Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Disqus v Google Plus is this the Betamax VHS thing all over again?

A big part of my learning these days is to focus on the interactions - one of the most key ways to do this is by commenting on other's blog posts and interacting with those that comment on mine.  A couple of years back I changed up Blogger standard comments to Google + and it was a great move where I got to see a lot more interactions and comments.  Of course one of the problems with G+ means you must have a Google account (and some people still don't believe it or not).  So a few weeks back I made the bold move to embrace Disqus - if you don't know it (where have you been?) Disqus is exactly as it sounds; a service setup for interactions and discussions.  The problem is that this had the unexpected effect of killing off all my Google comments from under the blog which left a large number of my posts feeling somewhat naked and lacking a large part of the learning.

I had hoped that the Disqus option would create more interaction and even with the loss of historical data this would help... but so far I have to say that Google was (and still is perhaps) creating more buzz than Disqus.

The daft thing is it feels like VHS and Betamax all over again.  Why should we have to choose?  Why does Disqus say you have to turn off Google to work?  Why can't Google allow other services to work together? (why do I have to have a Wordpress account to comment on other's blogs too when I don't use Wordpress myself?).  Too many questions and not enough answers.  The answer is to the big guns out there that by making us choose you're limiting the social interactions and learning.  Hopefully as we move forwards there will be a more unified approach to commenting that stops forcing people down one road or another.

I'm going to experiment with turning G+ back on for the blog and see what happens... if my comments come back I'll let you know.

If anyone else has tried and knows the best way to keep the comments rolling without losing your historical stuff let me know... and as always if you disagree with anything I said I'm glad to hear about it!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Does Micro-learning even exist?

After another useful #pkmchat on Twitter around the topic of #microlearning and a great blog post by Tom Spilanin, I got to thinking again about the term.  If you've not picked up on one of the more recent terms out there micro-learning is all about small bite-sized chunks of learning that can fit more conveniently into the modern chaos of lives that we tend to live.  The idea being that they are very accessible and can be quickly assimilated to fit in with everything else we do.  Or is it?  Maybe Mirco-Learning is just a fancy way of taking the same content and breaking it up into a whole lot of smaller bits?  Or maybe micro-content is actually about not trying to provide all the content but acting as a guide to learning - rather than being a knowledge based 'thing' it's about provoking thought and further study in the learner?

In either case we're probably talking about micro-content more than micro-learning.  I guess the only issue with my own argument here is that all learning is a bit like that.  If someone makes a learning activity or a piece of learning content, the truth is that actually they just make content - if someone learns from it then it becomes 'learning'.  Does that mean learning itself is relative?  Yes, actually that's exactly what it means - call it a kind of quantum learning if you will, where only if learning takes place do we actually know it's learning.  Okay, so I'm waffling off topic a little here and caught up in the semantics a bit, but the point I'm trying to make is that when we make content that can be distinctly different from the learning.  The reason that's important for us in learning is that as we focus on making smaller bite-sized chunks we need to focus again that these are not the whole solution and the micro-content doesn't need to be the micro-learning in total.

You could go further still.. what if the content was micro-sized but with your short burst of information or direction someone spent several hours (or more) off following where your prompt had started?  Surely if someone spends hours or days on learning then it becomes learning rather than micro-learning?  Under the same guise if you make a large learning piece (content) like a book maybe and someone just flicks through and reads one bit or searches for a particular quote for example and then stops their 'learning' at that point is that an example of micro-learning?  The point is to call the learning micro insinuates that the learning is done in a very short amount of time rather than the content being short.  Again if you work in a closed system where the learner can only learn what you put in front of them then they would be the same thing, but that's just not the modern environment - people (rightly) question and search out beyond what they are told.

So if we replace micro-learning with micro-content does that make more sense and can we use that for learning?  Yes and yes, but at the same time we need to understand the environment and world we live in.  We are not the holders of absolute wisdom and knowledge, instead we can only ever provide part of the picture.  By that I mean sharing content in small bursts is not only fine to do but good practice, but it's not the end of the story, we should be encouraging greater interaction and learning that takes the emphasis away from the 'teacher' and on to the learner.  Micro-content is a good way of achieving that if we focus the micro bit on the challenge and the inspiration more than on the content itself.

So there you have it, clear as day I say micro-learning does exist, but it's probably not what people who produce micro-content for learning think it is.  Maybe if you read one line of this blog and got what you needed I even contribute to your micro-learning?

Disagree?  Cool, let's hear it.  I don't have the answers, these are my opinions and I not only reserve the right to change them I relish the opportunity.

Oh and by the way, yeah I think it exists...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A for attitude in Learning

If you look up KSA and it will tell you it stands for Knowledge Skills and Abilities and is a vital part of training.  Now call me off the mark here but I’ve always thought that KSA was a useful enough idea but that the A was wrong.  I think that knowledge and skills combined are pretty much the equivalent of abilities so KSA seems a bit like AA which is only useful if you have addiction problems (or car issues I guess).  Problem for me is that whilst starting knowledge and skills of your audience is a good starting point, the most vital part of learning something knew isn’t the learner’s abilities, it’s their attitude and this other A by far out-shadows any other letters or acronyms that you care to throw at learning.

It’s important for trainers and L&D professionals to keep in mind that attitude is king when it comes to learning.  If you do nothing but inspire the right attitude you’ll put people in the right frame of mind for learning to take place.  Let’s remember we can’t force learning (yes, you can force training, but not the learning) but we can set the right environment and that’s largely about the ‘mental’ environment and setting the scene in a way that’s conducive for learning.  It’s also key for us to remember that if someone has the wrong attitude they probably won’t learn regardless of how good the training we offer is.  In those cases don’t waste your effort on improving the training, the only thing you can really do to improve the situation is address the attitude.

Can you address the attitude?  Yes and no I guess, there are times when it doesn’t matter what you do you can’t reach some people, but I’m keen to know what people have done in this area?  As part of my learning out loud stuff that I’ve been putting together recently, it’s key to recognise that I don’t have all the answers myself - how do you adjust people’s attitudes to allow learning to place?  All I know is that a poor attitude is like a brick wall that a learner is deliberately placing to block the journey; for me I would try to find a way around, over or working on another plane so that barrier doesn’t stop us; that’s easier said than done.  Particularly if you have more than one or two learners and more so in a technology enabled situation where you may not come face to face with the learner at all.

My take on attitude is that it’s one of the two vital things you need in learning, the only other vital part is the desire or need to learn something.  When you combine the right attitude and the right motivator for learning then everything will fall into place.  I guess that’s pretty much true of anything where you have attitude and motivation :)

If that’s true, why do we spend so long on other parts of the learning design, when always need is the right ‘environment’ and motivators to make it work?  Another open question, but my initial take is that the problem is that both the attitude and motivation are the two things a ‘trainer’ has the least control over - perhaps this is why more and more we see learner-centred learning playing a greater role.

I’ll try and come back next week with some ideas that others have shared with me, please Disqus below, share your thoughts and let me know :)

Friday, 6 March 2015

Learning Out Loud

So you've probably picked up on one of the more recent buzz-phrases of 'working out loud' - this is where you start to share more of your work using (for the most part) social media tools such as blogging tools like this one, Twitter and Disqus to interact with others about what you are doing.  It's a very healthy thing and fits nicely with my general 'blurting' theory that we should be sharing more and avoid over-processing and the concentration on making things factually right.  In fact one of the most refreshing things to come out of the working out loud theory is that it's okay to share your failures every bit as much as your successes - ask questions and generally explore this way.

In a #pkmchat this morning I also stated that I learned out loud too.  What does this mean and what's the difference to working out loud?  Mmm... it could be semantics, it could be that they're the same thing to some people and that's fine (learning is pervasive after all).  To me learning out loud is taking the perpetual beta stage that many of us believe we're in and then not being afraid to broadcast that and shape your opinions on the fly and in public.  If we're in the right frame of mind and continually learning then doing this in the 'open' would seem like a healthy way of learning.

How do you learn out loud?  Well, the tools are the same, this blog is an example of learning out loud and I would say this is over and above working out loud.  Reason is that I'm not here blogging the answers and teaching you the facts, I'm adapting my thoughts and sharing them, gaining ideas, developing theories that I never believe will lead to concrete facts.  Those of you who know me on Twitter (@the_nthdegree) will probably have experienced some of this - I often seem to play devil's advocate and challenge people's views.  I don't do this just to provoke a reaction (well... not just...) but because it helps me (and hopefully others) to challenge and shape our thinking - this is essentially the very essence of learning and when we do it with others this is what I think of as learning out loud.

So to work out loud you need to be brave enough to put yourself out there, to learn out loud takes something different - a certain intellectual humility to do this in the public arena and not be afraid of how that makes you look.  If you're worried about your image and the hit to your credibility then this may not be the best approach for you, there again if that's your primary concern then maybe you're not in learning mode at all.  Learning out loud to me is actually developing and evolving out in the open - it's also liberating because you don't have to feel you've got everything right before you broadcast it.  If you're comfortable with a group of friends in a social setting you probably feel fine discussing things that you may not know that much about and that's a great way of learning and sharing in social learning style.  If you can extrapolate that to sharing with people you may not know (yet) or don't know personally you can learn more... and sometimes much much more because you have access to people much wider than your circle of friends.

So what's the difference between learning out loud and social learning?  Could be semantics again, but the difference I see is that learning out loud is part of social learning but not necessarily the other way round.  What I mean is that learning out loud is clearly an example of learning and involving others by socialising your ideas, concepts and learnings, social learning doesn't mean you have to do that - you can participate in social learning and contribute small reserved pieces - learning out loud is social learning without the reservations.

Great to see a piece on this by @kjeannette which she posted after reading my previous post on 'blurting'.  Blurting is what I called 'working out loud' before I heard others talking about it - again shaping my learning as I go and hopefully shaping others.  Here's a link to that piece: https://kjeannette.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=1177  If you want to know more about working out loud, check out this excellent piece by Nick Leffler 

As always, happy for anyone to help shape my thoughts here... please feel free to respond or Disqus below :)

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

What's the difference between an ePortfolio System, an LMS and Social Learning

Okay, the most obvious difference between an ePortfolio system, LMS (or learning management system) and social learning is that only one of those is a type or method of learning; that's social learning of course, the others are systems or tools if you will to help with learning and assessments. I'll come back to the social learning issue in a bit, for now let's focus on the two types of systems and how they differ.

Most importantly of all, it's all about perspective.  An LMS is primarily an organisational tool.  Sure, sure it's about learning and it should be, but the organisation that puts the LMS in place usually needs to get something out of it.  That may be records of compliance training or somewhere to keep observations or on-job assessments or even just storing of (groan) Powerpoint presentations or Adobe documents.  It's focus is on the organisation.  The organisation needs to have a database store of what its people are doing and essentially to many organisations this is exactly what an LMS is for.  Some forward thinking organisations may use their LMS differently and we'll come back to that, but for now let's take it as an LMS is by the organisation for the organisation.

An ePortfolio system is different.  The idea behind ePortfolios is that they are a place for individuals to store information about their learning and experiences.  Then they choose what to share and who to share it with.  Of course, organisations still often have the ePortfolio systems that they set up and host and you may have some rules set up around how to 'submit' portfolios and policy around who and what you can share, but there's definitely a slightly different emphasis here.  If the LMS were all about the organisation the ePortfolio is all about the person (or learner if you will).  An ePortfolio system will have administrators like an LMS, but the administrator can't run the sort of reports that an LMS administrator can and won't be able to collect and collate scores and completions unless users choose to submit them.  It may seem subtle but the difference is actually very large.

So if that seems simple enough, it may not be.  To confuse matters there's the phenomenon of social learning.  Social learning in simple terms is often thought of as the use of social media for learning, perhaps more accurately social learning is the way that learning occurs in a social setting through cognitive process or simply put we learn from others around us by communication and interactions.  The theory for social learning unsurprisingly dates back before social media was a 'thing' so it doesn't necessarily have to mean learning using social media, but the abundance of social tools and media has meant that recently social learning has become a real focus.  So social learning tools that are frequently used are things like forums, blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter for example), wikis and other synchronous and asynchronous collaborative tools.  Where do these sit?  In an LMS? In an ePortfolio system?  The answer is yes.

The collaborative tools have been largely adopted by both LMS providers and ePortfolio systems for a number of years and they can fit equally well in both.  The issue again becomes less about the system and more about the focus.  If you want to have forums in place to encourage learners to share and ask each other and answer questions you're coming down more on the social learning side (regardless of whether you use that in an LMS or ePortfolio system), if you want to have forums to test knowledge and track responses you're back in the organisational realm and you're likely to have that sit in the LMS to be able to track and moderate.

So which is for you an ePortfolio or an LMS?  The answer for big and successful organisations is likely to be both; they have organisational aims and reports that need to be met and they recognise the importance of placing the learner at the centre of their learning and allowing opportunities for them to develop and take responsibility for their own learning.  For smaller organisations it can be tricky, but there are a lot more 'free' ePortfolio systems than LMSs - the main reason for this is the focus again. Providing an ePortfolio type service for your people is a way of providing a service that is for the individuals rather than directly for the organisation.

If you want to keep a track and closely track social learning then maybe (just maybe) you don't really want social learning, you just want trackable learning using social tools - and that's not the same thing.

For now the LMS is the more popular choice out there, but already most LMS providers are claiming social learning tools and many offer ePortfolio tools built in - just remember the tool is only as good as the way it's used and an ePortfolio system should be about the individual rather than the organisation.

Agree?  Disagree? Happy to discuss or Disqus further... pop your thoughts below :)