my own champagne here… For me, personally, social learning is the increase in knowledge or skills obtained from others (online or in person) by leveraging their experiences (context) or joint experiences. Informal learning is the ad-hoc learning that takes place on the job, in response to an immediate need for knowledge/skills. Obviously these definitions apply to workplace learning and may change over time.

Next, I’d also agree that we’ve stopped referencing reliable, verifiable data. I feel like the “learning profession” has taken on a mob mentality with respect to social learning. We’re all shouting about how great it is and how you’ll be left behind if you don’t jump on the bandwagon immediately. Whether or not that’s true, how do you make a business case to engage a consultant or internal staff to address this apparent gaping hole in your learning strategy without information on potential results. Now, I’m not a measurement “expert”, but I can appreciate why “social learning” seems a bit woolly to some.

Do I have the data? No… I don’t, I have anecdotal evidence from my own experience and the experience of my peers. Is that enough? Maybe to start implementing these solutions within my own team, but I’m not sure my clients are going to buy in to it very easily.

The one area that I don’t agree wholeheartedly with is that social learning and informal learning aren’t new and shouldn’t require so much emphasis. While the concept and the actual actions associated with social learning and informal learning have been around for years (and years and years) the tools that we’re using are different – microblogging, social networking sites, blogging, shared bookmarks, peer-to-peer learning, wikis, etc. do change how you interact. And while I will likely google the answer to my next “must know now” question, I will also post it on twitter to see what I can find out from others. I might get the answer in an hour or in a week, but the information is still welcome and likely from someone I might not be able to pick up the phone and call.

Ultimately, Bacal raises some valid points in his critique. However, the harshness of his words and the tone of his post make it challenging to find agreeable points in his rant. I’m looking forward to the third part of his critique to see where he takes it.

Picture this….

I can’t draw. I blame my parents – my sister got the art genes and I got the math genes. It never really bothered me until I started becoming more involved with the visual aspects of the courses I design.

When I struggle to represent my ideas visually, how can I expect an artist to interpret my words correctly? I can’t.

So I’m exploring how to use my mastery of the stick figure to enhance the visual representation of my ideas. I started with David Armano’s Thinking Visually SlideShare.

I pulled two things from this presentation that made a difference to me:

1. See the world as a child – I’m reading this to mean simplify the visual to represent the idea, not to be an explicit, complete thought. I tend to get caught up in the details of a picture I’m trying to create, rather than looking at the concept.

2. Make it tangible, make it stick – it’s not enough for it to be pretty. It has to be relevant to the audience and memorable for the audience… huh… very much like learning does.

hello epiphany

Tools I use as an ID

February 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I should probably start by rephrasing that… I use the tools below “as an ID” because that’s what I do with 90% of my daily work. I don’t necessarily use these tools to design though… just to make it easier to do my job.

I regularly get the “what tools do you use???” question from my peers & managers. I usually answer with a standard “oh you know… the usual – blogs, wikis, email, SameTime (instant messaging).” But for some reason, I thought about it a little more this time…. and actually made a list.

The tools I use every day include:

  • Twitter via TwitterFox
  • Feed reader –> I use an internal IBM product so that I can track our internal blogs as well.
  • Pass It Along –> Peer-to-peer learning tool
  • Tommy! –> Firefox extension internal to IBM that displays a pop-up of the IBMer’s corporate directory profile
  • Quickr –> An internal IBM team collaboration space with “connectors” that actually let me use the web-based tool directly from MS Office, my task bar, and Lotus Notes

Most of what I use is within the IBM firewall… why? Because I work for IBM. The tools I use help me work not only with my clients but also with my colleagues.

When I was explaining my list to my colleague, I realized that pretty much everything I use is embedded in something else. I’ve slowly passed over the tools that don’t enable me to work more efficiently for those that help me seamlessly.