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Archive for May, 2008

Discussion Thread: This post << Part 4 << Part 3 << Part 2 << Part 1

(Also a contribution to the May Working/Learning blog carnival hosted by Rupa Rajagopalan)

In the last few posts, I have tried to identify what I think are the pillars of the learning process/experience and tried to establish that they remain valid in both traditional and 2.0 contexts. These pillars are goals, time, measurement, content/knowledge and improvement. I also tried to make concrete the business case, context and critical success factors for these methodologies.

In this post, I will be looking at additional components of formal methodologies that could be adopted by organizations worldwide to foster this new style. But before we do that I wanted to assess whether we can really have a formal set of methods, priciples and procedures around Learning 2.0, the way we can in traditional learning. I want to clarify that I am not referring to putting formal methodologies in how people should be taught or should learn using the Learning 2.0 style. That is implicit in the style. Rather I am referring to methodologies that can help organizations initiate and propagate this new style because of its apparent benefits.

Let us look at some of the additional components of the methodology and revisit some I have talked about earlier.

Network organization

Learning is organized around groups, each around a specific learning context or domain. These groups could be aggregated over role profile requirements. For example, Level 2 support engineers need to be skilled in voice support, technical skills around the product and soft skills around customer management. That is what they need to learn and improve on. These are functional groups brought together by commonality in the work they do in the organization.

Some learning contexts could be organization wide. For example, there is a lot of learning around ethics or corporate responsibility that applies to all. These contexts apply to the entire organization or large non-functional chunks thereof.

But context is a key organizing factor for these groups and any Learning 2.0 strategy must include this key factor. The network for the organizations is a collection of small and large groups or communities around specific learning contexts.

Groups Organization and Roles

Each group needs organization. The group would comprise of experts, experienced professionals and new hires alike across a specific context/group. The group may give rise to sub groups all aligned to the group.

To initiate, structure and motivate collaborative learning within groups, there must be a few individuals who would take the initiative to orchestrate some group activities. This is not to say that these orchestrators would impose certain learning objectives or structured 1.0 methodology on the group. Rather, these individuals would be ones that understand both group dynamics and the learning context and be able to correlate them with business requirements. For example, the orchestrator may adopt Tuckman’s 4 stage model for a group – forming, storming, norming and performing. Then ensure that all members reach the performing stage (defined in a special way for the learning 2.0 style) and satisfy the business requirements.

There shall be other roles and responsibilities that the group may have to undertake. For example, initiating new members would be a process. In this process, senior or performing members of the group would take responsibility for understanding learning needs and help to create paths through the mass of collaborative content and member groups across the context.

For example, if I am a rookie technical engineer, I need to understand the product (i.e. I get connected to Bill Marsh, the expert, who is part of the specific product network/group), need to understand and learn from the experiences of the services group (i.e. I get enrolled into the service troubleshooting group led by Jatin Sharma), need to learn about ethics and business conduct (i.e. I get enrolled into a corporate group on ethics led by Sue Liang) etc. Bill, Jatin and Sue follow a specific methodology to get me into the performing stage for the group very fast.

Similarly, if a group decides to create an assessment to ensure it’s members have really learnt the features of the new product, it can decide to create a process to ensure this happens. If a rating needs to be provided for a particular piece of content or even interaction, then the community can engage in peer reviews.

The group grows and thrives based on 2.0 styles that have been discussed. However there needs to be a method to how it evolves or devolves. The method needs to be as decentralized as possible. If it is centralized as in 1.0, we shall only go on to create a similar learning style and shall fail to leverage the 2.0 benefits. Maybe this requires strategies only to the extent of getting all the members trained/skilled to reach them to the performing stage? These distinctions are key. And I know these strategies shall require orchestrators with specialized soft skills.

Content

Organizations have a huge amount of content to start with. There are two challenges that we have to address here:

  1. How to repurpose some or all of the content (structured courses, other sources of content) in meaningful ways to act as the repository of information for the group?
  2. How to grow this repository of content to not only add new content but also improve on the existing content through collaboration?

These are key challenges because organizations cannot ignore the investment made in creating this content, nor can they just leave groups alone to create large amounts of unusable or unstructured content (ultimately this will have heavy impacts on the technical infrastructure as well). However I believe that once groups start performing, the traditional content generation requirements will reduce immensely or will reduce time for development of structured material to a great extent. In this context, vendors/content developers need to be the ones that maintain these ever growing and improving repositories.

Measurement and tracking

This acquires a different connotation in 2.0. You are now trying to track how successfully groups are being able to translate their interactions to meaningful performance. So far, ratings and other quantitative information for participation, can be tracked and these shall be one set of measures that can generate some analytics. The other measures, ones that track individual growth, I am less sure about. At one end I feel these should be what the traditional measures are. This has the benefit of atleast being able to rate both 1.0 and 2.0 progressions on a common scale. However, I also feel that perhaps the 2.0 assessments should be unique to the group definition of expertise or prowess. 

Collaboration

Collaboration must be geared towards results. I have seen too many frustrated people on the forums who either have not had their problems resolved or queries answered satisfactorily causing them to either abandon their learning or not be able to solve their problem effectively. To many times, the conversations turn acrimonious. This is a show stopper. A network must produce results if it is to continuously motivate and help its members. Individuals are fallible. The network should not be.

So there should be a methodology and purpose that should treat each problem as a learning event, an occassion to help the individual learn and acknowledgement to the people who help facilitate that learning in a timely fashion.

In summary, these are a few key components that need formal methodologies to create successful and effective social networks for learning. There will be other components and ways to engender effectiveness, this is not an exhaustive list and we need to work collaboratively to flesh these out. Look forward to comments!

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Discussion Thread: This post << Part 3 << Part 2 << Part 1

Before we go on to start detailing formal methodologies, we must make concrete the business case, context and critical success factors for these methodologies.

As organizations struggle to understand how they can leverage Learning 2.0 and vendors bring in their own interpretations of what Learning 2.0 really is. I think we need to start defining how and why this new style should be implemented at the workplace.

Because that is what Learning 2.0 really is – an emergent learning style with a strong basis in social constructivist learning theories that holds out the promise of making the learning curve steeper, creating a learning & sharing culture within the organization (and beyond), lowering costs and increasing effectiveness.

Learners are changing from passive receptors of information and training to active participants in their own learning. This is a viral change, so it is really fast. Today’s digital learners are part of communities. They share their interests with members of their community. They twitter. They blog. They rake in RSS feeds and bookmark their favorities on de.li.ci.ou.s. They share photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube. They share knowledge on Slideshare and Learnhub or Ning. They share ideas. They grow by meeting and engaging peers and gurus alike using the LinkedIn or Facebook. On their laptops and on their mobile phones.

Traditional instructors are now moving from being trainers to being facilitators, guides and coaches in a collaborative teaching-learning space. The instructors need not treat their learners as passive receptors, rather they can actively shape, by dialogue and discovery, the nature of their learning.

Learning Managers, though, have perhaps the biggest challenge. Undisputedly, an organization that has both the vision and a demonstrable culture of continuous learning, collaboration and improvement, will benefit natively from the formalization of this style and the adoption of the available tools. This kind of an organization worries about functional excellence and the ability to transform the domain in which they operate through leveraging individual and collective insight.

Organizations that have not reached that stage (perhaps the majority worldwide), will need Learning Managers to step up and leverage these new developments to foster that culture. They are the ones who are responsible for implementation of formal methodologies for Learning 2.0 at the workplace.

Inevitably, their role must transform. They must orchestrate learning rather than just be responsible for the creation of the learning content itself. They must be able to bring out functional excellence and the culture of sharing and continuous learning. Their goals and measures must be community led and guided by the organization needs. This will directly result in performance improvements because the community can be made responsible for those improvements.

The role of the vendors or internal team they manage must also change and evolve. For example, vendors or internal development teams or instructors need to play a more active role in building that culture. These teams have a great understanding of the content and organizations have literally paid millions to train and induct them. They have interfaced with engineering/domain experts, instructional design and styles guidelines and perhaps directly even the learners. They are a logical, key component of this new space and equal partners in fostering that culture and some could take on the responsibility for goals in functional excellence.

All this will reduce costs. First of all, the onus of learning and teaching through sharing will start getting distributed across the organization. Secondly, the steeper learning curves that can be fostered through community interaction will make “training” more cost efficient. Thirdly, informal interaction through these spaces will reduce the remediation training requirements. Fourthly, the need and scope for physical instructor led learning will reduce. Fifthly, user generated peer reviewed content will start replacing large parts of content creation teams, whether internal or vendor.

It will increase effectiveness because there is no one-size-fits-all approach in the new 2.0 style. As learners start sharing their knowledge with the overall purpose of bringing others up to speed, they will also translate their own learning styles when they teach. All of a sudden, it will be easier to find content that is taught/shared in a way that resonates with a specific learner’s style of learning. It will also increase effectiveness because it will start manifesting in the organization culture and appetite for learning. It will make learning more fun if you have special methodologies for motivating entire communities. It will engage the communities even more because they will feel aligned and geared for the organizational goals and be seen as active participants in achieving those goals. And finally, it will be real because you are learning with practitioners as well as theoretical experts.

So what would be the critical success factors for implementing Learning 2.0 led approaches. First, organizational initiative is key – without the mission of transforming your organization into a learning and performing organization, these initiatives will meet with limited success. Second, roles must be redefined to accommodate the new solutions. Third, group dynamics must be researched and customized for your organization. This is key because each group or community will need a formal process of norming and mentoring by the organization functional or business leaders. Fourth, formal 2.0 methodologies and tools must be instituted and a process created around some of the transition, maintenance and integration areas. Fifthly, we would need to identify technology systems, measures and other supporting infrastructure to manage these implementations.

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Discussion Thread: This post << Part 2 << Part 1

I think the discussion regarding the dimensions of analysis of learning is useful, because (unlike the author) I think these are precisely where old-style (1.0) learning and new-style (2.0) are different. Take, for example, the whole idea of goals and measurements. To measure the ‘effectiveness’ of learning, we need to be able to measure how far we moved toward our goal. But what about this item, from a few days ago. I worked through the examples without knowing where they would lead me. The author created the examples without knowing how much I already knew. The learning, in this case, was the result of an intersection between the author and myself, more like a conversation than a journey, more like a dance than a destination.

Learning 2.0 Formal Methodologies – More Thoughts ~ Stephen’s Web ~ by Stephen Downes

Thanks for your comments, Stephen. There is a cacophony of thoughts here as I try and take this discussion further. Let me try and organize them.

To summarize my understanding, the new style (2.0) is different from the old-style (1.0) because the basic components of learning – how goals are created, measured, improved upon within constraints of time could differ fundamentally between these two styles.

In your example, maybe I am being presumptuous, but a goal did exist. That goal was to substantiate your claim that JSON could be used to potentially replace XML? You did not know if the content you were reading would help you reach this goal, but it aroused an interest and motivation in you to explore, learn and possibly apply the learning towards meeting your goal. Perhaps you actually did a web search for JSON, found this article, it resonated with your style of learning and the content was appropriate enough to help you meet your goal.

The author did not know your pre-existing knowledge (nor your intended application perhaps), but through conversation or intersection between what the author wanted to distill and what you were learning, you achieved your goal.

The goal was not explicitly or defined in a detailed manner by the author when you first started. The author did not say “…at the end of this tutorial, you will be able to demonstrate that JSON could be used as a substitute for XML…”. Neither did you know that it could really help you meet your goal. The dance could have led nowhere, could have helped you fully or partially meet your goals, or spurred on a totally new perspective on the problem leading you to perhaps choose a new goal or alter the existing one or simply abandon it.

You took this knowledge and decided to apply it in a way that could potentially help you achieve your goal. Maybe at the end of the learning period, you said, “great! I got somewhere here, and yes, doesn’t this support what I was saying earlier?”

During the learning process, post the initial evaluation, you would also have been continuously evaluating whether you were moving in the right direction. If you had seen a limitation in the technique or coding that the author suggested that posed a risk to your goal, you could have potentially aborted your learning attempt. This was part of the measurement you consciously or unconsciously were doing. Not only that, when your code sample worked it was a measure of your success with the examples that you were learning; so was the application of the example to your specific context.

There was another risk to your goal. If you could not set up the environment or not have the pre-requisite knowledge to comprehend the article, then even if it was the way to achieve your goal, you would have simply abandoned it and moved on another resource which may not be what you really needed! Maybe the dance would uncover this gap and the author would be able to help you, and maybe it would not.

So in this case, and this has been the way I have learnt ever since I can remember, the learning process is inherently chaotic and I can remember as many learning failures as I can remember successes. The failures have arisen from the inability to find an appropriate learning resource that suits the way I learn, the constraint of time, the unavailability of peers, technical problems or other related issues. The successes have been when these factors/constraints have been least.

I have taught many courses too in a formal manner. Now I teach/guide every day in an informal manner at my colleagues at the workplace and with my customers. I learn continuously from them and with even my two wonderful children and my family.

All this is a different style. I would say that it is more effective as well since it is I who take the initiative to learn and grow and I am continuously motivated to learn, perform and contribute to other people’s growth.

For some people or contexts, the formal setting (1.0) could be most appropriate. For some people, the 2.0 style could be unnatural/foreign in formal settings where they are learning, for example, how to create a purchase order in SAP; while for them when they are learning about the latest car from GM to hit the streets, the 2.0 style could be the natural one adopted.

Cut to business. The goal for Learning and Development (L&D) departments within organizations is to make sure employees have the right attitudes, skills and knowledge and are able to perform as per the needs of the business. The needs of the business are articulated keep in mind vision, strategy, products/services, competencies and market conditions. L&D takes in these requirements and plans and implements training strategies that will help the corporation meet these needs in the most effective manner as possible and in the time frame the business wants. Business always asks them “are these teams trained? Has the training resulted in the performance we wanted?”. Scale and standardization are important dimensions of the problem and perhaps often the reason why we see a drop in effectiveness in 1.0 methodologies.

I believe that the 2.0 style can really help. But we need to evolve strategies of how these styles can be engendered at the workplace (not simply by using Web 2.0 or this technology or that) in such a way that business needs and professional growth objectives are met. That is why this discussion around Learning 2.0 Formal Methodologies.

>> Sequel: Part 4

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