Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OMG! Control freak much?

I've just finished up the first draft of my latest book, Social Media for Trainers, due out from Pfeiffer in summer 2010. It's pretty much a quick explanation of some Web 2.0 tools (like Twitter & Facebook) with ideas and instructions for conducting specific training activities with each (see the post from November 9).

One weekend I brought home a pile of activities-for-trainers books from the office, intending to do a quick sweep to see if I'd missed anything major (I had. Duh. "Use online technologies to enable learners to interact with an author or expert.")

Seeing the books in the aggregate brought a huge shock, namely, that typically 1/3 to 1/4 of the text is dedicated to "rules for learners". To quote my favorite checkout person at Target, LaQuinta: "OMG" (pronounced "OMG"). There were ground rules for class, ground rules for discussions, ground rules for breakouts, ground rules for role plays, ground rules for ground rules. Team Agreement Templates. Guidelines for participating in online discussions. Procedures for posting responses.

And ironically: Most of the books were also touting "constructivism", "letting learners take over" and "putting learning into the learner's hands". Learner's handcuffs is more like it.

Holy moly. Has anyone else noticed this? Anyone else wondered what effect it has on learning? On learner attitudes toward training? And as an aside: Any thoughts on what this says about the trainer's view of his/her role?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trainer's Evaluation of Workshop

Trainers: My "Instructional Design for the Real World" online session yesterday, hosted by Ray Jimenez and ASTD-Los Angeles, included mention of a trainer's evaluation of his/her own training session. It's something like a reverse smile sheet, and as you can see from contributor Randy Woodward's notes, it can serve as a useful tool for both trainer and management. I put it on slideshare as a downloadable file.

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Find Your 20%

I see lots of good-presentations-gone bad, often due to the speaker trying to put too much information into the available time. The result: Critical points are lost in the mass of content, or the speaker is rushing at the end to get to what s/he really wanted to say.

Often in coaching presenters I watch them approach their content as if they were 8th graders assigned to give a report on their "topic". They visit Wikipedia and Google and clip art galleries to amass piles of information, factoids, job aids, video clips, and PowerPoint shows, then try to compress it into a 75-minute session.

Here's a model I like to use in developing my own presentations, and in helping others develop theirs. The trick: rather than starting from a lot of information and finding a way to deliver it in the available time (the result: lecture + bulleted slides), find your critical "20%". What are the 2 or 3 key takeaways? If I ran into your attendee 2 weeks from now, what would they say were your 2 key points?

In other words: Using this model, start in the middle and work your way out:

Remember: Design is done when there's nothing left to take out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Better than Bullet Points

Hundreds of people joined me for a whirlwind tour of my second book, Better than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging E-Learning with PowerPoint. The session, hosted by the Training Magazine Network, came down to this: Plenty of horrible e-learning has been created with expensive tools. Good e-learning is about thoughtful design, not software.

Articulate's Tom Kuhlmann offers this example of an e-learning tutorial created with PowerPoint. It's based on the great "Frog Guts" high-school-biologyg simulation, so be warned about the content.

For those who missed the session, Cammy Bean was kind enough to offer a concise recap on her "Learning Visions" blog.

I'll be offering the extended version of the"Better than Bullet Points" program for Training Live + Online Events beginning on September 9.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What Do You Care About?

I lost a dear mentor on Thursday. Colleen Aalsburg Wiessner, Ph.D., died suddenly while on vacation with her family. She was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I have ever known, and the loss to her family and to the learning community is immeasurable.

Above all she was a teacher, one of perhaps only a few true teachers I have ever known. Teaching was not her job; it was her work and her purpose and her joy. In her own words, from the NC State University website: "Inclusive, affective, collaborative, participatory, critical, and developmental are six words that describe my approach to teaching. I seek to create learning communities with my students, settings in which we can question, reflect, laugh, challenge and grow in our roles as educators. I enjoy infusing the arts and other creative approaches in my learning designs. As Paulo Freire, I believe teachers are also learners and learners are also teachers."

One of my fondest memories of Colleen took place several years ago when I was a student in her "Introduction to Qualitative Research" course. She asked us to take out a blank sheet of paper and said we had a short writing assignment. She paused and asked us to answer the question, "What do you care about?"

My answer to that stuck with me through the rest of my graduate studies, kept me focused on my dissertation topic each time it threatened to derail, and now helps me steer through job challenges when I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture of my work.

So I ask you: What do you care about?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Handy Job Aid 1

Zaidlearn posted this the other day in the context of a longer discussion about Bloom's taxonomy. This item is one of the most useful I've seen, linking objectives to possible activities.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

United Breaks Guitars? Training Won't Fix That

I've had a great time with the recent, fun brouhaha over United Breaks Guitars. With 3 million+ views so far, the video is a testament to the new 21st century power of the individual living in the world of social media, and should give hope to all of us who ever wanted to stick it to The Man.

As "Sons of Maxwell" singer Dave Carroll notes in his follow-up statement, United Airlines has stepped up and has offered him some compensation. News reports also state that United wants to use the video in "training".

"Training"? Really?

Sorry, but I don't see a training problem here. I see employees constrained by bad practices and protocols, and others whose knowingly substandard performance would have no consequence. Basically, they were doing exactly what they were expected to do. Even Dave Carroll defended the employee who gave him the final "no" from the airline as, "Acting in the interests of the policies she represented."

No, baggage handlers do not need to attend training so they can "learn" not to throw musical instruments onto the tarmac, for cryin' out loud. People with the title "customer service representative" do not need to be "taught" not to be indifferent. Too often management throws problems into a bucket labeled "training issue" as if that will fix larger matters of culture and leadership. (And maybe hiring.)

And I want to be fair to United: Those of us who travel frequently know that this kind of thing could happen with most any airline at most any airport. (Just read the comments below the original video.) Even if it doesn't create sweeping change, perhaps the work of this one man will help spark an industry desire to improve enough to stay off of YouTube.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

New Skills for Learning Professionals

This month's Big Question asks what new skills learning professionals need going forward in a Web World, "where learning and performance solutions take on a wider variety of forms and where churn happens at a much more rapid pace".

I don't know that I see 'new' skills so much as further refinement of the ones that we've needed since we first tried to integrate any web technologies into traditional classroom and OTJ instruction:

1. Become comfortable enough with technologies so that you can recognize them for what they really are. Get yourself past the hype and to the possibilities.

For instance: A blog is not just a solipsistic place for "online rants", as many believe, but a nearly-idiot-proof web page creation tool. Possible uses when seen in that light: student portfolios, learner journals, a place for reflective comments back to an instructor question, a place for a course home page, or a place to practice new skills. One of the best uses I've seen: students learning to teach another language are assigned to manage and update a blog-- in that new language.

For instance: Twitter is not just a solipsistic place for telling the world what you had for breakfast. Take a look at @slqotd (Social Learning Question of the Day): each weekday morning the moderators post a new question related to social learning, and any of the 800+ followers can chime in with a quick response, to the question or to one another. They don't have to log in to another site, they don't have to jump through a lot of setup. They don't have to endure an "icebreaker". The weekly #lrnchat sessions (Thursdays, 8:30 pm ET) on Twitter are fast, lively, interesting conversations centered around 3 or 4 key learning/training-related questions per session. Transcripts are made available soon after. It is an excellent way to share expertise, obtain diverse perspectives, and meet new colleagues. And it's fun. It's good practice for thinking on your feet, so to speak, and with a limit of 140 characters is great at teaching you to get to the point already. Twitter also can be used for reflection and mindfulness about learning: Every day @lrn2day (which I moderate with Marcia Connor) poses the question: "What did you learn today?"

2. LET GO. Research has shown that one of the biggest fears traditional classroom trainers (and teachers, and organizations) have of new technologies is the lack of control. Now: They have complete administrative control of people in seats (maybe even assigned seats) who are told how long they can take a to go to the bathroom, get a snack, or make a phone call, and when to read page 6 of the handout, and which slides to look at when, and what time they will go to lunch. Next, in their view: Scary, willy-nilly online free-for-alls, with no control of the message, everyone talking at once, and people maybe even talking when the trainer's not there. Several of my colleagues, in answering this Big Question, have mentioned the need to develop skill in moderating and facilitating online conversation. The bigger picture of that, though, may mean development of characteristics that are not necessarily skill-based: tolerating ambiguity, letting learners take over the learning, and coping with 'messy' conversations may take more than just skill development. Can this new attitude be developed? I think so, if the trainer-person is actually interested in helping others learn, in enriching the experience, and in working as a guide alongside rather than sage on the stage.

Of course, all our conversations assume that traditional trainers want to move forward. I don't see sweeping evidence of that in my physical (rather than virtual) world. What I do see is an increasingly widening gulf between the tech-savvy and the classroom-bound. Maybe they'll be left behind, maybe they'll find themselves unemployable, maybe we will see organizations holding on for years more to the classroom/schoolhouse model.

What do you see?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Classroom Trainer Resistance to E-Learning

Many reports coming in on last week's ASTD International Conference and Expo -- in my world coming from instructional designers and trainers making use of technology and social media -- expressed surprise at the prevalence of attendees who, to quote Cammy Bean, are "Traditional training people for whom most of this eLearning stuff is kind of exotic and/or quite overwhelming and threatening."

Once upon a time my dissertation was to focus on classroom trainer resistance to e-learning, killed by The Academy (some of whom were, um, traditional classroom trainers resistant to e-learning...). Up to 2007 I did lots of research and wrote a number of papers for assorted courses. Briefly: There's a lot of interesting literature showing that resistance ties to a number of factors, including personality type (explorer), view of self as instructor (to impart information or guide learning, work roles, and view of technology (enabler or interference).

Here is a lit review from 2006, which finally seems to have found its audience. Enjoy, and please contact me with any updated literature on the topic. Perhaps I'll rewrite it now that the other dissertation is done.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pet First Aid iPhone App

Back in December I wrote about one of my favorite iPhone apps (and excellent example of a performance support tool), the Pocket Aid first aid app. At that time people were already asking for a version for pets, and it's just been released. $4.99 from JiveMedia LLC. Stores pet info, provides first aid data, and even videos of emergency medical techniques.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Education v. Training

The @slqotd Twitter project, which offers a daily conversation via a "social learning question of the day", has taken a new twist. Frequent flyers are to post an answer on their own blogs, then send the link to @slqotd. The current question asks for the difference between learning and training, which I am taking the semantic liberty to alter to "the difference between education and training". My take on that has always been that "training" should ideally be aimed at immediate, performance-based use, while education more broadly and abstractly was aimed at some unspecified future use. Here is an ancient little ditty on that topic from prehistoric training lore:

Would you rather have your 14 year old daughter take a sex education class, or a sex training class?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tips for Working with SMEs

We had a lively discussion in my VILT session today, "Instructional Design for the Real World". Here's a screenshot of the conversation (click to enlarge it). My own addition: the best SME may not be the one who's been doing the job the longest, but the one who has reached competence most recently. They are the ones more likely to remember what it was like NOT to know how to do the job, and they won't come to the table with years of war stories and one-time exceptions to SOP. Participant Greg Sweet also shared his own SME template. Thanks, as always, to host and to session producer Kassy LaBorie.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monty Python gets it.

To extend last week's post on who owns information, how about this: Monty Python put free videos on YouTube, in better quality than the bootlegged ones -- and sold 23 THOUSAND PERCENT more DVDs

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who Owns Information?

A 'social learning' theme keeps kicking dust in my direction, first when the TR-DEV Yahoo group folded (see post below from January 24), and again the other night. Clark Quinn, Marcia Conner, and others have begun a wonderful Thursday-night Twitter gathering (8pm EST; #lrnchat). Conversation turned to the willingness to share information, and I noted that it is often management that is reticent to share data. My grad school research on communities of practice included an interesting 2000 article on communities, why people freely participate in them, and why they are willing to share.

In the virtual communities under study, Wasko and Faraj (2000) found that people participate because they feel knowledge is a public good and should be shared out of a sense of moral obligation and community, rather than self-interest. This is positioned in contrast to the organizational view that knowledge is a private good owned by the organization or individual members. Wasko and Faraj interpret their findings to indicate that self-interest (to include organizational control or institutionalized CoPs) “denigrates” (p.171) the community. Essentially, members share from feelings of doing the right thing, and engage in intellectual exchange for its own sake.

Additionally, Wasko and Faraj found that community members act out of community interest, not self interest, and concluded that knowledge is owned and maintained neither by the organization nor by the individual, but by the community itself.

Your thoughts?

The full citation is Wasko, M. & Faraj, S. (2000). “It is what one does”: Why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 9(2-3), 155-173.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

2009 Top Ten Tools for Learning Professionals

Each year Jane Hart of the UK's Centre for Learning and Perfomance Technologies invites practitioners to submit their "Top 10 Tools for Learning Professionals". Here's mine; be sure to check out the lists others have submitted.

1. iPhone. It completes me. Much more computer than phone, it’s on this list because of the apps (which count as “software”, I should think). It’s a mobile one-stop repository for productivity tools (Google, Evernote); entertainment tools (Pandora radio, Flixster), job aids (the first-aid reference Pocket Aid: even when out of phone range the reference material still works); and fun and games including real-time handheld Scrabble with friends anywhere in the world. Also excellent for settling barroom arguments, not that I’d know.

2. Google reader: Pops up on my IGoogle home page with everything I want to follow, with minimal clutter and fuss.

3. PowerPoint: Still the best, least expensive, and most user-familiar “authoring tool” available. Good e-learning is about design, not software.

4. SnagIt: My single most-used application, ahead even of Word and PowerPoint. Very inexpensive., and version 9 is very robust, with excellent editing capabilities. From Techsmith.

5. Fireworks. I still say this beats Photoshop hands-down for creating graphics for the web and editing photos.

6. Quia: Inexpensive one-stop site for unlimited-use quizzes, Flash games, evaluations. Statistical feedback on quizzes rivals that provided by many much-pricier LMSs.

7. YouTube. The woefully misused “comment feature” is excellent for generating learner response and interaction with video/instructor. See, for instance, what Tonya TKO did.

8. Skype. I have lots of colleagues in the UK and Australia; this lets me talk to them via text or VOIP for free. For about US .17/minute I can also call most landlines worldwide from anywhere in the world without racking up extra charges on my cell plan. Can’t beat that.

9. Twitter. Any hour, day or night, there are dozens of people on Twitter who want to talk about things I didn’t know I wanted to talk about. And all in 140 characters or less. For those who believe it’s just self-centered updates, see some of the social learning experiments going on. “SLQOTD”, for instance, asks one social learning question of the day, to which anyone can respond. As of this writing: Day 80+ and counting.

10. WizIQ: FREE virtual classroom tool with good VOIP, some features to rival the big vendors. Some of the big boys don’t yet offer the object-oriented whiteboard that WizIQ has had from Day 1.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Can Your People Pass the Banana Test?

I'm researching an upcoming live-online session, "Tips for the Positive Deviant" and just ran into this anecdote:

During a positive deviance workshop designed to surface strategies for curtailing the spread of AIDS/HIV in Myanmar, "The group consisted of prostitutes -- nearly all of whom insisted she faithfully made her clients use condoms. The moment of truth occurred when each participant was asked to apply a condom to a banana. Varying degrees of dexterity quickly differentiated the pretenders from the practitioners...With the right exercises, many organizations could profit from appropriate reincarnations of the 'banana test'."*

We talk a lot about "assessment" of our learners, but do our assessments pack the punch of the banana test?

From Pascale, R. & Sternin, J.(May,2005). Your company's secret change agents. Harvard Business Review.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wherefore Passion?

Dave Ferguson has revived the Working/Learning Blog Carnival and has asked for thoughts on "work at learning: learning at work". Here's what's on my mind this rainy Sunday.

My dissertation research focused broadly on communities of practice (CoPs), and narrowly on a single community comprised of workplace trainers who gathered voluntarily to “stamp out bad training”. The group, now in its 24th year of evolving membership, has served members well as a vehicle for developing skills and camaraderie. They worked together to develop workshops and a lengthy train-the-trainer course; they used meetings as an opportunity to “dry run” new programs or activities and get helpful feedback from other practitioners; they learned by watching one another work and by working with one another. The CoP provided them the opportunity to learn about their work while learning while doing their work. (The whole dissertation – be warned, all 345 pages of it – can be found here )

While my interviewees offered myriad motivations for joining and participating, virtually all of them, thinking back on their time as novices, expressed frustrations with being hired, or placed, into positions for which they admitted they did not feel qualified or were inadequately prepared, expressed their lack of clarity about what a trainer did and how one knew if one was doing it well, described their feelings of isolation at being the organization’s only trainer -- or the only one in a training unit interested in improving -- and reported what seemed a shocking indifference about their job performance on the part of their supervisors.

While this may be where they began their work as trainers, by the time they were in my interview pool most described themselves as “passionate” about their work. Where does passion germinate? Why does one worker become passionate where another gives up and moves on to another role? While it was beyond the scope of my study, the matter came up enough for me to start asking, “When did you become passionate about training?” Without fail, the answers tied to feelings of confidence and efficacy. This was not necessarily tied to expertise – some interviewees said they became passionate long before they felt they had achieved mastery – but to a feeling of effectiveness: “When I saw that my training really made a difference.” “When I saw my first ‘a-ha’ moment in a learner’s eyes.” Is it, then, confidence that generates passion? And in turn, is reasonable to infer that it is passion that drives the desire to become more expert? And another thing: Is it a matter of achieving, and feeling comfortable with, the state of "conscious incompetence"? ("I know I don't know everything, but I'm confident that I have the ability to learn more, and I want to?")

Confidence and efficacy over mastery and expertise. Role clarity, feeling one knows what one’s job is, and whether one is doing it well. Finding outlets for overcoming feelings of isolation and the indifference of a supervisor. Comfort in the "I don't know now, but someday I may" zone. Passion may be what drives the desire to achieve mastery.

What does this tell us about our role in developing more passionate learners?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

State of E-Learning 2009

Elearn Magazine asked me for 500 words on my views about the current state and future of e-learning. The piece begins:

"As the news about the economy grows ever bleaker, organizations are finally forced to take a hard look at travel and other expenses associated with traditional classroom training. I predict this will bring several changes to the e-learning horizon—some good, some perhaps not."

The other 456 words are here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

E-Learning and the Panopticon

Bentham developed the idea of the panopticon, a prison design that provided a single central point from which all prisoners/cells/activities could be observed. (Many American shopping malls adopted this as a design guide, too.) Foucault later wrote at length of the pervasiveness of the concept -- the need to observe and regulate -- as it extended to other institutions such as hospitals and schools.

And it extends to a new realm, now. Consider universities providing "distance education" courses via a course management tool like Blackboard, into which administration can ostensibly drop at any time to read student discussion comments, watch instructor videos, review recordings of virtual classroom meetings, and access other daily course activity. While the Dean could always drop by the traditional classroom, he/she didn't do it very often, and when it happened you knew he/she was there. Distance learning allows for a new level of observation/supervision, including simple lurking, for those who choose to use it.

I find myself in the position of panopticon resident from time to time, not always intentionally, and most often in dealing with data generated by an LMS or other tracking system. For instance: At his manager's request I provided an e-learning/technology resistant colleague -- someone with whom I need to remain collegial -- with a free login to a suite of commercial e-learning courses relevant to content the trainer taught. The product includes really excellent, hard-to-build-from-scratch simulations with branching decicisionmaking. Months later the trainer dropped by my office to describe at length how much time he'd spent examining the courses, detailing the myriad reasons they just wouldn't work in replacing, supplementing, or extending the content he taught (um, customer service, e-mail rules, MBTI, and basic supervision). He went on and on about how the courses were not relevant to the public sector, with "everything" he looked at targeted at people in sales and manufacturing. When I went into the system to review product usage for the quarter, I saw that he'd spent exactly 10 minutes and 11 seconds in one course, and began one simulation but did not finish it. That's it.

What are the ethical implications here?

Should university administration make their presence known when dropping in to an academic course? Who "owns" the course? The university, the faculty teaching it, or the learners enrolled in it? Should class discussions be a private matter between students and instructor? Should students have a right to say who should have access to the "content" they generate during the course? Do students have the right to be notified when someone other than the instructor is observing them online?

Should we be more explicit with learners that online activity can be tracked, and what effect might that have on learner interest and motivation? How might it affect the learner-trainer relationship? How can you say it without sounding like Big Brother?

What do we do when, as with my own example, we are privy to knowledge we'd just as soon we didn't have? Not long ago my colleague's boss called to discuss her continued issues with the resistant classroom trainer, who had shared his "findings" with her. What would you have said? Would you have confronted the trainer, who is also a colleague? What are the rights of the learner in the online world? What is the role of the trainer/consultant in this situation?

What rules should exist for those of us who have access to the panopticon?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reality or ... Media?

My January 24 post, "Collapse of a Community of Practice", included an aside about what training practitioners are really doing v. what the media -- print, business blogs, "forums" and "webinars" would have us believe (another aside: there is nothing positive about the word "webinar"). My third book, From Analysis to Evaluation, was envisioned as a compilation of tools developed and used by practitioners in the field, loosely arranged around the ADDIE model of instructional design. Dozens of authors and training practitioners were invited to contribute to it, and were specifically asked for tools they were using in their own work. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of submissions, and was somewhat surprised at what did not arrive. For instance, no one -- not one -- person submitted anything on determining training results-on-investment (ROI).

As this is such a hot topic in training-related magazines and books, I don’t know whether the lack of submissions is coincidental, that no one ever needed to create a “homegrown” tool for this, or that it’s a reflection on what is really happening in the field in spite of what the literature tells us. As I knew readers would expect to find it, I went back and added some material where reviewers felt its absence would be especially noticed, but let me say again: I asked people to share what they used.

Last week I tipped sacred training cows. This week I'm asking something different. What do you find that you really use in your practice, and does it differ from what media and myth say you should?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sacred Training Cows

I am just home from Training 2009 where, among other things, I offered sessions on "Better than Bullet Points" and "Instructional Design for the Real World". With both these topics I always manage to tip a few sacred cows. While I hope the presentations provoke thought more than ire, I know that I sometimes ruffle feathers -- often, I suspect, by hitting too close to home. Here are some of the sacred training cows I tipped in Atlanta:

--Much of what we call 'e-learning' would be much more useful if distributed as text documents.
--The traditional approach to training evaluation is seriously flawed.
--Good e-learning is about design, not software.
--Irrelevant or cute art, graphics, animations, and colors only distract the learner; they do not enhance the training by "adding visual interest". (How about the example in this post: relevant, or distracting?)
--Boring content is no excuse for boring training.
--The tendency for trainers to fall into the role of order taker ("Yes, sir, you want an order of teambuilding with a side of stress management? Coming right up.") does not constitute good "customer service". It is harmful to the learners, the managers, and ultimately the credibility of the training profession.

What other sacred training cows would you add to the list?

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Myth of "Best Practices"

I get lots of requests for lists of "best practices" e-learning, in the virtual classroom, in instructional design, in classroom presentation. Here's the deal: there's no such thing. A "best practice" is best only in the precise, specific context in which it exists. I don't recall who first offered this analogy, but think of it this way: what works in my marriage won't necessarily work in -- and may even damage -- yours. Even if moved from one situation to another very close one, the odds of transfer being made with practice intact is nil.

In education they call this a problem with "fidelity": one teacher writes a fabulously effective lesson plan and shares it with her friends. They each decide to 'adapt' it in a slightly different way to suit some unique need of their students. It is no longer the practice that was supposedly "best". Of course then, when the end users don't get the desired outcome, they say it's isn't their fault...because after all, they were using "best practices".

So how do we address those who pressure us to produce a list of, or abide by, "best" practices?

[Update: I ran into a great visual example of the problem of fidelity in best practices. Check out the update.]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Can 'Competencies' be Taught?

I tend to agree with Marcus Buckingham (First, Break all the Rules). Do you? What's been your experience with "competencies"?

"Competencies are part skills, part knowledge and part talent. They lump together, haphazardly. Consequently, even though designed with clarity in mind, competencies can wind up confusing everybody. Managers soon find themselves sending people off to training classes to learn such 'competencies' as strategic thinking or attention to detail or innovation. But these aren't competencies. These are talents. They cannot be taught. If you are going to use competencies, make it clear which are skills or knowledge and therefore can be taught, and which are talents and therefore cannot."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Information Skills Needed

I've been doing a good deal of research/work lately with knowledge management. One of my concerns is that the focus so often seems to be only on output: where can we store knowledge? What sort of database can we build for it? Do we need more procedures manuals?

Here is a piece out of Millikin University on the information skills needed by those entering knowledge work roles. Apart from providing an opposite-side-of-the-coin view, it points to new tasks for educators and trainers in developing workers.

"The seven information skills highlighted are: (1) retrieving information; (2) evaluating information; (3) organizing information; (4) collaborating around information; (5) analyzing information; (6) presenting information; and (7) securing information. For each information skill, there is a discussion of its significance, the logical skills required for its effective use, and its technological components."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Final Version: E-Learning Buzzword Bingo Card

Here 'tis, with thanks to all those who contributed (see original post and comments). I had more suggestions than spaces (especially loved Bex's "needs more cowbell") so if I compile enough maybe there'll be a Card 2. I am scared to think there might be that many buzzwords associated with e-learning, but fear there probably are...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Collapse of a Community of Practice (CoP)

I have long been a subscriber to, first, the old TR-DEV listserv and its revised format as a moderated Yahoo group. While the site shows 4,000 members, I would guess that truly active membership -- lots of posting, interaction, some argument -- is in the range of 50-100. Debates have been long and often spirited, and while I have not always found it all useful (too much parsing of semantics, too many side visits to politics last fall) it did keep me informed about current interests in the training field and what practitioners were really working on (as opposed to what the media often report). While a true community of practice is usually characterized by its lack of formal oversight, the moderators did a good job of blocking out blatant marketing attempts and people phising for email addresses, and refocusing/refereeing discussions when needed.

ANYWAY, the announcement came from the moderators this week that the site will be shut down effective Tuesday, and they will not be entertaining any further discussion or answering responses about it. They did provide a long explanation, including acknowledgement of new social media technologies that did not exist back when the listserv was started. And, really, they said, they're tired. It is an often thankless job, with anyone with a beef about anything taking it out on the moderators who were doing this voluntarily in the first place. The moderators have already deleted all the materials in the archives, things like handouts and whitepapers and tools submitted by members.

The response has been, not unexpectedly, dramatic and emotional. People are shocked at the swiftness of the decision; comments on the board this week tend to alternate between "thanks for all the years of service" and "how dare you?" The conversations have raised some points to ponder on the matter of CoPs. Let's cogitate:

1. Who "owns" a CoP?
2. To whom does the material shared by, created by, and stored in a community repository belong?
3. Does the life of a community have such a definite end point? What will happen next?

While I am sad to see TR-DEV go I admit I have been fascinated at watching the drama play out this week. For those really interested in the philosophical side of all this, there is a small body of academic literature on power issues in CoPs; authors include Huzzard; Pemberton, Mavin, & Stalker; and Roberts.

Friday, January 23, 2009

E-Learning Buzzword Bingo Card

Clark Quinn, Cammy Bean, Steve Sorden and I have been having a Twitter discussion about buzzwords associated with e-learning. The conversation quickly showed that once-useful concepts are often cannibalized and reduced down to little more than hype for the marketing and the misguided. For more, read Clark's excellent post, "Less than Words."

Meanwhile, help me complete the "Official E-Learning Buzzword Bingo" card as we are still short a few terms -- but I know they're out there. What terms did we miss?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Alternatives to Kirkpatrick

While the Kirkpatrick taxonomy is something of a sacred cow in training circles—and much credit goes to Donald Kirkpatrick for being the first to attempt to apply intentional evaluation to workplace training efforts—it is not the only approach. Apart from being largely atheoretical and ascientific (hence, 'taxonomy', not 'model' or 'theory'), several critics find the Kirkpatrick taxonomy seriously flawed. For one thing, the taxonomy invites evaluating everything after the fact, focusing too heavily on end results while gathering little data that will help inform training program improvement efforts. (Discovering after training that customer service complaints have not decreased only tells us that the customer service training program didn’t “work”; it tells us little about how to improve it.)

Too, the linear causality implied within the taxonomy (for instance, the assumption that passing a test at level 2 will result in improved performance on the job at level 3) masks the reality of transfer of training efforts into measurable results. There are many factors that enable or hinder the transfer of training to on-the-job behavior change, including support from supervisors, rewards for improved performance, culture of the work unit, issues with procedures and paperwork, and political concerns. Learners work within a system, and the Kirkpatrick taxonomy essentially attempts to isolate training efforts from the systems, context, and culture in which the learner operates.

In the interest of fairness I would like to add that that Kirkpatrick himself has pointed out some of the problems with the taxonomy, and suggested that in seeking to apply it the training field has perhaps put the cart before the horse. He advises working backwards through his four levels more as a design, rather than an evaluation, strategy; that is: What business results are you after? What on-the-job behavior/performance change will this require? How can we be confident that learners, sent back to the work site, are equipped to perform as desired? And finally: how can we deliver the instruction in a way that is appealing and engaging?

An alternative approach to evaluation was developed Daniel Stufflebeam. His CIPP model, originally covering Context-Input-Process- Product/Impact, and later extended to include Sustainability, Effectiveness, and Transportability, provides a different take on the evaluation of training. Western Michigan University has an extensive overview of the application of the model, complete with tools, and a good online bibliography of
literature on the Stufflebeam model. Short story: this one is more about improving what you're doing than proving what you did.

More life beyond Kirkpatrick: Will Thalhimer endorses Brinkerhoff's Success Case evaluation method and commends him for advocating that learning professionals play a more “courageous” role in their organizations.

Enough already, Jane! More later on alternatives to the Kirkpatrick taxonomy. Yes, there are more.

(Some comments adapted from the 'evaluation' chapter in my book, From Analysis to Evaluation: Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Trainers. Pfeiffer, 2008.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The First Help Desk Call

"Compared to the scroll, it takes longer to turn the pages of a book." And what about the manual?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Hemorrhaging Money

I've talked about this before and want to add a new voice to the choir. I get two kinds of calls from people wanting to "do" e-learning. The first come form those who are interested in expanding their scope to include more learners, to reduce travel and other costs, or to otherwise solve a business problem. The other calls come from those who want to know how to track and monitor and measure completions. They are always more interested in buying an LMS they don't yet need (and often don't even really know what it does) than in designing anything resembling effective online training.

The question of buying an LMS to track and monitor and yada yada recently came up on one of the Yahoo discussion groups to which I belong. Here are some fabulously in-your-face comments from Peter Hunter,, quoted with his permission:

"If your training is not producing added value to your bottom line,then what is
the point of tracking it?

All you are doing is measuring the exact rate that the training
department is hemorrhaging money out of the company.

If your training is adding value, then measure the value it is adding.

When we train for the sake of training we are destroying the
organisation we are supposed to be supporting.

Think carefully about why you need this software and if the reason
turns out to be that your boss told you to get it, go ahead."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Tony Karrer's E-Learning Learning Community

Thanks to Techpower's Tony Karrer for including the Bozarthzone blog on his list of sources for eLearning Learning It's "a community that tries to collect and organize the best information on the web that will help you learn and stay current on eLearning."

Be sure to check it out, and while you're at it be sure to also take a look at Tony's
elearning tech blog.

(And for you Twitterers/Tweeters/Twitterpeeps types, he's well worth following there, too.)

And PS: Happy New Year!