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.

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

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

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: