Sunday, February 19

Build a better flipchart and the world will beat a path…

As everyone on this blog knows, I’m eternally searching for a flipchart killer and have never failed to express my disappointment with the trends most of us (including myself) think will:
  1. do the job,
  2. convince people that it’s sufficiently worthwhile (in terms of functionality) for them to adapt to,
  3. provide the comfort zone for them to adopt it as their standard landscape.

I have to thank the poster Socinian for drawing my attention to Croquet, which looks to be a key element in the revolution awaiting us. Why? Because in many ways it emulates the flipchart… and even does a bit more! It creates flexible 3D space (potentially the comfort zone, but that will depend to some extent on the use of graphics to create the right atmosphere) and within that space it allows for multiple and varied display opportunities (thus emulating the flipchart), which can be used in classical or non-classical ways. Its peer-to-peer architecture means that actions and activities can be freely initiated and shared, objects and creations can be explored and developed in common. (At least that’s the impression I get from the 90 minute video presentation). It also appears to integrate communication technology in a way that (to my na├»ve view) will potentially put Breeze and its competitors in the Model-T class. In short, it respects the personality of all the users, whether trainers, facilitators or learners. It also breaks down the limits on the kinds of actions one can engage in during learning sessions, while at the same time highlighting the social dialogue-based nature of all significant knowledge exchange and development, opening up the possibilities for deployment of imagination, initiative and fantasy, and thereby highlighting one of the constraints of “mere” simulation (where the rules are never those of normal human behavior since freedom of initiative is bound by the constraints of the program). And of course it looks nicer than the nicest flipchart.

But if it’s “better” and broader than simulation and other more traditional e-learning modules (from drills to interactive video) and more powerful than a flipchart, it doesn’t invalidate them or cancel them out: it can integrate them into its working space, re-establishing just proportions in a (virtually) human setting and giving them the value they deserve as tools within a process and environment rather than be-all and end-all solutions. As you may surmise, I’m looking forward to seeing Croquet on all our desktops and am beginning to look at ways to harness its power for meeting specific needs.

But for all its breadth Croquet won’t do the whole job, even though it appears to come close. Nobody wants to live their whole life in a 3D graphic environment. Alice herself had other things to do than dream of the world on the other side of the looking glass. Another exciting find that may help define the future is ODEO, an application that allows anyone to use audio for asynchronous dialogue and personal podcasting. It's absolutely simple to use. For me it already provides a viable and effective (though partial) answer to the need for e-coaching, especially in the fields I’m most concerned with: communication skills.

We are (at least for others) our voice. Voice has long been neglected in learning and the arrival of the Web has exaggerated in many ways the domination of the written word, thereby adding to the neglect of voice. (One of the nice things about flipcharts is that they recode talking as writing and therefore require speech input). ODEO – absolutely free of charge – allows anyone to communicate with voice or already recorded audio to selected people (e.g. a group of learners) or to the whole world (podcast) and, in bloglike manner, to allow those who receive the message to reply vocally. It’s asynchronous (in contrast to the totally synchronous Croquet) and therefore makes it possible to create an ongoing and controled vocal dialogue, to plan phases of work and practice. In short, it can be a vital tool in coaching learners on two major fronts: evolution of the expressive personality (social skills and personal image, an unrecognized key to success and even to "good grades") and mastery of domain-linked discourse (the basis of authentic learner output, something that has always been neglected in knowledge-based learning strategies, but which is one of the key outcomes of informal learning).

Our new Web culture is one of sharing discoveries and insights. I was delighted to discover these two initiatives, which are the result of fantastic work by a lot of dedicated, imaginative and talented people. I’m sure there are others. This is an invitation to those who know more about these and similar things to enter the fray and start looking at the real value that’s being created. One of these days I may have to envisage retiring my flipchart!

Monday, February 13

Homeschooling and the Creative Class

My son Slater was included in this week's BusinessWeek piece on home-schooling. Some nice phrases:,
  • vowed he'd never put his kid through the eye-glazing lectures he endured in school
  • done by a growing number of creative-class parents
  • No longer the bailiwick of religious fundamentalists or neo-hippies looking to go off the cultural grid, homeschooling is a growing trend among the educated elite
  • The No. 1 motivation, research shows, is concern about school environments, including negative peer pressure, safety, and drugs. In some circles homeschooling is even attaining a reputation as a secret weapon for Ivy League admission.
  • conventional education: a mass-production institution that is failing to adapt. Schools, critics say, are like old industrial assembly lines, churning out conformists who could function well in rote factory jobs or rigid corporate hierarchies but not in New Economy professions that demand innovation and independent thinking

Evolving the formal learning model is incredibly difficult and complicated. Everything needs to change, from curricula to expectations to content providers to role of parents and businesses to teacher training and promotion to lawmakers.

As I have mentioned here, when a SimuLearn team went to China to begin the localization process of Virtual Leader, they were invited as guests of the State by the Ministry of Education, and put up in the same suite that is used for Presidents and other Heads of State.

When thinking about the revolution, I sometimes think that, a la Quality, it will happen overseas first, and then after ten years of economic pounding, the US would be forced to respond. While I still think that is the probably scenerio, movements like this one, and people who are dedicated not at an intellectual level but a lifestyle level, give me hope that it can not only start but also happen at home.

Saturday, February 11

Personalized Learning- Lessons from Tim, Pizza Hut and Betty

Data can help personalization, but data is a means, not an end. I stumbled into a nice reminder of that. Tim Sanders, Leadership Coach at Yahoo delivered an interesting keynote at DigitalNow last year. Follow the link below to learn how the CEO of Pizza Hut and a single customer shared a great experience when he called her.

Tim Sanders - Betty the Pizza Lady (Windows Media, 7 very worthwhile minutes)

How can we data mine the impersonal performance results to create this sort of memorable, high-impact experience for learners?

Tuesday, February 7

OK, Now Let's Talk about Me!

Well not about me. Let's talk about Learning Circuits Blog.

In the Learning Circuits Blog Wiki, our current topic of discussion is LCB and its future. We've just finished a year of activity on LCB that saw increased publication by the author team, increased participation by our readers through comments, and a five-fold increase in the number of visitors. So why examine what we are doing and consider changing what we do?

Simply, we're not sure that what we are doing is really serving those we seek to involve. One result of this "self-reflection" might be that we find out, everyone is happy and we shouldn't touch a thing. But we've had indicators that this may not be the case. The author team is struggling to balance LCB and the rest of their obligations and participation by others is sporadic.

Add to this the introduction of new capabilities through new technologies that have enhanced our ability to share and communicate with each other. We've begun to wonder if there isn't a better way.

One of the clear mandates that has come from conversations amongst the Blog Squad is that we need to involve you and the others who come to LCB to read and participate in the discussions held here. After all, this is your blog, your community.

So through this wiki and a soon to be posted survey that you're encouraged to complete, we want to know what you want from LCB. The more participation in this discussion, the better chance we have of making it a dynamic site you'll come to because it enhances you as a professional.

I and the Blog Squad invite you to join us in the LCB Discussion Wiki for a lively dialogue about making LCB a better LCB! When you enter the wiki you will have read only rights. If you would like to add your comments or change anything that appears on the discussion you need to login. You will find a button at the top of the page that reads "log in to edit." (When asked for a user ID and password, enter your name or a screen name for the user ID and "learning" as the password.)

your humble blogmeister

Honesty, Oprah, and the Formal Learning Industries

The Oprah/James Frey conversation, the Enron trials, even a recent post here got me thinking.

The Formal Learning Industries absolutely requires honesty, for Big Skills and technical ones.
  • Honesty in the end-learner.
  • Honesty in the subject matter expert.
  • Honesty in the creation and delivery of Formal Learning material.
  • Honesty in the conversation between program manager and sponsor.
Honesty is more than just not technically telling a lie, although that is a good place to start. Some common recent public dishonesty:

  • Stating something that one thinks and hopes to be true as definitely true.
  • Not saying something that is highly relevant because the question wasn't asked the right way.

For getting the truth from a SME:

  • Zooming in, getting more detail.
  • Asking surprising or novel questions.
  • Interviewing multiple people, and at multiple times.
  • Building a model, like a simulation or even a time line.
  • Doing anonymous interviews.
  • We love a good story. But if a story sounds too good, too neat, to be true, it probably is.

For getting the truth from end-learners:

  • Doing 360s and sharing results before a program.
  • Interviewing customers and co-workers.

We are at a time when the truth seems to be constantly under attack, from spammers to advertisers to writers to leaders.

Lack of honesty hurts all industries, but it devastates ours.

Monday, February 6

Money Motive Can Revitalize Classrooms

Steve Mariotti left his import/export business to become a New York City teacher. He has taught at some the city's worst schools. At first he says he was a horrible teacher who often lost control of his classes.

One day he asked the kids what was wrong with his teaching style. One kid said, "Well, we did it because we can't stand you. You are boring." He replied, "Well was there ever at time when I was a good teacher, when I touched you or taught you something that had any value?" The same young man said, "The only time you really had value to us, to me, was when you told us about your import/export business. And you'd bring ladies shoes in from Agra, India, add $1 on for insurance and freight, take it down to the Lower East Side and sell them for $7, and your income statement would be $126,000," Mariotti recalled.

The student had remembered that story from the beginning of the term. "Here was a guy that had been defined as - as brain-damaged, emotionally upset. People were afraid of him. And he'd re-created in total a Harvard Business School income statement," Mariotti said.

It is not just about the "greed" (making money), but also about a good story that has real impact. People, no matter what age, must see a learning moment as relevent and important. If that teaching or training moment has no real impact on the learners' lives, then why should they bother to remember it? While it may seem logical for one to learn math, our emotions have more much more impact upon us because they personaly inform us as to what is really important in our lives. And good stories, like Mariotti's, work because they are able to draw the learners in, rather than simple tell them something.

Full 20/20 story, to include a short video, at ABC's site.

Saturday, February 4

Report from ASTD TechKnowledge 06

TechKnowledge 06This morning, hundreds of us packed the ballroom of the new Hyatt Regency Colorado Convention Center for the opening of TechKnowledge 06. Incoming ASTD president Kevin Oakes thanked the Rocky Mountain Chapter, advisory boards, hard-working staff, platinum sponsors, silver sponsors, planning committees, and others. Kevin and I go back quite a ways; Oakes Interactive was hawking multimedia training before the Web was invented. If I'm not mistaken, Kevin is the first educational technolgy specialist to lead ASTD.

TechKnowledge 06Elliott Masie took the stage to encourage us to adopt Extreme Learning. We should devote half our time to making incremental improvements in what we've already got, for instance fine-tuning and revamping existing programs. The other 50% should go into things that are dramatically different.

He demonstrated a cool little device that projects a working keyboard on virtually any surface. (Elliott advises you not to use this as a sample of dramatically different thinking unless you want to lose your job.)

What if we started every day with a five-minute learning clip?

Business Week's one-question customer service evaluation: would you recommend this to a friend? Not a bad measure for the training business. Who's going to be first to base a training manager's pay on this?

Elliott described a cardiologists' conference where four large videoscreens are showing surgery live. An expert panel gives advice. The entire audience clicks in answers to questions. The Wisdom of Crowds meets medicine.

Elliott offers a new recruit three hours of face time. She says she'll take a pass, asks if he doesn't have a CD version. "Why would you want a CD instead of a live CEO?" The fearless recruit says, "You don't have a fast-forward button."

Excerpted from Internet Time Blog. Would you like to see more excerpts from other blogs posted to Learning Circuits Blog? Leave a comment.

SimWord of the Day: Throttle

The degree to which we can predictably facilitate in the transfer of Big Skills depends quite a bit on the ability to accurately capture them. If we don't do a better job of capturing them, we will be forever stuck on the training justification infinite-loop.

One reason for some lack of success in transferring big skills is that most of us in the knowledge-capture biz think too much in terms of linear content, and therefore have crippling blind spots. These posts are designed to challenge that.

One critical modeling analogy is the throttle. With a throttle, there is a simple analog relationship between input and output. The harder you press on the gas pedal, the more fuel goes into the engine, and then the faster the car goes (unless you are out of gas, or you hit a tree, you are topping out, or....).

We all use management throttles every day.

  • How hard to push the under-performing employee?
  • How much funding do we put towards a project?
  • How much of our own time do we spend responding to a critical email?
  • How active do we want to be on that conference call?
  • How hard to push a security initiative?
  • How hard to look for nutritious food, versus being content with what is at the buffet table?
  • How much do we care about our job?
In capturing domain expertise, the throttle is an input mechanism, and must have a defined relationship to one or more simulation systems.

Part of the SimWord of the Day Series....

Friday, February 3

Further Beyond the Blog?

Just when you thought it was over, it's BACK!

Well kind of.

We received a email from Jim Belshaw, CEO of the Ndarala Group, a consultancy in Rosebery, Australia. Seems the Australian Higher Education system and training are being assailed much in the same manner as Sam Adkins and David Grebow have done here in the States via LCB.

Ndarala has published a very nice staff paper Special Feature: Is Training Snake Oil? revisiting Sam's Post and the comments that followed. Jim wrote asking permission to affiliate their article with our Beyond the Blog: Snake Oil Revisited. Given the quality of the article I gave him the go ahead to us the Beyond the Blog logo with the article and I'm adding a link to their article to the BtB archive.

Wednesday, February 1

SimWord of the Day: Scramble

Scramble: Using a mixture of reflex and practiced tactics in an attempt to get to a better, more strategic, situation.

I love watching people play real-time simulations. You can tell by watching their eyes when they go from being in control to suddenly loosing it. Things go wrong. They panic. They flail. Then, something happens to the eyes. They gain resolve. They scramble. And , sometimes, they regain control, and are once again humming at a strategic level.

I used to think that you don't really know another country until you are really bored there. Likewise, you don't really know what it is like to be an expert until you have to scramble with the content.

Pilots learn to scramble all of the time in a good flight simulator. Those few real-time business simulations likewise create atmospheres where they earn to think through the panic.

Students scramble all of the time, of course. But when history students scramble, it is around the school-context of preparing a homework paper, not the type of scrambling that a historical leader had to do at a critical time in their lives.

I know that some people will just not get this entry (and I worry I am one of them). Creating an atmosphere that encourages a content-specific scramble seems utterly bizarre when talking about traditional linear content, and completely natural in the next wave of educational simulations.

Part of the SimWord of the Day Series....