Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wherefore Failure?

Malcolm Gladwell's new collection of essays, What the Dog Saw, includes a piece on the Challenger explosion. Essentially, he asserts, most failures of this magnitude can't be traced to a single mistake or one bad decisionmaker. Sure, hindsight being what it is, things could be done differently -- but there are several things, sometimes in important chronological order or patterns -- that all need to happen. In other words, the problem is the result of a system failure.

And therein lies the central problem with the traditional (think 4-level) means of "evaluating" training. There are 1001 things (let's call them 'variables') standing between a freshly-trained worker and successful performance, from bad tools to a bad hard drive to, yes, a bad supervisor. Attempting to isolate the worker from the rest of the system in which he or she works invalidates the evaluation by removing context and circumstance -- and if the desired performance still isn't there, this approach to evaluation doesn't tell us how to fix it.

If you've been led to believe there's only one approach to evaluating training, try Googling around for Stufflebeam, Brinkerhoff, Stake, and Scriven. And there are others, so keep Googlin'. Perhaps something else would better meet your needs at informing both your formative and summative evaluation processes.

Or maybe you're already using something else? If not the 4 (or 5)-level taxonomy, what are you using to figure out whether training is really "working"?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Social Media in Training

I keep seeing lots of "tips for using social media tools in training" but not many concrete examples. Certainly the bigger goal is to help training become less an event and more a process, and to support ways for workers to form communities and interact with one another -- not just with the trainer. But there are plenty of strategies for using Web 2.0 tools to support instruction as well as inform formative and summative evaluation. Here are just a few:

Twitter -- provide activities that recognize the 140-character constraint

Get-to-Know-You, Advance Assessment: "Please tell us your name and the ‘3 keywords’ that represent your mission, philosophy, focus, or priorities."; "Please state the one thing you most hope to get out of this class".

As both a review and means of formative assessment, conduct an A-Z Summary of past class content, live or webinar session, etc. Ask each participant to tweet one thing they’ve learned. Each item should start with a different letter of the alphabet, from A-Z, with no repeats:

Facebook -- Leverage Facebook's more robust discussion areas and built-in tools like photos and events:

To help maintain learning and community after training, create a fan page or group for graduates of your corporate Leadership Academy. Start (or ask for volunteers) regularly scheduled discussions of topics relevant to all graduates: Ethics, Sales, Retaining Talent.

Have learners enrolled in a course conduct an environmental scan, taking cell-phone photos in their worksites of items such as signage, furniture, office layouts, etc. that support or conflict with the stated company mission. (If the company mission is to "Consider all employees as equal partners", then why are there executive parking spaces?) Ask participants to put photos in a Facebook photo album. Use as the basis for discussing disconnects, planning actions for aligning management strategy, and plans for leading the change.

Create a blog post asking learners to provide a 100-word recap of the critical takeaways from the past session.

Post a link to an article, YouTube or CNN video clip (think customer service, conflict management, empowered employees, workers in trouble) and invite learner responses. Facilitate comments to elicit further discussion among the participants.

For a management development program, ask each Friday for a quick response to something critical to the course, such as, “List 5 things you caught people doing right this past week.”


Use the wiki's inherent 'database' structure to start capturing collective knowledge within the organization. Invite course participants (and then, perhaps, the rest of the organization) to contribute tips for things like: Retaining top performers; improving existing processes; recruitment strategies; success stories.

Have workers create a map of an existing process, then work together to edit/create a new, better process.

Ideas for other activities?

NOTE: This is copyrighted material to appear in Bozarth, J. (Summer 2010) Social Media in Training. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

What I learn from #lrnchat

Every Thursday evening there's a great fun live gathering on Twitter called #lrnchat. It's a fast free-for-all organized around a theme, like instructional design, virtual worlds, social learning, or e-learning myths, structured around 3 general questions. If you're in the training/learning/Ed business, folks you've heard of often drop in, as do many folks you haven't heard of. Once you meet them, you'll want to know them better.

I recently threw out an idea to organizers of a large conference, saying that I'd like to host a 'Twitter event' during the conference. That's about as far as my vision went, and as often happens I have been called on it. Thinking over what a live "Twitter event" for trainers might look like, I turned to the #lrnchat blog and found the transcript from the June 11 discussion. The theme: Incorporating social media into learning events. The #lrnchat participants: Dozens of learning professionals, many of whom had participated in, or helped organize, events that sought to incorporate use of tools like blogs or Twitter.

Half an hour later I'd sketched out a general approach to my session, a way to structure it, questions to ask during it, and tools to support it (I forgot about Ustream TV, and didn't think to ask people to put their Twitter handles on their name badges.). The transcript included a link to "8 Ways to Make Your Event More Blog and Twitter Friendly which in turn linked to a guide for participants joining a conference remotely via Twitter.

So. #lrnchat gives me all-at-once access to some of the best minds in the field, directs me to new ideas, provides alternative points of view, and sends me looking for a new book or article. It usually helps me focus my thinking, occasionally solves a problem, and often cracks me up.

Warning: #lrnchat is messy. Sequential, linear thinkers tend to have a hard time following it. But you know what? 21st century information is going to be messy, and those who can deal with that messiness and the accompanying ambiguity will be ahead of the pack. #lrnchat is also, again, a chat. It's not a workshop, or a class, but as with Real Life you may find you learn something informally and by accident.

Join us on Thursday nights, 8:30 ET, 5:30 PT. Begin by typing #lrnchat into the Twitter search box. If you'd like to get a look at who's likely to be there, and how the conversation will go, you can check out the transcripts. Just remember that the transcript won't give you the same sense of fun and speed as you'll get by drinking from the live stream of tweets flying fast and furious.