Monday, May 23, 2011

THIS is What Social Learning Looks Like

Something really interesting happened on Twitter last night. The backstory: There is a regularly scheduled discussion, #blogchat, that happens on Sunday evenings at 8 pm ET (oops--update, correction: 8 Central). Participants share ideas for generating content, growing readership, that kind of thing. I don't usually participate but I follow several people who do. Last night I happened to see a tweet from @MackCollier with a link to . Turns out the #blogchat group decided to dedicate some of their Sunday nights to offering critiques of one another's blogs. Participants wanting feedback submitted their blogs for consideration; 4 were chosen this time with a promise that others would be considered soon. 

Those who offered their blogs up for review got a good deal of feedback useful particularly for them, but also for others in the group. For example:
@newdaynewlesson: Make your type left justified. Centered screams amateur.
@Collin_K: Font in the header looks too much like comic sans. Hard to take you seriously.

@blogdash: You want your readers to focus on your content. Everything else is a distraction. Choose your distractions wisely.
@Collin_K:  I've never been a fan of the double sidebar. Takes too much attention off of content.
@TheOnlineMom: I love how you share your objectives of the blog right off the bat.
@MikeHale: You can get a premium template for $100 and tweak it, you don't need to do a whole custom design. 
@AmyAfrica  If you want a new design & are on a budget, get a new header. It's affordable & it will make biggest difference.

I think last night's #blogchat is important for several reasons:
1. So many organizations show interest in Twitter and other social tools, but then worry about making online conversations private, or locking them up inside the company's firewall. I always say that's not really the point, and last night's #blogchat is exactly why. These are people who otherwise don't know each other, or work together, but who share a common interest -- and improving could be quite valuable to some of their employers. Talking about top-secret research on a new drug the company hopes to patent, or a pending indictment of an SVP? Maybe not in public. Talking about making your corporate blog better, or tweaking your leadership academy, or communicating with a global workforce, or finding the best productivity apps for the organization-issued smartphones? Why not a Twitter chat, or a LinkedIn discussion, or a Facebook group open to the rest of the world? 

2. The fact that this happened in public means I got to learn from  it, too. Because I happen to follow some of  #blogchat's regular participants, their tweets started showing up in my feed.  My takeaways: In blogging, content matters more than most anything else, and "choose your distractions wisely". I also found a couple of interesting new folks to follow. How many of us work in organizational silos and have discovered -- often too late -- that employees in other silos were having really interesting, useful discussions relevant to our own interests and work? Or were working on a project that we could contribute to? Or were replicating work that's already been done? Another thing that happens by living out in the big wide world: You may find new things that interest you. Hagel, Brown & Davison's Power of Pull describes this as "increasing your surface areas".

3. Popular talk about  "communities of practice" (CoPs) focuses a great deal on 'community' but rarely on 'practice'.  Per Wenger, a CoP is comprised of people who work together with the explicit intention of getting better at what they do (not just talking about it, or complaining about it, or 'conferencing', or sharing 'best practices'), but to actually apply their new learning and improve their own practice.  #blogchat is a great example of what a CoP does. The community members don't want to just gripe about problems with blog products, or trash other bloggers who don't participate in #blogchat, or complain that someone else's blog is better because that someone else has funding for it. People engage within the CoP with the intention of improving their practice. Most are open to offering up their own work and saying, "How could this be better?" -- if the feedback is given in a spirit of cameraderie from peers or other credible sources. Most people are willing to share what they know. Most people want to help each other. And what organizations often just can't grasp: People can gather based on their own self-identified needs and self-manage to get better at what they do -- without excessive administrative oversight or elaborate procedures.

Here's the thing: What happened in #blogchat last night goes on all the time in workplaces. People say they're having a problem and ask coworkers or others for help. They likely don't think to document it on their TPS reports, or include it on a time sheet, or maybe even mention it to anyone else. They don't call themselves "adult learners"; they call themselves "solving a problem". Last night it happened to happen on Twitter. Where is it happening in your organization? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

There's an App -- or Something -- for That

I remember the day I felt the technology plates shift under my feet. It was maybe 6 years ago: post-Internet, pre-Kindle, and I'd gone into the local library. I was standing in the fiction section thinking how great it would be if I could go online at home and store an evolving list of books I wanted to read, and then pull it up when I got to the library.

Well, it turned out, the library had an app for that. Ok, not an app exactly, but an online catalog/request system that did exactly what I wanted. It was a moment that foretold -- for me -- the coming age of apps, of devices talking to one another, and of  the Cloud. I remember that was the moment I stopped thinking, "Why can't I...?" and started asking "Can I....?" I've had a lot of moments like that since then: I wished there was something that would send an alert when there's a traffic jam to or from the office. I wished I could find out what is the name of that song they're playing in the shoe store. I wished there was somewhere I could just store my music online and access it from anywhere on any device. Well, I have all that now. Some days it's like rubbing a magic lamp: wish, and it appears.

I love these changes in technology, every day. And I love the usual answer now to "Can I...?"

What was your moment?