Saturday, May 28

Food, Apple, and learning

What do a fantastic meal and the iPod have to teach us about learning? I believe they both have valuable lessons to teach us about scoping our work.

The meal was a relaxed evening at Manresa, where the chef served up some two dozen exquisite small tastes. Chef David Kinch has created one of the top 50 restaurants in the world via a simple mantra: "A dish isn't complete when I can't add anything else to it—but when I can take nothing else away".

Apple follows a similar design ethic, noticeable in the iPod, of taking away complexity until only the essence of the product remains.

Yet look at the projects that are held up as exemplars of innovation in learning: million-dollar simulations, enterprise-wide projects at Fortune 50 companies, etc. They're impressive and inspiring, but ultimately out of the reach of many people. Cisco's RIO/RLO strategy was brilliant, but so intricate that it was replaced in a coup from within. Full Spectrum Warrior is effective and engaging, but companies aren't racing out to buy X-boxes and build immersive 3D simulations of their own.

If we believe that learning happens by doing, and that includes a great deal of trial-and-error, I believe that the e-learning community should be celebrating (and engaging in) the innovative small projects as well as the large. (The latest e-Learning Forum meeting described a performance support solution that was done in a few months on a very modest budget, but which is giving the sponsoring business a major boost.)

What have you seen that is small, elegant, and powerful?

Thursday, May 26

See you in Second Life Tonight

I will be speaking at the Second Life Future Salon tonight. If you don't know about what I am talking, you owe it to yourself to at least check it out by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 25

Full Spectrum Warrior debate

Some people are criticizing the US Army's involvement with the computer game Full Spectrum Warrior. Although I was not involved in any way in the project other than doing a case study for LBD, I take the attacks very personally as attacks on necessary innovation.

The US military had always been good at building accurate simulations around pieces of equipment. The goal of FSW was to develop two new capabilities:
  • Using simulations to train softer skills
  • Add "game elements" to a simulation to increase voluntary participation.
Both were accomplished in spades. The commercial success of FSW both proved the second point, and also probably served as a great advertisement for the US Military. Further, FSW can be deployed using a $150 off the shelf Xbox, instead of $10 million dedicated hardware (which took some negotiating, as Microsoft loses money with each Xbox sold).

Game elements will always be controversial. Simulations by themselves are really boring. An accurate military simulation would have a soldier standing around, with no action, for days, weeks, or months, before something "happened." Just cutting right to the action is a game element.

Game elements are controversial even when they surround the simulation elements, because they consume resources, but more so when they selectively subvert the accuracy of the simulation, such as making bigger things happen sooner than real life.

Traditionalists will far too quickly damn an entire program for not getting the mix of simulation, game, and pedagogical elements right the first time (the only acceptable sin for them is too much pedagogy). I, for one, support the people willing to take risks.

Tuesday, May 24

Simulations, Microcosms, Apprenticeships, and Skunk Works

I wrote a book called Learning By Doing, all about the use of computer simulations in formal learning programs. But in many ways, it should have been called "Learning By Doing Part I."

Other, critical "learning by doing" techniques includes Microcosms, Apprenticeships, and Skunk Works.

Microcosms are small, controlled, comparable, but "real" worlds or projects, such as growing a garden, planning a party, running a meeting, baking a cake.

Apprenticeships are learning from someone with more experience, often in exchange for performing some menial task.

Skunk Works are teams that are trying something that has never been done before, with the goal of getting real feedback from the marketplace or enterprise.

The role of technology in all of these can be transformational, suggesting projects or"matching people up" at the beginning, giving real-time workflow centric advice during, and then tracking results afterwards.

Monday, May 23

Why I hate speaking to groups of twenty

For years, I have had a pretty significant fear of public speaking. Thankfully, through blood, sweat, and tears, I have been moderately successful at resolving that. For the last several years, I have had the honor and, yes, pleasure of speaking with groups ranging from two people to many thousand.

Here is a curious observation from that.
  • I like speaking with three people, because I can customize my material to the very specific needs of the individuals.
  • When I speak to hundreds or thousands, the audience seems pretty happy (with the exception of Stephen Downes!) if I can give some useful information and perspectives, and keep them relatively entertained and motivated to go deeper. There is also a lot of energy to tap and play back.

But fifteen to twenty people in an audience is always very, very hard. It is small enough so that people feel that the presentation should be highly customized (like a one:three experience), yet there are always many groups who want to take the conversation in very different directions (high level, low level a, low level b, etc).

I will continue to play with techniques, but for now, twenty is a very lonely number.

Sunday, May 22

The way formal learning ought to be

I was up in St. John's, Newfoundland at the end of last week. There is a lot to love about that part of the world, including the people, the architecture, and the rugged beauty of the land.

What I did not expect to find, however, was a state of the art simulator. But at The Center for Marine Simulation, they have one of the best in in the world. It is for training people who will run a ship, including the captain.

The crew works in an accurate replication of a bridge.

This bridge is about 25 feet wide and about 9 feet deep. This entire bridge rests on a six motion base.

Huge screens show dynamically rendered computer graphics in a complete, 360 ring seen through all of the windows of the bridge.

When you are in the simulation, you feel the rocking of the wave, the impact of the wind, even the chop when you put the boat in reverse. I found myself quickly pacing from one end of the bridge to the other to get a visual fix on an object to reinforce what my radar was showing me.

The formal learning also, of course, includes comprehensive instruction on the front end and debriefs (or after action reviews) on the back end.

One of my mantras has been, the organizations that care the most about training use simulations. You can tell people who built this center really care.

Saturday, May 21

Aligning Training Processes, Tools, and Metrics

I don't know why, but I have been getting a tremendous amount of interest recently in a concept I first put forth a few years ago called Learning Accord.

It suggests that you can rank many aspects of a Formal Learning Program (FLP) from tactical to strategic, including:

  • Type of learning material;
  • Types of results needed; and
  • Processes used.

With this organization, you can accurately predict how well a program will work. The most successful FLP's have a great deal of accord between the material, results, and processes, and the least successful have significant discord. So if you are planning any FLP, I would strongly suggest an early meeting between buyer, builder, and deployer around the issue of accord.

If you are interested in learning more about the idea, use the link above (Learning Accord) or check out the appendix in Learning By Doing. After that, feel free to email me and I can send you a ppt of the charts, including an academic version that has not been published anywhere.

Tuesday, May 17

The Wizard Behind the Curtain


Every now and again, I get an email asking me what were some of the seminal articles or books I have read. One of the most important comes from Scientific American about how the brain learns on the molecular level. It's a critically important piece that exposes the process of learning - what happens when the brain encodes a short term piece of information into long term information.

It redefines our jobs. How do we present information, or have people use the information we present, to enable their brains to learn? How do we use the long term natural learning process?

The first thing the article points out is that learning - shunting from short term to longer term - is a relatively protected process. Forgetting is far easier than remembering. So what are the clues to the natural learning process, in which information is moved from short term to long memory. A state in which we claim that something has been "learned". How do we enable this process rather than disable it?

Any experiences you have had along thses lines would be something I'd love to hear about since it gets to the heart of what learning is all about.

Macrodobe or AdobeMedia?

Since I have been covering the area of eCollaboration (which includes some forms of eLearning) for the last 15 years, I talk to lots of vendors about their plans for collaboration and their future.

A few months ago I talked about Adobe's strategy for moving into collaboration through PDF. With the acquistion of MacroMedia it looks like Adobe will be leaping into the collaboration space even more quickly. Macromdia currently owns Breeze, and the Flash Communications Server (FCS) which is the underlying technology for many of the real time audio and video collaboration service offerings.

The statement from the Adobe press release this morning says "The combination of Adobe and Macromedia strengthens our mission of helping people and organizations communicate better. Through the combination of our powerful development, authoring and collaboration tools – and the complementary functionality of PDF and Flash – we have the opportunity to drive an industry-defining technology platform that delivers compelling, rich content and applications across a wide range of devices and operating systems."

It also looks like Adobe has acquired MacroMedia to enable them to expand more rapidly into the market for audio and video applications for handhelds and other gadgets.

So it will be interesting to see if Adobe either: spins off a collaboration company or business unit from the combination of Breeze, FCS and PDF, or if they will choose to integrate these three technologies into an offering that might even challenge Microsoft.

I would love to hear what you think about this most interesting acquistion

Monday, May 16

CSTD Fredericton

Well after finally getting my wireless to work I am able to upload some blogging from the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) conference in Fredericton (links in this post are to my summaries).

Clark Aldrich led off with a talk called Simulations, Computer Games and Pedagogy. It took a long time to get to the point, so he really didn't get inot a lot of detail.

Then, in one of the breakout sessions, Darlene Burt and Darren McKinnon of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce did a really nice session on the development and deployment of a personalized learning system for customer center staff, New Communication and Information Technologies Emerging in the Workplace. Good, comprehensive presentation that was well organized and didn't skimp on detail.

Good things about the conference so far: good mix of people, and not the same crowd I see at academic conferences. Talked with many people thus far. One good talk. Some interesting displays.

Bad things so far: the Delta Hotel here is declining in quality (room wasn't restocked, no milk for coffee in room service, convenience store closed). No signs at the conference and no rooms listed in the conference schedule - as a result, I missed this afternoon's session, as there were no sessions scheduled for the one room (the lecture theatre) I thought there would be.

Saturday, May 14

One Version of the Future

Per Mindy B's request, here's my version of our future.

I can elaborate a little now. As to a longer focus on workflow learning, we have several members of the LCB Blog Squad who are very involved in such efforts. I'll encourage them to post some of their thoughts. Jay Cross and Tony O'Driscoll laid out a more detailed vision of workflow learning in the February Training.

From a very high overview, I think we'll see changes in what learning interventions are and changes in what the Learning and Development function does.

Supervisors at all levels will be held responsible for the development of their employees. My growth strategy (versus developmental plan) will be focused on building my strengths and will be a matter of public knowledge so my colleagues will be able to help me meet my personal goals while we work together. Employees will be given opportunities to learn whenever, however they need.

Let's say I'm a marketing director with budget responsibility for my department. A week from today there's a meeting to launch the budgeting process for next year's budget. When I logged onto my work portal this morning my tablet PC reminded me of the meeting with to do's from my supervisor's memo. It also has organized last year's budget, my budgeting notes, a guide from finance on corporate budget strategy for this year - with my bosses reactions and directions included.

My system also gives a list of requested initiatives from my notes for meetings with my business partners, industry benchmarking numbers for similar initiatives and a reminder that I never took the training for the forecasting component of our new financial software - with a link to the online training. Outlook has even identified that my staff can meet with me at 3PM on Monday and is holding the time on everyone’s calendars waiting for my approval. Finally, I have my comments regarding budget processes for each of my direct reports culled from our reviews over the past year, L&D’s suggestions for materials to share with each, and coaching tips for me.

To guide the development of interventions that anticipate employee needs, we learning professionals will have to become proficient in systems thinking, business processes, change management and strategic planning. We'll get so close to our business partner that we'll become one of them. Needs analysis will truly be about what is needed and what the best solution(s) is – not the best training solution. Assessment will become focused on helping employees develop self-awareness of what they need to know to execute on their business objectives and pave the way for where they want their careers headed.

You asked who the vendors will be. Some will be the vendors you know today - SumTotal, GeoLearning, SAS, Oracle, etc. But don't be surprised if you're learning business process tools from Hyperion or Verity, synchronous meeting tools from Interwise or Skype, team/community enablement tools from UberGroups or Google and data mining and content management tools from Documentum or Fatwire.

So what do you think Mindy? Are you prepared for the change?

Thursday, May 12

Just Showing up

On my long-term and short-term projects, I am around motivated and talented people.

But a theme has come up when talking to colleagues. A lot of people these days, according to a lot of good sources, are just "showing up. "

They are just showing up to meetings, unprepared.
They are showing up to league basketball games without having done much practice.
They write reports and letters without doing much research.
I have seen sales calls when both sides knew nothing about the other.

If the theme is just "showing up," however, the expectations seem to vary.

Some people still expect to be great. Some people think we will revel in their wondefulness, unprepared as they are.

Others just want to get by. The years of incredible rewards for incredible efforts are over, they think. Why push?

Both have implications for formal learning. But first, let's test the premise. Are people seeing this in their own workplace?

Sunday, May 8

Sometime I Feel Like a Dine-Oh-Saur

I remember my Dad's buddy Tony who - aside from a stint as my Father's shipmate in the Pacific during the Big One - had spent most of his working life in a Pittsburgh steel mill before he was laid off forever. He kept telling my Dad he was too old to change and "...felt like one of them Dine-oh-saurs"

I feel like that sometimes lately. I feel like that when I talk to people who develop 'learning' programs or even when I read some of these blogs. I guess what I'm realizing is that the way things used to be done, is done.

Every now and again you read a piece by someone and you say "Spot on!", or whatever you say when that person hits an emotional mark, somewhere deep inside you. Here's what I read by Dr Allison Rossett, San Diego State University, Professor, Department of Educational Technology. She writes about the evolution of training:

"In the good old days, we wrote courses. We scheduled them. We taught them, or found somebody good to do it. Maybe we made a video or bought one. Maybe we evaluated the classes. Mostly we didn't. Everything is different today. US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan put it this way, "Human skills are subject to obsolescence at a rate unparalleled in American history." Effective organizations are running at warp speed in a global and fiercely competitive environment. New software, new products, new customers, new competition, and new possibilities demand our attention.

If employees do not feel well served by us, they can reach beyond us to online classes, communities, modules and e-coaches, no matter the physical locations. Technology thus presents tasty opportunities for workforce learning and support. Consider blended approaches, online assessments and self-assessments, performance support, informal learning, knowledge management, communities of practice, and captology. What are some of these intriguing possibilities and how do they change what's possible for employees and what's expected of us?"

Indeed, I can only echo what she wonders when she asks 'what are some of these intriguing possibilities, how do they change what's possible for employees and what's expected of us?'. Sometimes I think everything I've learned about learning needs to be relearned. Sometimes I feel like a dine-oh-saur. Do you ever feel like a dine-oh-saur? Maybe it's time you should ... let me know.

The reality of knowledge work

I installed a wireless home network this weekend, and it was a lot harder than I thought it should have been (three XP computers and a TiVo with new Linksys wireless stuff). I spent over an hour going online, Googling user groups, until I got what I needed to configure everything. The experience was similar to when I got a wide screen television, and had to change not just the user settings, but the accessed-only-by-secret-code factory settings.

The fussy, brittle, politically correct, theorist side of me was indignant at both activities. What about 'Customer satisfaction,' seamless integration,' 'quality assurance,' 'user interface,' blah blah blah?

And yet the rest of me was realizing how old I must sound. "I can't believe I have to go get gasoline for this new-fangled automobile. Why Bessie just needed some grass." Or even, 'why does the hardware store sell me these grass seeds that will need to be mowed once a week?'

So I spent an hour doing knowledge work. Big deal. What was I belly-aching about? Networking software and televisions might get easier over time, but what comes next will require just as much adapting.

It is easy to theorize about learning in the future. It is just a bit harder when it takes up a Saturday afternoon.

On being 85% right...

I remember the first time I was aware of reading a professionally published book and finding a typo. It was a Stephen King novel and I was at summer camp. I found the misspelled word, and even though I knew it was wrong, I reread it again and again, and finally looked it up in a dictionary just to confirm what I already knew.

Today, I almost wish that more words in some of the things I read were misspelled. It would remind me that the author is imperfect, and I should take his or her thoughts in the appropriate light.

This reasoning made me reflect upon some of my own rules for writing.

Rule 1: When describing about the uknown future, shoot for 85% accuracy. Aiming for higher than that makes you boring, and lower than that makes you just another industry hack.

Rule 2: When describing about the present or inevitable future, be specific enough so that it is obvious when you are wrong. This can be embarrassing in the short term, but what learning isn't?

Rule 3: Let people know if you are describing the first or the second.

Globalization depends on an informed and educated citizenry.

When talking and writing about simulations, one fun technique is to take a famous quote and change it just a bit. Here are some:

I made a perfect simulation about growing a company. The only problem is that it takes twenty-five years to play.
—With apologies to Steven Wright

An inexperienced learner is thrown by frustration, but a good learner uses it.
—With apologies to the late actor Carroll O’Conner

High production values that restrict immersion I wouldn’t give a fig for. High production values that open up immersion I would give my career for.
—With apologies to Oliver Wendell Holmes

The genre is the content.
—With apologies to Marshall McLuhan

Globalization depends on an informed and educated citizenry.
—With apologies to Thomas Jefferson

Teach someone a computer game; and you have engaged him for today. Teach someone a computer game genre and you have engaged him for a lifetime.
—With apologies to the old Chinese proverb

Thursday, May 5

Learning: Change or Die!

Stephen Downes points to this fascinating article on learning, Change or Die from Fast Company. Make it past the rather long beginning, and you'll get new perspectives on what we need to do to achieve meaningful and lasting change.

I'm pleased to see it echoing the importance of emotion in learning, a topic I'm keen on (see also Chapnick & Meloy's book on using drama in learning). Part of the reason I work on games is to try to bring in emotional motivation; we need to start getting the heart involved, not just the mind!

It also talks about supporting tranformation (see also Cross & Dublin's Implementing eLearning), something else we need to incorporate into elearning. (I had a great lesson on this from a course on speaking to the media, where they had a formula for how to create an effective message, and suggested using it on your kids to keep the skill active!)

And it talks about research on how continuous learning keeps your mind more active later in life. The old 'mental exercise' stuff about why you were supposed to learn Latin (before even my time) may be right after all! See Marcia Conner's book Learn More Now for some more on this.

In short, it's a great article for those of us interested in successful learning and meaningful change, and that should be all of us!

Wednesday, May 4

See you in New York tonight!

I hope to see some of you at ASTD's famed New York chapter for a presentation and book signing tonight.

Here's the link:


Sunday, May 1

Reducing the Cost of Information

Jay Cross, an inveterate reader of varying and sundry tastes, always said that interesting and new ideas about learning can come from almost anywhere. He was right. I just finished reading FutureWealth by Francis McInerney and Sean White.

The premise of the book is simple. We are in the Information Age and the cost of information is always falling e.g. Moore's Law. Companies that take advantage of that falling cost of information - from Schwab to Wal-Mart's to Dell - will prosper. They will have a faster time-to-market, better products and services, more competitive market positions, get closer to their Customers, and generally act smarter than other companies.

So we, who are supposedly in large measure responsible for that Corporate IQ, the organizational hive mind, might take this as a lesson. If we can, with our programs that are trying to make people smarter, better at their jobs, more adept and knowledgeable, can do that AND make the cost of the information cheaper in the process we win big time. If we do it and make the cost of information more expensive in the process we lose.

Example: A more expensive cost of information would be a program that involves many people many months to develop, an live classroom instructor to deliver and four days to deliver. The same learning, delivered online is cheaper. The same know-how or knowledge delivered via database connected via Internet to the students laptop, PDA, notebook, cellphone, etc., delivered only when the information is needed, on demand, anywhere and anytime, is cheaper still. And sometimes finding the right person's phone number and calling is even cheaper.

The falling cost of information drives decentralization, collaboration, just-in-time and more. So how do we get our programs to take advantage of this idea? What do you think? Is the cost of the information a factor? Does the book provide an interesting new metric for people who create educational programs?

New resource: InSync

While I have a vested interest (disclaimer below :), I think the announcement's worth noting: InSync Center, "an online community of practice focused on fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing between synchronous and eLearning training professionals" will be hosting free online learning sessions featuring "The eLearning Soapbox" and "The eLearning Author's Forum". Archives are available too, it appears.

I note that Learning Circuits blogger Clark Aldrich will be talking about his new book in the latter (as will I, later in the month).