Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 in Learning Technologies to the Nth Degree

2014 was an interesting year for learning technologies.  I think it's funny when you look back at the predictions a year or two ago about what was predicted to be big... especially as some of those are still on the radar.  In fact when I wrote about the technological acceleration a couple of months back one of the ironies I didn't mention was that in the learning world we seem to follow that much slower and what is predicted to occur doesn't necessarily come that quickly.  In actual fact if you think about e-learning itself, how long was it 'the next big thing' before it finally hit?

I started the year out with an old favourite topic of mine around capability building and the need to spend the time to do more than just bring in technologies but to spend the time embedding and upskilling.  In fact later in the year I got annoyed with L&D people in general around this various topic and called out to Upskill L&D (I like it because it rhymes too:).

One of the trending topics though for me were around physics.  Well no, not really, they had physics type titles but really they were about analogies and their place in learning.  The most hit of these was the theory of relativity which even had our sales manager reading it (wow, well done Zack) and I followed that up with a quick dip into quantum physics too which looked at the effect of observation on outcomes.

Of course one of the big trends that has hung around for another year is the interest in MOOCs.  I put together a few posts on the emotive subject from MOOCs v eLearning to Stepping through the MOOC minefield (for beginners) and later in the year trying to work out the Essence of a MOOC.  All in all I concluded that MOOCs, not unlike elearning, were a mixed bag and the good ones at heart had some form of interaction (again, not too dissimilar from good elearning).

Of course one of the emergence from my side over the last 12 months has been some of my own crazy ideas added to the world of learning (and everything in general).  My ideas on the power of blurting were probably underpinned by one of my most controversial ideas that knowledge is overrated and the dangers involved in overprocessing.  Lots of this has been part of my own learning picked up through #lrnchat and #pkmchat and of course chatter with other peeps.

All in all I managed to put down 42 blogs this year on Learning Technologies - up 30% from 2013 and up close to 50% in readership.  Thanks for those that have spent any time to read it and I'll try and follow up next year with more of the same :)

Happy 2014 everyone and looking forward to 2015.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Knowledge is Overrated

I think in many ways this will be my most controversial post of recent times as I often find I lose others when I don’t worship knowledge in the same way lots of experts in the learning world do.  I’ve got a stack of reasons for my bold statement; I’m going to add them below and let you argue out whether I’m right or just misguided:

1)  Knowledge is a thing.  It’s not.  Knowledge is not a tangible thing like coins that you can count up and add up in a linear fashion.  It’s not something that you can hold indefinitely or gain interest on like a bank.  Knowledge is relative, it changes, what was right then may not be right now and what is right now may be less so in the future.  You can’t store up every piece of knowledge you ever picked up and suddenly become a wise and wonderful sage.  

2)  Knowledge is static.  It’s not.  It’s a changing beast.  Once we thought the world was flat and that was knowledge, then we knew it was a globe around which everything else rotated, and that was knowledge.  Now we know our place in the universe.  Knowledge.  What will knowledge tomorrow tell us about what we know now?  I don’t know but it will tell us something at least slightly different to we already know.  Knowledge isn’t a stationary and achievable thing, it’s a moving target that you need to move with.

3)  Having knowledge is an end result.  This may be a life is a journey not a destination type argument, but it’s true.  The end result of learning isn’t knowledge (gonna lose some of you here), it’s learning.  Learning is about experiences and changing and evolving what you think.  Knowledge might be your thoughts right now, but if you’re open to evolve you will be open to allowing that to change and reform and change again.  By very definition that’s not our traditional model of knowledge but one of learning.

4)  Knowledge exists in a vacuum.  No.  My favourite expression rears its head again as we need to face up the fact that knowledge if it is changing and shaping and evolving then it needs to be connected to other things.  If you took every possible word in existence today and wrote it in a book (you could call it a dictionary if you wanted!) and then locked it in a safe for 500 years and opened it again would it contain every word in existence?  In fact if you opened it in 10 years or even 5 would it contain every word?  No, it wouldn’t, lol, because language is evolving just like our ‘knowledge’ of the world around us.

5)  Knowledge is higher learning.  No, no, no.  Knowledge based learning has been recognised for some time now in most (admittedly flawed) models as being the lower end of learning.  Testing where you’re asked to recall ‘facts’ is something a parrot could pick up with a bit of training and not the higher end of learning at all.  To move up we need to start looking at applying knowledge and forming new ideas from it and actually challenging some of the ideas of that ‘knowledge’ itself.

6)  To know you is to love you.  Actually I’m not sure about this at all but Madonna’s Austin Powers song Beautiful Stranger just popped into my head and it had the word know in it which was implying knowledge based stuff so I doubt there’s many people that you’d all love just because you knew them and I’ve gone a bit silly now so I’ll stop here...

Next time you go to use the word knowledge I’d like you to stop and think about what you really mean.  I think the vast majority of the time we use the word without really thinking and what we’re really referring to is learning.  I know learning isn’t a noun and knowledge is, but again that ties in to point one, knowledge isn’t really a thing so it shouldn’t be represented by a noun in the first place.  You’re either learning or you’ve stopped learning, and if you’ve stopped learning, well, even if knowledge didn’t fade (and it does) you’d never have any more than you have right now and that’s a shame eh?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Creativity doesn't exist in a vacuum

On of the mistakes organisations often seem to make is around communication, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof.  Successful organisations have worked out that communicating effectively is a very important part of running a business and it really doesn’t matter what your business is.  One of my favourite expressions recently has been about trying to lead an area without the appropriate communications with other areas - ‘leadership in a vacuum’ as I coin it and it really doesn’t work.
Today we had a good #pkmchat where we started talking about creativity.  Most of us agreed that whilst there are creative people (and of course those that are less so), that creativity needed something to spark it off.  I think there are two main types of creativity here, the type where a couple or a group of people bounce ideas off each other and a spark grows and an idea is formed - kind of a communal creativity.  Sure there are some people that contribute more than others and I’m sure there’s a TED video somewhere of the leaders and followers, but the essence is that it’s the overall outcome is greater than the sum of its individual parts and collaborative.  The second type only occurs with truly creative people.  You all know the types, they’re that rare breed that actually do think in a different way to most of us knuckleheads (sorry, no insult meant to anyone beyond myself).  They see things differently and more widely and are often great inspiring people.  What they are not is an island.  Where they draw their inspiration from varies from individual to individual, but regardless of their creativity - it needs something to get it started or to act as a catalyst to bring it out.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum because it simply can’t.  We don’t take a person with great ideas and lock them away in a room where they churn out amazing creative ideas from within.  Even if creativity is held entirely within, we need that jog to pull it out or to form it into something beyond just random thoughts.

Truth is even if I’m wrong (and yes, there’s a fair chance of it) then the propagation and the application of creativity would soon die without others involved.  Creativity without any action is like sparks when you’re cold; they have the potential to light a fire, but the sparks alone don’t make it happen.  When the bright sparks of my analogy meet with the ‘fuel’ that is the rest of us that’s when the ideas ignite and creativity blooms (or booms, I’m lost in my own running metaphors again).  That got a bit convoluted but hopefully you get the idea; creative people cause the sparks but it’s when those ideas get picked up and acted upon and spread and acted upon some more, that’s when something amazing happens… and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

If a tree in a forest falls over and no-one is around to hear it did it really fall?  Or should it be if a spark occurs and there’s nothing around to catch fire, did it really happen? In either the falling of trees or the igniting of sparks even if they still occur… does anyone care?

The good news for us ‘ordinary’ folks is that if I’m right we all have the chance to be a part of creativity.  We may not be the sparks (at least on our own) but with others or with the right approach we can fan the flames.  Here’s the essence part again, it’s not what you know (or more accurately what you think you know) or what you can do but what your approach is.  Put simply creativity doesn’t rely on knowledge - nor does it really rely on ‘skill’ in the generic sense of the word, it takes a certain ATTITUDE.  From #lrnchat we talked about intellectual humility - the idea if you will to change your mind based upon new evidence or another perspective - this is a required part of helping creativity.  If you base everything you know and everything you can do on what is already known how can you be truly creative?

As a final point remember that the most effective ‘blocker’ to more or less anything is a vacuum - an open space caused by some form of isolation.  The only way to travel through a vacuum is to radiate - and unless you know someone so creative that their ideas radiate out for others to absorb, I suggest we fill that vacuum with people and interactions between them.

I’m off to glow now and see if anyone notices :)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Dangers of Over-Processing

When it comes to food we all know that over-processing is pretty bad on the whole and that simple foods are probably better for us than their artificial alternatives.  Funny thing is though, when it comes to setting up organisational processes and even when designing learning solutions it’s all too easy to get carried away with trying to think of every eventuality and plan for it.  For that reason old-fashioned operations manuals were always crammed full of paragraph upon paragraph (upon page upon page) of heavy detail to make sure no stone was ever left unturned.  This is one of those times when taking detail to the nth degree lets in too much of the devil.

The simple reality is that in the world of organisational rules and procedures you really can’t think of everything when you go to great detail.  It’s kind of like getting older and realising that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know and that knowing everything isn’t possible.  The greater depths we go in to describe a process the more closed off our process becomes to slight changes in details.  For example, if your processes are prescriptive enough to outline 5 different types of form depending upon minute detail changes, there’s a chance that there are more than 5 discrete possibilities for use and by prescribing the 5 you cover less people than if you just had one.  Government agencies seem to be the best at this kind of over-processing forms and the like (seriously anything to do with tax and you’ll know what I’m talking about).  What we really need to do to make these type of systems work is make it much much simpler.  The old adage of keeping it simple pays massive dividends in the area of processes.  The first is by having a simple process for a function you’re far more likely for people to follow it and waste less of everyone’s time.  Think about those old ops manuals stuck on the shelf covered in dust whilst employees did what they always did - now imagine bringing in process 234.23 to replace the now defunct 234.18 and wonder why no-one really cares.
One great way to simplify processes is to remove the reliance on heavily worded processes.  Many orgs have moved to process flow diagrams and this can really help keep them simpler.  Of course, just translating into diagrams without making changes to the processes and simplifying them too just gives you horrible diagrams.  I’m a fan of using swim-lane charts which clearly show who has the responsibility for what actions and some simple traffic light colour coding can help too with colours for manual process, documentation and automated elements.  We did this recently with an organisation and I was stunned by the simple story the picture told.  We used red for paper processes, orange for electronic but manual and green for automated.  If you lived in a city with a lot of traffic lights, the picture would represent grid-lock - and that’s essentially what happens with an organisation with heavy reliance on overly detailed processes that require far too much manual and paper type processes to work effectively.

Thing is when you want to cover every eventuality there are actually two ways to go about it.  One is the afore mentioned document absolute every possible eventuality (and be prepared to add to that list as you go and find out more possibilities) and the other is to keep your processes at a more holistic level.  Take for example if you’ve got a number of processes to follow in order to send someone on a training course.  Let’s say you start with some sort of development planning between a staff member and a manager that means the need is determined to attend some training/professional development.  Using the LMS there are certain courses in there, plus the ability to request new ones.  Using the HR system there are also records of conferences and marketing events being held in each of the regions.  Added to that there’s always the ability to review something new and raise an organisational need through the line management.  This could exist as a number of processes depending upon the activity and where or whether it existed, but in essence you’ve really got just one simple process here.  You can ‘start’ with the development plan and then ask the question if this opportunity exists - if it does, they book on with relevant approval and ‘do it’.  If it doesn’t they request it.  They don’t request it in 5 different places they request it in one.  This one ideally has some automation and can simply make sure the approvals or otherwise sit with the right people.  You then just need a process if not approved and link in to the standard process if it does.  Sure there’s approvals and exceptions and blah de blah, but by making this simple for the individual they are far more likely to actually push their request into the system and take on some new learning (kinda the outcome we were hoping for?).  By making your system cyclic you don’t end up having to have a whole different bunch of outcomes for different things, they all end up in the yes or no track one way or the other and both feed back to development planning too if we’ve done it right.

Of course to achieve this we need our ‘systems’ to have the same sort of approach, that is the ability to help us organise and make decisions.  How much time do you want to waste getting people who are already in your systems to fill in a form with their name, date of birth, place of work, manager etc etc when all that information is probably already held centrally?  You’d be amazed at the number of times I’ve seen a 9 step process with 4 forms all of which requiring predominantly the same information.  These are usually paper or printed off for record keeping…argh!  That’s why modern databases were developed - they have audit trails built in.  If you LMS or learning platforms are recording approvals then they are stored in the system and can be reported upon and reviewed.

The other big pain we often find in process is the ‘now send to the next in command’ step that goes backwards and forwards prior to being able to move to step 57 of the process.  We have to put some reliance on our people being able to do what is required of them.  For example, if you want a manager to get some approval on a budgetary manner before approving his staff’s requests you can just state that without including the process.  For example something like a decision box for manager approval with a caveat that managers should ensure they have cleared approvals over their authority with the relevant channel.  Keep it simple - don’t try and include every budget holder and all eventualities, remember keep it at a higher level and empower your people to make those decisions based upon their professional ability.

I was going to go off a bit more on learning and over-processed learning, but I think I’ll save it for another day as we’re landing soon (as usual on the aircraft and blogging) - but the theory is pretty much the same - keep it simple and don’t try to ‘teach’ every possible outcome.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Essence of a MOOC

So here am I self-confessed 'free-thinker' and hater of daft boundaries and... well... models and then during another excellent #pkmchat last week when discussing MOOCs I get the idea that I can put the essence of a MOOC into a mathematical formula of sorts!  Now I ask you, for someone who believes we tend to over-pigeon-hole things and make them into models so that we can give them cool acronyms my theorising shouldn't have been what's the formula for a MOOC, but actually what can we boil a MOOC down to - what's the essence of a MOOC.

In my moment of madness and conformity I came up with the idea that the cMOOCs or connectivity style of MOOCs - the ones where you actually interact with others on the 'course' weren't just limited to Udemy style courses that you enter but that anything involving modern media, something like this:

Twitter + Wikipedia + Google = MOOC

Of course this is actually far from correct because it's not in any way mathematical and putting it into a mathematical formula is dumb.  Thanks also to Bruno Winck @brunowinck for his subtle increase of the formula to add in the word 'people' (I kind of implied that in my mind) and we're almost there.  Except we're not.  It's not mathematical at all, but what we're trying to achieve is work out what the essence of a MOOC is.

For me for a MOOC to be successful it's all about engagement and collaboration.  So rather than reduce that to a formula let me say that the MOOC is essentially about learning through and with others.  In that sense a MOOC is really just about self-paced and, to varying extents, self-directed learning combined with the engagement and contributions with others.

So what that really means is that for many of us, we are already participating in MOOCs of a sort even if we didn't think we are.  I'm interested in learning and I do it at my own pace and entirely self-directed by engaging with others and contributing (hopefully).  What that means is that the MOOC may not actually a thing at all?  My take is that the essence of a MOOC isn't a thing; it's a state of mind or an attitude at least.  Yes, a MOOC is an attitude to learning using the tools in my equation and interacting with people.  Maybe one day it will be represented in common lexicon the way Google now is - "I'll google it" if you will.  What will people say in place of I'm interested in that and I want to learn more about it by looking it up and talking with others and combining and sharing my opinions on it... is "I'm MOOC'ing about that".  Or maybe they'll just say I'm learning about that - and you'll have to press them to find out the way they're learning is in a less formal way using the cloud.

I guess I've just missed one ingredient out in my essence of MOOC.  All of this is fine in theory but it seems that in order for action to take place something has to kick it off - for me learning has to have some sort of driver or need; the motivator if you will.  Some learning clearly states these are the learning objectives; by the end of this course you will be able to... But if we're still stuck in the world where the only way to learn is to have formalised objectives I think we may be a bit off the mark.  For me the motivator is the driver.  MOOCs need to have something to motivate you to learn in the same way as my own learning has to have something to drive it.  Again, I think if we boil this to just objectives it implies the outcome is just the end result - I like to think of learning more about the way we do things - the journey if you will rather than just the destination (is there even a destination?).  But even a journey has a motivator - why do you want to go on this journey.  Yes, it's the 'why'.

Anyway, since this is part of my MOOC I think I'm done for now; please feel free to add to my discussion or disagree if you think I've got it wrong!