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?


Dave Ferguson said...

I agree with the tech challenge, though training/learning people in organizations have the additional hurdle of overcoming obstacles like firewalls.

The language-practice blog is a terrific idea. Along those lines, I've ranted for years that one of the biggest tech boosts to learning is for an on-the-job computer system to have a robust practice mode.

Let people enter new mortgage-loan applications or tax assessments or travel reservations. Let them tinker, play, cancel, rebook, and do all the things they'd do on the job.

As for the letting go--I'm still recovering from a comment I saw the other day; the individual looked warily at online training and noted how essential it was to "police the learning."

Jane Bozarth said...

Hey, Dave, and thanks for the comments. I agree with 'firewall' issue in theory, but folks who don't take the time to learn a technology will never make a good case to IT for opening up the firewall or letting folks have access. (No, I won't go into my "Be the change!" rant again.)

RE your final chilling comment: when folks new to elearning (yes, there are still lots) contact me their questions tend to fall in one of 2 areas:
"How can I make our online training engaging and effective?"
"How can I manage/track/monitor the online training?"

The first ones I can help. The second ones, well, I can't see that they're really interested in training in the first place.

Jimmie Garcia said...

Hola, Jane! I am afraid I see the same widening gap as you. This was the first year I have been able to attend the ASTD conference and I was shocked at the low-level of skill and knowledge of training I saw with most of the attendees. They were mostly still interested in presentation skills! Many seemed to be spending a lot of time reinforcing one another's belief that technology-based training was ineffective. They certainly were nowhere near Tweeting or working in Second Life. I don't see them remaining viable in the workplace of the future, but as you say, the workplace may not yet care about that.

Unknown said...

This blog is resourceful for HRD designs and programs.

Unknown said...

This blog is resourceful to know the different challenges that we go through as HRD professionals.

Jane Bozarth said...

Hi Aynsley. Thanks!

Carissa said...

I think this is a great way to compare diversity and relate it to HRD. This can help show how to embrace change and diffrences between generations and the changes in technology that come along for the ride. It will help show how diversity effects our learning and not just people.

Kat said...

What I find interesting though, is that in a traditional lecture setting (whether it is in a classroom or at a conference) is that the "learners" are really embracing technology - but unfortunately they are texting/twittering from their mobile devices and not paying attention to the lecture at all!

Jane Bozarth said...

Kat, I just the opposite. Many who twitter from a lecture setting, including me, often post tweets of critical pieces of information, key points, or important questions. I find it helps me focus and look for the key points, which ofte presenters aren't good at highlighting on their own. Check Twitter for any conference name preceded by a hashtag: #astd09, or #devlearn, and you'll see what I mean.